Five tips for shooting great Halloween photos

Halloween is practically custom-made for photographers. You’ve got a perfect storm of colorful costumes, dramatic lighting, and creative decorations, all of which are screaming out (excuse the expression) to be captured by your camera.

However, taking Halloween photos can be very challenging. Dim lighting is often the death of photos, and simply firing your flash to cut through the darkness can lead to rampant red-eye and overblown highlights. Fear not! Here are a few tricks for treating yourself to some excellent Halloween photos this year.

Use the sunset

Halloween is all about spooky settings and dim lighting, which aren’t the best conditions for taking photos. Before you start your round of trick-or-treating, get your kids outdoors and shoot photos around dusk. If you can take your photos during the last hour in which the sun is out—the fabled “magic hour”—your photos should look great.

Shooting at sunset is also a good idea, as you can include a colorful red sky in the background. The trick to this kind of shot: Position your subjects against the sky, and then use a fill flash setting to throw some light on their faces and costumes. You might also try turning the flash off entirely and shooting with a high ISO, which should work well with a camera that has a larger-size sensor (such as a DSLR or a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera). Avoid shooting in total darkness with just your flash, or you’ll get the typical Halloween paparazzi look. That effect just isn’t flattering, even if you are taking a picture of a zombie.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Kevin Dooley

Bounce the flash indoors

In the evening, when the light starts to fade, straight-on shots with your camera flash will probably result in some nasty red-eye. The easiest solution? Move indoors and bounce your flash. If your camera has a flash that you can angle, point it so that it’ll flash up onto the ceiling and then bounce down on your subject from above. You’ll get a more evenly lit scene with attractive lighting, and you’ll eliminate distracting red-eye in the process. If your camera’s flash isn’t adjustable, try placing a piece of white cardboard at an angle in front of the flash so that the light “bounces” toward the ceiling rather than directly at your subject. Just make sure that the cardboard doesn’t creep its way in front of the lens; you may need a helper to hold the card while you concentrate on shooting.

Photo courtesy Flickr user gaudiramone

Shoot a silhouette

Silhouettes and Halloween go together like costumes and candy. You can shoot silhouette photos of kids in costume, pumpkins, gravestones, or other props. To get the shot, you need to light the subject from behind, so you should position your subject in front of a light source like the setting sun or porch lights. Then, set the camera’s exposure for the light behind your subject and take the shot. You might also use the camera’s exposure compensation dial to further underexpose the photo, or load the photo into an image editor on your computer to darken the subject using its light-levels tool.

Photo courtesy Flickr user David Ohmer

Take spooky ghost shots

Embrace the holiday by taking a few "spooky" photos, especially if one member of your trick-or-treating crew is dressed up as a ghost. Try this practical special effect: Mount your camera on a tripod in a completely dark room and set the camera on a long exposure (perhaps 15 or 30 seconds). With your costumed ghosts or ghouls in their places, take an external flash and fire it to briefly illuminate the scene. Then have your subjects leave the frame and fire the flash a second time to double-expose the photo. You might need to tweak the aperture setting and the strength of the flash to get a perfect ghostly effect. If you don’t have an external flash, try illuminating your ghost by using a flashlight.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Robert Jackson

Capture the spirit of the jack-o'-lantern

No Halloween shoot is complete without at least one shot of a jack-o'-lantern illuminated by candlelight. Here's the secret of cool Jack-o-lantern photos: Wait untill dusk (just after the sun sets), turn off the flash, and minimize ambient light. You can get some great results by setting your camera on a tripod and taking a 4- or 8-second exposure. If it’s really dark out, illuminate the pumpkin with a soft lamp or lantern, but make sure that most of the light is coming from the candle inside. You might need to experiment a bit to find the right balance: Too little light outside the pumpkin, and you’ll get little more than a silhouette; too much exterior light, and the pumpkin’s face won’t be lit by the candle inside.

Photo courtesy Flickr user John Norton

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