The following is excerpted, with permission, from SLR Lounge photographer and educator Pye Jirsa’s article on Halloween Photography Tips and Ideas, recently published on adorama.com (which is also where you can access the full article which includes Pye’s 10 tips).
Halloween is great for dressing up or doing tricks with the kids, but it also provides a special shooting opportunity for photographers. This unique party features built-in characters, props, and scenes that we can use for a creative photo shoot. Here are 4 Halloween photography tips that you can easily put into practice.
- Use props
- Create drama with lighting
- Capture silhouettes
- Create ghost trails with long exposure
4 Halloween photography tips:
Halloween Photography Tip #1: Use Props
We often think of props as objects that we use to complement our subjects (which is of great use to them). But, we can also feature the props themselves as subjects. Gather some of your favorite Halloween items, compose your shot, dim the lights and capture the magic of Halloween still life. Of course, you can make more use of these props by placing them around your subject when capturing classic Halloween portraits.
Tip #2: Create Drama with Lighting
Although lighting plays an important role in all photos, it is absolutely the key ingredient in setting the mood for Halloween photography. You’ll want to lean more towards the dark and dramatic side, using shading and contrast to capture the spirit of Halloween. In terms of lighting patterns, you will therefore mostly avoid flat lighting and opt for harder angles, whether to the side, below or above your subject. You can learn more about lighting patterns here in this video on the Adorama YouTube channel.
Dramatic lighting for Halloween photography doesn’t require the use of a flash, but it can give you the most control, especially depending on location. For indoor shots, natural light through windows or any area where you can control the amount of light entering the scene can work well if you don’t have (or don’t want to use) a flash. Closing curtains or placing V-dishes near windows can help block light when needed. Other sources of light, both indoors and outdoors, include candles (like those used inside pumpkins), flashlights, or other steady lights. Even a phone light will work.
[Read: Photographer Kills It With Skeleton “Boo-doir” Session]
If you plan to shoot outdoors, you’ll have to wait until it’s darker unless you have a dark neutral density filter and one or more powerful flashes.
Tip #3: Capture Silhouettes
One of the easiest ways to use light to create striking or, in this case, spooky portraits, is to backlight your subjects for a Halloween silhouette. The general technique of creating silhouettes still applies, but this time around we want to ditch some clarity and embrace mystery. What I mean by this is that we can focus less (literally) on capturing a perfect silhouette and only reveal traces of recognizable shapes.
To do this, we just need a semi-transparent surface like a scrim/light diffuser, bed sheet or frosted acrylic sheet, and a backlight. You probably have a scrim, but another affordable way to do this on a larger scale is to buy a piece of anti-static frosted glass. They can come in many sizes and are easy to apply and remove from windows. If you don’t have a strobe for the backlight, a flashlight will do.
Experiment with different distances between the subject and the surface as well as the intensity of the backlight. This will give you a variety of more or less pronounced silhouettes with varying degrees of subject detail. It should also be noted that the ambient light in the space should be relatively dark.
Of course, if you can achieve a shot like the cat in front of the moon pictured below, then by all means get a clean silhouette for your Halloween portraits.
[View: Photo of the Day: Renaissance Queen]
Tip #4: Create Ghost Trails with Long Exposures
Why not take advantage of tricks like long exposure to capture our subjects in a way we could never do with the naked eye? In the video above, Daniel Norton shares a quick trick with a tripod and multiple flashes that you can use to create spooky ghost trails.
Here’s another simple motion trick you can use that doesn’t require a flash. First, put your camera on a tripod and slow down your shutter speed. Then pose your subject and lock your focus. Finally, click the shutter and get your subject moving, perhaps panning their head left and right, before remaining perfectly still for the last half of the shutter’s open time. You can achieve similar results by using an on-camera flash set to rear-curtain sync or by creating a composite in post, changing the opacity of the different layers, and adding a motion blur filter to the layers “additional”.