July 18, 2022


Sony and Minolta SLR Weblog

Halloween Photos: Break the Rules to achieve Maximum Interest

The first of two parts

Which image says Halloween to you?

Which image says Halloween to you? The image at top was shot with the popup flash on the Sony A350. It us about as sinister as a Mayberry RFD rerun. The bottom photo was shot without flash. It is filled with dark shadows, the white balance is shifted towards orange and the long exposure caused the people to look blurred. Despite this, the bottom image is the way I think a Halloween photo should look like.

(Part 1 of 2. Read part 2 at: Halloween is a perfect time to try Available Light Photography) Oct. 29, 2009: There are only a few more days until Halloween. This is an wonderful time to explore the creative side of photography. One-of-a-kind costumes, strange decorations, spooky lights and unearthly backgrounds all provide fantasy fodder for the photographer’s lens.

Of course most Halloween activity occurs after dark or inside at some sort of party. Under normal circumstances, this is the perfect opportunity to use electronic flash. However, All Hallows Eve is designed to be spooky and mysterious. The cozy, bright illumination you would prefer for holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas is out of place for Halloween. So think twice before reaching for that flash unit on October 31.

If you must use Electronic Flash

After dark, you may require some artificial light to get an usable shot. Normally, I strongly recommend off-camera flash. The results are generally much more pleasing. Since this is Halloween, however, rules are made to be broken. I think the hot shoe flash might just be the hot setup.

One of the reasons most photographers dislike direct flash from the hot shoe is the light washes away the shadows, making your subject look lifeless and…dare I say it…dead. Hmmm, might this be a perfect light to shoot the undead with?

Another reason most pros shun hot shoe mounted flashes is that placing the flash too close to the lens axis increases the chances of seeing red-eye in your subject. Red-eye is generally a bad thing, but it might actually enhance portraits of creatures such as werewolves and vampires.

Dragging the Shutter

If you are shooting with a flash unit, you may wish to experiment with dragging the shutter. This term refers to the practice of setting a long time exposure when shooting with a flash. The flash freezes the subject, but the shutter remains open and light toned objects in the background appear as ghostly streaks. Yeah, ghostly. How appropriate.

If you have some willing models, you might flirt with panning after dark. Set your camera up so you are shooting at slow shutter speed, something like 1/8 to 1/15sec. Since you are shooting after dark, this shouldn’t be too difficult. If you try to shoot a pan at longer than 1/8sec, you may find the image will be to blurred to be recognized. Have your model run while you track them with the camera. When you feel you are moving your dSLR at the same rate as the subject, click the shutter and continue to track them until the shutter closes.

Sometimes flash can create interesting high-contrast images. Here the Spiderman costume is brightly lit, while the rest of the background fades to black.

Sometimes flash can create interesting high-contrast images. Here the Spiderman costume is brightly lit, while the rest of the background fades to black.

You’ll have to guestimate this tracking, since the mirror is up when the shutter is open, so you won’t be able to follow them with the viewfinder. I suggest you try many iterations of this exercise, because it is difficult to get the panning right. Most of these images will probably go directly into the trash can when you see them on your computer, because they will be horribly blurred.

Nevertheless, persistence will usually pay off. At least some of these shots will be outstanding. The idea is to pan the camera at the same speed as the moving subject. If you can do this, your subject will be clear, while the background will be filled with a motion blur.

There is a good chance that your model may be somewhat blurred around the edges, because he or she may be moving at a slightly different speed than you moved the camera. This can actually enhance the image, making the subject look like they are moving at incredible speed. I think you can see how this technique could add interest to your Halloween photos.

Try the Rear Curtain Sync Mode

You can shoot panned photos with or without flash. If you do decide to use flash, I suggest you investigate the “Rear Curtain” sync mode on the Sony Alpha.

In the normal mode, your dSLR will fire the flash as soon as the shutter is fully open. Usually that is what you want. When you drag the shutter, any movement after the flash fires will be recorded as streaks of light. If your subject moves, these streaks will appear on top or in front of the subject, making the subject appear to be moving backwards.

In the rear curtain sync mode, the camera fires the flash just before the shutter closes. As a result, the camera records the streaks first, then fully illuminates the subject. The streaks appear behind a moving subject, making the subject appear to be rushing forward.

Having said all that, I suggest you consider dispensing with the flash all together.

In the next installment, I’ll look into available light Halloween photography.

To be continued tomorrow