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The Portable Studio: Halloween in Brooklyn

December 09, 2013 //  How To Back to posts

My Halloween in Brooklyn photography series began about 3 years ago on October 31st, 2010. Since that time I’ve been prowling the streets of my old neighborhood in Bushwick, Brooklyn every Halloween to create dynamic portraits of people whom I believe capture the spirit of the community.

Above: Javier and Jordan Ramos as “Batman,” 5:07pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brooklyn


I’ve written about this project in previous blog posts, but it all began as an exploration of the festivals I grew up with in North America.

After spending years photographing distant cultures, I wanted to take the time to shoot something closer to home. Photographing that which you are already familiar with has its own challenges. The things that would normally be exciting to an outsider become mundane to you, so as a photographer – you have to force yourself to look at all these elements with new eyes. I vividly remember the first time I traveled to India as a young pup and being entranced with all the new sights and sounds of the country’s festivals. Surely, a guy in India who is accustomed with throwing multi-colored powder on someone every year during the Holi festival would find Halloween to be an extremely strange event. He might ponder how this odd night, rooted in Paganism, transformed over time into what it is today. Like most holidays, our modern-day version of Halloween has very little to do with its original roots. The way in which it has changed over time, however, can say a vast amount about the modern era. No culture is stationary- all traditional customs of a group of people are infinitely in a state of transition.

My goal for Halloween in Brooklyn is to view this local annual tradition through the eyes of a foreigner, lost in a childish sugar rush of both home-made and store-bought pop-culture costumes of the year.

Above: John Carlos as “Skeleton,” 5:35pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brooklyn

Above: Our portable photography studio. Photo by Caleb Adams


In terms of photography gear, little has changed since my first outing in 2010. A small group of friends and I patrol the streets on foot with a makeshift studio in hand- a black piece of foamcore for a background, one Elinchrom 39″ Rotalux Deep OctaBox with a flash head attached to a battery pack inside of a backpack. Nothing is locked to the ground and can be folded up and carried away.


Camera: Mamiya 645DF with P65+ Digital back

Lens: 80mm f/2.8 lens

Light Head: One Profoto ProB Head

Main Light: One Elinchrom 39″ Rotalux Deep OctaBox

Power source: One Profoto 7b Power Packs (Discontinued, but improved with the Profoto Pro-B4)

One Kata Hiker backpack

One Manfrotto pole

One piece of black foamcore

One iPad with Release Me model release app

Above: Jefferson Rocha as “Werewolf,” 5:23pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brooklyn

Above: Jefferson being very patient as I take his portrait. Photo by Caleb Adams

Above: I can’t wear my hat forwards when I look through my camera’s viewfinder. Photo by Caleb Adams

Above: Waiting for our next subject. Photo by Caleb Adams


Although not much has changed technically, I do believe I have gotten a lot more critical in my approach, and a lot more particular about each image. I am often seeking out subjects or locations which depict a greater connection to the neighborhood itself. I often ask myself, “What does this subject say about the era in which this photo was taken?” or “What does this contribute to the series?”.

Certain concepts are thought out beforehand, such as isolating telephone booths or parking meters with the black background, but there is still a lot of room for improvisation. Some costumes work better in certain locations, but you can’t always control who you happen to come across. After hanging out around a certain location and trying to spot a suitable subject, it’s up to me to wade through a crowd of kids towards someone who caught my eye and explain the project to them and their parents.

Approaching people on the street is a great exercise in confidence. I find when I start something like this, I’m anxious with the first couple of subjects I approach. Then, with each new person who agrees to be photographed, I become more and more at ease. By the end of the night, I will run up to the most intimidating father to plead my case. It’s actually a lot easier than you might expect. Most people I photograph are proud to have their photos taken for the series and like the attention their costume brings. I’ve only been turned down a couple times, mostly when people are in a rush to get to a Halloween party or from parents who think my “photo booth” costs money.

After the project is explained the the subject and/or their parents, model releases are handled via the iPad app Release Me before taking any images. I make sure I get their e-mail address or physical address so I can send them a copy of the photo. Often times, I run into familiar faces from the previous years. 

One more extremely important note- we give them a handful of candy for their time, (as is Halloween tradition.)

(Left): Matthew Salick as “Killer Clown,” 4:55pm (Right): Andrea Ochoa as “Día de los Muertos,” 5:53pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brooklyn

Above: Sandra Basilio as “Bat Girl,” 4:41pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brooklyn

Above: Mathew Laboy as “Barak Obama,” 4:34pm October 31st, 2011 – Bushwick, Brooklyn

Above: Janyia Figeroa as “Zombie Patient,” 3:18pm October 31st, 2011 – Bushwick, Brooklyn

Above: Julio Valentin as “Clown,” 5:00pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brooklyn

Above: Julio makes a quick photoshoot pitstop after I flagged him down at a red light. Photo by Caleb Adams

Two great friends who helped me out a lot on this project… While in costume: (Left) Sam Spratt as “Vincent van Gogh” and (Right) Steph as “Pocahontas”

Above: Ivan as “Indian Bride,” 12:19am November 1st, 2013 – Long Island City, Queens

Above: Fifi and Estelle, 1:18am November 1st, 2013 – Long Island City, Queens

Above: Marcus Castro and son as “Vampires,” 4:59pm October 31st, 2011 – Bushwick, Brooklyn

Above: Catalogue wall at “Party City” store, 2:28pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brookly

Above: Celso Castro as “Captain America,” 5:09pm October 31st, 2011 – Bushwick, Brooklyn

Above: Unknown Subway Passengers, 7:18pm October 31st, 2011 – Bushwick, Brooklyn


I know next year, I will have to come up with a game plan to expand on this series and do something a little different. Whatever I come up with, I know it has to be cohesive enough to fit into the series, but feel new and fresh. Thankfully I have until next Halloween to think about it.


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Silas Middleton // December 10, 2013 02:04

Oddly enough Joey, this series alongside the last Halloween shoots are my favourite of your work. Keep it up mate. BTW wished they did Halloween in Australia - its starting to catch on.

Nicola Tröhler // December 10, 2013 02:08

Very beautiful B/W photos, love the lighting!

Brad Torchia // December 10, 2013 02:13

Awesome work Joey! Really like the isolated phone booth and parking meter.

ania // December 10, 2013 02:16

love it ;)

John G Evans // December 10, 2013 05:13

Hi Joey! I am so excited for you and also being able to see your Brooklyn Halloween shots in B&W. I see and learn so much from you within the beautiful pages of your posts as well as observing each shot. I am magnanimously grateful for what you do. You are richly talented and just good old fashioned good. One day, I can only hope to be as talented. Keep up the great job you do and best wishes always.

Jody Ellison // December 10, 2013 07:20

Amazing work Joey...I loved Julio Valetin in the car. I don't think I would want to be in the back of the alley with some of your subjects dressed the way they are...pretty scary to me. I love looking at your work!

Sterling // December 10, 2013 10:07

I love how all of your subjects are portrayed with a certain dignity about them in this series

Denis // December 10, 2013 11:21

Thanks for sharing this great portraiture Joey. As always your pictures are not only beautiful, but also of great inspiration.

There will be an event in Mexico City, a Christmas "posada" for arm people. Following the spirit of Jeremy Cowart's global movement, your pictures inspire me to make such portraits.

I love as well the seamless black background with the black foamcore you used.

Best wishes.

Ken Cavanagh // December 10, 2013 21:15

Beautiful work Joey! Love the richness of the black/white. I have been documenting my own version of Halloween portraits in my Jersey neighborhood going on five years now. It has become a fun event for me and my neighbors. Here's a sampling if interested:

oscar // December 10, 2013 22:08

great post! The deep blacks in your images are fantastic. Thank you for sharing

Jeremy Murchland // December 10, 2013 23:15

These are just outstanding portraits! The lighting fits the mood so well. Sharpness and quality of these images are master class. Really like how connected I feel to the subjects.

Life with Kaishon // December 10, 2013 23:17

You captured some stunning images. I am amazed.

jhunelle sardido // December 11, 2013 01:51

One Light Master. Very Dramatic photos.

Shahed // December 11, 2013 02:13

I've always loved this series of shoots you do- the post work is beautiful too!

Thai // December 11, 2013 06:24

Love love love Batgirl. Thanks for sharing your work Joey.

Jorge Quinteros // December 11, 2013 08:26

At the risk of sounding trite, brilliant work Joey! I had a hunch that you would be continuing the series this year again so I tried my best to head out to Bushwick to see if I would come across you guys during the shoot but didn't have enough time. Instead, I ventured out to Jackson Heights, Queens where the quality of costumes and willingness of people to be photographed was just as great. Huge fan of your work.

Jonathan Rodriguez // December 15, 2013 05:45

Great post Joey! I love the photojournalistic approach. Awesome.

Quoi de neuf en ce lundi matin? [54] | Marc Charbonnier // December 16, 2013 15:52

[…] L. est un jeune photographe américain extrêmement talenteux. Et sa série de portraits « Halloween » réalisée à Brooklin avec une « simple » octabox est […]

Payton Ruddock // December 21, 2013 10:15

More awesome work Joey. Keep it up and can't wait to see how you expand on it next year!

Vickie // December 23, 2013 04:38

Great work!

Rainer Behrens // January 01, 2014 11:23

Hi Joey,
Very much appreciate all you do and post.
I totally get your butterflies when you start shooting these projects.
Those butterflies keep us on our toes.
Hope they never go away for you and I.
Want to wish you and your loved ones a Happy New Year 2014.
Keep it up.
Cheers Rainer;)

Juan Carlos Fotografo // January 07, 2014 17:37

A dramatic black and white

Adam Bernstein // June 01, 2014 07:11

Some of the funkiest photos I've seen. I love the way you include the backdrop in some of the photos with your assistant's hands showing. I can't wait to see more of my favorite holiday. Thanks

Cat Laine // June 26, 2014 19:56

I've always appreciated the expressions you get from your subjects. I often think that a neutral open expression can be quite extraordinary compared to a straightforward smile. It's interesting how subjects evaluate that look differently from a photographer or from other people who don't know them personally though. So many folks think their unsmiling face looks angry or sad as opposed to peaceful and contemplative. Thanks again for sharing your work and your process.

Chris Panas // October 30, 2014 18:11

Absolutely outstanding work, the light is simply perfect!

Douglas // May 05, 2015 01:49

Time to get generic. Awesome work! Love your stuff!
Would be awesome to get to your level. For me it's a hobby but nonetheless I love it as a hobby.
Know that you have a loyal fan in me.

Michelle Dunlap // October 05, 2015 15:12

My teenage years were spent at 1423 Bushwick Ave, off the Chauncey St, J line. Two months ago, I picked up my first camera and now I am addicted. I am in love with your work!! It has a masculine elegance that makes it stand out from the rest....

Christopher // October 12, 2015 23:18

Nice work.

Linda // March 30, 2016 22:26

I just came across your blog today. This is an amazing project that you shot. Halloween is my all time favourite holiday and you captured regular Halloween goers beautifully. It's amazing what nice lighting and some black foamcore can do for a photo. Awesome work.

Eric Henson // October 18, 2016 08:38

So happy that I came across these just in time for Halloween. Thanks for the inspiration!

Rick G. // January 24, 2017 07:32

I am so energized for you and furthermore having the capacity to see your Brooklyn Halloween shots in B&W. I see and gain such a great amount from you inside the excellent pages of your posts and additionally watching every shot. I am unselfishly appreciative for what you do. You are lavishly skilled and recently great antiquated great. One day, I can dare to dream to be as skilled. Keep up the colossal occupation you do and all the best dependably.

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