Capture a ghost on camera and more with these 9 Halloween photo tips

halloween photography tips tricks 49544002 ml
Chainat / 123RF
Trick-or-treating is just around the corner — but cameras can be just as good at the tricks and treats, and no, we’re not talking about scouring Pinterest for a costume for your camera. Shooting good Halloween photos, if you know how to meet the challenge of shooting after dark, can be a real treat, but taking a picture of a ghost to freak out your friends is a particularly fun trick. In the spooky spirit of the season, here are nine effects you can pull off with just your camera, computer, and a few accessories.

The Tricks

The Long-Exposure Ghost

halloween photography tips tricks 36911107  surreal artistic image in black and white of multiexposured person
Ann-Christine Höglund / 123RF

Since cameras only capture, well, things that actually exist, when you manage to capture a ghost (or what looks like one) it makes viewers do a double-take. Shooting a long exposure is an easy way to conjure up some spirits in your photograph, no Photoshop required.

To shoot a “ghost” choose your scene – dark scenes will work best, but if you have a good set of neutral density (ND) filters (for reducing the amount of light entering the lens) you do not have to be restricted to low-light environments. Set your camera up on a tripod, then set it to shutter priority mode. To create the ghost, you will need a long shutter speed – 30 seconds or more.

Everything that stays still in the photograph will look like a normal photograph, but anything that moves will look transparent and rather ghost-like. So, while the camera is recording that 30-plus-second shot, move through the scene, in front of the camera –or enlist a friend to help — to create that ghost. Experiment with different props to create the look you are after.

The Levitation Act

Ion Chiosea / 123RF

This one requires Photoshop or another good photo editing application, but the trick can churn out some impressively creepy images. The way to create levitation photography is shooting the scene once without any props, then shooting it again using something like a step stool to place those levitating objects in mid-air. To make the editing process easier, use manual mode so your exposure does not change between shots and a tripod so both images are taken from the exact same perspective.

By using the clone stamp tool (in Photoshop, it looks like a stamp in the toolbar), you can remove the object that the subjects are standing on, making them appear to float in thin air.

For more realistic levitation photos, enlist the help of a friend to hold any lightweight items, making them look like gravity is pulling down on them — like holding out the edge of a dress. Keep in mind, you will have to Photoshop that friend out too.

The Ghastly Double Exposure

15725867 - double exposure of ghost girl in abandoned building
Garloon / 123RF

Film ghosts were easy to create by exposing the same strip of film twice. Many advanced digital cameras however now have a double-exposure setting hidden inside the menu. Browse through your camera menu or manual to locate yours, if it offers it.

First, shoot your base photo. Silhouettes traditionally make strong double exposures, but for a ghostly image, choose any spooky scene — an old-looking front porch may do the trick.

After you take that first photo, you will turn the camera’s Live View Mode on, then turn the double-exposure mode on and select that first image. The camera will automatically overlap that first image, so you can choose exactly where the first shot and your next one come together — so you can make a person appear to float, or a semi-transparent ghost just sitting on that old front porch.

The Flash Ghost

The camera flash also helps freeze action — which makes it a prime tool for creating some ghost-like effects. Slow-sync flash fires during only part of the exposure — if you use slow-sync flash to shoot motion, part of that motion will be blurred and rather ghoulish. This method works particularly well on a dance floor, if you happen to be headed to a costume party.

Once you have picked out a moving subject to shoot, access your camera’s flash modes. Rear-curtain slow sync will create the ghostly figure behind the subject, while front-curtain creates the figure in the direction the action is headed.

If you do not want the background to blur, use a tripod. Set your camera up with a slow shutter speed — you may need to experiment based on how fast your subject is moving — and, with your flash set to slow sync, fire away.

The Treats

Creepy photo tricks are fun, but what if you really just want to take good photos of your kids in their costumes? Here are a few Halloween photography tips for simply capturing better — not creepier — images.

Shoot before dark. To get all the details of that costume, head outside before it gets dark —  at least an hour before sunset. Shooting in the dark is the trickiest part of getting Halloween photos, so starting early guarantees you will get good shots, even if the only camera you have access to is your smartphone.

Get on the little monster’s level. This tip holds true anytime you are photographing children — shoot from their eye level, not yours. Shooting from your eye level looking down on them makes them look small, but something as simple as kneeling can make a dramatic difference in your photographs.

After dark, use a high ISO. Cheeky costume photos, like the one below, accomplished during daylight hours, crank up your camera’s ISO as the sun fades for some in-action shots. As a rule of thumb, keep your ISO as low as you can get without blurring your images. Set your camera on shutter priority mode. When photographing excited trick-or-treaters, you will likely want a shutter speed of at least 1/200. Use the ISO to balance out the exposure — most modern DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, and advanced compacts can handle high ISOs without a horrible drop in image quality, even up to ISO 3200 and 6400.

Use flash with caution. In some cases, turning on a flash will get good results as well — but will also ruin any ambient light in the scene like the glow from the house’s windows or those Halloween decorations. If there are no neat lighting effects to wreck, a little flash is not a bad thing — then you do not need such a high ISO. Use manual flash mode to power down that flash so it’s not so overpowering.

Try a tripod. For even sharper images, use a tripod. Lugging a tripod around during trick or treat when you have candy and sugared up kids to tend to is not ideal, but if you are trying to capture the way that jack-o’-lantern looks while lit or your spectacular Halloween decor at night, a tripod will make a dramatic difference.

The camera is traditionally a trusted source of information since it can only shoot what it sees — which makes photography tricks all the more fun. If tricks are not your style, incorporating a few Halloween photography tips can turn your images into more of a treat. Happy haunting!

Product Review

Meet Z6, the breakout star in Nikon's new mirrorless lineup

The Nikon Z6 is the sibling to the new mirrorless Z7 -- but for some photographers, the cheaper Z6 may be the better option. Read where the $2,000 camera beats the $3,400 one (and where it doesn’t) in our Nikon Z6 review.

Canon holiday sale features the Rebel T6 2-lens kit for just $449

If you have a budding photographer in your life in need of a real camera, the Canon EOS Rebel T6 could make the perfect gift. Canon is currently offering the camera in a two-lens bundle for just $449 through December 29.

Stop your PC's vow of silence with these tips on how to fix audio problems

Sound problems got you down? Don't worry, with a few tweaks and tricks we'll get your sound card functioning as it should, and you listening to your favorite tunes and in-game audio in no time.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.

The best mirrorless cameras pack all the power of a DSLR, minus the bulk

Mirrorless cameras offer a lot of photography firepower, inside a compact body. Explore the best mirrorless cameras, from the pro-level to the beginner-friendly shooters, in this guide.

Photography News: Startup redesigns tripod heads ‘inside out’ for more flexibility

Well, this doesn't look like the ball heads that we've seen before. Instead of designing a tripod ball head with a small cutout, the Colorado Tripod Company created one with most of the ball exposed, allowing for more possible angles.

MIT science photographer isn’t an artist, but her work could fill galleries

Felice Frankel is an award-winning photographer, but she doesn't consider herself an artist. As a science photographer, she has been helping researchers better communicate their ideas for nearly three decades with eye-catching imagery.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Leica targets street photographers with a pricey camera bundle

Described by the camera company as "your perfect companion in the city," Leica's Street Kit comprises a Leica CL camera body, a 23mm (35mm full-frame equivalent) F2 lens, batteries, a handgrip, and a black leather carrying strap.
Social Media

Snapchat facial recognition could soon power a new portrait mode, code suggests

Digging into Snapchat's code suggests a handful of upcoming camera features, including a portrait mode. The feature appears to use facial recognition A.I. to blur the background. The code also suggests an updated camera interface.
Social Media

#ThrowbackThursday is only the start: Instagram hashtags for every day of the week

Not getting your hashtag fill with #ThrowbackThursday or #ManCrushMonday? Here's a list of some of the more popular Instagram hashtags, so you can outfit your next post with the proper tag, regardless of what day it is.

From DSLRs to mirrorless, these are the best cameras you can buy right now

From entry-level models to full-frame flagships, many cameras take great photos and video. The best digital cameras, however, push the industry forward with innovative sensors and improved usability, among other things. Here are our…

Photographers can now customize the layout of Lightroom Classic controls

Tired of scrolling past Lightroom tools that you don't use? Adobe Lightroom Classic now allows users to reorganize the Develop panel. The update comes along with new sharing options in Lightroom CC, and updates to the mobile Lightroom app.
Social Media

Instagram could be making a special type of account for influencers

Instagram influencers fall somewhere between a business profile and a typical Instagram, so the company is working on developing a type of account just for creators. The new account type would give creators more access to analytical data.