Archive for Sunday, November 7, 2004

Decoy props essential for photo’s haunting mood

Behind the lens

November 7, 2004


Photographer: Scott McClurg

Camera: Nikon D1X

Lens: 80-200 mm zoom, with three remote-triggered flash units

ISO: 125

Shutter: 1/60 sec

Aperture: 22

When I got the assignment to shoot the Journal-World's Scary Story Contest winners, I knew from shooting the same assignment last year that it would be a chance to have a little fun.

Last year's theme involved a graveyard, which was a little easier to nail down than this year's theme. Students in this year's contest were asked to write a story based on the introduction: "While baby-sitting the new neighbors' children for the first time, Katie answered the phone." So I just tried to get a picture that said something about scary stories in general.

When I think of telling scary stories, I think of sitting around in a circle and passing a flashlight that the storyteller shines on her face so only she can be seen. I thought this might work well for the theme, so I went out and bought three cheap flashlights.

But when I returned to test the flashlights, I knew instantly they wouldn't work. The $2.99 gadgets didn't put out nearly enough light, and my subjects were due to arrive any time.

While discussing the problem with another photographer, we came up with the solution of having the subjects hold flashes. I would trigger them all to go off at the same time with remote controls. In the end, I had the winners hold the flashes behind the flashlights, giving the spooky lighting effect I was looking for.

I dialed in the same power to each flash, adjusted my exposure to match, and had the subjects light themselves with the flashes. Having the opaque flashlights as decoys made the picture seem like the flashlights were doing all the work.

-- "Behind the Lens" is an ongoing weekly series in which Journal-World photographers offer insights about specific photos or photography in general. Wondering how a certain picture was created? Nominate it for "Behind the Lens" by contacting chief photographer Mike Yoder at 832-7141 or

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