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:
- 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.
- 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:
- Knee pads. Ow, my knees. I like to get the camera down to the children’s level.
- 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.
- Smoke! Smoke machines are cheap on Amazon and just a few puffs add a bit of awesome:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hand-out cards to tell your fans where they can download their photos. I send them to http://halloween.smugmug.com.
Have an amazing time! It’s one of my favorite nights of the year.