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Halloween photography: cast our spell on your photography for truly spooky images

Trick or treating is a tradition that’s made its way across the pond to become a highlight of the dark evenings of late October. Even if your kids are normally camera-shy, they’re likely to be keen to get a few photos of themselves looking terrifying in full fancy-dress.

To get the full spooky impact of their garb, you’ll want to capture it in dark, shadowy conditions. You may be able to get away without using flash if you use a wide aperture and slow shutter speed with your camera set to a high sensitivity setting, but keep an eye on noise levels.

Look for lighting that can enhance the scene as well as give you enough illumination to focus and set the exposure - a street light or set of pumpkin lanterns can be ideal.

Children stand under a light outside of a home, dressed to begin trick-or-treating.

Get flash

If you find that you need flash, reduce its power and diffuse it so it’s not too harsh on your subject. Also make sure you’re using a long exposure time so that some of the background registers in the image. You don’t need to worry about a little movement in many cases because it will add to the ghostly feeling, but always zoom in to check your images on the camera’s screen to be sure your settings have worked. 

Try shooting with a little pop of flash set to second-curtain at the end of a one or two second exposure, and asking your spooky subject to wave their arms around manically to create an unearthly look. Their face should be clearly exposed by the flash, but their arms will be surrounded by a ghostly blur… 

an orange bowl of halloween candy is held by a child

Pumpkin lanterns

There are some fantastic pumpkin-carving skills on show these days and they can make for some super-spooky images, but balancing the light is sometimes tricky. Ideally, you want the lantern to glow without the light from the eye and mouth holes spilling out to create halos. Scraping more flesh away from the inside of the lantern will help light penetrate through the skin and create that glow, but you may also need to boost the candle-power, upping from one candle to two or more. 

Whatever you do, don’t use flash to light the pumpkin from the outside because this will kill the glow. However, you can use off-camera flash to pump a little light into the background so you’re not just shooting the lantern against a black mass – it’s a technique that you can also employ with portraits. Alternatively, you could place a few candles or lamps in the background to inject extra illumination and atmosphere. Shooting in these very low light conditions may mean that you need to mount your camera on a tripod, but as the pumpkin isn’t going anywhere, that’s not a problem.

Which brings us neatly to a final technique suggestion - try moving the pumpkin slightly towards the end of a very long exposure to create an eerie trail of light. Have fun – and let us know how you and your camera get on…

A jack-o-lantern is lit from the inside by a candle giving an eerie warm orange glow through its crooked eyes and teeth

  • By Matthew Ward
  • 21 Oct 2016
  • halloween, technique

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