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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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