Tips for Halloween Pumpkin Pictures




About: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through understanding, and strives to inspire others to lear...

Carving a Jack-O-Lantern is fun, taking loving pictures of the spooky glowing face is even more fun. Here are some techniques I use with a mid-range digital camera to get great pictures.

Step 1: Steady Camera, Long Exposure, No Flash

A steady camera, long exposure times, and no flashes are the basic ingredients.

I used a Canon PowerShot A70 to take all the pumpkin pictures. It has some manual settings modes were you can adjust the exposure time and F-stops. I actually used the "Tv" setting which allows me to set the exposure time and the camera automatically adjusts the F-stop.

If your camera doesn't have any manual modes, turn the flash off and see if it can compensate enough. The answer is it probably isn't enough. If you're really into taking pictures of pumpkins, like me, make sure your next camera has a manual exposure mode (my other criteria was a water proof case...).

Step 2: Tripod or Tripod-like Thing

The camera needs to be still while it's taking the photo. I used to just set the camera on some stuff, like milk crates and books, but have now moved on to a $30 tripod (a Sunpak 8001UT Tripod). It's really nice not to have to search for a book of just the right thickness, and to be able to easily adjust the angle of the camera.

The mini tripods are ok and I keep one in my camera case for when I don't have my tripod.

If you're just setting the camera on something, use the delayed shutter function. With it, you can press the button, take your hand off the camera, and know it'll stop wiggling before the picture is taken.

Step 3: Background

Make sure there's nothing producing light in the background. Open windows, appliance LEDs, or light from other rooms will all get caught by a long exposure shot.

Here, I just have the pumpkins sitting on the dining room table. Behind them is a wall with no windows. I should have removed that flower vase as you'll see in the external lighting step.

Step 4: Long Exposure

These pictures were taken using 0.8 - 2.5 seconds of exposure time. The only light source was two tea candles inside the pumpkin.

Step 5: Place Candles to Avoid Hot Spots

Move the candles inside the pumpkins so that the flame doesn't create a hot spot in the image.

Step 6: Shoot From Below to Create More Meancing Images.

Shoot from below to give the impression the pumpkins are standing over you and laughing right before they do something awful.

Step 7: External Light

Place some candles around the pumpkins to show off any external features. Here, one of the pirate-pumpkins is holding a knife in its teeth. However, this feature is impossible to see without external light.

It's easy to overdo the external light, and you want to be sure your pumpkin's surface is clean. With the external light, you can see I didn't clean off the sharpie marker I used to draw on the pumpkin before carving it.

Step 8: Happy Halloween!

Have a blast taking pictures!



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    21 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Are thesse just plain normal pumpkins? If they are then how do you keep them from rotting, because when I bought a pumpkin and carved it, it fell apart in 1-2 days, as it shrunk and looked disgusting...


    4 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    They are normal pumpkins, and just like yours they rotted a few days later. I've tried all sorts of techniques to preserve jack-o-lanterns, but nothing has worked. I'd love to learn how!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I came here for some photography advice and happily I can answer your question!

    Regarding jack-o-lanterns, to extend their lifespan, wash the pumpkin thoroughly with a mild soap solution to get rid of any dirt, etc from the outside, rinse and then dry with paper towel. Make a bleach solution (1 tbsp bleach to 1 qt water) and put in a spray bottle. Now clean out your pumpkin, removing seeds, pulp etc. and then carve your design. As soon as your pumpkin is carved, spray the inside and outside thoroughly with your bleach solution. Let it penetrate and dry for about 30 mins. After that you can pat any wet areas dry. Finally, use some paper towel and petroleum jelly and give Jack a good thin coat on the inside and outside.

    Store your pumpkin out of direct sunlight and keep it as cool as possible without allowing it to freeze. With this method, we have been able to keep our jack-o-lanterns looking good for well over a week (one year it lasted 2 weeks!)

    The bleach keeps bacteria and mold in check, and the petroleum jelly keeps the pumpkin from becoming dehydrated.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Would you have any advice for someone (like me) who only has the use of a cell phone camera and would like to successfully take a similar type photo as these examples? I have an ible idea but thus far I cannot get a useable photo of my light project in the dark.

    My phone is a Nokia 5800. It has a high-resolution Carl Zeiss 3.2 megapixel lens with built in flash. I opted for this phone because I could not afford both a new cellphone and camera. It takes amazing photos, but I haven't found any great user information that would allow me to learn how to take photos at night. What happens is the flash goes on and lights up everything as though it were daytime... without the flash the image is black.

    I know my question is a long shot at best, but if you have any advice I would appreciate it.



    10 years ago on Step 2

    Using a tripod (or some other solid surface) is absolutely critical (in my opinion) for taking good pumpkin pictures. If you do nothing else suggested in this instructable, at least do this.

    Brilliant pumpkins and great pictures too! Thanks for the fantastic instructable, you've inspired me to get at least one pumpkin this year to have go at carving! Joey :D


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Yeay! I'm sooooo gonna use these techniques this year! I carve awesome pumpkins and then the pictures suck! Ha! Thanks for sharing!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Great advice. Thank you! I am already looking forward to Halloween! I found some cool pumpkin carving templates on eHow - and they're FREE. Just print the patterns on your printer and you're ready to start carving!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Hi, Taking long exposure photo's is a lot of fun in general! I do NOT prefer using the Tv (shutter priority/time priority) setting though. Why? Because that will leave the F-stop up to the camera, which means that it may choose a large aperture (low F-stop number), which may give you a shallow depth of field, which may leave parts of the subject which you may want to be in focus to become blurry and out of focus. The best thing is to give yourself a bit of time to find the best combination of F-stop and exposure time. You would want to use a smaller aperture (higher number) in order to get as much in focus as possible. My first try would probably be with approx. f8, then I would try different exposure times based on that. If needed, I would also adjust the ISO some. My camera (a digital SLR, Canon 20D) allows a quite high ISO without getting bothersome noise, so I'm not very worried about adjusting the ISO, but of course, on a compact camera like the A70 and similar, the sensor is a lot smaller, and noise is much more of an issue. The best thing to do, is to experiment a bit beforehand. Go out in the dark and take some pictures of e.g. light fixtures etc. with different ISO settings (and different F-stops), and find out where you think the noise becomes a problem on your camera. Experimenting does the trick! And, for such pictures, a decent tripod is a very nice thing to have. If you do not have a tripod, a bag of rice or peas is a great accessory, cheap and one heck of a lot better than those mini tripods! Just fill a suitable plastic bag up 2/3 with rice or peas and give it a good knot to seal it up. Or for a proper one, sew a little bag out of fabric, leave a little opening and fill it up 2/3 before you sew it shut. Happy shooting! :)

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Forgot to mention that the setting I use instead of Tv, is M, manual. That leaves it up to me to take full control over the camera and what it does. There's really not much to it, it only takes a little of experimenting, which is just OK, as it is so much fun!!! Playing with light in the dark using long exposure times is real fun! Sometimes I just have to play around moving a light source, or moving the camera itself in front of a light source, "drawing with the light", making one light source make patterns and figures... :)


    12 years ago

    Thanks, this is great. I just bought a Canon powershot myself and your tips will be extremely handy 8 months from now. Halloween is my favorite. My son and I get great results with those carving kits but the pumpkins rot and die so quickly. Photos last forever. Thanks again!