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10 Tips for Spectacular (and Spooky!) Halloween Photography

tips for spectacular halloween photography

Looking for Halloween photography tips and tricks? Want some fun Halloween photoshoot ideas to take your images to the next level?

In this article, I’m going to share plenty of techniques for beautiful Halloween pictures, including:

  • Lighting tips for spooky results
  • Compositional secrets to give your images an edge
  • Easy ways to photograph your kids and their adorable costumes
  • Fun Halloween photo ideas
  • Much more!

So if you’re ready to pick up that camera on the scariest day of the year…

…then let’s get started!

1. Include spooky or atmospheric Halloween props

Halloween involves plenty of objects, from pumpkins and costumes to skeletons, bats, and ghosts. 

So use them. If you’re doing Halloween portrait photography, bring in a prop or two. Have the kids hold a ghost; have your spouse peek through a skeleton; have your pet wear a pumpkin costume and photograph them up close.

Here’s a nice, prop-based image:

person carrying jack-o'-lantern as a prop

Sometimes, as with the image above, the props alone can make great photos. You can capture beautiful shots of Halloween gravestones, houses decked out in bats and ghosts, and more. 

Don’t just take snapshots, though. Make sure you pay careful attention to composition (see the tips below), lighting (also see below), and do what you can to tell an interesting story with your camera.

2. Highlight a relevant point of interest

If you’re after great Halloween pictures – spooky, cute, or anything in between – you absolutely must include a focal point, some key “hero” element that the viewer immediately prioritizes.

For instance, if you’re photographing your child in their costume, make them the center of attention. Ensure you’re working with a clean background (with no distractions whatsoever!) and a bare foreground. Adjust your camera settings to make your child’s face sharp and well exposed.

Of course, you can always include secondary subjects or items in a photo. But they should not be the priority, and as soon as they begin to distract from the main subject, then you should toss them out. 

Check out this example, where the woman is the subject, but the wine glass acts as a secondary subject:

spooky witch photoshoot idea

Do you see why the image works? The background is relatively clean, there are no distractions, and the viewer’s eye travels straight to the woman’s face, to the cup, and back. The image is also wonderfully Halloween-esque; check out the dark background, orange colors, and wonderfully spooky atmosphere!

Bottom line:

Before hitting the shutter, ask yourself, “What is the focal point of this photo?” And do everything in your power to emphasize that.

3. Fill the frame with Halloween spirit

Halloween is a time of drama. And you can convey this in your images by getting in nice and close – so that you fill the frame with your subjects.

skeleton on Halloween

If you’re photographing your child in a costume, make sure there’s no boring, empty edges around the frame. Instead, zoom on in (or get in close) so every little detail is captured by your camera. 

No need to go overboard, though. Don’t go in so far that your lens can’t focus, and don’t get so close that the viewer doesn’t understand what the photo is about, either. Instead, identify your subject (tip 2!), make them the center of attention, and zoom on in.

If your main subject doesn’t look Halloween-esque enough, consider spicing them up with additional decorations, costumes, trinkets, and the like. More Halloween is usually better!

4. Give subjects space to look into

Here’s a Halloween portrait photography tip for better compositions:

Note the direction of your subject’s face and eyes. Then adjust your camera framing until the subject has substantial room in front of their line of sight. 

It might seem weird, but it actually helps balance out the composition, plus it’ll add a sense of dynamism; the viewer is compelled to follow the subject’s gaze throughout the shot. (In fact, it even has a name: the rule of space.)

Here’s a nice example:

kids carving pumpkins

The two boys are looking downward, and the composition is perfect with plenty of room near the bottom of the frame (note how their eyes have lots of space to look into!).

5. Find unconventional angles and foregrounds to add spookiness

Halloween photography is often about improving the atmosphere (the spookier, the better, right?). And a great way to create that sense of holiday chill is via perspective.

You see, by getting down low – down in the dirt, in fact! – you’ll make your subject loom large over the viewer. The effect is especially powerful when combined with a wide-angle lens. 

You can create an ultra-scary shot, with a skeleton, bat, or ghost emerging from the scene.

Another quick tip: 

Try backing up to put an interesting foreground element in front of your subject. Of course, you don’t want to add anything distracting, as I discussed above. But a dark branch or two in front of the subject can do a lot to enhance the atmosphere.

6. Photograph the little details

It’s easy to get distracted by the flashy parts of Halloween – but it’s often when you take a step back, look around, and notice the smaller details that you’ll find the money shots. 

Halloween is filled with interesting little moments worthy of capture. There are:

  • Decorations
  • Pumpkin carving fun
  • Actual carved pumpkins (see the tip below!)
  • People getting dressed in costumes
  • Lots of candy at the end of the night
  • Sleeping kids at the end of parties and/or trick-or-treating
  • Close-ups of food

So don’t let these subjects pass you by. Instead, keep an eye out – and when you see a memory worth recording, do it. A few years from now, these intimate images will tell the real story of Halloween, and you’ll be so glad you captured them.

Happy Halloween cookie

7. Don’t forget the group photos!

Halloween is a time for fun gatherings and parties, which means that you’ll have plenty of opportunities for group photos.

So break out your wider focal length lenses, get everyone arranged in a group, and take some images. Consider finding a higher vantage point (if you’re indoors, try a stepping stool; if you’re outdoors, consider some steps or even a roof).

Of course, make sure everyone grabs a prop or two and puts on their costumes. And ask them all to make their scariest faces!

Halloween group photoshoot witches

8. Shoot low-light silhouettes for a spooky effect

When you think of Halloween, the type of images that come to mind are dark and spooky, such as candles in pumpkins, bats in the night, and mysterious cats walking about in the evening. 

So why not try to create a few spooky images of your own, using a low-light silhouette technique? It’ll get you images like this:

silhouette of a cat

First, find a subject that makes a good silhouette (it should have clearly defined edges and should – ideally – be recognizable, like the cat in the photo above). 

Then wait until the sun has gone down and you have an orange, red, or yellow sky. Position yourself between the subject and the sunset, then crouch low until the subject is framed against the beautiful background.

You’ll want to keep your flash deactivated, and I recommend underexposing the image for a darker effect. Here are two ways you can do it:

  • Increase your shutter speed, taking test shots as you go. You’ll probably want to start around 1/100s or so, depending on the level of darkness, then increase to 1/250s, 1/500s, and beyond, depending on the effect you achieve. (Remember: Review each image immediately after hitting the shutter button!)
  • Narrow your aperture (again, take plenty of test shots along the way). This will darken your photo, but it will also increase the depth of field, consequently sharpening the background, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your goals. 

Anyway, the ultimate goal is to get a relatively dark, moody image, so don’t worry about the shot looking too underexposed. Simply aim for a little bit of silhouette detail with a medium-bright background, and the results will turn out great.

9. Use flash gels for atmospheric Halloween photography

Here’s a clever Halloween photography idea that past readers have suggested: 

Find some sort of colored cellophane (orange, yellow, and red all work well), then place it over your flash. When you take a shot, the cellophane will act as a flash gel, changing the light color for a beautiful effect. 

(If you can’t find colored cellophane, just grab clear cellophane but draw on it with an orange marker!)

You’ll want to test this one ahead of time, because you need to carefully apply the right density of cellophane (one sheet versus two or three, etc.). But when done right, the effect is absolutely marvelous and makes for cool Halloween pictures. 

By the way, it doesn’t matter if you have a camera pop-up flash, a handheld off-camera flash, or a full studio setup. You can use this tip no matter your equipment, and you’re bound to get gorgeous results. 

Make sense?

10. Photograph the jack-o’-lanterns, too!

Jack-o’-lanterns are Halloween classics, and there’s nothing quite so satisfying as capturing a beautiful shot of a glowing pumpkin. So make sure to spend a little time with your camera pointed at a jack-o’-lantern or two!

Now, photographing jack-o’-lanterns can be tricky, because you need to capture both the pumpkin exterior and the interior glow, which is a bit of a tightrope walk between overexposure and underexposure. If you can, take a few photos with varying shutter speeds. And consider bracketing your exposures and blending using high dynamic range techniques in post-processing.

That way, you can be sure to get the impact you’re after.

jack-o'-lanterns glowing at night

Halloween photography tips: final words

Well, there you have it:

Some Halloween photography tips, Halloween photoshoot ideas, and just general advice to take your images to the next level.

So this Halloween, make sure you remember these tips. You’ll finish the night with some outstanding shots!

Now over to you:

Do you have any Halloween photo tips of your own? Do you have any Halloween picture ideas? What do you plan to photograph this Halloween? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Halloween decorations

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Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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