How to Photograph your Kids Carving Pumpkins :: Digital Photo Secrets

How to Photograph your Kids Carving Pumpkins

by David Peterson 0 comments

"Ew! That is so disgusting." Don't you wish you could capture the moans and groans of your kids as they stuff their hands into those pumpkin guts? OK, you can technically do that if you put your camera in video mode, but the day has not yet arrived when you can easily put video clips in your scrapbook. But that doesn't mean that you can't capture a sense of the fun, excitement, and yes, grossness of pumpkin carving with a still camera, too. Keep reading for some tips on how to get some great photographs of your kids carving their pumpkins.

Halloween is not just about trick-or-treating and dressing up in costumes, the jack-o'-lantern carving is a big part of the festivities and rituals leading up to the big event. It's not enough to just have a photograph of the finished product - you absolutely must also have some photographs of your kids creating their masterpieces. But it can be tricky to get good photos of this activity because it tends to happen in low light and in cluttered conditions.

The light

It's always best to use natural light, so if it happens to be a nice day and your kids are home from school early enough, take the whole endeavor outdoors. Set up a picnic table and cover it with white paper, and make sure you pick a spot with good sun exposure. If it's going to be late in the day that's perfect—that golden hour light will create soft, diffused shadows, and a golden tint that will go quite nicely with the fall season. If you can include some autumn trees in the background so much the better, if not just make sure you've got a background that isn't distracting and that you've set your table far enough away that you will mostly be able to blur out any distractions that might be behind the activities.

Of course it's fall, which means that the weather might not be cooperating. If it's raining outside or if it's just too late in the day to take advantage of the natural light, then indoors in your kitchen is an acceptable substitute. If you have big kitchen windows and it's still daylight even on an overcast or rainy day, there may be enough ambient light coming through the window to illuminate your subject. If you have to, turn up your ISO a little. Remember that most modern cameras can still take excellent pictures even at an elevated ISO, so don't be afraid to turn up to ISO 1600 or even 3200 if that's what you need to do. As a last resort you can also add light by turning on all the lights in the kitchen, or you can bring in some extra table lights. Keep in mind that incandescent lights may add a yellow cast to everything in the scene, so you'll have to adjust your white balance to make sure that the photos don't have any ugly tints. If you're in a mixed lighting situation, that is, you've got light coming through the kitchen window but you also have incandescent lights, find something white that you can use to set a custom white balance. All cameras do this a little bit differently, but for the most part setting a custom white balance involves photographing something that is a true white such as a photographer's white card and then telling your camera to use that photo as the reference point for true white.
Pay careful attention to what is in the background. This is even more important if you're shooting indoors in a confined space because it will be harder to blur out those background details, especially if your kitchen is on the small side. Make sure you remove any clutter behind your kids so that your viewer's attention will be on the pumpkin carving activities and not on whether or not you've gotten around to cleaning up the lunchtime dishes yet. Think about all the possible angles you're likely to shoot from and make sure you clear out the background for all of those angles.

Kids attire

Although you may be tempted to cover your kids with plastic garbage bags to keep the mess off their clothes, consider that pumpkins don't really stain so try to get your kids to wear something appropriate for the photo shoot. It doesn't necessarily have to be Halloween attire, but think about contrasting colors such as blue, which is opposite orange on the color wheel. Or, go for matching tones like various shades of orange. If you don't have anything contrasting or matching for them to wear that's OK too, of course, go with a neutral color and make sure that it's not just something old and ratty. Avoid logo T-shirts, because they will distract from the activity of pumpkin carving and your photos will be less compelling, not to mention less timeless as the years go by and no one remembers what a Minecraft zombie is anymore.
Equipment and settings

You can take pumpkin carving photos with any sort of camera, but if you're indoors in low light you're going to need a camera that has good high ISO capabilities and a wide maximum aperture. Again, try setting your camera to ISO 1600 to start, and then choose the widest aperture your lens is capable of (f/2.8 is usually going to be about right). Keep in mind that at those wider apertures you're going to get a lot less depth of field, so if you're zooming in on someone's face you could potentially end up with a sharp eye and a blurry nose. For those ultra close-up shots make sure you narrow your aperture a little bit so that you'll get better depth of field. But for the most part, that wide aperture is going to serve the dual purpose of allowing you to get sharp photos in low light but also blurring out any of the background details that might be distracting from the image.

Remember that your shutter speed needs to be reasonably high because you're photographing moving subjects. As a general rule, you don't want to photograph people slower than 1/125, but depending on how vigorous the carving activities are you may even need to go as high as 1/250 to make sure that you're not capturing any motion blur.

Capture the whole event

Make sure you photograph the event from beginning to end. Get some photos of your kids drawing the faces on the pumpkins, but also remember that there are photographable moments before this happens as well—how about a picture of your child sitting down with her dad, looking through the book of pumpkin patterns before deciding which one to choose? How about the aftermath?
Make sure to shoot from eye level when you can— try to capture face and pumpkin in the same shot, but also get close enough to capture pictures of hands doing their work. If your kid makes that disgusted pumpkin guts face when he puts his hands into the pumpkin, make sure you capture that as well, but it's also helpful to zoom out a little so that your viewer understands the context and the reason behind that disgusted expression on his face.

Shooting from eye level is always good practice, but don't neglect other creative angles. Shooting over your subject's shoulder can give your viewer a kids'-eye perspective on the pumpkin carving process, and it has the added benefit of naturally excluding all those cluttered background details.

Photographing lit pumpkins

Of course when the carving itself has ended, you want to make sure you get plenty of great pictures of those pumpkins in all their candle-lit glory. Try setting your pumpkins up in a place where there aren't a lot of background details such as a semi darkened room with a black sheet as a background. Send your kids outdoors to collect some fallen leaves and scatter them on the table around the pumpkins. Light your jack-o'-lanterns but make sure to include some other props as well, such as smaller uncarved pumpkins, gourds, and candles. Remember the rule of odds—don't include so many props that you clutter up the scene, and try to keep everything in groups of three or five at the most.

You can shoot the finished jack-o-lanterns on your porch, too, which will give you a more classic look. If you do, make sure to take these photos at dusk. If you wait until full dark you are mostly going to get photos of just the pumpkin's face without any of the shape of the pumpkin. It's OK to add a little light if you feel you must—the light from an incandescent flashlight can help keep the colors on the warm end of the spectrum where pumpkin colors naturally are, or just use the light from your porch. If you do take these pictures on your porch, make sure that the background doesn't include elements that don't support the subject, such as your kids' sneakers or the dog's bowl. And if you find that the light from inside the pumpkin is a little too dim, add a second candle. You want that to be the brightest part of the scene, so adding a little additional light never hurts.

Whatever you do, do not use flash to take these images. You want the light from the candles to provide the maximum illumination in the scene, but you also want to make sure that there's enough ambient light that you're able to capture the shape of the pumpkin as well as the light from the carved part. Using flash will just wash everything out, and destroy that creepy ambiance that you're trying to capture with these photos.


Remember not to put off those pumpkin photos—take them when the pumpkins are fresh because as time goes on they start to get a little curly around the edges and they don't look quite so menacing anymore. Don't forget to pose your little ones with their masterpieces, too, because you won't likely recall which kid carved which pumpkin a few years down the road, and that's information you're going to want to have. Most of all, though, make sure that you don't let the photos interfere with the fun. Get in those pumpkins and get a little bit dirty yourself, just take care not to get any pumpkin guts on your camera.


  1. The light
    • Consider outdoor pumpkin carving
    • If indoors, turn up your ISO
    • Pay attention to the background
  2. Kids attire
    • Dress them in contrasting colors or Halloween themes
  3. Equipment and settings
    • Use a high ISO
    • Use a wide aperture if necessary
    • Don't go below 1/125 (1/250 is preferable)
  4. Capture the whole event
    • Photograph kids drawing faces on pumpkins
    • Shoot from eye level
    • Photograph the aftermath
  5. Photographing lit pumpkins
    • Choose a place without background distractions
    • Make sure there is some ambient light to help capture detail in the pumpkins
    • Don't use flash
    • Add some light if you have to

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