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5 Ways to Avoid Dark, Blurry Halloween Photos

Two boys dressed up for Halloween posing around jack-o'-lanterns and fake skulls.

Can you say you’ve celebrated Halloween if you don’t have any pictures to prove it? Taking photos in the inevitable low-light of a Halloween party isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible! Here are some tips to get quality photos—even of the vampires.


Every professional photoshoot, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, involves a bit of prep-work, especially when it comes to lighting. Photographers need to know how strong the light is going to be, if they’ll need extra lights and what kind, and which camera setting they’ll have to use. This saves time on the day of the shoot, so subjects can come in, strike a pose, and get on with the event.

You can approach Halloween the same way. Your family and friends will be dressed up, and you’ll want to snap a few pictures. You don’t want it to feel like a chore, or they’ll run away before you can get a good, sharp photo.

If you prepare for the event, it can save you time and stress. Before the big night, decide where you want to take the pictures, the angle from which you’ll take them, the elements you’ll use, and clear the room of anything (shiny objects, smaller light sources, etc.) that could get in the way and ruin the shots.

You can create a backdrop, decorate the background, or just rearrange a few things to make room for your models. Get as creative as you want!

The one crucial element you have to keep in mind, though, is the lighting.


The lighting setup is a fundamental step in photography, yet, it’s easily overlooked. No matter where you take your photos, you have to make sure there’s a light source shining on your subjects’ faces and outfits. You want the light to bounce off them, so the camera picks it up and turns it into a sharp image.

A young girl dressed as a witch looking into a jack o' lantern.

While the lack of natural light certainly makes it more challenging to get a satisfyingly good shot, you have the advantage of being able to move artificial light sources. For example, if there are lamps around the room, bring them closer, so they cast an even light on your subjects. If you don’t have enough lamps around, borrow some from other rooms.

If you only have one floor lamp, place it directly behind you; if you have two, place one on each side of you. This will prevent dark, unattractive shadows from appearing on your models’ faces—just make sure to keep some distance, so you don’t blind them!

Camera Settings

Whether you have a compact camera or a DSLR, play around with the settings ahead of time, so you have more control over the final result—especially in low light.

If you have a general idea of what auto, semi-auto, and manual modes mean and how they work, it will benefit you immensely when you take pictures in different environments—and it saves time!

Here’s a quick rundown of the main settings you should get acquainted with before Halloween rolls around:

  • ISO: This is a measurement of the sensitivity of your camera’s image sensor. The higher the number, the more light the sensor will capture, which translates to brighter images. However, it’s not as straightforward as it might seem. If you crank up the ISO too much, it can result in very grainy photos, uneven colors, and a loss of details. While some cameras can maintain good image quality at high ISO values, try to stick to a maximum of ISO 3200 if you don’t intend to make prints.
  • Aperture: The lens is to the image sensor what the eye is to the brain: the wider it’s opened, the more light travels through it and reaches the processing center. In optics, this opening is called aperture. It indicates how apt a lens is to take photos in low-light environments. You want the brightest aperture your lens can provide, which is denoted by a small number preceded by an f. To do this, set your camera to A mode, and then turn the dial until you get to the smallest possible number. Anything lower than f4 will work just fine.
  • Shutter speed: This is the amount of time the camera shutter stays open. As you might expect, the longer it stays open, the more light it’s exposed to. At night, you have to work with a low shutter speed for the image sensor to capture as much light as possible. However, a longer exposure time increases your chances of having blurry pictures because it detects even minor movements. Therefore, when you photograph people, make sure you keep the shutter speed above 1/60 if they’re standing still; you can go up to 1/250 if they’re moving. To do that, set your camera to S mode, and then turn the dial until it’s low enough to capture a sufficient amount of light in your image.

Again, experiment with these three elements because simply setting them all to their maximum measurement won’t always work. It all depends on the lighting in the room. Keep the aperture as open as possible (i.e., the lowest number) and try out different ISO and shutter speed settings to achieve the result you want.

If you can take some test shots the night before, it will save you time on Halloween.

Use a Tripod

Low shutter speeds require a steady hand and/or still subjects to capture sharp images; however, that’s not always possible. This is when a tripod comes in handy. Not only does it help you take multiple shots with the same framing (even if you’re in some of them), but you can also lower the shutter speed even further if the subject and/or scene allow for it.

It’s certainly convenient—if not essential—to have a tripod in low-light situations. If you don’t have one, find a surface from the right angle on which to place your camera and voilà!

Don’t Be Scared of the Flash

Flash can make or break a photo, which is why many prefer to avoid it. It can wash things out and, sometimes, even cause a loss of details in the image. However, it can really help in dark environments if there aren’t any other sources around to light up the subject of your work. The best way to prevent everything from turning white—and blinding everyone—is to diffuse the flash.

You can do this in a variety of ways, even if all you have is the on-camera flash. One easy trick you can use to diffuse the flash and give your photos a softer, more even look is to use a plastic bag over it. Simply grab a plastic bag, inflate it, tie a knot, and place it on top of your camera where the flash is. This prevents the harsh light from landing directly on your subjects’ faces and disperses it around the room, instead.

If you take the time to get to know your camera settings and do a trial shoot before Halloween, it can save you lots of disappointment on the big night. Ideally, you want to be able to snap your photos with confidence, so you can be proud later when you show them to everyone. The more you practice, the easier it will be to get the job done.

And if you’ve run out of ideas about what to be for Halloween, here are some must-haves that will get you ready for that last-minute party!

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »
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