Why Halloween Photos are Important

Simple documentary photographs will bring waves of memories later for the people in the pictures. photo by Karen Messmer-Wilson

I know that many of you have a big night ahead of you, so for those of you that would like some quick tips I’ve put them right here on top:

There’s the all important, I think, full length shot of the costume. Even if it’s only the last Spiderman costume that was available at Walmart on Halloween afternoon show the costume. They will never forget that costume. Never.

◆ Pictures of mom or dad creating this wearable artwork will always bring back waves of memories. Don’t worry about the lighting or the background. Just push the button. They will remember.

◆ Documenting the contents of a Halloween candy bag is going to be a blast from the past in 10 or 15 years. Unforgettable.

◆ Shoot overalls of the the kids walking down the street that show the neighborhood’s houses and those soon to be ancient cars. Incredible memories.

◆ Group shots of the trick or treaters will show the kids who long since moved away and who were almost forgotten until the photo revealed them again.

◆ If your kid is wearing a mask shoot two pictures. One with the mask on and one with the mask on. It’s a pairing. You’re an artist!

◆ Halloween may be the most photographically forgiving of the holidays. Keep things light and fun and don’t get all twisted worrying about camera settings. You can get all twisted at Christmas with your camera settings.

◆ Recording those costumes are often ways of recording a parent’s thoughtfulness.


Before I begin with what is a slightly serious conversation about Halloween photographs and why they’re important, I need to confess that I’m the man who has on several occasions over the years recommended to your children that they put the rejected slimy insides of their carved pumpkins into one of your dresser drawers—actually, full disclosure here—into your underwear drawer, seeds and gunk and all. How many of those children actually followed through on my advice is lost to history, but I was that man spear heading the movement for sure.

In my defense, a still-life photo of that drawer is a wonderful and unforgettable holiday storytelling image and would fit perfectly into a Facebook cover photo, a dresser drawer fitting nicely into that extremely horizontal shape. To my knowledge the picture has yet to be taken. (There’s always this year, kids, so the gauntlet has been thrown again. I promise this picture would automatically rise right to the the top of our prestigious Fan Photo of the Day competition. In fact it’s a sure thing to make the annual TOP 50 photos list, too. I can’t promise the TOP 10. I will have to see the photo first.)

What makes Halloween distinct among the holidays is that it’s the fun holiday. It’s the creative holiday. In my life and the lives of my mother and my wife it was and is the holiday that celebrates a mother’s imagination. Both of them came up with some pretty darn clever costumes. I think I can name almost every costume my mom made for me. Perhaps her best effort was The Devil. This was still at a time when it was still politically correct to prance around a grade school gymnasium dressed as Satan in the Halloween parade with all the other protestant children. She sewed the whole thing from scratch. The horns were great, a little droopy but great. I think she actually ordered one of those clothing patterns on tracing paper for this. Her children won many costume contests in that rig and the beautiful red cape even appeared in a couple of theater productions. No one sued the school principal and all the kids thought Mrs. Kelsh was cool. She was. Halloweens were among my mother’s finest moments. The Prince of Darkness always bring a smile to my face.

Award-winning costume by Anne Kelsh

Anne, my wife, made a replica of John Glenn’s Freedom 7 space capsule for Teddy. There were hundreds of feet of electrical wire involved and so many batteries that it was actually a safety threat. Anne’s motto for this project was simple. “Don’t ask what it costs. Just do it.” Teddy destroyed the competition at the school Halloween party. He won both Best Costume and Most Creative Costume. Here’s a look at this year’s costume.

Halloween makes no sense and there in lies its charm. It’s just goofy and yet everyone climbs on board. It is true that April Fool’s Day is also totally irrational and fun, but it’s only marginally photographable. For example, when my dad yelled “Hey, there’s a moose in the front yard!” (something he did at 6:30AM every April 1st for most of my childhood) no one scrambled for the camera.

We did, however, run to the window to get a look. April Fool’s Day is highly conceptual—pointless and stupid, but totally cerebral. I can’t think of three really great April Fools Day photos. April Fool’s jokes happen in the mind. Hey, your bicycle’s on fire! See what I mean. It’s a visual for sure but still photographically challenging.

Don’t get me wrong. Other holidays certainly make for great photos. The pictures we take at Thanksgiving and Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are treasures in their own right. (And, yes, although I grew up in North Dakota I lived in Philadelphia for 35 years and I have celebrated and photographed all of these holidays. The United Nations Plaza had nothing on our neighborhood in Philadelphia. The sons of a Fargo Lutheran are Thanksgiving and Christmas kids but even they celebrate Hanukkah every year. Long story.)

Thanksgiving, maybe my favorite holiday, is a beautiful event to photograph, for sure. For me, it’s the low pressure family gathering. It’s Christmas without the annoying giving of gifts. The benefits of no gifts are countless. I will write about Thanksgiving photographs later, but the images of lovingly prepared food and the people who lovingly prepare it are priceless. And most of this happens without the pressure of the big Christmas elephant in the corner.
In a lot of the western world if you ask a kid what their favorite holiday is they are going to say Christmas. Anticipation of merchandise is a powerful force.

But getting dressed up in some kind of Halloween disguise and collecting negative nutrition candy from the neighbors is right up there with the more serious and probably more important holidays when it comes to childhood memories. My kids will tell you Christmas is the their favorite holiday for sure, but Halloween—not Thanksgiving—is a close second. My three sons all agree that Halloween costume planning and the payoff of free candy ranks with their fondest childhood memories.

It’s the little details in this costume that make Lori Campbell’s love for her kids jump out of this picture of The Karate Kid and the great Mr. Myagi. photo also by Lori Campbell

Recently I posted a Nick Kelsh Radio Picture Show of Facebook fan’s Halloween photos. One of the pictures that got lots of reaction was a simple record shot of a couple of costumes. Lori Campbell dressed her two boys as The Karate Kid and his elder mentor, Mr. Myagi. First of all, there’s nothing flashy about the photography; it’s very straight forward. But in the pictures we can see that Lori put her heart and soul into the costumes. She did everything she could to make the clothes and props scream “The Karate Kid” and it worked. I’m not sure if Mr. Myagi dressed like the UPS man but it works for me. I submit that those boys are going to love those photos forever and always remember their mother’s kindness and love behind them. The camera was simply a tool for recording it. The success of these pictures was in the details. They are so charming.



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