Halloween Photography Tips

Coolpix P7000, ISO 400, ƒ/4, 1/7

Time for Halloween is just days away. This can be a fun time for photographers to document their kids through the years and get some fun photos.

Coolpix P7000, ISO 1061, ƒ/2.8, 1/280

Take the time and photograph your family getting ready for Halloween. Here I am with my daughter and her friend a few houses down from us as we take time to carve our pumpkins.

Coolpix P7000, ISO 1600, ƒ/3.2, 1/230

A couple of years I set up a background in our garage and took photos of the kids as they came by and then posted a gallery for them to get their photos. Many parents loved having nice photos of their kids.

Coolpix P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/640

The reason I setup in the garage rather than our house is the parents could see their kids throughout the whole process and I got more photos. Had I requested people to come into our house I am not sure that would have gone as well.

This is a super simple setup. Two strobes pointed onto the white background. They are one stop brighter than the two lights that are on the subject.

This is when you don’t know what everyone will wear and works reasonably well.

Nikon D3S, Nikon 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/80–Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. 

My daughter has a very creative imagination. One year she wanted to dress up as a princess of the enchanted forest. We went out in our backyard and I captured her where she loved to play, but now in her Halloween princess outfit.

This same year I took photos in my home studio that I setup in our basement.

Nikon D3S, Nikon 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 200, ƒ/16, 1/200

Some of the photos we like best through the years of our kids are from Halloween. They had so much fun dressing up and having fun with their friends.

Nikon D3S, Nikon 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/1600

Since my daughter’s birthday is just a couple days after Halloween she has had many Halloween themed birthday parties. Here she is with her friends going putt-putt before going out for trick or treat later that evening.

Halloween Photography Tips

  • Take photos of your family getting ready for Halloween. Carving pumpkins or shopping for pumpkins on a farm
  • Setup a small studio or space to make Halloween photos. You may want to even create a small set.
  • Photograph your kid in a natural setting that compliments their theme for their costume

Carrying my Fujifilm X-E2 every where I go–for a good reason

Fujifilm X-E2 with 55-200mm, ISO 2500, ƒ/5.6 & 1/125 with OS turned on and hand held

This is why it is important to take photos all the time. I was able to test my new FUJINON LENS XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS on Sunday.

Cropped to about 100% from the photo above

My daughter’s choir was singing as well as the kindergarten class singing “Deep and Wide.” I was sitting in the balcony. You can get an idea how far back I was with the photo below I took last year with my Nikon Coolpix P7000

Nikon Coolpix P7000

Here is that photo above cropped at 100% approximately.

By shooting when I can for myself and not a client I am building experience with the camera and this results in my knowing what I can and cannot expect from the camera.

Fujifilm X-E2 with 55-200mm, ISO 2500, ƒ/5.6 & 1/125 with OS turned on and hand held

The reason I love the Fujifilm X-E2 is from tests like this that I am doing. Here I am comparing it to the Nikon P7000 that I was carrying all the time until I got the Fuji X-E2.

100% size cropped from the photo above.

I attribute the photo above blur to hand motion. I now know to be very sure I have the shutter speed up to 1/250 or faster when zoomed all the way out.  Better to know this now than with a job.

You really need to know your camera like you would know your stick shift car. You have to know when to make those adjustments so they are second nature or just like a car you could stall out and be caught in a dangerous situation.

I continue to play everyday with the camera. I just went out one afternoon and played around near City Hall for Roswell, GA near my house. Here are those photos for you to see as well. Can you tell I am having fun with this camera?

Fujifilm X-E2 with 18-55mm, ISO 640, ƒ/16 & 1/125 with OS turned on and hand held
Fujifilm X-E2 with 18-55mm, ISO 1250, ƒ/16 & 1/125 with OS turned on and hand held
Fujifilm X-E2 with 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/16 & 1/40 with OS turned on and hand held
Fujifilm X-E2 with 18-55mm, ISO 800, ƒ/11 & 1/125 with OS turned on and hand held
Fujifilm X-E2 with 18-55mm, ISO 1250, ƒ/11 & 1/125 with OS turned on and hand held, Macro mode
Fujifilm X-E2 with 18-55mm, ISO 400, ƒ/11 & 1/420 with OS turned on and hand held

Your camera choice does make a difference

Nikon P7000 ISO 3200, ƒ/4, 1/65

While on our cruise through the Caribbean we did some ice skating on the cruise ship. The first time we went I took my point and shoot and got some photos.

As you can see in the photo above I got a decent photo of my lovely wife Dorie.  I didn’t want to use flash so you could see the ice rink.

I had a lot of blurry photos due to I could not get above 3200 without changing the resolution on the camera.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 12,800, ƒ/5, 1/60

The next time some of the family went ice skating again I took my Nikon D4 and shot some photos as well.

There are a couple of things I think worth comparing. First of all the Nikon D4 @ ISO 12,800 looks better than the Nikon P7000 @ ISO 3200.

This is the reason I own a Nikon D4.  The sensor on the Nikon P7000 is CCD and the Nikon D4 is CMOS. The CCD has more of an electrical charge going that actually creates a noise as compared to the CMOS.

The size of the actual sensor also impacts the quality of the image. I am talking about the physical size and not the megapixels. The Nikon P7000 has a 14.9mm width CCD sensor size. The Nikon D4 has a 36mm width CMOS sensor.

If the megapixels were equal just having more space on a sensor helps spread out the sensors and cuts down on the noise created.  Just think of how your AM radio is impacted when you drive near power lines and you hear a buzz.  This is the major advantage for right now between the larger sensor and the smaller.  The larger the sensor the less noise.

CCD stands for Charged Coupling Devices.  They have been around a long time. CMOS stands for Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor.  They are a newer technology.

The biggest difference is CMOS sensors are already superior to CCD sensors in terms of power consumption. You get a much longer battery life out of a CMOS camera, which means you can take more pictures.

How many megapixels do you need?

Now let me try and clear up this megapixel dilemma.

My first digital camera was a 6 megapixel CCD sensor camera. I made 16 x 20 prints that are still hanging in my home. These were shot with studio lights giving me the best quality and I like the quality of the prints.

The general rule of thumb is this, if you are not making prints bigger than 16 x 20 then any 8 megapixel camera or more will work just fine.

If you like to make bigger prints or you tend to need to crop your photos then getting more megapixels will benefit you.  However, for most people who are posting their photos primarily on social media websites, most any camera will do. This is why so many people are using their camera phones today instead of carrying another camera. Most of the latest phones have 8 megapixel cameras and that will work well for most of them.

For the Geek

Now for those of you who like to talk about how many millimeters your lens will resolve then you can go and get those specs on any camera you might want to buy here at http://www.dxomark.com/.

As you can see there is a big difference in the specs on these two cameras. I hope so, because the Nikon D4 sells for $6,000 and the Nikon P7000 sold for $500.

Nikon paid attention to these scores and improved them and the most recent version of the Nikon P7000 is the P7700.


If you just do general shooting then buying the high end camera is just overkill.  However, if you like shooting in low light inside then you just might need to consider something like the Nikon D4 to capture those images.

Your camera choice does make a difference in the quality of the image, but it is the photographer who makes a difference as to if the images are truly captivating to the audience.


Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/220 using manual focus as close as the camera will focus in macro.
If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. 
Robert Capabefore he got too close to mine that killed him, while covering Indochina.
Making a memorable impression requires your image to have impact.  One of the most effective ways photography does this is with macro photography.
The minimum focusing distance for my Nikon 60mm ƒ/2.8 is 0.72 ft. (0.22m). With the Nikon P7000 I can do pretty much the same with it focusing at 0.8 inches (2cm).
While this photo is not all that exciting of my finger, I did this simple photo to make my point (good pun huh?). Taking something very small and making it very big is a way to have a photo with impact.
Most people do not take the time to get close to things and seeing things close is for the most part very different. Being different helps create impact and get attention.
Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/250

The reason I chose to shoot the macro shots on my Nikon P7000 over the Nikon D4 with a 60mm ƒ/2.8 lens is I like shooting at the lowest ISO and fastest shutter speed possible. The problem when shooting with the larger full framed FX format of the Nikon D4 is the lens is further away from the sensor. The farther it is from the sensor means the depth-of-field changes to make what is in focus at ƒ/8 not the same.

The ƒ/5 on my smaller sensor on the Nikon P7000 is more like ƒ/11 on the 60mm macro lens on the Nikon D4. But I can hand hold the Nikon P7000 where shooting at ISO I would have to shoot at such a slow shutter speed to get a similar photo I run the risk of camera shake.

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/200
 I wrote an earlier articles talking about macro work here:
Jan 28, 2008
Nothing can sharpen your understanding about the nuances of photography more than macro photography. This is where you photograph objects extremely close, where the image projected on the “film plane” (i.e., film or a
Aug 21, 2011
Pick a macro lens or use your point and shoot on the macro (flower) setting. Set the lens to the closest focus setting. Set the f/stop on f/8 or greater. Very important if using a macro lens on DSLR; Get as close as you can without
Nov 08, 2011
If this is your normal lens of choice try something different like a macro or extreme telephoto. It is forcing you to look at the world differently than you are doing now. Change your routine. If you eat your breakfast always in the
Jan 27, 2011
2) Distance to subject. The closer you get to a subject the shallower the depth-of-field when the ƒ-stop stays the same. In macro photography for example when you get as close as 1:1 ratio you often have to be at a ƒ -stop at a

What I recommend with macro work is shooting with higher apertures to get the object enough in focus in the depth-of-field that you can see something is sharp.  Too shallow a depth-of-field and it will look like you missed your focus.

If you need to use a small flash off camera with a cord to get the flash right over the object. If you shoot with on camera flash the flash will not even land on the object because it is so close to the lens.

Try photographing as close as you can with a variety of objects. See if you can get some photos that have impact.

Camera bodies and the importance of simplicity

Nikon D4 with Nikkor 28-300mm

Importance of Simplicity

It is very common when I am out taking photos as a professional that people will often hand me their camera and ask me to take a photo of them with their friends.  They see my gear hanging around my neck and shoulders and figure, he knows what to do.

Camera manufacturers have not gone the way of Steve Jobs when it comes to camera design. Frankly, I think most every camera is quite difficult to use. Even these point and shoot cameras that people hand to me and want me to take a photo of them with their friends are complex.

One of the first things I often and wishing I can do to improve those photos for folks is to turn on their flash outside. This will help get rid of those awful shadows in their eyes making them look like racoons.

Just try and pick up four or five different cameras and quickly turn on the flash. It is quite difficult.

Ideally when I make a switch to a new camera system I would like to just trade all my cameras at once and then buy the latest gear. This is how I did it in the days of the film cameras.

However, today these professional cameras are not $1,000 for the top of the line cameras. Just one Nikon D4 costs $6,000 or what I would have spent to replace all five of my film cameras.

With film I carried five cameras. I had two black and white cameras and two color cameras. I had slower daylight film for outside and high speed tungsten indoor film in the other cameras. I also had a backup camera.

The good news today is I do not need five cameras. I need two or three cameras. Today, most pros carry two cameras for one major purpose–backup. You cannot afford to be on a job and the camera stop working and not have another camera to finish the job.

The other reason most pros also like a second camera is to avoid switching lenses on bodies too often. Each time you switch a lens you run the chance of dust getting on the sensor. The other problem is the time it takes to switch lenses can be the difference of getting or missing a shot.

Different cameras can cost you a shot. The difference in the Nikon D3s and the Nikon D4 is not so great that in a hurry you know which one is in your hand. However, the minute you decide to change how you are focusing you will realize you have the other camera in your hand when you try and change it.

Since I have been shooting digitally, I am usually having to buy a new camera at a time and sell some old gear. It just is difficult to order two $6,000 cameras for a total of $12,000.

Every time I make the switch to a new camera till I have all identical cameras I find myself getting very frustrated. It isn’t that the new camera isn’t better designed, it is the problem that the improvements made changes.

It would be easier to have four cameras. Two studio and then two DSLR journalistic cameras. This way when you are shooting high resolution stock images of products you had your primary camera and backup all the same. Same for the journalistic camera that helps you do video in the field and shoot at high ISO.

Financial Revelation

Back in the days of film, my gear was easily 1/4 to 1/3 the cost of what I need today.

When I shot film I didn’t need a computer, PhotoShop or Lightroom and all the gear to insure color accuracy of the monitors. 

A professional photographer today will most likely have two pro cameras costing $3,000 to $25,000 each and a computer digital workstation (Computer, Photo Software and calibration devices) which run from $5,000 to $15,000.

So when you are shocked at why their prices are higher today when there is no film you know it is due to the cost of digital.

In the days of film photographers could keep their cameras for easily five years. Today, you can keep your camera that long, but your competition will have gotten the latest digital camera that let’s them make photos you cannot on your present camera. You keep up to stay competitive, which now costs more than ever.

How to keep it simple?

Buy all the same type of cameras and stay with the same manufacturer of camera so the learning curve is shorter. While the cameras are quite complex the key to simplicity is not to introduce different cameras.

This is how I love to carry my cameras, Two Nikon D4 cameras with one having a 14-24mm ƒ/2.8 and the other with the 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 VR. Yes I have many other lenses I will use, but this is my default.

I shoot now with two Nikon D4 cameras. I want to keep it simple. I also carry my Nikon P7000 with me all the time. I like to keep my eye fresh so when I am on the job I am thinking about the shot. It would be just like a musician who practices every day so that when they perform they are at their best.

Tweaking the exposure with the Exposure Compensation

This is the location of the Exposure Compensation on the Nikon D3S. You push this and spin the dial on the back of the D3S to under or over expose the photo.

When you make a picture you need to be in the habit of checking to be sure that first photo is exposed the way you want it to look.

In manual mode you can adjust the aperture or the shutter speed to make the photo darker or lighter.  However, when you are in Aperture Mode and you change the aperture or when you are in Shutter Mode and you change the speed the exposure stays the same.

Exposure Compensation Dial on Nikon P7000

The only way to make the photo darker or lighter in Aperture Mode, Shutter Mode and Program Mode is to adjust the exposure compensation.  You can also use exposure compensation in the manual mode and it will adjust the exposure using ISO.

To understand how this works I recommend an exercise.

Take photo with exposure compensation set at 0. Take a few more photos -2, -1, +1 and +2.  Bring them into your editing software to see the different exposures.

If you shot these in RAW and then you made adjustments in your software like Lightroom or PhotoShop you will notice that the dynamic range in one of the exposure you did will give you more desirable results for your personal preference.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbV1fckAi5E]

Click on the video to see how Exposure Compensation works on a Nikon D3S

Nikon P7000 bailed me out when my Nikon D3S couldn’t

Nikon P7000 ISO 1600, f/5.6 1/40

Today one of the most dreaded photo shoots happened. I arrived at the client’s location where I was asked to photograph a class of students in class and then afterwards we are doing their Christmas card photo.

The videographer needed no shutter noise on the video so I am using the Nikon P7000 ISO 1592 f/5 1/250

The client didn’t realize they had a problem booking a still photographer and videographer to shoot in the same classroom at the same time. I was not told about this situation nor was the videographer.

This is the first time in a while I had been put into this situation and this time I had a new solution for the problem. You first need to know the problem. The biggest issue for still photographers shooting with videographers is all about sound. Our cameras make a mechanical noise when the shutter is fired that microphones pick up even more than the human ear or at least Murphy’s Law seems to say so for the end result.

Nikon P7000 ISO 1600 f/3.2 1/130

On movie sets the still photographer often uses a blimp to eliminate the sound of the camera.  The costs start about $1,200 for one of these. I would typically rent one rather than buying one.

Jacobsen Blimp that you put your DSLR Camera into and put the tube over your lens to muffle or eliminate the shutter sound. I couldn’t use it because I didn’t have one or know that I needed it. So thankful that I always have my Nikon P7000 with me.

But today I had another solution. My point-and-shoot Nikon P7000 makes no noise at all when it fires. You actually can turn on and off a shutter noise.  They make this for those who want to hear their camera. I turn it off on mine.

The first time my friend, Dave Black, told me a few years ago he had used a similar Nikon camera during a PGA tournament and had the first photos of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in their back swing for Sports Illustrated. Dave Black surprised the editors so much they almost had a heart attack. You are not suppose to take any pictures of the golfers until they hit the ball. The reason is the motor drives and shutter noises can distract the golfers.

Nikon P7000 ISO 1600 f/5.6 1/35

Dave Black had to quickly pull out his camera he used and fire it to show the editor. Click here for that story.

This story was in my head this morning and so I pulled out the Nikon P7000 and saved the day.

No question I would have preferred to shoot the photos with the Nikon D3s and have even cleaner looking files, but this was a good compromise to get photos and let them video at the same time.

By the way I did use my Nikon D3s for their group photo.  They wanted themselves in a circle for a particular design purpose. Nikon D3s ISO 200 f/9 1/50

Use dark objects to learn how to light

If you like this image I will walk you through the steps to get here. (Figure 1)
I started here and got the exposure to pretty close to the tones in the carving. (Figure 2)
By just adding one light off to the right I got the next image. (Figure 3)
I liked the result, but wanted a little more color in the bowl than I have in this photo. (Figure 4)
Here you can see that the statue is back lit naturally, but can see the first light to the right that I added and the second fill light I added just next to the lens on the left. (Figure 5)

The reason I chose a dark object to light is because it is much more difficult, but also shows you how the light dramatically improves the object.  It works similarly with a lighter object, but the results are harder to see sometimes.

I had the object back lighted to be sure you understand the light I am adding truly helps.  This is like having people looking at the camera and it is the best angle, but the sun is behind them.  By just turning on the flash you get a better result, but there is little to show the shape of the object as compared to getting the flash off the camera.

One flash off camera give nice shaping to the face. (Figure 6)
By adding a fill light just beside the lens on the left, we help not only fill in the shadow side, the photo transforms from an almost black and white look to a color feel. (Figure 7)

Now for all the photos above the exposure compensation was used at -2 stops under what the auto exposure was reading.  I had my flashes under exposed or 0.  The reason is the camera wants to make the statue a neutral gray when it is actually darker.  To compensate I under exposed to fool the meter to get what was correct.

I am using the Mini ColorChecker by x-rite so you can see the color as shot in each situation with this series.  This will not just help you see proper exposure, but the color space for each photo. (figure 7)
I wanted you to see you can just use a reflector to help improve the photo, but please pay attention to not just the shadows being improved, pay attention to the colors. (Figure 8)
Shot with fill and you can see not just exposure but color temperature will be different with reflector or flash. (figure 9)
Here with one flash to the right of the camera and one behind the statue you can see ho it improves the tones and the color space.  This is why I prefer using strobes over reflectors alone for portraits.  Another major benefit with strobes over a reflector, is the reflector gives a constant light source which will cause most folks to squint. (Figure 10)
This is the final result. Shot with Nikon D3s and 85mm f/1.4. (Figure 11)
This was the setup for Figure 11. By the way, I shot this with my Nikon P7000 with the flash on for fill. (Figure 12)
I thought the light behind the golfer was a little distracting, so I moved it to the left out of the photo 180 degrees opposite the main light to the right.  The Nikon TTL system is balancing the background -2 Stops under to the flashes which are normal of 0 setting. (Figure 13)
This is the setup for Figure 13.  Again I shot this on the Nikon P7000 with the pop up fill flash to help the statue and the camera gear to have some definition. (Figure 14)

Practice lighting with some objects that are dark or even black. See if you can change the mood of the situation by just positioning the lights in different places. Maybe you use the X-Rite Mini ColorChecker to see if you are setting the camera’s white balance correctly to get the best color.  If you shoot in Raw you can correct this later, but if you shoot in JPEG you can change it later, but the results are noticeably poor.

How much do you cost?

Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 55-200mm, ISO 500, ƒ/6.4, 1/500
My stepson looked at his first paycheck and asked, “Who is FICA?” This was his first hard lesson about where the money goes – the cost of doing business.

A lot of the money we pay for a service doesn’t stay with the service provider.

According to Dun & Bradstreet, “Businesses with fewer than 20 employees have only a 37% chance of surviving four years (of business) and only a 9% chance of surviving 10 years.” Of these failed businesses, only 10% of them close involuntarily due to bankruptcy and the remaining 90% close because the business was not successful, did not provide the level of income desired or was too much work for their efforts.”

So many good photographers I know have to turn to other ways to make a living not due to any lack of photographic skills, but because of poor business practices.

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/6.3, 1/1000
Two things caused their businesses to fail: 1st – they didn’t know their real cost of doing business and 2nd – they failed to promote themselves.

In 2001, I left a staff position and started full-time freelancing. My business has averaged a 20% growth rate each year for the past six years. Many of my colleagues ask me how I do it.

This coming week I go to Hawaii to teach business practices for the third year in a row at the University of Nations in Kona. First, I require the students to calculate how much it costs them to live for a year. I’ve found that even the older students who have been on their own for a time typically do not know what it costs them to live.

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 200, ƒ/22, 1/15
No matter the profession, if you do not know your cost you cannot estimate what you are worth in the market place.

Once you’ve know your cost and decided how much net income you want to earn it is easy to determine what to charge for each project in order to reach that goal.

Take a moment and think of everything needed to do your job. Here are some categories from the National Press Photographer’s Association list I use just substitute your terms for similar categories to figure your annual cost of doing business.

  • Office or Studio
  • Phone
  • Photo Equipment
  • Repairs
  • Computers (Hardware & Software)
  • Internet (Broadband, Web site & email)
  • Auto Expenses (Lease, Insurance & Maintenance)
  • Office Supplies
  • Photography Supplies
  • Postage
  • Professional Development
  • Advertising and Promotion
  • Subscriptions & dues
  • Business Insurance
  • Health Insurance
  • Legal & Accounting Services
  • Taxes & Licenses
  • Office Assistant
  • Utilities
  • Retirement Fund
  • Travel
  • Entertainment (meals with clients)
Add your desired net income to your annual business expenses, divide that total by the number of projects you reasonably expect to do in a year. The answer gives you the average per project you must charge clients so you can pay those bills, stay in business and live the way you want to live.
Now you must find out if the market place will sustain this charge.

Let’s say you need to charge on average $1,000 for per project to reach your goal. If the services you provide are what people can get anywhere then they will shop for price. If the going rate in your community is $1,200 then you are in good shape. If the going rate is $900 then you need to look at cutting your overhead—your hoped for income or business expenses or both.

The key to earning what you want comes down to service. You must be able to demonstrate to potential clients that you offer something more if you want/need to charge more than other photographers do.

I have found that I need to know about the subjects I cover more than other photographers do. In addition, I deliver my images a good deal faster than most others do. I also listen carefully to what clients say they want and try to, not only meet their needs, but to go beyond their expectations.
When I first determined my cost and income goals, it was a revelation just as my stepson’s response to FICA and other deductions from his pay were for him.

I do my best to keep my overhead low, but even so close to 50% of my gross goes to business expenses. It was quite shocking for me to see what I must charge to pay the bills. This knowledge was the fire I needed to get me to put the time and effort into finding ways to make me more valuable to clients and to find those clients by seriously marketing myself.
Do you know what you cost?