As Hallowe’en approaches, it brings with it some photographic challenges. Not least of all is the issue of how to photograph a vampire, should you be (un)lucky enough to come across one. It didn’t happen unless you got a photo of it, right? So how are you going to prove the encounter to your followers if you can’t get that insta-worthy snap?
The very nature of vampires makes them a pain in the neck to photograph. They prefer the nocturnal hours and have traditionally avoided being caught on film. But, now we have modern mirrorless technology, that should all be in the past.
Before you can photograph anything, you need to be well-acquainted with your subject. The vampire legend has persisted for thousands of years, and similar legends can be traced back to ancient Greece and Mesopotamia.
The concept of the vampire, as we know it today, has strong roots in Eastern European folklore. In Slavic countries, especially Serbia and Bulgaria, vampires were often associated with the undead. They were thought to be reanimated corpses that would rise from their graves after sunset to drink the blood of the living. They were believed to have various supernatural powers and could be repelled with garlic, holy symbols, or a stake through the heart.
The concept of vampires became popular with the publishing of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. Since then, the legend has become firmly embedded in pop culture and has spawned multiple films and books.
Tough to photograph
Vampires have certain characteristics that make them particularly difficult to photograph. Legend says that it is actually impossible to capture a vampire on film. Add their allergy to sunlight and lack of shadow and reflection, and you’re in for a tough shoot.
Impact of silver on vampires
Silver is considered one of the materials that can harm or repel vampires. It can cause burning or discomfort, weakness, and in extreme cases, can be fatal to the vampire.
So how does this affect photography? Well, silver has been an integral part of the photographic process right from the birth of photography. In the early wet plate photography of the 1800s, the process involved using a glass plate coated with a light-sensitive emulsion made from collodion. Collodion was a solution of pyroxylin (nitrocellulose) in alcohol and ether. The emulsion contained silver halide crystals, typically silver bromide.
These silver halide crystals were incredibly light sensitive and, when exposed, created the image on the plate. This was then developed by reducing the exposed silver halide crystals to metallic silver.
Later on in film photography, silver halide crystals were still used as the light-sensitive agent in both black and white and colour film. Photographic paper also uses silver halide crystals in a similar way. So the use of silver in film could be one reason why vampires cannot appear in photographs.
With today’s modern digital cameras, there is, of course, no need to use silver as part of the process. However, the technology is based on the same principles. Digital image sensors are composed of photosensitive pixels that capture light in a way that’s conceptually similar to film. This absence of silver makes you think that it should be possible, with modern cameras, to photograph a vampire.
Mirrors and vampires
In traditional folklore, vampires do not have a reflection. They cannot be reflected in a mirror. Perhaps because mirrors also traditionally used silver as a reflector behind the glass, or perhaps for another reason.
That reason is that the mirror reflects a being’s soul, and as vampires no longer have a soul, they cannot be reflected.
Advantages and disadvantages of different cameras for shooting vampires
It stands to reason that any camera that contains a mirror would not be able to photograph a vampire, even if the mirror doesn’t directly reflect the subject itself. This would leave film single-lens reflex cameras and more modern DSLRs out for the count.
But what about modern mirrorless camera technology and smartphones? These don’t contain either silver or mirrors in the process.
Logically then, we should be able to photograph a vampire with a mirrorless camera. The Canon EOS R3 might be a good choice since it is great for sports photography and fast captures. Vampires can move quickly, and you’ll likely want to take advantage of that fast burst capture of 240fps before it bites you.
Shooting in low-light
But what about low-light capabilities? Those vampires aren’t going to come out in daylight, so you’ll need a camera that shoots well in low light. I’d recommend aiming for blue hour to maximise the atmosphere. The vampire’s reddish eyes will juxtapose nicely with the colour of the sky, making them really ‘pop’.
Nikon has always traditionally been great for shooting towards the dark side. The Nikon Z7 II has particularly good low-light specs, with a full-frame sensor, digital and mirrorless (obviously) and an ISO range that expands up to 102,400. It could be a good choice.
If you’re feeling spendy and a bit flashy, then you could go for Leica’s new M11-P digital rangefinder. You’ll trick the vampire into thinking it’s a film camera, and it will never know that you’ve managed to capture them after all.
Or, you could go with a smartphone and make use of their HDR shooting capabilities and AI features. The latest iPhone 15 Pro is probably a smart choice for vampire hunters, and you could even shoot some video footage as well in the process. It’s also a lot less bulky should you need to make a run for it.
I’d probably take a wooden stake and a few cloves of garlic with me for good measure. And always remember to take along a friend when shooting at night for safety. You don’t need to outrun the vampire, just your friend.