It’s no secret: my family LOVES Halloween. I mean, what isn’t there to love? You get to pretend you are someone else. You get to stay up past bedtime running around the neighborhood with friends. And there are mass quantities of candy.

And because we love it so much, I have taken extra care to document our Halloween costumes over the years. While of course you could just snap a quick phone picture and go about your trick-or-treating mission, I think it’s a lot more fun to take Halloween portraits that transform us into the characters we are that year.

Over the years I have learned a few tricks to making our portraits really work. Today I am sharing my keys for Halloween costume photo success so that you, too, can capture your little ghosts and goblins in pictures.

CM BLOG halloween costume super man clark kent kellie bieser

Get your shot well before Halloween

I learned this lesson the hard way. If you wait until October 31 to take your portraits, you are going to be the villain that kept your kids from trick-or-treating while you played with your camera settings and backdrops and lights.

No one wants to delay CANDY on Halloween!

That’s why I usually start planning Halloween costumes far in advance of the actual day. Everything is ready to go in September and then I can take portraits weeks ahead of Halloween and post them on social media on the 31st.

This means that I have several weeks to take the kids’ portraits. No rushing, no stressing, and I get to be the fun mom who let’s them wear a costume on a day that isn’t Halloween!

CM BLOG halloween costumes family theme storybook characters kellie bieser

Consider a theme

We are a family of 7 which means that there is never going to be a year where all of us want to be the same thing for Halloween. One year the five-year-old is going to want to be a Transformer and the ten-year-old is going to want to be a wolf and I am going to want to be Bride of Frankenstein.

However, if I come-up with a theme and let everyone choose a costume that fits within it, our portraits are more cohesive. I have a set of images that go together and each member of the family still gets to choose what they want to be within that theme.

The key here is to keep it relatively vague. Over the years we have been “Villains and Heroes,” “Storybook Characters,” and “Monsters.” These allow the kids to have some fun choosing who they will be, putting their own stamp on the final costume while still being tied to the rest of the family.

CM BLOG halloween costume wonder woman kellie bieser

Make the costume good

I am not saying that you need to bring out your sewing machine and labor over detailed patterns. But I promise that you are going to be disappointed if you have an ill-fitting costume with the velcro closures showing in your portraits.

So when you go to dress-up for Halloween, find costumes that are good. Make sure they fit, add some more expensive elements to cheap costumes, and hide unsightly, inauthentic components with strategic posing or other costume elements.

For my Wonder Woman above, many of the accessories were metallic fabric instead of the gold that Wonder Woman herself would wear. Swapping these out for hard metallic plastic pieces made a huge difference in the believability of the final portrait.

CM BLOG halloween costume photo cruella devil kellie bieser

Practice your make-up skills

Having great make-up can make all the difference in transforming from the everyday version of yourself to an entirely new character. Anything from a simple contour to a full face of latex can be necessary to brush-up on your brush skills.

I scoured the internet for tutorials on how to transform myself into Cruella Devil. Who knew that covering up your eyebrows was so difficult?! That said, having those high-arching black brows and that cartoonishly pointed nose (all make-up!) made all the difference in changing me from Kellie to Cruella.

If I have learned anything from doing Halloween make-up all these years, it’s that too much probably isn’t enough. This isn’t what you wear for your daily routine or even an event or fancy date night. This is a mask of make-up. You aren’t going to want to go to the grocery store like this but it’s going to look great in the picture…I promise!

CM BLOG halloween costume frankenstein monster kellie bieser

Set the mood

Anyone can wear a great costume, do great make-up, and take a quick snap shot. But the real fun lies in creating a mood around the costume that helps set the tone of the character you want to be.

Canned atmosphere, a fog machine, or some fog overlays can make a scene look spooky and mysterious. When you want to be a monster or a villain, this can make a huge difference in the impression your costume leaves on the viewer!

My favorite way to set the mood is to use light with intention. In fact, I do this even when I am not photographing Halloween costumes!

Think about how different kinds of light might make a character appear. Back light is dreamy and hazy. Split light is a bit more mysterious. Hard light is harsh and striking while soft light is more forgiving.

When I was photographing my Frankenstein’s monster (Mr. Bieser is such a trooper!) I lit him from below to mimic the light of spooky story time at elementary school sleepovers. This also created a large shadow behind him that exaggerated his size and added to his terrifying costume.

CM BLOG halloween costume dorothy wizard of oz kellie bieser

Have fun editing

Halloween portraits are the perfect time to let loose a little bit with your post processing. You don’t have to create realistic scenes here. In fact, the point is to emphasize fantasy!

This means that you can have a lot of fun to help turn your subject into their character. Change colors, add weather, transform their shape…there is no limit to what you can do here!

When I was photographing my little Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, I just loved her pigtail braids and her skipping along the path and her blue gingham dress. She was embodying Dorothy perfectly!

And yet, I couldn’t help but think that the scene needed just a little more magic. So, I started to play in Photoshop. A little rainbow overlay added the perfect bit of wonder to the scene and while not realistic, changes this shot from “Annie in a Dorothy costume” to “Dorothy is here!”

CM BLOG halloween costume mummy kellie bieser

Don’t take any of this too seriously

Obviously I am a huge fan of Halloween, but I urge you to keep the spirit of the day in mind as you photograph your family costumes. This is supposed to be fun. You aren’t supposed to turn into an actual monster as you go about documenting your costumes.

Instead, look at this as an opportunity to be creative and try new things. It’s a chance to get the whole family involved in the picture-making process.

So let loose, have a blast, and laugh a lot as you transform into your characters. Taking photos is all about capturing memories and I want these to be some of your best.

We love hearing about the creative ways you celebrate! Share your Halloween costume ideas in the comments below!