Halloween Series Making horror in photoshop

In the weeks leading up to October, I felt like I needed to inspire myself a little bit. Since Halloween was coming up, I figured I would create a series of photos with that sort of scary/horror/spooky theme. The hook would be that all of the characters in the scene would be played by me.

I haven't created a photo series in a while, not since high school honestly. So I was excited to get started.



This first idea involved the idea of someone sitting in their car at night looking at their phone while someone scary watches them from the distance. I had actually been at this park the night before and would often look up to make sure no creepy weirdos were sneaking up on me.

My original idea was to have something like this with just my head in the foreground. But knowing that I would be releasing these images on Instagram mainly, I thought I should push the imagery a bit more.


I think this image works alright, but I was hoping for something scarier. This was a little too "Cartoon Scary" for my taste and I wanted to go further.


Always a fan of the movie "The Haunting", I'm a fan of hinted fear, rather than overt gore to elicit a reaction. So I scrubbed my brain trying to think of some way of conveying fear through the impression that the audience knows more than the characters.

For this next shoot, I had a great asset. An Atomos Ninja Assassin. We use this piece of hardware for video shoots. It consists of a giant 7" screen that you can hook up to a DSLR with an HDMI cable. This made my work much easier as I could then line up shots fairly accurately and see if they would work.

I ended up doing a little work to my face in the reflection to help push the spooky atmosphere, overdoing it a little for the small screens of Instagram. I also struck a balance between the reflection of the main character and the image of the ghost demon to help sell that it's a real mirror and not a hole in the wall.


This next scene I actually shot and edited early on, but didn't release because I thought people might think I went too far. I think it's one thing to make a scary scene, but another to show me slitting my own throat as a devil and having that image available to current and future employers. Eventually I figured the scene would speak for itself when viewed within the entire series.

As you can probably tell, I didn't have any fake blood on hand even though Halloween was quickly approaching. So I used mustard on the knife knowing that I could probably grab the yellow color and convert it over to red.


The next scene didn't have any story behind it. I just wanted to draw my face falling apart. I had actually bought a DVD series on Photoshop tricks to see how the (now very commonplace) "crumbling face" effect was done. But I never got past the first few lessons on the DVD series because they were pretty boring. So instead I just googled the effect and played around with my face until I got this result.


From inspiration to execution, something happens either based on lack of skill or lack of creativity. I originally saw a ghostly shadow figure online that was shot through a frosted glass window. The image had a big impact on me and I wanted to take it further with some interesting colors and poses that weren't in the original.

After shooting many many different poses with the self timer...

I settled on this image which isn't really what I wanted. But having stated that I would release a new scary image every weekday, I kind of set myself up for having to get the job done despite my best efforts. Lessons learned.


Bringing it back into the slasher movie genre, I decided to go back into the bathroom. M. Night Shyamalan says that the scariest image in movies is a closed door...

So maybe it would be scarier to be trapped in front of a closed door with someone trying to kill you...
...with an axe...
...and tattoos.


The next shot was an idea I carefully storyboarded. The idea was that someone had just been killed in the woods and that the only witness was a dropped phone. It was definitely the most difficult to shoot because...

  1. I was aware that shooting some sort of murder scene outside might attract the kind of attention I didn't want to attract.
  2. I was aware that shooting with expensive camera equipment alone deep in the woods might attract the kind of attention I didn't want to attract.
  3. I was aware that shooting a scene that involved tiny mirrors and specifically required reflection angles alone was going to be a PITA. And it was.
The victim
The killer
Luckily this was the easiest to edit and it turned out the best. I wished all of the photos in the series would come out this well!


In the not-scary-but-interesting category, I wanted to see if I could replicate the effect of the "Replicant" lighting from Blade Runner. I know how to do it, you basically need a special coated glass called a beam splitter shoot shoot through and to bounce a light off of into your actor's eyes. Unfortunately, I didn't have a beam splitter and to get this effect you really need one. The idea was to have an android removing their finger with a pair of pliers. The "Replicant Eyes" would help sell the idea that I was an android, rather than just me removing my finger.

I added in a few electronics and a finger "seam".


I tried a few ideas that I planned out but didn't have time or motivation to complete...

Bathroom blood reflection (L) and fake bird attack (R).


I also tried out some ideas from the past which I re-edited.


And I also tried one idea just for fun.

This took a lot of editing and layers to get the lighting to look real. It really helps to light the individual photos correctly rather than depending on Photoshop to fix lighting in post. I should have worked off of the lighting in the original bathroom shot and lit the greenscreen shot in the same way. Unfortunately, I didn't have time as I shot the greenscreen in between work shoots.


This next idea was one of my favorites. It was also fun to shoot because some people walked by as I was shooting the different layers and they thought I was crazy.

I ended up shooting a lot of demons that couldn't be shown because foreground or mid-ground demons were blocking them. But I played around with special brushes on the alpha layers in order to get some of the demons turning into leaves or just disintegrating into nothing. This took a long time to edit but I love the expressions and the final image.

Having grown up in a family where both parents worked in psychiatry, I imagine some people feel this way sometimes.


This final image was a lot of fun and actually pretty easy to shoot once I figured out how to do the lighting. The idea is that I'd be an infinite head. So the lighting I created for the top head had to be the opposite for the bottom head. I used a strobe on a light stand and just changed the height of the light stand to reflect the change in angle.

Background plate, light from above, light from below.

This was certainly a fun series to work on. I got a lot of positive feedback and a few "ew" responses. Either way, it's always good to push yourself and give yourself a new creative direction. I'm looking forward to my next series.


Created By
Jon Hillenbrand
Jon Hillenbrand

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