Ghostly Halloween Photo Tips

With the ‘Witching Hour’ nearly upon us, we thought it would be a great time to practise those spooky Halloween photographs!

Given that Halloween begins as the sun sets, this can become terrifying for us photographers, especially if you’re new to this genre.

Don’t panic, it’s not the end of the world; there are various ways to overcome this horror.

When the lights go out, grab your emergency torch, bring down those Christmas lights early.

Have a hunt the house for glow sticks, or simply transform your desk lamps into fearful Halloween lanterns.

Halloween has lots of fantastic subjects to shoot, from the trusty Jack-O-Lantern, to the classic cackling witches over a cauldron. The tricks (and treats) to Halloween photography is not all that different to what you have been practising already. There are however some key features that you may want to keep in mind to get those frighteningly good photos: focal point, the rule of thirds, framing, angles, detail, white balance, and flash.

Shutter Speed

When photographing your classic Jack-O-Lantern, you may want to consider using three or four candles inside, to make sure there’s enough light in your image. However, be careful not to over or under expose the candle, as this will be the key point of our image. You could also try using coloured LED lights for an alternative, vivid effect.

To make sure you capture the most detail in the pumpkin, you may need to use a slower shutter speed; this will allow more light to enter the camera, making it easier to capture your subject.

You may also have to call upon the three legged monster … the tripod! If a tripod is not an option for you, try positioning your camera on a hard surface, as this can work just as well.

Top tip: Use a self-timer and a tripod to avoid camera shake.


For this particular gruesome Halloween photograph, we want to be using spot metering, positioning the candle light in the spot, to ensure we have the correct exposure.

Spot metering (over matrix metering) in this photograph, will give us the advantage we need to shoot successfully in darker situations; although. It does require more effort than matrix metering. To change the metering on most cameras, you need to go into the shooting menu or metering mode; spot metering is shown by a small dot in a rectangle display.

If your camera has the option to, we would suggest you use the Auto Exposure lock button (AE-L), especially if you’re in Aperture Priority; this will then tell the camera where you want the exposure to be read from. Make sure that you turn off the Auto Focus lock (AF-L) in the shooting menu, as these are often combined.

Next, you will need to choose from your composition where you want the camera to read the exposure from. We would advise somewhere lit up by the candle, but not the direct candlelight. Then, you can lock in this exposure (using the AE-L button) and continue with your shot.


To make sure that your exposure is spot on, you could play it extra safe and use exposure bracketing. This is where the camera will take three shots every time that you release the shutter button at different exposure levels. Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) takes three separate shots, one at normal exposure, one intentionally overexposed and one underexposed; look for the right balance of highlight and shadow.


To let as much light in as possible, you will need to use a low f stop (wide aperture). For those of you who have completed the iPhotography module 5 on Aperture, you will know that this means a narrow/shallow depth of field. (This is where the subject is in focus but your background has a nice blurred effect.)

It is important when shooting your Halloween photographs that you are focussing your camera correctly – otherwise, the wrong part can become blurred. We suggest you leave your Auto Focus Lock (AF-L) on (when setting the exposure) or manually select your focus point. This is different for each individual camera, so may need to have a quick scout around.

By using a low f stop and steadying those claws to slow your shutter speed, you are telling the camera to open the lens as wide as possible – to let light in for a long amount of time. This should mean that you won’t have to boost your ISO too high in order to achieve the low light image you want. Therefore, taking photographs this way will help reduce grain or noise in your images; obviously, if it’s a gruesome grit and grain appearance you’re actually aiming for, then boomf up the ISO.

click to see an example of high ISO

White Balance

Why not add some eerie effects to your Halloween photographs using white balance? The white balance setting you use in camera is designed to make your pictures warmer or cooler.

Average white balance for ideal lighting is around 5000K (Kelvin). A lower kelvin number will make your lighting warmer, and a higher kelvin will make your lighting cooler.

Adjusting your white balance is often most effective when shooting in over cast skies, or under fluorescent bulbs; this is because the white balance counteracts the colours.
However, you can also use the in-camera presets to change the colours of your lighting. For example, the candlelight is going to be warm (low on the Kelvin scale), so if you raise it above average, or use an incandescent or fluorescent pre-set, your image will appear much colder.

If you’re still not getting the images that you want, try a low-wattage lamp to add a warm glow to the outside of the pumpkin. You could also try adding an orange coloured gel to enhance the depth in colour. 

If it’s easier, change the current bulb to an orange coloured bulb in the lamp. You could also consider adding more candles out of the shot, to illuminate the orange of the pumpkin skin with a similar glow.

Ghoul Lighting

If you have willing models, who are happy to be photographed in the dark, another Halloween trick you could try, would be to photograph your subject under candle light, or other low light conditions.

You could push your Halloween photography right over the edge here; style and dress your subject to look as deadly as possible, then add a stream of LED light to illuminate them very slightly. For example, consider a very dark room and something as simple as a cauldron? Place your lights inside the cauldron and then position your model directly behind.

If you haven’t got small LED or battery lights to put inside the cauldron, try positioning the pot at an angle and then place a lamp behind it. Make sure you consider and arrange your composition to ensure no unwanted objects are visible – wires and plug sockets will definitely NOT add to the overall end effect – although if forgotten, they could create some negative gasps of horror.


No Halloween would be complete without scary props. However, that does not mean you have to go out and purchase expensive costumes. Do not overlook or underestimate the power of a white sheet, a piece of muslin or even a plain old frosted glass window!

This Halloween we want to see drama, colours, lighting and deathly amounts of creepy compositions! Remember that Halloween only comes once a year, so grab your gear, switch your imagination to scare mode, and go and get that ghastly snap… keep well away from the clowns…

For those of you who prefer eerie, ghostly imagery, why not take a peak (or revisit) the iPhotography Light Tricks modules 2 and 4 (shutter speed and ghosting sections). Halloween is the perfect time to get those ‘ghosting’ assignment submissions in…

And in the words of Nightmare on Elm Street…
‘Whatever you do… don’t fall asleep’…

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