Don’t be Afraid of the Dark: Top Tips for Low Light Halloween Photos

by Leila S Posted on October 27, 2011

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What kid doesn’t love a holiday where you get to play make believe in public only to be rewarded with candy?  Sweet!  Halloween is a day of fantasy, whimsy, heroes and a cathartic exploration of our everyday fears. No wonder it is the second most popular day of the year in America for photography (ranking just behind Christmas). Are you prepared for the fantastical photo opportunities and equally unique lighting challenges?  Halloween celebrates the nocturnal, so you’ll likely want to shoot when the moon has made her ascent. Follow these low light photo tips and you won’t be spooked by shooting after dark.

Shoot at twilight. Take your sugar seeking brood out a little early to take advantage of the remaining natural light. With twilight on your side, you’ll even have the flexibility to underexpose your shots for a moodier look, while still maintaining a relatively fast ISO and shutter speed. Google when the sun goes down in your area and plan to head out an hour or so earlier. Pay attention to the dimming light as night sets in and bump up your ISO as necessary.

Turn up your ISO and turn down your flash. As darkness creeps upon you, increase your ISO even more to avoid the motion blur that comes with slow shutter speeds. With a higher ISO, your camera will be more sensitive to light so you’ll be able to keep on clicking with the things that go bump in the night. Your shots will also be more noisy (grainy), but given your spooky subject matter it works!  You’ll also want to diffuse, stop down, or turn off your flash entirely to maintain the nighttime ambiance.

Use a “night light”. One of the coolest things about night photography is the unworldly glow produced by moonlight, candle flames, streetlights, flashlights and glow sticks. Seek out these light sources or bring them along as props – the brighter the better.  When a high ISO is not enough to capture their dim light, widen your aperture or slow down your shutter speed. Just be aware of the impact this has on your depth of field and your ability to stop motion respectively.  Consider a tripod if you drop your shutter speed lower than 1/60. Then again, you might want to let ghostly apparitions blur across your lens.

Speaking of spooks, spirits and the supernatural, emphasize the eerie with dramatic lighting from beneath your subject (monster lighting). Try a really bright flashlight or an external flash if you have the equipment necessary to trigger it off camera. Pair that up with a low angle or a wide-angle lens to really bring out that monster in your little monster.

Look for light indoors. Photographing Halloween parties and crafts present many of the same low light challenges as night photography.  Although our artificial lights appear bright to our eyes, they pale in comparison to the light outside by day. If it’s a bright and open look you’re after, combine a higher ISO with a flash and shoot fairly wide open (a wide aperture). With an external flash, bouncing it off the ceiling is often a good technique and will soften the light. This works best when the ceiling is white (or bright and neutral) and not too high. Take advantage of any daylight streaming in from large windows too.

There now, that wasn’t too scary, was it?

PS:  I tend to focus on the kiddies, but costume sales for us grown ups are outpacing those for kids. It’s still a holiday I get into myself for sure.  In fact, I’ve been known to stay up all night before a Halloween party crafting my costume, after spending a good amount of time shopping for just the right wardrobe and accessories. Will you be dressing up? Do you go all out?

Leila is a NYC kids lifestyle photographer who writes a monthly blog called Foto Shui – make your photos flow.

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  1. AnnAbbott Says:

    I read this and decided to go with the night time out door Halloween shot this year and it came out great! The kids totally got into character and became their costume.

  2. mypetia Says:

    I did both – right before darkness set in, and then looked for a light source in the darkness for more if a haunting quality… Great action shots in this article. Great tips too. Thanks.

  3. Leila Sutton Says:

    @ AnnAbbott & mypetia – fun!!! Glad you made some memories to haunt you ;) If you have a link to a share site we’d love to see the results.
    Best, Leila
    http://www.leilasutton.com

more about Leila S

My name is Leila (l-eye-la) and I'm a NYC kids lifestyle photographer. I shoot kids and families for advertising and editorial clients, and everyday moms & dads from all over the world. I'm always aiming for that perfect balance of expression, action and environment to come together and tell a story. In my case, that story is most often honest and joyful. When I'm not out shooting with clients, you'll find me toting around my gear whenever I have the opportunity to travel or in my own neck of the woods at family parties. I just can't get enough. Parents, friends and family (even my own mom!) often ask me how I get them and their kids to look so amazing. Some of it is technical and some of it is just learning to notice the right details. I'm thrilled to be able share with my fellow Shutterfly enthusiasts my professional advice on how to "make your photos flow". And yes, I use Shutterfly too for my personal snapshots! I've made beautiful photo greeting cards and love their share sites for giving my friends & family insider access to the gazillion shots they're always seeing me take. Visit my website at leilasutton.com, follow me on facebook.com/leilasuttonphotography, or peruse my blog fotoshui.com - make your photos flow.

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