Horror photography is an avenue of the horror community that is quietly, slowly but surely picking up steam across horror conventions all over the world. It is an extremely cool twist on a form of art many wouldn't consider very creepy. (Until you read up on "hidden mothers")
Meet Sarah and Dustin Sigler, two lovebirds who have a true passion for the horror genre.
As an accomplished photographer, Sarah has done exceptional work with everything from weddings to family portraits. Her love for the art form really shows and the fact that she isn't just in it for the money (pricing is extremely affordable while the quality is top notch) makes her an even more respected artist.
With the help of husband Dustin, the effects and background mastermind of the duo, the Siglers have now set their sights on capturing not just the sweet, tender moments of life, but also the grisly, nightmarish ones as well. For that, I salute them!
I was lucky enough to track down the snapshot scream queen and chat with her about her roots in photography, scary movies and our distain for CGI.
1. When did you decide to make horror photography a hobby?
I have been a fan of horror all my life, but strayed away from it when I started high school. I met my husband, Dustin, and he brought back the wonderful genre to me. He’s been a die-hard fan as well.
My dad taught me the basics of photography when I was a freshman in high school. After he died my senior year of high school, I stepped away from my camera. Once Dustin and I started living together (before we were married) I started my photography again. We had always done “zombie” makeup every October, and every weekend in the month. I just got my business license to do photography this year in June.
I felt guilty for not having a job (even though I was looking after our new baby) and all the stress was on Dustin to pay bills. So I started a job with something I loved. We started the horror photography this year around the same time as well for something to do on the side that involved both of us. We had always talked about it but finally had a ton of ideas. It combines everything we love into photography.
Dustin wants to eventually get into the movie business, but is happy to help and do the effects for S.P. Horror. If he does makeup on me, then he takes the photo. But I do the editing for everything afterwards.
2. You do formal events, ranging from weddings to prom to pet shoots. Have you done any 'hybrid' shoots yet, mixing horror with something like a wedding? Or am I just weird for even thinking someone might do this?
I do shoot other events for my main business. I love wedding photography and children photography the most. They are so much fun. I’ve had five weddings so far and it’s so hard not to tear up even when you are behind the lens!!
I’ve been DYING for someone to ask me to do hybrid shoots. I would love to do couples portraits as monsters, or a zombie wedding or anything like that, but I will anxiously await someone to ASK before I ever do anything like that. It’s a completely different style that people look at me like I’m crazy when I say I do horror photography too.
That’s one reason why I had to separate them. I’ve actually lost customers because of it. They think I don’t take it seriously when I have that on the side.
But I love photography, all aspects, and I know the importance of each event and take it very seriously. I’ve already told many that I do not do this for the money like some do; I do it for the passion. So because of that my heart and soul goes into everything I do. My prices are very low too because I hate asking for money. But my prices are high enough to help us tremendously for bills. This economy is still shot and I’m so thankful that I’m able to do what I love for my business. Not many people can say that.
3. They say if you're doing what you love, you never work a day in your life. How many hours a week would you say go into your photography business?
I don’t even know, ha, ha! If I’m not taking photos for clients in regular portrait photo shoots, I’m getting makeup applied and taking horror photos.
We’ve put more money in the makeup supplies and props than anything else, other than my camera of course. I try my hardest to advertise too but most of my shoots have come from word of mouth. IF I had to put a number on it, I would have to say about 15 hours a week right now.
If I have weddings on the weekends, however, I’d up that to about 25 hours a week maybe more including all the photo editing. It takes TONS of time to edit, but that’s one of my favorite parts; taking a regular photo and turning it into a work of art.
With my regular photo shoots, I try my hardest to find that perfect angle and composition to really put feeling into the image. I love showing emotion through in photography. Every one thinks it’s easy to just take a camera and snap a photo, but it’s not. And half the magic is in the editing. It’s not as easy as everyone thinks.
4. As a photographer, what are some of your favorite horror films, visually?
With a horror movie, not only do I watch how the actors/actresses portray the characters believably, but I also watch how the movie was filmed. Not necessarily the effects, but the angles the director chooses to use. Two movies that really stick out in my mind was 1408 and Insidious.
1408 was incredible, with the angles and the digital effects really pulled all of it together. What I liked most about it was they effects weren’t suppose to look real; they were part of his imagination so they were a bit distorted and animated.
I absolutely HATE it when CGI is used to make something look real, like in a killing scene. Back in the 70s and 80s they never used CGI with most if not all horror films. They pulled it off too!! And I know they could pull it off now, but they choose CGI over it. It seems to me it just is lacking in the film. I remember watching The Walking Dead this past season and was really upset when they killed the zombie in the pharmacy and how fake it looked. SERIOUSLY! They could do a much better job; they have Greg Nicotero for crying out loud (which by the way my husband and I are a HUGE fan of). I just would love to know why they chose CGI over makeup effects.
5. I'm a huge fan of 1408 and Insidious as well. Great films that really go back to the roots of horror film, in many aspects. Your observations on CGI are spot-on, too. I will take practical effects over CGI 10 out of 10 times.
What are some of your favorite practical effect horror scenes? (some of mine: the werewolf transformation in American Werewolf In London, Kevin Bacon's death in Friday The 13th, and Freddy's accordion arms in Nightmare On Elm Street, haha)
I LOVED the transformation scene in American Werewolf in London, it was actually the inspiration for my werewolf photos. We are doing a full transformation series that we haven’t finished yet. My husband introduced that film to me and I instantly fell in love. I’m a sucker for werewolves. Honestly some of my favorite scenes for practical effects were some of the scenes in The Thing. It was incredible some of the stuff they came up with in that film. The spider head really freaked me out. Also Lucio Fulci’s film City of the Living Dead a.k.a. Gates of Hell was freaking awesome with the scene where the one guy drilled the other guys head. It looked SO real. I love Italian horror. They really don’t hold back.
6. What is the first horror film you remember seeing?
I’m not really sure which horror movie I saw first, there have been so many and it was so long ago! But I do know my best friend in middle school would have Friday the 13th marathons all the time. It was my favorite set of movies when I was younger and today. They are laughable now, but really freaked me out when they came out. I love watching them now to fall asleep to. Yes I’m strange but my husband and I fall asleep to horror movies. It’s like a nightly ritual for us. It’ll be different every week. We’ve fallen asleep to The Walking Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1 & 2. This week? The Tingler with Vincent Price!
7. Chucky fundamentally ruined my childhood psyche. I never recovered after the first time I saw a trailer for that movie when I was little. Even to this day, I have never seen a full 'Child's Play' film in full.
Honestly my parents were kind of strict on allowing horror films in my childhood.
I don’t think I even really started watching them until I was in middle school. I think that’s why I can’t think of a horror movie that truly terrified me because I was past the age where I thought movies were completely real.
Some of the kid movies like The Secret of Nimh really scared me because some of those scenes were so well done! Disney doesn’t mess around either with some of their cartoons. Like the Elephants on Parade in Dumbo?!?! COME ON! That messed me up! Ha, ha!!
Sometimes also, I refuse to watch sequels (like some of the sequels they made for Child’s Play) because after a while they make a joke out of it. Which ruins the first movie all together. I refuse to see the remake of The Thing because the first film was so good and the effects in that movie REALLY WERE AMAZING. When I see a movie with too much CGI it instantly turns me off, especially with the movie Avatar. Did anyone else notice the roar from the creature was the roar from the T-Tex in Jurassic Park?!?! THAT made me mad. Jurassic Park…. that’s a masterpiece in itself. I would DIE for some of those dinosaurs just sitting around my house. Of course I’d probably pee my pants going to the bathroom and running into one in the dark half asleep.
8. Let's rant for a second. Why in the world are woman still perceived as the weaker sex in horror??!
Honestly it’s really hard for me to answer this one! I’ve never really been one to pay much attention to the fact that the women are the “weaker” sex in movies. I just watch the movie. I’m really glad they have done better with it though. I think in today’s society it’s still shown that women are of weaker sex, but I think they just show that physically they are weaker now instead of weaker all around. Which is true, we are weaker in a physical sense. They are portraying, however, women much smarter than years before. We are cunning and able to think faster on our feet. The Decent is a great movie to show that SOME women have the smarts and strength to survive. I think with time it will be more and more leaning towards the women’s side with horror. Plus, honestly I’m kind of glad the preppy girls die in the movies. They remind me too much of high school kids I hated. I always cheer for the underdog. Another one was the remake of Night of the Living Dead ’90. I loved their interpretation of Barbara in that one. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 did really well with it too with the character of “Stretch” played by Caroline Williams, who is a total sweet heart in person!
9. Is there a favorite horror theme you've shot?
As of right now I really love the one we did of myself without a mouth. I think that’s some of our best work. The werewolf didn’t turn out the way we would have liked, but maybe later on we can try again. We always use our shoots as learning experiences. But my complete favorite is obviously the shoot we did with Lori Cardille. It was such an honor to work with her and she is a wonderful person. She even made our son oatmeal to eat after we were done! We were so star struck at first, we couldn’t believe we were there working with her. But after a while we felt like family, it was incredible. We are planning a shoot in January with John Amplas at the Pittsburgh Playhouse Theater. We are very excited about it. We are so honored to work with such great people. I just can’t believe we have been able to work with professional actors/actresses this early in my career. And it’s SO much easier when we tell them to stand or act a certain way they are able to nail it on the first go. Lori even gave us different “attitudes”.
10. Lori Cardille! Color me envious... how did you get in touch with her?
We honestly did not think we would get popular with our horror photography. We were just doing it for fun, something to get my husband’s love for special effects and mix it with my photography. I planned on just using my regular photography as income and doing the horror on the side for fun. We went to the Horror Realm convention as fans and LOVED every minute of it. I almost cried when I met Howard Sherman, so awesome. Then we came up to Lori and I was almost speechless having seen Day of the Dead about a bazillion times. She had noticed my camera and commented on how nice it was. I told her that I had just started a photography business and loved it. Apparently she is an avid photographer herself (and I’ve seen her work, it’s awesome) and she started asking me what kind I did (i.e.: portraits, weddings, etc.) I told her I did everything but what I really liked doing on the side was the horror photography to set us apart from the rest of the photographers in my area. Her eyes flew open and she asked me Horror Photography? I explained to her what it was and she flipped out saying how great of an idea it was and gave us her email. Later on after the convention, she invited us to her house! We were so star struck until we got there. It was awesome. We went to the convention not even intending to talk about photography at all and we ended up working with her! Sometimes we’re still in shock! Ha, ha! She was the reason we even decided to go for a table at HorrorHound Weekend in March. She suggested it.
11. Who are some of your favorite women in horror?
Obviously one of my favorites is Lori Cardille, especially after working with her. Another would be Caroline Williams; she did such a great job in TCM2. I think someone who doesn’t get talked about a lot is Jennifer Carpenter, who played Emily in The Exorcism of Emily Rose. That movie really freaked me out!!! And I love her in ‘Dexter’, a great show. I can’t really choose a favorite because they are all so incredibly talented and gutsy. Any woman to stand up and say NO I will not be the one who is killed, but I’ll be the killer or the one who overcomes it, should get a standing ovation. I’m not one to really preach women’s rights because I think we’ve come a VERY long way. I’m doing what I love, raising my family, and have a wonderful life because of it. I also love all the women artists who love the genre as much as we do. I love hearing, “Holy hell, a girl did that?! KICK ASS!”
12. What is the last film you saw that really SCARED you?
One movie that really scared me was ’Insidious’. I loved the filming techniques and the actors who played the ghosts were just down right creepy!!! Those scenes really freaked me out. Honestly other than that, I can’t think of any horror movie that truly terrified me. I’m sure there have been, but I just can’t think of any right now. Insidious was the most recent.
13. 'Insidious' made my mom cry. haha.. She watched it at 7am at my place when she stopped by for a weekend visit. I awoke to her whimpering and rather enjoyed her misery, considering she showed me 'The Exorcist' when I was 7. Horror karma finally got her.
'Insidious' had an incredible imagery/camera-work aspect going for it. Who says low-budget Hollywood flicks can't tap into the indie mindset?
I honestly think the lower budget horror films turn out the best. If they aren’t scary they are incredibly funny. It’s a win-win either way! Sometimes I think people feel they need a crap ton of money to get anywhere with making movies. Not true. I’ve seen great low-budget films just from household items. It IS possible. It’s the angles you use and the lighting. The actors have to be able to portray the characters too. Bad actors mean people won’t take your horror seriously, unless that’s the way it was intended. That’s what my husband does. He just DOES IT and edits it the way he feels is best and posts it online; he doesn’t care the reaction it gets, he just loves doing it. That’s the way I am about my photography as well.
14. Can you take us through a 'routine' photo shoot of yours?
A routine shoot of a regular portrait shoot would take maybe an hour to an hour and a half, depending on who I’m working with (i.e.: kids). Children take longer, obviously, because we work around their schedule. But I have all the patience in the world when it comes to kids so it doesn’t bother me at all when we have one that cries a lot. I always seem to get those couple of really great shots. Since I’m a freelance photographer I don’t have a studio. I use whatever backgrounds I am given either through nature or the client’s home. I do, however, have backdrops (which are just solid color bed sheets) if need be. I don’t feel the need for extremely expensive equipment when I can make do with what I have. I have a Canon EOS 7D that I absolutely love and yes that was a bit expensive, but well worth it. My husband is going to film his movie he’s working on with it as well. With a wedding, I show up an hour before the ceremony and stay until the couple says I’m no longer needed. I tend to get around 1700 photos of a single wedding and only keep around 200, the editing and picking out the best photos is the hard part! For a horror shoot, my husband and I both think of an idea, he does the makeup, which tends to take between 1 to 3 hours (depending on how complicated), then I will take the photos (unless he did makeup on me then he takes them). Editing takes a little bit longer with horror because we want to make somewhat of a scene out of them. We definitely have even better ideas coming up and we can’t wait to pull them off!!!
15. You are making the indie horror world proud! Resourceful, fast-working and willing to do the tedious work to make your art look as awesome as possible.
Thanks I appreciate it! I do tend to work fast. For my regular photography as soon as my clients order photos, I send in the order to my printing company that I use and I receive it within two business days and send them to the client the very next day. Even if it’s more work for me I don’t care. Clients and customers all over expect fast reliable service and that’s what I’m here for. For the horror world, however, I want to take my time with shoots. The more time I take the better it turns out. I do think sometimes I take too much time and get too critical. I’m a perfectionist; a curse and a blessing at the same time.
16. Any last words?
Yes I do have some. I want to do a shout out to any woman or girl out there with big dreams but with low expectations. I was in college for 6 years, after 4 years I needed a break!! I was already married by the fourth year and when I took a semester off while working full time I got pregnant. Everyone doubted me, saying that I would never go back especially now that I was pregnant. Well, who the hell is laughing now?! I did what I swore to do and ONLY TOOK ONE semester off. I went back to school while pregnant (I got stared at a lot and got called names, even though it was a planned pregnancy. A college kid pregnant doesn’t look right to most), then I took online courses for two full semesters and GRADUATED all with an infant. I even had a woman come up to me and ask “are you pregnant?” I said, “Yes”, she said, “aw I’m sorry, it was an accident wasn’t it?” What?! Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I don’t want to start my own family and YES even with a child I can finish school. Hell, a month later, I started my own business and five months after that it’s doing REALLY great. I don’t have as many shoots as I could like right now but I know it’s only because I’ve just started and I’m really thankful for the shoots I have had. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t or won’t do something. And don’t do it JUST to prove them wrong. DO it for yourself, because you know it’s the best for you. My degree didn’t even have to do with photography at all and I started my own business. Also, if someone would rather you be something that makes more money but you’d be much happier doing something else; please do what makes you happy. Money is great to pay bills and buy things, but it seriously can’t make you happy…the more you spend the more you will end up owing and it’s a never ending cycle!!!!! I never thought in a million years I’d be where I am today and people would want to interview ME for things! All it takes is a little push and some confidence. I also wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my husband, Dustin. He re-introduced horror to me, does the makeup for my photos, and made me into the caring wife and mother that I am now. I wasn’t in the right state of mind when I first started college but he definitely fixed it! I LOVE YOU DUSTIN!!!
Oh and by the way HORROR ROCKS!!!!! Is it Halloween yet?!
I would like to sincerely thank Sarah for all of her time and enthusiasm on this interview. It was a true joy talking to her and I wish Sigler Photography all the success in the world!
Please check out Sigler Photography HERE
Take a gander at SP Horror HERE