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How to Make Spooky Halloween Photos

”Trick or treat!” Halloween is knocking on the door.

Yet it’s a very popular holiday in many countries. It brings the spirit of mystic, fear, magic and fairy. Halloween can be a great inspiration for shooting – beautiful lights, spooky scenes, jack-o-lanterns, candles and scary decorations. In this tutorial I would like to show you how you can easily take creative and spooky photos for Halloween. Grab the cameras and let’s try to create some magical, mysterious and a little ominous pictures.

Spirits awaken…

First of all, let the holiday enters your home. There is no way talking about Halloween and not mentioning one of the emblematic symbols of this celebration – the pumpkin lantern. Jack-O’-lanterns for me are one of the first associations, along with ghost stories, spirits and cemeteries. Easily achievable especially at this time of year. From the nearest grocery or market choose the most beautiful pumpkin you imagine carving and turning into the emblematic lantern (can take more than one if you want). Ideas for carving the pumpkins and how to do this can be found anywhere, e.g. 10 Tricks for the Best Jack-o’-Lantern Ever. And if you are interested in the origin of the lanterns, you can read the legend of “Stingy Jack”.

Quick tip: Choose a small pumpkin to be easier to illuminate the lantern inside. Buy different shaped pumpkins, so some of them can be carved, but some can stay as a decoration. For example I chose one big Jack for lanterns and other small “ugly” ones for the table to complete the atmosphere of Halloween.

Let’s summarize a list of what’s needed for a our photo shoot:

  • Different pumpkins
  • Tea candles – best choice for illuminating the scene
  • A chain of lights – can be your Christmas lights or the already trendy on Instagram firefly lights.
  • Candy and sweets – Don’t eat them before shooting. They are a great addition to glowing lanterns and candles. Occupying an important part of the rituals of celebration they become coins for the Halloween night. Speaking of sweets and sweets, we can’t miss to think of home-made ones. Don’t worry, expect a recipe in a next article.
  • Incense sticks – add a little magic the pictures (later more for their use)

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Prepare the Shooting Scene

One of the hardest things of the preparation is carving the pumpkins. Nevertheless is one of the funniest and creative moments. As this photo shoot won’t be the typical scary one, I chose to carve and decorate pumpkins in a slightly funny way, keeping the spirit of the holiday. However they can be made really hilarious, artistic and bizarre, it is up to you and your imagination.

For this kind of pictures I chose mainly tea candles and Christmas lights. Put a candle in my Jack-O’-Lantern and others used for additional light in the room. Tea candles emit a soft and yellow light, which creates a warm and enchanting atmosphere.

Arranging the scene is also up to you, but here are some quick tips:

  • Turn off all the lights in the room where you’re going to take the photos – we are going to use low key photography. This will make your images look fantastic.
  • Think of the light – position some of the candles to illuminate the outside of the pumpkins and create the scene. Because of the darkness in the room and concentrated light coming from pumpkins, nothing will be highlighted, and you need some more details to catch the eye.

Halloween spooky Jack-O-Lantern in smoke


Camera Settings for Shooting

You need a basic equipment:

  • Camera with “M” manual mode / This is available even on some smartphones already (iPhone, Samsung S8;S9, etc.)
  • Tripod (because some photos are taken at a low shutter speed)
  • Remote shutter (if not have one, use a self-timer)

And that is all! Now, in details:

  • Keep the ISO as low as the camera is able (e.g. 100 ISO) to avoid noise in the pictures. Don’t change it during shooting, set only aperture and shutter speed values.
  • You can experiment with the f-stop, just remember – the wider is the aperture, the faster is the shutter and vice versa. I used f-stop between f4 and f8, and exposure time was around 1.5sec – 25sec for my Halloween photos. It depends on what depth of field you need.
  • Turn off your stabilizing lens system when using tripod, if have one, to avoid motion blur.

Quick Tip: Do you want only one object focused on your image or the whole bunch of pumpkins? For more creative pictures with blurred background(a beautiful bokeh) and one object focused use f4 and 12 sec. If values don’t suit you, try experimenting with the shutter speed. However for more detailed picture, set the aperture to f8-f9 and make longer the exposure time – 25-30sec. Be sure taking the shots neither too dark, nor too bright.

Tips and Tricks for Creative Images

Want to be more creative? Here are some different shooting techniques you can use:

  • Use reflective surfaces for taking the photos on. It creates very beautiful reflections of lanterns and lights.
  • Use spooky smoke – it can be included, despite the long shutter speed. When smoke is not freezed (with fast shutter speed) it appears as a fog, and this makes the photos look more mystical and enchanting. This is really wonderful and easy to achieve effect. How? – Put an incense stick on the side of the scene, so that it does not enter the frame. When start shooting exposure blow the smoke towards the photographed objects. For best results the smoke should be illuminated by the tea candles. And that is all you need to take magnificent smoky Halloween photos.
  • Light painting – easy and eye-catching. Take a simple wooden stick and light it at one end. Draw something in front of the camera as with a magic stick, while it’s shooting a long exposure. The result will be incredible – light trails around your pumpkins.

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Now that you’ve woken the spirits, it’s all about your imagination. Making spooky photos for Halloween is no longer a mystery to you!

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