Shooting scary: available light on a dark Halloween night


In Toronto, the place to be late on Halloween night–for adults–is Church Street, the heart of the city’s “gay village” (although most gay people who live in the neighborhood  still call it “the ghetto”).

Just a few years ago, when the city began closing off Church Street for the traditional gay and lesbian celebration of drag and costume, the celebrations were largely confined to the city’s LGBT community.  Now all that has changed.  Like Pride weekend in the summer, the celebration of scary diversity now draws people from all over the Greater Toronto Area and this year what appeared to be many straight couples joined the parade of costumes.

(Times have changed since the days  in the 1960s and early 1970s when a mob with smelly eggs and rotten tomatoes would gather to pelt  the drag queens  and others entering the bars on Yonge Street on Halloween.  At the same time, as seen in in this 1973 report from CBC News, as shown on CBC Archives,  “Drag Queens on Halloween” the  gay pride movement was already growing. (Runs 8:24 and requires Windows Media Player) )

Halloween was on a weekend this year and that meant Church St. would be even more crowded.  So I headed down to Church St.

With the experience of  Pride in my mind,  I knew that several hundred thousand people crowded into three blocks make it hard to use even the sturdiest of DSLRs.

So instead,  I packed my carry with me everywhere camera, a Panasonic Lumix FZ28.

In my opinion,  the FZ28 is a perfect back up point and shoot camera. I can carry it in a fanny pack, whip it out, and use the 18x optical zoom to get a good shot. Past experience has shown that I can push the FZ28 pretty far.  So on Halloween night in all those crowds, I had a small camera that was fairly unobtrusive which meant I could get candids.

Most of the public would ask someone to stop,  so the photographers could take their pictures. (and there were usually a crowd of photographers with everything from Iphones to DSLRs complete with flash and Fong hoods as seen in this shot as a flash goes off as photographers capture some high feathered drag performers.)


The basic settings I was using for the FZ28  were:

  • ISO 1600
  • 1/40 second, shutter priority
  • Exposure value  +1.5

Once I got home,  I ran all the images through Noise Ninja  before processing the images in PhotoShop CS4. In most  cases, other than increasing the exposure value even further in CS4 Camera Raw, I made minimal adjustments  (colour temperature was tweaked slightly only in a couple of the images). For those images that did not look that good in full colour, I converted to black and white in Camera Raw and those came out looking as if they could have been taken anytime from the 1950s to the present.

Shooting available light wasn’t really that scary after all and, of course, available light gives you a much better feel for the atmosphere for the night of All Hallows on the darkened streets of Toronto.


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