Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens

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Shutter: 1/30, Aperture: ƒ/3.2, ISO: 1600, Lens: 15mm

Late last year I was asked to shoot pics of all the Christmas decorations at Busch Gardens Williamsburg for the company that outfits the park with all the seasonal large-scale decorations. That shoot was successful, so I was asked to see if I could shoot all of the Halloween features at the Howl-O-Scream attraction. Mainly without guests around. I immediately said yes. It would be a challenge… most of the haunted houses are specifically dark and full of fog for maximum impact, but I was up to the challenge with my new 25,600 ISO Canon 6D. This was going to be awesome!



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Shutter: 1/40, Aperture: ƒ/1.8, ISO: 6400, Lens: 18-35mm

It’s true, for a lot of the interior shots, I could have set up a tripod and done a multi-second exposure, however, we had a lot of ground to cover. I needed to get a pic of almost every “scene” and individual shots of the props and decorations within. I shot a max ISO quite a bit, but I also played around with lighting the scene from cell phone flashlight. I wanted to avoid the amateur snapshot look by using an on-camera flash, and my remote flash trigger is on the fritz, but the cell flashlight did just fine.


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Shutter: 1/60, Aperture: ƒ/2.8, ISO: 3200, Lens: 15mm

Now walking around, I didn’t have to play with lighting at all. There was a lot of fog and well-planned spotlights all over the place. I just had to find the right angle. We shot the haunted houses before they were opened up to the public, which was great for taking my time around each set-up, but for the exterior shots, we had to wait until dark to get the full effect, and then the park was full of guests. I got to do a bit of shooting after the gates closed and they were kicking people out, but a good number of these shots were taken after just waiting a few minutes for guests to move along.


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Shutter: 1/60, Aperture: ƒ/2.8, ISO: 1600, Lens: 15mm

I got super lucky and as we walked around the park, I got to shoot all of these figures during the blue hour. You’ve heard of the golden hour, that magic time where the air is golden and it’s perfect for portraits in that hour leading up to sunset… well blue hour is that time immediately after the sun has set behind the horizon, and the sky is a bright blue. It’s clearly night time, but there’s still a lot of ambient light, and it gives your night time photos an electric look.


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Shutter: 1/60, Aperture: ƒ/1.4, ISO: 6400, Lens: 50mm

This shot was a little more tricky. I definitely wanted to show what the pumpkins looked like, as well as the fact that they lit up, so I had to shoot it after it got dark, but I didn’t have much ambient light. I didn’t want to shine a flash directly on it, and since they were hanging in the air, there wasn’t anything to bounce it off of. I got risky and cranked my aperture all the way to f/1.4… which is extremely slim. It took a few tries, but I got one that had everything in focus, and I finally landed the exposure I was going for. You can see what the pumpkins look like, but you can also see they’re glowing.


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Shutter: 1/50, Aperture: ƒ/1.4, ISO: 6400, Lens: 50mm

Just to show you what a simple adjustment can do. This shot was taken two minutes earlier than the one before. I wanted to get a photo of just the glowing eyes, for the atmosphere. But as far as “selling” what it is this company provides, I needed the photo above. Over all I wanted the best representation of what they made, and how it would actually look within the environment.


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Shutter: 1/250, Aperture: ƒ/1.8, ISO: 6400, Lens: 50mm

I love when I get a painterly effect where the details morph out to solid colors. Fog and colored spots certainly help with that look. I had four or five shots just like this one, and I had a hard time picking out which one was the most devilish. I probably cranked up the clarity and contrast in the RAW sliders to pick out the detail that shown, so it would stand out a bit more from the fog. But the nice thing was that this guy was on ground level, about six feet away from a fence, so I could take my time and line it up and wait for the perfect moment to shoot.

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Shutter: 1/50, Aperture: ƒ/1.8, ISO: 5000, Lens: 18-35mm

Sometimes I had to get real creative with the lighting and framing, other times, all the heavy lifting was done for me. There was a liberal use of this camo-netting (there is a real term… um, well, maybe not) which provided some great shadows. I had to crank up the ISO to get this one. This is a perfect situation where a flash would have completely washed out this scene, eliminating any cool patterns from the netting and ambient light.


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Shutter: 1/60, Aperture: ƒ/1.8, ISO: 800, Lens: 18-35mm

I wanted to use depth of field to give a sense of this atmosphere. We know what plastic chain and rubber feet look and feel like, and a close-up detail wouldn’t help very much here. However using the wide angle and a shallow depth of field, you get more of a sense of the chains hanging all over the place, and hopefully feel, what it would be like standing in this installation. It was fun figuring out where to stand to get the bokeh just right.

I’m looking forward to shooting more scenes at the amusement park in the future. Check out the gallery below for some of my favorites.


And if I’ve whet your appetite, go ahead and visit Howl-O-Scream. If you’re going, go have fun, don’t worry about taking pictures. That’s my job.

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