Halloween copy

Halloween and all the incredible, creative costumes people put together are the perfect opportunity to put digital cameras to use, but unless you have access to special low-light cameras and hardware, you need to learn how to use your digital point-and-shoot or SLR in the low light conditions of All Hallow’s Eve. Because the holiday is only fun after the sun goes down, but that certainly doesn’t make for easy, beautiful photographs.

This guide assumes you are not going to purchase special low light tools and don’t have a camera that is especially effective at capturing photos in low light.

The basic challenge of low-light photography is getting enough light to hit the sensor so that you can see the subject of the photo. Even with an 800ISO or 1600ISO setting and a very wide aperture open as wide as it gets, you typically have to slow down the shutter speed to accomplish this, and that’s why night photos often come out dark or blurry. And if you have typical digital cameras, you don’t have those more powerful ISO and aperture settings.

If you don’t understand this vocabulary, go spend a few minutes reading about three digital camera settings and how they impact photos: aperture and f/stop, film speed (ISO), and shutter speed.

HALLOWEEN BLOGSo assuming you can’t just switch out your lens for a wider angle with a bigger aperture and you don’t want to carry around an extra flash, there are a few things you can do. Also, if you care about taking good photos and you’re stuck with the kit lens on your DSLR, you should start saving to buy a better lens. It will help a lot.

1. Fix the aperture and film speed to the best low-light settings. This means increase the ISO as high as it will go up to about 1000, and set the aperture or f/stop number as low as it will go, typically f/3.5 or f/5.6. This lets way more light in onto the sensor so you will be able to see your subjects.

2. Play with shutter speed, but set it manually. Most people can’t avoid image blur with a shutter speed of slower than 1/60 of a second, even if that’s what the camera’s full-auto or aperture-priority setting would select. Manually try a few settings around that range and see how low you can push it while still getting crisp details. Again, the purpose it more light.

3. Find a natural light source. This seems obvious, but if you’re shooting full-body costume shots at a party, position your subjects near some light that isn’t directly behind them. They’ll be more illuminated than the average person at the party, and all it takes is a bit of patience and a request that they move a few feet. If you don’t have the option of positioning your subject, scope out light sources that could make for good photos and then be ready to snap the shot when a subject approaches the light.

4. Test your flash. Flashes typically wash out a photo and destroy a lot of interesting details around the main subject. But sometimes you can get the shot you want, especially if you have a crude diffuser like a paper napkin. You won’t know until you try.

5. Shoot in burst mode. If you can put your camera into burst mode so it snaps several shots with one depress of the shutter button, you increase your chances of getting that one perfect shot with crisp lines and beautiful lighting. This is especially helpful for Halloween shots in which people are almost always moving.

6. Use Single-point Autofocus. New cameras often can set multiple focus points. This averages the lighting and color needs of multiple faces in the shot, for example, to get the exposure right. But in the dark, you need to be able to choose the focus point based on lighting, and single-point AF makes your cameras focus on just that one thing so the computer doesn’t over-think it and ruin your exposure as a result.

7. If you have the opportunity, try long exposures with a tripod. Slower shutter speeds not only make sure you get enough light, but also give you more flexibility with your other settings. The tradeoff is that you need a stabilizer like a monopod. But you can take some beautiful nighttime shots of settings and decorations, or even parties if you want the moving light to show the energy of the scene, with a longer exposure.

Digital cameras can struggle to produce the photos you see in your mind when you’re shooting in low-light settings, but you have to figure out a strategy for these conditions if you want to capture Halloween and get the perfect spooky photo.


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