The kids are settled into their school routine, the leaves are falling, and the nights are getting cooler—time to start setting up the Halloween décor! After you’ve scooped out the seeds, put your pumpkin under the knife, and strategically set up a lantern or candle inside its hollowed-out shell, what’s the best way to photograph your eerie orange orb?
The two major challenges to getting any good picture (not just spooky shots in October) are getting the right shutter speed and a balanced exposure. You also need to make sure you’re using the right equipment to get the shutter speed you desire. For this Halloween pictorial, I photographed a jack-o’-lantern with the Tamron SP 17-50mm F/2.8 Di II VC fast standard zoom. This lens is ideal for shooting a candlelit jack-o’-lantern due to its fast F/2.8 aperture and Tamron’s Vibration Compensation (VC) stabilization technology.
A Lens Choice That Won’t Come Back to Haunt You
Many zoom lenses have great focal ranges but they’re not fast lenses (“fast” indicating the widest aperture the lens has available). Lenses with aperture settings of F/2.8 or wider have a larger opening to let more light in. The result: a faster shutter speed that can help reduce blur. This is especially helpful when the light is low, such as when photographing a candlelit pumpkin in the chilly evening hours.
The other feature that’s helpful in this type of shooting situation is Tamron’s VC technology. The stabilizer built into the 17-50mm lens allows you to hand-hold images at slower shutter speeds. By compensating for any slight movements that you might make, the VC technology helps you achieve sharper images of your pumpkin props. When you use a tripod for long exposures, you’ll actually want to turn the VC off; however, for the majority of your shooting, you’ll definitely want to leave the VC on to get the most out of your lens.
Don’t Go Batty Getting the Exposure Right
The second challenge when shooting lit jack-o’-lanterns is getting the correct exposure. This is partially contingent on what mode you have your camera in. If you have your camera in the “Green Box” or “Full Auto” mode, you’ve relinquished all control: As soon as the light gets low, the camera’s going to add flash whether you want it or not. If, however, you turn your camera to the “A” or “AV” mode (“aperture priority” mode), you’ll be able to choose the aperture yourself. By choosing F/2.8 in this case, you’ll get the fastest shutter speed available.
In the first image (1) I shot, the sun had gone down, but there was still plenty of light in the sky relative to the amount of light emanating from the candle. The result is that you’re able to see the light in the pumpkin and the actual pumpkin. In the second image (2), I switched my camera to “Manual” mode and waited for the light to change. You can see how the candle becomes the dominant source of light, creating a more dramatic image, but the background is almost entirely gone. In the third image (3), I increased the shutter speed by 1-1/2 stops to get some more of the background in there; this also added more exposure to the pumpkin.
For the last shot (4), I did a 30-second exposure. I needed to use a tripod for this image. To balance the starry sky and the light from the jack-o’-lantern, I had to reduce the amount of light from the candle. To do this, I simply blew out the candle a few seconds into the long exposure. If I hadn’t done so, the result would have been an overexposed pumpkin (see image 5). Remember: Our cameras capture whatever’s in front of them for as long as the shutter is open— so if you’re able to control the amount of light entering your camera, you’ll be able to control the exposure.
Setting Up Your Shots Can Be a Scream
Compose your shots carefully to give your pumpkin pal some context. For my final images, I purposely chose a low angle to give ’ol Jack a little more presence in the image and so his top would be above the tree line, which helped to separate him from the background. I also placed the pumpkin on the side of the frame and left plenty of room for the tree line and sky, which makes the jack-o’-lantern appear as if he’s popping into the frame with a boisterous “Boo!” All images were taken at the 17mm wide-angle end of the lens (with the exception of the first image, which was shot at 50mm). The wide angle view helped incorporate the background into the images, creating a perfectly ominous environment from which the pumpkin can emerge.