Photographing kids is scary, especially in bad light. Here are a few tips to help you be less afraid on the year’s scariest night.
Understand the basics
Most Halloween activities take place at dusk or later. When you’re shooting in low light, remember to crank up your ISO, open your aperture, and/or slow down the shutter speed. All three of those steps will help your camera see better, but they all have consequences. Higher ISO will add grain. Larger apertures decrease depth of field, which can come back to bite you in group shots. Slower shutter speeds require a steady hand and still subjects.A good starting place may be to choose auto ISO and stay in shutter-priority mode. To guard against blurry images, set your shutter speed to one over your focal length, e.g. 1/200 sec for a 200mm lens.
Change your perspective
When photographing kids, it’s always a good idea to get down on their level. But it makes even more sense for Halloween. Big monsters are much scarier than little ones, so shoot from a low vantage point to give their costumes the full effect. But remember to get some shots to showcase their actual size. You’ll want to remember just how little they were. So be sure to pose them next to the kitchen counter, a sofa, a car, a family pet, or an adult. And remember to get a shot with the mask off, so you can remember who was who twenty years from now.
Celebrate the shadows
Normally, we all strive to have a nice balance between light and dark areas in our photos. But if there were ever a holiday to skew your images to the dark side, this would be it. Just imagine how much less impact the cat image on the right would have if the shadows were brought up to see more detail in the fur. This image is all about the eyes. So remember what the focus of your image is and the mood you’re going for, and expose accordingly.
Flex your flash
The easiest way to overcome poor lighting environments is to use your on-camera flash. But there are some drawbacks: lost backgrounds, dimensionless faces, and red eyes (which could actually be cool with the right costume). Instead, you may want to try bouncing flash off a white ceiling or wall. You could also set up some off-camera flash for portraits or hand hold a flash unit for candids. You may even want to try dragging the shutter to freeze some action in the foreground, but allow enough time for lower-lit background items to show up on your sensor. Flash is tricky. See next point.
Because of the challenging lighting issues, you might opt for a trial run a few days before Halloween. Practice on jack-o lanterns or kids who are eager to wear their costumes. This exercise will make you more confident and faster on the big day (when kids won’t want to sit still while you fiddle with buttons).
Another way to get more light in the lens is to purposely stage long-exposure shots. A slower shutter speed can create some spooky effects, especially if you have a tripod. Set up for a two-second exposure and have your subject walk slowly through the frame. Or have them stay still for a beat, then move. Or take a faster shot with them in the frame and make a double exposure of a blurred “ghost” behind them. Some cameras make it easy to do this, or you can combine the images in Photoshop. And don’t forget about light painting. Use a light source to add extra light to certain parts of your shot or to “write” messages or shapes.
Capture the prep
There’s magic in the preparation. Just ask a wedding photographer. This is not only an opportunity to capture a kid candidly but a normally camera-shy parent too. And in better light!
This is the first year that even the adults wear masks. Stay safe, everyone.