Tips and Tricks: Jack-O'-Lantern Photography

It's that time again when pumpkins are sacrificed in the name of spooky glowing decorations. While there are plenty of interesting subjects to photograph this time of year (costumes, fall colors, holiday festivities), photographing jack-o'-lanterns can be a little tricky especially if you want to capture them in the dark. Low light photography is a bit more complicated, but don't let that deter you from experimenting. The results are well worth the extra effort. And, in truth, so long as you keep a few key things in mind, it's not very difficult to achive that great glowing photo.

Hold Still

No, not the pumpkin, they are pretty stationary by default. Well, unless they're sentient wandering jack-o'-lanterns, but that's an entirely different topic.

With any night time or low light photography, the more steady your camera the better. Even if you think you are pretty good at holding still, really, nothing beats not holding your camera at all. This means go pull out that old tripod, or if you don't have one of those, finding a nice spot on the ground or table, or even pressing your camera body up against a stationary object. This will afford you the opportunity to get a greater depth of field, minimize any camera jitter that would cause fuzziness, and not have to use the flash.


Now that your camera is nice and still, play around with the composition. Get close, use the rule of thirds, fill the frame, and try different angles and perspectives. If your camera will allow tweaking of the aperture settings, try using a small depth of field (low number for aperture - like 3 or 4). You'll never know if there is a cool shot hiding in your subject if you don't try different things. In the world of digital photography the only thing this will cost you is a few extra minutes.


I for one am the first one to say "Argh! Yuck flash! Blerg. Evil evil awful flash!" That's not to say that it has its time and place. If you are able to adjust the strength and/or position of your flash, this can actually add an interesting lighting element to a low light photo. Sometimes a little flash actually does work, just remember to keep it gentle. Bright harsh flash will drown out the wonderful orange glow of jack-o'-lanterns and destroy the creepy otherworldly atmosphere of the photo. Again, experiment.

Have fun this Halloween, and happy spooky photo shooting.

MaAH Illustration: Doppin


Initial digital sketch.


Beginning to ink the piece digitally.


Final image.

Yesterday, P.G. Holyfield released some exciting news about his novel, Murder at Avedon Hill. It's going to be published though Dragon Moon Press.  As a fan of the story (and friend of the author) I couldn't be happier for Patrick. As I've said upon numerous occasions, it's a wonderful story and it deserves any and all recognition it receives. So, big congrats! I can hardly wait for its new release. You can see the official press release here. He also released a special announcement episode, here.


I was going to wait to post this image when the corresponding episode of MaAH was released, but with the recent good news, I figured now was as good a time as any.

Patrick asked me a while ago if I would be interested in doing another image for one of the last chapters. I, of course, jumped at the suggestion. The image itself was left open to whatever scene I wanted to do. After refreshing myself on the events of the applicable chapters, I sent a few ideas off to Patrick. From that correspondence we decided on this image (as to prevent any major spoilers of the plot).

For this illustration I decided to do the whole thing digitally. This method worked well for the last MaAH illustration I did, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to expand my digital art skills.

The first image is a rough concept sketch for what I had in mind. That was approved. I then moved on to the inking.  The great thing about working digitally, I found, was that if I made a mistake at any point, I could easily redo or adjust the image. In this case, I found that I had placed the arm in an awkward position.  I also noticed that the eye position was a bit off. So, I just moved everything around a bit until I was satisfied.

For coloring I shaded with sharp lines of different color shades rather than doing a blended shading. The only reason for this was that I hadn't really used that technique much and wanted more experience. Plus, I like the look. I also changed the color of the ink for the spirits from the original black to a light blue. This was done using a clipping mask layer (in Photoshop) under the ink layer. During the coloring of the spirits, I also found they needed more detail, so I added some swirls and additional line details. To get the spirits to look transparent, I filled them with color on a separate layer, then reduced the opacity of the layer.

The hardest part of the coloring, oddly enough, was the background. I was having trouble getting a texture and color that I really liked. After adding several textured layers and tweaking the color settings, I finally found a combination that I liked, while also matching the described scene in the story.

Rose Garden Macro Photography

The Rose Gardens (officially known as International Rose Test Garden) located in Portland, Oregon has become one of the iconic symbols of this area since its creation in 1917. Being a resident of the greater Portland/Vancouver metro area, I have visited the gardens many times. During this time of the year the myriad roses that fill the several acre park are in full fragrant bloom. Having photographed the roses numerous times, I'm always looking for new methods and perspectives to capture. While I enjoy a nice rose photo that depicts the flower (open or in bud) beautifully centered, filling up most of the frame, I have gotten bored with that particular composition. As a result, I have been exploring the macro world of this rose forest.


My tools for macro photography include a wide angle lens, a set of macro filter lenses, a telephoto lens with macro capabilities, and, of course, my Nikon D50 DLSR camera. Most of the time I use the wide angle lens with some combination of the macro filter lenses attached. The reason I like this method better than the macro setting on the telephoto lens is a) I don't have to stand at a distance in order to focus on the subject, and b) the wide angle lens allows me to shoot at higher shutter speeds. This second reason is most important for me because the higher the shutter speed the more likely I am to avoid any blurriness caused by magnification of hand held camera shake. Ideally a tripod is recommended for macro photography for this very reason, but let's face it folks, tripods aren't practical to lug around everywhere you might want to do some casual photography.  Even small portable ones aren't going to help you much if you want to shoot at a weird angle or anything taller than the tripod height. At least that is what I have found in my experience. That's not to say I don't ever use tripods; I do. In fact I carry a small one in my camera case. However, faced with a beautiful sunny day, I'll choose hand held over tripod if I feel I can get away with it (i.e. get sharp images).


When shooting macro, I ask myself how I can highlight the distinctiveness of each rose. I try to fill the fame in a way that shows the character of the subject by only focusing on a small piece. In the case of the two photos above and below, both had interesting textures. For the photo above, I tried to emphasize the crumpled, almost face-like, appearance of the bloom. For the photo below, the shape of the edges along with the coloration and patterns in the petals were intriguing. I made sure to focus on just the edges for this shot.


In addition to the hundreds of different type and colors of blooms, there were the small inhabitants of the gardens. While shooting a small bloom variety, I found this wee bitty ladybug hiding within the petals. It looked cozy nestled within the bloom. Focusing on just the ladybug, I kept a wide aperture size to allow the rose to be a bit fuzzy while forcing the eye to the sharp ladybug.



Technical Details (top to bottom)

Aperture Value: f/13 Focal Length: 55 mm Exposure Program: Aperture Priority ISO: 200 Shutter Speed Value: 1/50 sec Filters: 2x and 4x macro 

Aperture Value: f/5.6 Focal Length: 55 mm Exposure Program: Aperture Priority ISO: 200 Shutter Speed Value: 1/160 sec Filters: 2x and 4x macro  

Aperture Value: f/5.6 Focal Length: 55 mm Exposure Program: Aperture Priority ISO: 200 Shutter Speed Value: 1/500 sec Filters: 2x and 4x macro  

Aperture Value: f/5.6 Focal Length: 55 mm Exposure Program: Aperture Priority ISO: 200 Shutter Speed Value: 1/320 sec Filters: 2x and 4x macro