Pope Gregory III started it all in 739 A.D. when he officially designated All Saints Day, but he wouldn't recognize Halloween as we celebrate it today. It's become a night of fantasy for children of all ages, and with its pumpkins, costumes, and trick-or-treating it's also a great opportunity for you to capture the spirit(s) with your camera.
"It's easy to turn this night of fantasy into permanent picture memories," says Chuck DeLaney, Dean of the New York Institute of Photography, "but you have to follow two simple guidelines or, excuse the pun, you won't have a ghost of a chance."
"The most important guideline," says DeLaney, "is to know exactly what you want to be the subject of your picture. Then, when you look through the viewfinder of your camera, make your subject the most important thing in the frame and try not to show anything that distracts from it. The second guideline is to try to capture the 'feeling' of the occasion too."
For example, if you are shooting a jack-o-lantern, it's your subject. Make that clear by moving in close and almost filling the frame with the pumpkin. Keep the background simple so it doesn't distract from your subject. Hint: To make this picture even more interesting, include the faces of the kids or Dad or Mom hovering over it. Get down low so that you see their faces looming over the top of the pumpkin. Careful now, you don't want to cut any heads off, even on Halloween.
Now the second guideline. To capture the eerie "feeling" of Halloween, shoot at night using "ghoul" lighting. Rule One is to turn off your strobe! You don't want pictures with its cold, clear light. Rather, you're looking for eerie lighting that captures the "spirit" of Halloween.
Hint: To capture the glow of a jack-o-lantern, don't light just one candle inside the pumpkin. Two or three lit candles will produce a far better picture.
When you take a picture of your favorite goblin in costume, have a helper shine a flashlight from off to one side or from below, the way we all did as kids. This is "ghoul" lighting and it will produce wonderfully scary lighting in your pictures. The biggest mistake amateurs make is to shoot from too far back. So get in close and fill the frame. You don't have to shoot from head-to-toe. Rather, you're usually better off if you fill the frame with just the head and shoulders. And bend down low to kid's-eye level. Don't shoot from adult-level.
Hint: If your kids wears a mask, take two shots - one with the mask on and one without so that in future years you'll be able to identify the little devil behind the mask (and you may be able to use the picture for your Xmas card). And don't forget fido. Put a mask or silly hat on the family pet, and shoot - but fast. Fido or Cleo will be too embarrassed to suffer this indignity for more than a few seconds.
"The key to good Halloween pictures," concludes DeLaney, "is to capture the spirit - the feeling - of the occasion. The spirit of Halloween is ghoulish fun and silliness. So for great Halloween pictures, know what you want the subject of each of your pictures to be, and make it important in the frame. Then add 'mood' that captures the spirit of Halloween by the ghoulish way you light your pictures or the silly way you pose your subjects."
For lots more ideas on how to take great Halloween pictures, visit the New York Institute of Photography Web site at http://www.nyip.com