Spooks and spirits, horror flicks and haunted houses – Halloween has come again! Follow me through a halloween farmhouse photoshoot from location and props to camera and casting.
For that purpose, my model Dalton and I were on the scout to create a creepy photo session. This is how it came together!
One of my favourite locations are abandoned buildings! I can’t help but wonder who might have lived there? What were the circumstances for leaving? Were the occupants prepared to move? How fast did they have to go?
Finding the farmhouse was easy, although parking was not! Cruising the lakeshore roads, we have driven past this farmhouse many times, but we never payed attention to the overgrown driveway before. As a result, we maneuvered the truck through tangled shrubbery and settled alongside the ditch. A consideration for next time…
After settling in, we scouting for no trespassing signs. There were none. Encouraged to push on, we wanted to understand the backstory of the house and get an idea of how safe the property was to visit, so we approached an adjacent household. The neighbours told us that the farmhouse was not abandoned, however the owners lived too far for any surveillance or upkeep of the grounds. As a result, we took our chances…
Grey area alert: Although a home may appear empty, you’re most likely still trespassing. Furthermore the state of disrepair of a deserted structure can be a health risk.
➤ Without permission, this is illegal:
- Is there no trespassing signs
- Is there a place to park
- What time of day or night is best to go
- Is the building safe
- Is there a safe entry point
➤ Investigate what is left behind, it can help determine:
- Who was living/working there
- How quickly they had to go
- Circumstances of leaving
➤ Location Ideas:
Every day found items can enhance your story in your Halloween farmhouse photoshoot. For instance, unopened dusty cereal boxes on a shelf, a highchair in the middle of the living room, a rag doll slumped on a torn couch – it’s all eerie!
In our case, I’ll admit, we brought no props! Really it didn’t matter though, we had an entire building of disregarded objects at our disposal. When we entered the foyer, we saw what we needed. Below the creaky stairs, leaning on a crumbling fireplace a rusty scythe was waiting. It was a farmhouse, so an agricultural tool in the home, maybe it wasn’t as sinister as it looked? Or maybe it was!
When exploring derelict properties, if you are using found objects, keep these suggestions in mind:
➤ Don’t take souvenirs:
- Let other explorers experience the home the way you did
- There can be contamination
- You are stealing… from the dead…
- Ghosts may have attached themselves to the item!
➤ Careful handling objects, with age comes fragility.
➤ Return items back to their original position; half of their story is where you find them.
➤ Check out these other tips on Abandoned House Etiquette
Shoot Your Environment
There are many horror images in ghoulish settings, that show more scary face than background. I prefer the opposite. If I have sourced a location, I want to show it in my images. Therefore I use a wide-angle lens. Letting the scene be a star of the image will add to your story. In addition, the setting works with your character by overwhelming, even isolating them, in the world of their haunted surroundings. In other words, expose your spooky atmosphere by giving your viewers a chance to reflect on the where, in addition to the who of your abandoned building.
Find Unique Angles
There’s nothing as unsettling as an unconventional angle. Furthermore, these angles can be used strategically to throw your audience off balance. Make your horizon line crooked by placing the camera on a tilt. Also, lie down on the ground and shoot up, to capture the floor dirt and debris. Use a tripod for a bird’s-eye high shot through a cobwebbed ceiling. Halloween is the best opportunity to experiment and be creative.
➤ Be sure that your camera is off when changing lenses.
➤ There is no electricity – so bring a flashlight.
➤ Wash your equipment after leaving; since unoccupied buildings are full of dust.
➤ Surfaces are uneven and dirty; therefore tripods help keep a camera protected.
➤ Use a wide-angle lens; since your background is your story.
➤ If conditions are very bad, for added protection, put your lenses in ziplock bags between uses
Casting for your Halloween farmhouse photoshoot, know that your model may need to do outlandish tasks, such as:
- Slither down a dusty staircase
- Prey on a bed of cobwebs
- Gaze out from a broken attic window
The Right Model
While considering your subjects, cast people who take chances and commit to an idea. That’s It’s easier to pull someone’s expression back, then to form one that was never there. Dalton took chances in spades!
Create A Role
Cultivate a role for your model, but allow for improvisation. People can merge themselves to a role faster when playing a defined character, then creating a character on the spot. Develop a storyline that shows who they are and why this location. As an example, Dalton envisioned that he in the “end of day’s time”. In his story, he is a reaper, waiting for new souls to take with him to the afterlife.
Location To Model
Although your model’s persona is significant, don’t forget the part they play within the abandoned site. Each building will have its own personality, and there’s no better way to intensify that personality than to submerge your cast within it. Imagination will aid your models to find their place within the surroundings. For that reason, offer them time to tie location with their character. As an example, if Dalton experiences an authentic connection to his settings, my audience will pick up on that connection within the image.
Relatable and believable, genuine expression can tell its own story. However, the trick is how do you “cue” real emotion? You can start, by letting your models know that there may be a few surprises at the shoot. Make sure they understand what you mean by providing an example from a past photoshoot, without giving away a surprise you have planned for getting a reaction out of their shoot.
You want your model to express a frightened response stage left. To prepare for that reaction in advance, arrange for an extra crew member to hide in the darkened wings and make a startling sound stage left.
Grey area alert: Only do so if the model is in a sure-footed position, as well as has room to react.
➤ When costumes are not ideal for the conditions of the building: Keep your model warm, safe and dry with extra clothing, safe shoes, and a blanket.
➤ Prepare for emergencies. For example, have a first aid kit on hand, and a charged phone as a lifeline in a dangerous and secluded location.
➤ The health and mobility of your models are important when locations are less than optimal.
➤ If you are organizing a larger cast, organize your shoot with a call sheet: Suzanne Carroll Photography | Call Sheet