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Tips, Tricks and Treats for Your Halloween Photos

This week, when my fearless leader, Photodoto Head Honcho Nancy Young, asked me to write a story on shooting Halloween, I must admit that I kind of had a freak out attack. I’m just not a Halloween person. I mean, bobbing for apples? Totally unsanitary. Haunted houses? They’re SCARY.

 Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Brian Corrigan

But of course I take pictures of my children in their costumes…they cost too much for that single-use-two-hour- frenzy-in-the-dark-when-no-one-even-sees-their-costumes not to!!

This wasn’t always the case. I mean, I’m a Professional Photographer, capital P, capital P, and when you have double capital P’s in front of your name, your photographs must be perfect, I thought, and I’m mortified to admit that for Zoe’s first Halloween, I stood there with my camera, blowing raspberries, rattling rattles, jumping around, waiting for the perfect moment, until she got too hot and frustrated and just started crying.

I just couldn’t get out of my head long enough to just pull the trigger, and I regret it. So today’s theme is a Nike tagline twist: just shoot it!!

It’s Halloween Time

So let’s start with what we know, shall we? Halloween is a time of extreme emotion. Everyone is a little tipsy on candy corn and caramel apples, laughing and running around, pulling on costumes and wigs and applying makeup, so dig in, right there, late afternoon, when the shadows are long, but you can still get a sense of place. Before the friends come over. Get YOUR kids first. And/or, make it a party and have everyone all get ready together, but if they can’t, just know: It’s ok to shoot the big group picture in the dark with hideous shadows all over the everywhere. Your neighbors probably haven’t ever had anything different.

They are probably going to move by next year anyway. But not your kids. Oh, what the heck, be generous and have the neighbors come over early, before dark, and spread the magnaminity of the Great Pumpkin’s good will to all of mankind.

This is my daughter, Zoe, a couple of years back in our yard in Arizona, and she was so excited that she was just skipping around before her friends came over.

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Halloween costumes have a mind of their own; like they were perfect in the store, but when it comes down to actually WEARING the suckers, things get crazy. It’s ok if everything isn’t perfect. Costumes go askew, that’s ok, you’re not shooting an ad for the costume company, you’re capturing a memory, a fleeting moment in time.

If you take the time to make everything perfect this night, the kids will be late getting the full sized Three Musketeers at Mrs. Johnson’s house, and then those darling little precious babies will turn into cranky little goblins in the blink of an eye, and one thing that you do NOT want on your hands is a cranky little goblin. Trust me. Little Sammy’s crown was falling off, but who cares?? Look at his smile!! Run with it!! Take the shot. (I used natural window light and my on-camera flash)

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

A lot of people get crazy about the backgrounds and want to include every single bit of Halloween paraphernalia that they can…I have to admit, I like a beautiful…well, anything, even a Halloween display as much as the next guy, like the one I took this absolutely perfect fall afternoon in Peninsula, Ohio at Szalay’s Farm, straight out of my iphone. I had a couple of emails this week asking me to post pictures that anyone can take, so I found the camera icon on my iphone and started shooting. The quality is, of course different from my normal $20,000 of full photographer regalia that I haul around with me, but for moments like these, take the shot, use what you’ve got. It’s not the size of the lens, it’s the magic the camera owner possesses.

Photo by by Brian Corrigan

Photo by by Brian Corrigan

I always seem to lean toward separating your subject from the background and either blurring out the background (use a small f-stop, like 2.8) or just finding a plain wall, march your subject a few feet away from the wall, and shoot away, like this shot of my daughter, Tenley when she was a tiny little girl. The wall was a stucco wall that was just outside of my front door, under the overhang in full shade, but shards of light were coming through the shingles of the roof, and the texture of the wall bothered me because I thought that the rough surface was taking away from her baby soft skin, so I just put a little Gaussian blur on the background and it kind of looks to me like she now has little angel wings!

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

I took little Lily into my kitchen, which had late afternoon light streaming in from the side as well as window behind her and shot her cute little two year old self before we set off trick or treating. Yes, in all of these shots, there are a myriad of things that you can pick apart. But look at her FACE. Look at that SMILE. Simple, gorgeous and perfect.

The Decorations

Ms. I Hate Halloween here just went and plunked down three hundred dollars on her outdoor decorations. I know, there is something Wrong with me. So what do you do if you want to shoot your decorations? Same as with a portrait…isolate out the most important things. Details are your friend. It’s 6:47 here in Northeast Ohio, and sunset, according to my “Daylight” app, is at 6:51, so I ran outside, again, with my iphone, and took a big picture shot of my front display.

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

It just feels too…busy, large, disjointed…I could go on, but why? Ugh, Yick. Yucky. Instead, choose small details. You’ll get the true feel of it. See this? Ahhhh, so much better!!

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Photo by Barbara Stitzer

Of course, you can’t do a Halloween shoot without shooting a jack-o-lantern. Jack-o-lanterns are tricky. As you can see on this one, taken by my friend, Brian Corrigan, you want to be able to see the light giving a nice orange glow from within the pumpkin, so you can’t use a flash to light it. Brian also put some twinkle lights and another pumpkin behind the jack-o-lantern, and some fall foliage in front of it, shot it at dusk at 1.4, with an iso of 100, making sure to have a long enough exposure to burn in the candle and twinkle lights, and effectively blurring out the background just enough so that the sharp focus of the pumpkin takes center stage while still allowing your eye to jump around the picture.

Photo by Brian Corrigan

Photo by Brian Corrigan

Conclusion

The most important thing to remember this Halloween, is that this day, like your first kiss, like your wedding, like the birth of your first child, happens only one time. Next year, “Frozen’s” Elsa won’t be cool any more, your little girl won’t have those two front teeth missing, and your teenager might decide that dressing up for Halloween is too babyish, so, no matter what you do, no matter how disheveled and imperfect the moment, get out there, and shoot with passion, shoot with soul, and shoot your little orange pumpkin heart out.

Don’t miss out our previous guide to Halloween photography!

Send me your Halloween pictures!! I want to see them!!!

Barbara Stitzer

Barb Stitzer is an award winning Master Photographer living in Hudson, Ohio with her husband, her teen, Zoe and her tween, Tenley. She creates beauty and memories worldwide. Feel free to find her on Facebook or check out her website.
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