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I don’t know about you, but the idea of a shoot with a true ‘theme’ totally freaks me out. The idea of something looking over produced or costume-y always scares me away from even trying something in that realm. But that was before Ange told me that her dream was a Halloween themed shoot in a cemetery. Costumes? Check. Thematic location? Check. Concerned Me? Also, check.
If you haven’t noticed, Ange is generally involved in some sort of shoot or initiative that pushes me out of my comfort zone. During this last shoot she looked at me from the bottom of the cemetery stairs by the parking lot, shook her head, and said something along lines of ‘you really don’t break the rules do you?’. (In my defense, moving her two steps to the left meant I could crop out whatever was causing problems instead of her moving something that wasn’t ours.)
Now, I’m obviously not an expert in themes or characters or any shoot that seems niche, but if you have an upcoming one and want to quell your fear of a shoot that looks more gaudy than genuine, here’s my advice.
Embrace the Costume – Part of creating someone else’s vision is checking your own tastes, at least to an extent. I am the furthest from the conventional choice to help capture a spooky shoot. I am purposefully not well versed in the occult, generally am not interested in anything scary, and have a strong aversion to dressing up. Thankfully, what Ange actually needed me to do (aside from actually operating the camera) was choose a great location and support her as she styled everything from pentagram tights to full on witches’ cloak.
Don’t Change Your Editing Style – On the editing scale of dark/moody to light/airy, I’m somewhere in the middle, with a slight lean towards the airier side. I feel very strongly that a shoot this far out of my comfort zone is not the time to also attempt an entirely different editing style. Especially if you are also not ready to adapt your shooting style. In addition, I would assume that this client hired you for a reason, so now isn’t the time to give them an entirely different end product. Ange wasn’t expecting me to produce a dark and moody edit simply because she wanted a creepy, Halloween shoot. I am still the same photographer, even if the subject matter is a little different.
Let Your Subject Be the Star – While there are instances when a location is almost a second subject in a photo, I don’t think a themed shoot is the time. Obviously you need a location that works with whatever your vision is, but it needs to feel nature (or totally unnatural, if that is the point). Other location options for Ange’s shoot included train tracks or some form of an abandoned building. While a cemetery seems like the most extreme of all of those options, it also makes the most sense. With the leaves changing and a bit of golden autumn sunshine, viewers already know its fall so Halloween-y costumes already make more sense. I’m not saying that pairing a witches’ cloak with an abandoned building couldn’t work (I’ve seen Hocus Pocus), but it is a bit more a stretch. A witch in a cemetery feels normal.
Understand Your Vision – While you should absolutely consider and honor what you client/subject wants out of the shoot, you also need to understand what your story/vision is for the shoot. The cemetery I picked is small and old, but also on something of a residential road. There are plenty of houses around it. Throughout the shoot, I imagined Ange as a witch or spector or other Halloween spirit that a kid may see in a blink while walking home. Or outside their bedroom window. Making her intriguing more than intimidating. Having a backstory helped me feel like I wasn’t just shooting a themed shoot for the sake of it, instead it became a story in my head.
All in all, the best tip I can suggest is having a great partner in bringing the shoot to life. Ange had a vision for what she wanted the shoot to be and I had a great time helping her create it. And, for the record, if I am ever haunted, it is probably thanks to this shoot and you should absolutely blame her. (Just kidding!)