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How to Make Fantastically Fun Jack 'O Lantern Photos

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"Trick or treat!" Halloween is knocking on the door. It is a very popular holiday in many countries. It brings the spirit of mystic, fear, magic and fairy. Halloween can be a great inspiration for shooting some beautiful lights – all those jack-o-lanterns and candles.

Slipping between all the stories and tales, we will stage a different and magical photo shoot for Halloween. It’s time to get out the camera.

Spirits awaken

There are some things required to embrace the holiday spirit. Best make a list and go to the nearest marketplace.

Most of the things needed for the pictures can be taken from a garden. However, many of us don’t have this opportunity, so going to the market is the only decision.

Pumpkins are one of the most prominent symbols of Halloween. Cut off the top, scoop out the inside flesh, carve a face out, light the inside of it and here it is – Jack o’ lantern. One of the best pumpkins for making a lantern are the orange ones. They have a round shape and a nice bright color and easy to carve.

Cut off the top, scoop out the inside flesh, carve a face out.

Buy different shaped pumpkins, so some of them can be carved, but some can stay whole for decoration. For example, I chose two big ones for lanterns and other small ones for the table to complete the atmosphere of Halloween.

Tea candles are the best choice for illuminating the scene. Even though any kind of candles can be used.

Tea candles

Don't forget the candy and sweets. Just don’t eat them before shooting! They are a great addition to glowing lanterns and candles. Occupying an important part of the rituals of celebration, they become coins for Halloween night. So don’t forget them.

You may also want to get some incense sticks to add a little magic the pictures.

Candy and sweets

Get ready

One of the hardest parts of preparation is carving the pumpkins. It can be the most fun and creative moments, but it can be frustrating for the artistically-challenged. For this photo shoot, I chose not to use a typical scary one.

I chose to carve and decorate pumpkins in a slightly funny way, keeping the spirit of the holiday. However, they can be made really hilarious, artistic and bizarre, it is up to you. Don't be afraid to use a template.

The tea candles we'll be using emit a soft, yellow light, which creates a warm and enchanting atmosphere. Arranging the scene is also up to you. But keep in mind that it's best if they're the only light source.

Turn off all the lights in the room where you take the pictures to guarantee an even, natural look to the light. If there isn't enough light using the candles in your scene, place more candles out of frame to boost the exposure.

It's also best to use a manual white balance for this type of work. If you set your camera between 3000-4000 K, the candles will still have a warm yellow tone without looking too crazy.

Camera Settings

You need basic equipment:

  • Camera with “M" manual mode
  • Tripod (because photos are taken at a low shutter speed)
  • Remote shutter release (or use the self-timer )

Keep the ISO as low as the camera is able (e.g. 100 ISO) to avoid noise in the pictures. Don’t change it during shooting, change only aperture and shutter speed values. Your main creative concern will with depth-of-field. So concentrate on that next.

Your shutter speed will be the final adjustment to dial in the exposure. It doesn't matter if it's fast or slow because we're using a tripod and your subject isn't moving.

Be careful making your aperture too wide open. In highly contrasting scene, any bright spots against your black background will expand, and may take over your image.

As always, turn off your stabilizing lens system when using tripod, if have one, to avoid frustrating motion blur.

Tips and Tricks for Creative Results

Here are a few things you can try to make your photos even more interesting.

Use a reflective surface in your photos. It can be very beautiful to have reflections of lanterns and lights that are used. You can place your objects on the surface, or use something in the background or off to the side.

It's an easy way to introduce depth and symmetry in your photos. For example, I took the pictures over a coffee table which is almost black. It's lacquered surface was perfect.


Experiment with smoke. When smoke is not frozen with fast shutter speed, it appears as a fog and this can make the pictures look more mystical and enchanting. This is really wonderful and easy to achieve effect.

Put an incense stick on the side of the scene, so that it does not enter the frame. When you start the exposure blow the smoke gently into the frame. For best results, the smoke should be illuminated by the tea candles.

Jack o’ lantern in smoke

Mystic in the night

Light painting is relatively easy and eye-catching. Take a simple wooden stick and light one end. Draw something in front of the camera with it while while the shutter is open. You'll create incredible light trails on the image.


Spirits awaken


Now when all the spirits wake up you should be prepared to take great photos. I hope that this tutorial will help you with that. Don't forget to share your photos with your friends are relatives.

If you have any questions or thoughts, share them in the comments section below.

Happy Halloween!

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