5 top tips on getting creatively creepy photos for Halloween

5 top tips on getting creatively creepy photos for Halloween

Photo by Ross Matthews

Focus Editor Philip discusses five ways you can get frightening, fanciful images perfect for the Halloween season

I love Halloween; it's my favourite holiday of the year, and it’s also, for any photographer, a great opportunity to get some fantastic themed shots for their portfolio.

When it comes to holidays and photography, however, All Hallow’s Eve isn't as popular with photographers compared to other holidays like Christmas, and I think that's missing a trick somewhat. If you're a fan of anything spooky, then it's the perfect time to get those shots. Also, image buyers are always on the lookout for new images based on holidays, so from creating some themed shots, you could benefit financially too.

Here are some of my top tips for getting the best Halloween-themed photographs, just try not to creep yourself out too much while you’re at it!

1 Lower the lights for a wicked Jack-o'-lantern shot

A Halloween Jack-O-Lantern comes to life with wild flames and an evil smile. Photo by Pete Morton - f/18 | 0.4s | ISO 160

Photograph your pumpkins when it's dark, with your jack-o'-lantern illuminated from the inside. This way, the emphasis will be on its carved face, and you'll also bring out the textures, not to mention it'll look alive and incredibly creepy. The image above is a great example, but you don't need full-on flames coming out of your pumpkin (not to mention this requires you to be extremely careful) to get this effect. The usual setup of a simple tea light or small candle will do.

So to get the best results, darken your surroundings (or consider photographing your pumpkin outside at night) and make sure you focus on the pumpkin itself rather than anything else. You may need to experiment with a few different shutter speed settings to make sure the scene isn't too bright or dark. You'll want to dial in settings that best expose the whole pumpkin; not settings based on the dark background or very bright areas of the scene.

2 Shoot at dawn for spine-chilling conditions

Man in dark mysterious forest with fog at night on Halloween. Photo by Cosma Andrei - f/8 | 1/125s | ISO 200

Autumn (or Fall) is the perfect time for spooky, atmospheric photos - so you can get some beautiful shots for the Halloween season during this time. Going out at dawn will give you arguably the best conditions where you'll most likely encounter murky, foggy conditions. Locations like forests, empty streets or derelict sites make great places for themed photos, and you can give your image a hook by, for example, adding ghostly-looking figures to scenes like the image above.

3 Give your images the moody treatment in Lightroom

Friday the 13th costume by Jason Kessenich - f/2.8 | 1/320s | ISO 800

Whatever the subject of your images, you can amplify their spooky look by refining them further in Lightroom. We've got a full video tutorial on how to get a dark and moody look for your photos, but if you want to make a few simple adjustments, there are a few other things you can do.

Generally, the colder, the less saturated and the higher the level of contrast in your photos, the creepier they'll look. So in Lightroom in the Develop Module, first drop the Temperature down to make the cool tones prominent. You can also reduce the Vibrancy and Saturation and increase Contrast and Clarify as this will enhance the eerie look. Like the above image, you could also experiment with adding grain from the Presets Panel to give your shot a bit more of a gritty feel.

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4 Seek out scary decorations

Halloween season by Anna Sowinska - f/6.3 | 1/125s | ISO 400

Going out on a photo walk around your neighbourhood is not only great practice for your photography skills (see our guide to photo walks here), but around Hallowe'en, you can get some brilliant subjects for your themed shots in the form of photographing decorations and homemade scenes. It's also great fun, and closer to Halloween itself, you can get some fantastic portraits of people in their costumes. Many places also hold Halloween festivals, for example, the famous Derry Halloween Festival, which will provide ample opportunities for photography.

5 Go monochrome

Halloween by Alex Pickering - f/2.0 | 1/160s | ISO 200

And finally, one of the best (and possibly the simplest) ways to give your shots a creepy makeover is to convert them to black and white; it can make an immediate impact. But be sure to pay attention to the contrast and tones once you've converted your image, so it looks its best. Again, the darker and murkier, the better. See our top tips on converting your photos to black and white in our dedicated guide.

So there you have it! And I hope these tips are helpful. Remember to enjoy yourself, don't be afraid to experiment, and most importantly, have fun!