Tips on How to Shoot and Process Zombies

682 1024 Tim Breaseale

Q. How do you kill a Zombie?

A. Impale a hard object into the brain.

That would work for the zombie apocalypse, but that’s not what I was going to talk about.  If you Googlehow to photograph zombies,” a ton of results pop up.  I read a few blogs that talked about getting the right pose, use a hard light source, and add film grain for a more distressed look.  I didn’t read anything about processing the photos.  Since Halloween is right around the corner, I thought this would be a great way to share my tips for shooting and processing zombie shots.  Click any image to enlarge.

October 12th was the Fort Lauderdale Zombie Walk.  I went to check it out for a couple of hours and take a few shots.  After reading through a few blogs about photographing the zombies, I had some ideas running around in my head.  I was in for a big surprise–the event started at a club.  After a zombie has a few drinks, they want to pose instead of eating your brains…lol.  So, this presented a different problem for me, as I wanted the more realistic, cinematic feel for my shots.  I had to work with what I had.






Click any image to enlarge.



I shot my zombies with a Nikon (no, I have not gone to the dark side.  I have sold all my Canon bodies for the new Canon body that will start shipping in December), a Zeiss 35mm f/2 and my Canon 580EX II flash mounted on a small Manfrotto ball head triggered with Radio Poppers.

Tips for shooting the Zombies

  •  Isolate the zombie.  Shooting in the club was dark and a little cramped.  I tried to take my zombies off to the side or to an area less congested.
  •  Use off camera flash.  I had my flash set-up mounted to a small Manfrotto light stand.  I could use this set up to get my side edgy lighting and even some bottom lighting for that very dramatic horror effect.  Isolating the subject to a less congested area also helps with less traffic tripping over your light stand.
  • Use a wide aperture.  I shot all of these photos around f/2.0 to f/2.8 to have shallow depth of field.  Add the side lighting with a a quick flash duration and you can control the amount of light in the background.  Doing this can help if there are a lot of people, not zombies, that you don’t want to see in the photo.  It also gives good separation from the subject to the background.

Since the event was at a club, I had to use what was around.  I used a couple of different walls, a iron gate and nothing.  When I mean nothing, I used side lighting away from a wall to let the background fall to black.





 Click any image to enlarge.



Now that I have shot the zombies, I can process the images.  I use Lightroom as my DAM (digital asset management) processing engine. I had an idea of showing my zombies with a cinematic feel.  I didn’t exactly get the flesh-eating, blood oozing, eye popping, limb-less zombies that I wanted, but I was able to get some pretty cool and creepy shots.  I pulled all my images into Lightroom to give them a tweak.  This tweak helped give that cinematic feel I wanted.

The Lightroom tweaks I used

The first adjustments were in the Presence panel:  see panel to the right

  • Up the Clarity.  Slide that slider all the way to the right.
  • Up the Vibrancy.  Slide that slider all the way to the right.
  • Lower the Saturation.  Slide that one to the left until the desired look.

Now under the HSL panel, I used these adjustments:  see panel below

  • Lower the Red Luminance.  Slide that slider to the left to help bring down the skin tones.
  • Raise the Orange and Yellow Luminance.  Slide each slider until the skin tones start to look white or have a gray tone.
  • Raise the Red Saturation.  Slide that slider to the right until the color of the blood starts to look bright and bloody.
  • Lower the Orange and Yellow Saturation.  Slide those sliders to the left until the skin looks dead.

Here are some before and after examples with my Lightroom adjustments.  The image below is one of my favorite shots of the evening.  Click any image to enlarge.

Here are some shots with the Lightroom adjustments.

I will tweak some of the other colors to help bring out the color in the clothing.  If the make-up is applied where the skin looks bruised, I will up the purple and magenta to help those colors pop.  To help draw attention to the subject, I will add a vignette.  If adding the vignette makes the overall photo too dark, then I will go back up to the Tone panel to bring up the exposure.  One final thing I will also do, if applicable, is to bring out the eyes.  I think that a zombie with bright alive eyes is so very creepy.  Enjoy the tips and have a safe and enjoyable Halloween!