Nikon Learn & Explore

Bedtime Stories and Spooky Tales Fashioned with a Nikon D810 and Nikon Speedlights

Joe McNally photo of a girl reading a scary story from a book with a model in the background looking like a tree

© Joe McNally

McNally used a Nikon D810 with an AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens and five SB-910 Speedlights to sculpt the light and create beautifully contrasting colors.

Take a look at Nikon Ambassador Joe McNally’s two spooky photos and you might be inclined to think that Halloween is his favorite holiday. Or is it just his desire to let a little dark side humor come out to play? We asked him to describe how he builds his lighting trickery.

Up Past Bedtime

As you can see in the first photo, our innocent little girl is up past bedtime. Strange things happen at night, and McNally reveals all. For “The Bedroom,” he and crew relied on a combination of five Nikon SB-910 Speedlights mixed in as accents, plus various selectively placed studio lights. The Nikon D810 was set to Incandescent White Balance (to give an overall blue cast); this blue tone is most evident where the fairy lurks.

The Power of Imagination "The Bedroom" - Photographer and Nikon Ambassador Joe McNally takes his active imagination to a new level with a Halloween gone awry in this photo shoot. Tune-in to watch Joe work through a complex lighting scenario yielding spooky fun.

To create an effect of azure moonlight reflecting off of outdoor waters, McNally placed three studio lights on the ground outside, bouncing the light into a 6×6 silver reflector that was angled upward to point into the second floor window. To punctuate, “We spot-lit the fairy’s face using an SB-910 tucked behind the toys. This key light pops her face by at least one f/stop, helping draw the eye there.”

Studio lighting, some gelled to warm tones, provide broad sweeps of illumination and ensures that nothing fades into shadows. Additional Speedlights were positioned to stream into the bedside lamp and pop details along the front of the bed. “This was an elaborate set with a variety of light sources,” says McNally. “Every detail is important and it’s the role of each Speedlight to ensure that crucial accents are visible. Each light had a specific job to do in a specific area.”

When it comes to getting things dialed in, McNally says it takes a methodical approach. “We work slowly and make adjustments. We’ll place a light and check the results. We modify or ratio it up or down. What needs more attention? What needs less? We’re looking for balance, and to control the light so that it doesn’t overpower any aspect of the scene.”

Joe McNally photo of two kids dressed in halloween costumes in a forest with two models who look like trees

© Joe McNally

McNally used a Nikon D810 with an AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens and two SB-910 Speedlights to help achieve his vision for spooky lighting in the forest.

Screams in the Haunted Forest

For a second fantasy McNally went to the edge of a forest. The look says midnight, yet capture took place in late afternoon. Despite the significant amount of studio light (12,000 watts) used predominantly to pull texture out of the wooded background, highlight low-clinging fog and permit proper exposure, McNally notes it was the positioning of each Speedlight that really adds a signature. Two Nikon SB-910s were used: one was placed inside the pumpkin to add an orange glow, while a second was positioned in the lower right hand side. “We bounced that second light off of a silver board, aiming to have it pull texture out of the evil tree’s trunk.”

The Power of Imagination "The Forest" - Photographer and Nikon Ambassador Joe McNally puts a scary twist on a kid's Halloween adventure through the woods. Watch as Joe walks you through this amazing location photo shoot.

Showing and Telling a Big Story

It took a Nikon D810 and the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED (bedroom) and the AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED (forest) to create these images. “High resolution capture was called for—and that’s what I get with 36 Megapixels. There are many detail points and regions to explore in each frame. That camera, combined with any NIKKOR lens, is so precise that I can zoom-in and see each eyelash.”

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