Photographer Teri Pengilley explains how to capture the spirit of Halloween
Shooting in the dark is tricky, but can produce visual treats in the right hands
Preparation is key, especially when fumbling the dials through Freddy Krueger gloves
Editor’s Note: Teri Pengilley is a London-based freelance photographer who has had work published across a range of titles, including the UK’s Guardian and Independent newspapers
Taking photographs means drawing with light, even at times like Halloween when it’s all about the dark. Spooky shadows and glowing pumpkins can be a challenge, but most smartphones and compact cameras will let you capture Halloween night a treat, if you develop a few simple tricks.
Master the dark side
There’s nothing like bright flash for lighting the eerie out of an atmosphere, so switch it off. Or try holding a small piece of cellophane over the flash – red is great for adding ghoulish ambience.
One of the photographer’s favorite Halloween friends is the humble torch – don’t leave home without one. It will offer you all kinds of creative and practical solutions, including simply lighting up your subject so you can focus in the dark.
The ISO setting is also crucial for low light – increasing the ISO will increase your camera’s sensitivity to light. However, the higher the ISO, the greater the “noise” – flecks in solid-colored areas of the image. Some cameras and smartphones can handle high ISOs better than others, so test your first.
Steady your claws
Low light also means longer exposures, which brings in camera shake. Wherever possible put your camera on a tripod, or rest it on a steady surface like a wall. Try to use a shutter release cable, or if not make sure you squeeze the shutter button as gently as possible whilst supporting the camera from underneath, keeping as still as possible.
Dance with the devil
A tripod, self-timer and long exposure will give you a whole gallery of tricks and treats. Play with walking through a long-exposure frame to capture a ghostly outline, or get your friends to stand as still as possible under a light whilst you run around them drawing ghastly creations with a bright torch. The long exposure will capture your torch drawings and your frozen friends, but, as long as you keep moving, you won’t be visible (it helps to wear dark clothes).
Focus on your prey
Fast lenses are another must – set your aperture as wide as it will open to let in as much light as possible on each exposure. Wide apertures give shallow depth of field – meaning that only the part of the image you focus on will be sharp. Bring your camera in as close as it will focus on a diabolic Halloween detail, such as a painted eyeball, and fill the frame for a dramatic shot.
Summon a ghoulish glow
Anyone familiar with “The Blair Witch Project” knows about the deeply unsettling power of holding a light under the face. It’s time for that trusty torch again. Our eyes are accustomed to overhead light, like the sun, and any light source from underneath is an instant spine-shiverer.
Concoct creepy compositions
Once you’ve got to grips with spooky lighting, it’s time to think about composition. Halloween is filled with demonic delights to frame your image, or add that extra creepy texture. Try putting your camera inside your pumpkin, using the jagged eyes and teeth to peer through (set it on self-timer first) or place the black net of a costume spider’s web in front of the lens, with a well-positioned spider to one corner of the frame. Make sure you throw some light onto your framing devices as well as your subjects.
Practice makes (paranormal) perfection
Finally don’t forget that preparation is key. Practice night-time shots with your smartphone or camera and have it all set up before the big night - you really don’t want to be fumbling with the dials through the confines of your Freddy Krueger gloves.