It’s unwieldy, unbalanced, and will definitely put a crick in your neck, but it’s so worth it!
This photo shoot with Jack-o-lanterns on our heads is one of the funnest Halloween activities I’ve done yet in my life. And I used to get paid actual cash money to work in a haunted house and scare the snot out of people!
And happily enough, this pumpkinhead photo shoot is also one of the most eco-friendly Halloween activities! You don’t need any single-serve candy with assorted wrappers. There are no costume components to source. No plastic, no face paint.
All that’s required is a fresh pumpkin from a local farm, your favorite comfy fall clothes, and a lovely natural space, ideally with deciduous trees in the process of transitioning.
Here are all the components for the perfect pumpkinhead photo shoot:
- fresh, whole carving pumpkin. You have to go pretty big with these, so I found a place that was selling them per pumpkin, not per pound. I can eyeball it better now, but the first time I took my teenager with me and held pumpkins up to her head to make sure I wasn’t buying one that was too small. The trick is to find a pumpkin tall enough that it can touch your shoulders. Too short, and not only will it slide around, but the top of your head will be taking the entire weight of the pumpkin, which is HEAVY!
- pumpkin carving tools. Yes, I use those cheap-looking mostly-plastic carving kits that all the big-box stores sell, but, um. Those pumpkin carving kits are the bomb! Not only are they easy to use and give super accurate results, but my family has been using the same cheap tools for probably over a decade by now. If you gave me one of these nice stainless steel and wood pumpkin carving sets, though, I wouldn’t be sad…
- autumn apparel. Jeans, boots, and flannel shirts look suitably autumnal.
- head protection (optional). The Jack-o-lanterns really are quite heavy! To provide a little padding and avoid getting pumpkin guts on your hair, you can opt to wear a washable fuzzy beanie or a shower cap.
- wagon (optional). We walked down a local trail for a bit to find the perfect autumn scene for our photo shoot. A folding wagon made sure we didn’t have to lug Jack-o-lanterns in our arms while we hiked!
Step 1: Carve your Jack-o-lantern!
Carve the opening in the pumpkin at the bottom, not the top. Make it just big enough for your head to fit.
Scoop out all the guts, and reserve the pumpkin seeds to roast.
Any simple face works well in a pumpkinhead photo shoot. I think that smiling faces are funnier and neutral faces are slightly creepy. I’ve found through trial and error that anything detailed that you might try to carve will just get lost amid all the other details in these photos. In this case, simpler is easiest AND best!
Step 2. Take a lot of photos!
Take the photos the same day that you carve the pumpkin. The only thing worse than standing around with a fresh pumpkin on your head is, well, standing around with a not-so-fresh pumpkin on your head!
For the best results, your background should be fairly simple and autumnal, and have some depth. Fields always look good, and forests can look good if you can get a little distance from your pumpkin-headed subjects. Placing your pumpkinheads close to the camera in front of a flat vertical surface like a wall is likely going to make your photos, in turn, look flat and too posed.
Pumpkinhead photos are awesome for people who are awkward in front of a camera lens, because they don’t have to pose in any particularly cute way. They don’t even have to smile! You can literally just stand there, arms hanging limply at your side, half-blinking with a weird expression on your face, and as long as you’ve got a Jack-o-lantern on your head, you’ll look awesome.
Certain posed photos can look especially funny, though. I searched Pinterest for family, couple, children’s, and graduation photo shoots, and made a list of several to try. My partner and kid thought of more to include, as well, as we got into the groove. We did end up having to ditch all of our ideas that involved various dance poses or anything requiring good balance. Those heavy, wobbly Jack-o-lanterns play fast and loose with one’s center of gravity!
Step 3: Edit photos to make them even spookier.
Your photos will look awesome as-is, but you can edit them to make them even more awesome.
Adding grain or using a sepia filter makes the photos spookier, as does vignetting them. Play with the saturation and temperature to make the leaves and pumpkins pop.
If you can use Photoshop, you have even more options to make your photos spooky and fun! My partner darkened the eyes and mouths of the Jack-o-lanterns, removed joggers from the background of some photos, and, as in the photo above, popped the head right off my teenager. That photo is my favorite!
And when you’re finished with your photoshoot, I actually think that having the opening at the bottom makes the pumpkin even better as a Jack-o-lantern on our porch. It’s a win-win!