It’s Halloween. Check your background.

It’s almost here.

The big day.

The time of year when it’s socially acceptable to throw on a ridiculous outfit and go to work, dress up as an exaggerated version of the latest politician de jour, or join forces with a few friends to live out your collective fantasies of being in the band, Kiss.

That’s right. It’s Halloween folks!  And as photographers, I think we should all write a nice thank-you note to the fine folks that created this holiday, on which photographic subjects simply wander the streets and take over the malls.

If you are anything like me, your days of trick-or-treating ended sometime in the decade after you were handed your college diploma. (Who knew that being out of college, dressed like a duck and ringing doorbells at 11 p.m. in search of “the best candy on the block” is frowned upon?)  However, just because I wore out my welcome in the trick-or-treating department, doesn’t mean I can’t carve out my own kind of fun this time of year.  Halloween is an excellent opportunity to create fun photos no matter your skill level or the type of equipment you use. It’s also a prime time to put your creativity to the test.

A couple years ago, the Halloween vibe coming from my nieces and nephew reached a boiling point.  They were pretty wound up on their costumes and perhaps a tad excited at the prospect of having bags full of candy.  Caught up in their frenzy, I tossed out the idea of taking some pictures of them dressed up in their costumes.  At that moment, I wasn’t exactly sure of what I had in mind.  My only goal was to create something more than a simple snapshot.  Seeing as how it was raining, shooting outside wasn’t really an option. Moving my thoughts indoors, I quickly realized the solution existed in the good ‘ol plain white sheet.  Although not exactly a tool you will find in every professional’s bag, a $10 sheet of fabric – whether plain white or obnoxiously patterned – can work wonders to remove distracting backgrounds, help your subjects stand out, or add some energy to your photos.  After gathering some necessary supplies (a couple of thumbtacks, a wall, strobe, wide-angle lens, and three goofy kids), I was in business.  Since my main intention was to capture some memorable shots of the kiddos while sharing an afternoon together, I wasn’t too particular about getting the light or, ahem, the “studio” too perfect.  Shadows, wrinkles in the sheet and carpet showing at the bottom of the frame were all considered acceptable. For a few hours I shot photos while the kids laughed, changed costumes, gave themselves fake personas (“Olympic ballerina,” if my memory is correct), and had a blast.  By setting up a designated place for them to be in the spotlight and act as silly as they wanted to, made it possible for me to get some great shots.

Upon viewing the images in Lightroom, I was pleased with the outcome and liked the simplicity they all shared.  By removing the clutter from the room, the images were cleaner, easier on the eye, and offered a more timeless memory of the day.  Also, having a solid color background offers up the freedom to remove and replace it in Photoshop with minimal hassle if so desired.  Since this experience, I have utilized the same white sheet dozens of times.  Most recently, it came in handy to photograph skateboards for an online auction and a WWF-themed party.

Halloween 2009.  The scene couldn’t be more different.  Instead of laughing with Olympic ballerinas and watching my nephew repeatedly snap swim goggles onto his own face while wearing a diaper and a cape, I found myself hanging out with friends watching monster movies. In hindsight, this makes perfect sense. If professional athletes listen to music to get amped up for a game, Halloween photographers should watch zombie fights to get their creative juices flowing…right?  Well, apparently it worked, albeit in a very strange way. Before long, I found myself tacking a plaid sheet to a wall, making a wig out of spaghetti and creating some very fun images.

A simple, cheap and highly effective way to transform any space – indoor or outdoor – into a makeshift studio, using a sheet of fabric can make your photos stand out.  I urge you to experiment with this low-tech technique this weekend.  Chances are, once you get into it, creative ideas will present themselves and you might surprise yourself with the images you create.

Of course, if the creativity just isn’t happenin’, you can always throw the sheet over your head, cut two eye-holes in it and be a ghost for Halloween.