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Halloween is my favorite holiday and one of the best bits is the undead. Zombies aren’t confined to Halloween but their Fall migration, called Zombie Walks, begin around September and numbers increase drastically until October 31st. Help track the spread of walking undead this season with some great photos!
Like any subject, your photos will improve tremendously if you get the right pose. In this case, that means getting shots that reinforce the idea of a zombie. In other words, the poses should reflect the walking dead. Bodies that are slumped, heads at odd angles, vacant stares, and feral snarls are the hallmarks of a zombie.
If your subject can’t relax and act like the dead thing he is, ask him to imagine that the only thing holding him up are marionette strings between his shoulders and at his wrists. If his eyes haven’t lost all color and turned milky white yet, have him roll his eyes upward so you can only see the whites of his eyes in the photo.
Think about every horror movie you’ve ever seen. The creatures wouldn’t be nearly as scary without the dim lighting, lots of shadows, and the generally dirty feel of the film. Don’t look for soft even light when photographing zombies.
Harsh directional lighting and high contrast brings out the shape of sunken cheeks and will add shadows. Also consider underexposing your shot by a 1/2 stop or full stop to add a more dangerous feel to your images in further intensify angles/shadows. If you are adding flash to your photo, either use off camera flash or turn your camera upside down and bounce the flash from the ground to light the zombie from below to add extra creepiness to the shot. A piece of white poster paper can be rolled up for easy transport and makes a great reflector for ground bounce flash. Swapping to black and white or sepia is also an excellent choice to help bring out details.
Zombies aren’t pretty and they aren’t nice. This is not the time to be looking for beauty shots. Grain and noise are a good thing with zombie photos. The distressed look of the film will add to the dangerous and distressing nature of your subject in the photo.
If you are shooting at night, go ahead and up your film speed. The added grain/noise will actually add to the atmosphere of the image. If you are shooting in the daytime you can still up your film speed to add noise. You’ll just need to increase your shutter speed to make up for the additional light or add a neutral density filter to your lens. You can also add noise/grain when you edit your photos if you prefer.
Pay attention to what is behind your zombie subject(s). The vast majority of zombie migrations take place in urban settings so chain link fences, cars, and even garbage cans are fine in the background of zombie photos. However, one uninfected person smiling cluelessly in the background can completely throw off the feel of your zombie pic. Wait a moment or two until the zombies notice the prey in their midst and then capture the feeding frenzy.
Photographing zombies is one time that the straight horizons rule can be easily discarded. A tilted frame can help translate the lurching motion of a zombie in your photographs. Which direction you tilt the frame depends on how much the zombie is leaning and how much background is visible around the zombie. If you are filling the frame with your subject tilt against the lurch. If plenty of background is visible tilt with the subject angle. If you are unsure which angle to use, remember that when you are shooting over your shoulder while running from the horde you should get plenty of varying angles to choose from later.??Shooting upwards also puts the zombies in control visually in your photos because it makes the viewer feel like they are looking up. So don’t just give up when the zombies surround you, keep shooting until the last moment. You can take comfort in knowing that whomever finds your camera later will be surprised with a great final shot of the zombies closing in over you.
Liz Masoner is a long time photographer based in Alabama with experience ranging from freelance to photojournalist. She is widely published online and in print, including 5 years developing the photography content for About.com. Liz is a co-founder of the Phorum Photographic community and also maintains a personal blog chronicling her adventures and misadventures from behind the lens.