How to Become the Neighborhood Sensation with Halloween Photos

By Chris MacAskill, SmugMug co-founder
Years ago we faced a Halloween dilemma: do we just pass out Snickers bars and bore everyone? Scatter a few plastic skeletons and cobwebs like everyone else? Enter an arms race with the guy a few blocks away who spends days turning his house into a Hollywood Horror Show? Where does he even store all that stuff?

Instead, we set up some lights on the driveway and shot photos:

The thing is, Smartphone cameras don’t do well in the dark.  So parents bus their kids to our neighborhood to get their annual Halloween photos:

Even the cool kids need to score Instagram likes:

Here are some things I’ve learned from 7 years and thousands of photos:

  1. The Big Thing is to have a Very Big Light front and center.  I am usually on knees or bum, and the Very Big Light is above me.  I use a 60-inch softbox.  One reason for a big light in the center is that, on zero notice, Very Big Groups will form:

The big, centered light keeps some faces from being lost in the shadows.  And it casts very soft, flattering light that adults love.

  1.  Get a very wwiiiiiddddee backdrop.  I chose black because, well, Halloween.  Black anything will do: bedsheets, paper, whatever.  You can move it back from the subjects far enough that it’s really black and is never seen in photos.

This is what happens when the group is too big for the backdrop:

  1.  Knee pads.  Ow, my knees.  I like to get the camera down to the children’s level.

  1.  There will be witches, Darth Vader, and black-hatted villains.  If you can add a flash or two behind and to the side, you’ll actually be able to see black costumes and hair without them blending into the backdrop.

  1.  Smoke!  Smoke machines are cheap on Amazon and just a few puffs add a bit of awesome:

  1.  A zoom lens.  I love prime lenses and wide apertures for dreamy shallow depth of field.  But during Halloween, you’ll shoot a small child dressed as a pumpkin and 30 seconds later you’ll shoot a large group of teens.  I use a 24-105.
  1. JPEG, not RAW.  I set my white balance for the flash and it never varies.  I set my exposure at manual because the camera will give different exposures for people in white versus people in black if I try auto exposure.  There’s no issue with dynamic range, so RAW only slows everything down but doesn’t improve quality in this case.
  1.  Tether!  I use Lightroom to display the JPEGs on a monitor as I shoot them.  It’s great entertainment for people in line.  And when people see the photos, they’re sold on your photo booth.
  1.  Hand-out cards to tell your fans where they can download their photos.  I send them to

Have an amazing time!  It’s one of my favorite nights of the year.

16 thoughts on “How to Become the Neighborhood Sensation with Halloween Photos”

  1. After talking with Sean of your firm, Who do I contact about changing what is said about me in a Google search of “Minardi Photography” which comes up first as “Minardi-Photo” which is good. Under those words is a description that someone at your office wrote that says, “Billions of happy photos, millions of passionate customers. Gorgeous online photo albums. Protect your priceless memories. Buy beautiful prints & gifts.”

    It needs to be corrected to say under ,

    Please visit for your image needs.”

    “There are millions of pictures to purchase and license by award-winning, internationally renowned photographer, Michael J. Minardi who was a field photographer for the NFL for 25 years and an award-winning military photographer with combat camera in the U.S.Marines and U.S.Army. Whether you desire pictures of your favorite football player, or famous person or a beautiful scene from many locals around the world, Minardi-Photography offers you some of the most beautiful artistic photography available today.

    How can I have this put under my Google search?


    Michael J. Minardi

    1. Hi Michael

      Make use of the descriptions area on your SmugMug site. Start with the site description, in your account settings. That’s where you should add the blurb above.
      You also have the ability to add similar text to your profile, and to each and every gallery description and folder description on your site.
      The text that displays will be particular to the url(link) that shows in the search that was done. If you don’t add gallery descriptions or folder descriptions, your site description will be shown.

      1. After dark these photo’s came out perfect…I loved the smoke, the dark and the lighting…the children were clear and happy. What a grand idea. I know many children who never had a picture of their outfits..YOU NEED TO CLONE YOURSELF AND BE EVERYWHERE..ACROSS THE USA

    1. Hi! So happy to hear you liked the post. We don’t have a behind-the-scenes image but perhaps we can get one of this years set up.

  2. I love the idea… One obstacle might be the legal angle? Have you ever had issue with parents concerned about the weird neighbor taking pictures of their kids? Do you have them sign modelling agreements?

    1. Hi Curtis

      I asked Baldy – here’s his reply: “One thing is we live in the center of Silicon Valley where parents are used to social media. Another thing is my wife stands on the edge of the driveway looking like a kindly grandmother, asking if they want their picture taken. It’s free, you can just download it from a website. That way they know it’s going on the Internet and if they’re uncomfortable they can just say no thanks and get a piece of candy from her.”


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