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How to photograph Halloween trick-or-treaters

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SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
I love photographing trick-or-treaters on Halloween. We live in the Old North End, across from a well-known haunted house, so I see a lot of families and fantastically dressed trick-or-treaters.

Every year I offer to take their pictures and distribute them for free for those who pay a visit to our house.  While it’s fun to do, it’s also technically challenging.

I haven’t talked about off-camera flash too much in my column, but using off-camera flash is one way you to move up a level if you’re an amateur shutterbug.

So, what’s an off-camera flash? It’s just like it sounds: a flash placed usually on a stand away from your camera and fired remotely. That means the camera flash goes off when you press the shutter of the camera.

How do you get this set up? Well, there are a couple of ways to do it. Some off-camera flashes will fire when you set another flash on-camera and when that flash goes off so will the one off camera.

Other flash set-ups include radio remotes that operate in combination with your flash. I have a set of Pocket Wizard radio remotes. Pocket Wizard is a popular brand used by a lot of professionals and known for its reliability. You can find them on Amazon.

I connect one pocket wizard to my camera and to my flash. The one on my camera talks to the one connected to the flash and when I take a picture the on camera master tells the other to fire the off-camera flash.

There’s another tricky part to this equation, though, and that's how to set up your flash correctly.

You can use the automatic setting called TTL on most speed lights (don’t ask me what that stands for) that will use the camera settings to determine how much light to emit. There's also a manual setting that lets you decide how much light is right.

I almost always use the manual setting because the automatic setting, or TTL, on the off-camera flash will emit different levels of light depending on your subject matter and therefore give you inconsistent results.

When I set my flash to manual, I can achieve the same level of light with every subject I photograph and then it’s just a matter of getting my f-stop and aperture settings correct.

The other challenge to photographing at night is getting your subjects in focus. Using auto focus at night almost never works because the camera can’t "see" in the dark.

I like to start with a tripod and keep my camera in one position. Then I prefocus it for a certain distance and then ask my subjects to stand in one spot. By doing this throughout the night I know I’m not going to get a blurry or soft looking picture.

And that’s all there is to it! Happy shooting this Halloween!

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