This was the year of lights.  We tried all sorts of new things this go-round.  The glowing skulls on the roof, a string of pumpkin lights on the back porch, luminaria and a lamppost out front, but the main thing was the spotlights.  For all work we've put into decorating and building props, you really couldn't see them very well at night until this year.

A look across the yard.  You can also see the lamppost with the flickering bulb inside.

This is an early experiment with just a big green spotlight across the front yard and a purple cover over a CFL on the front porch (the other light is an unfiltered white CFL).

There are also small solar-powered LED lights aimed at the gravestones, hence the white circles.

Spotlights are relatively cheap, but you get what you pay for.  This one was $5, but it was potted metal that broke within minutes of getting it out of the package.  I immediately returned it along with a second one I hadn't even opened yet, and bought a better set.

The baby formula can is to make a shroud to keep the light focused on its intended target.  This also keeps the bright bulb from distracting from the scene by drawing attention to itself.

Soup cans work even better with the smaller CFL party lights.

I used a sheet metal cutter to expand the hole.

I've got it in here upside-down just for the purpose of showing the approximate diameter.

Note that I used a short length of galvanized wire to stabilize the can at the right height (angle) so it wouldn't rest on the bulb.

A coat of paint on the outside of the cans so they aren't so obvious in the daylight.  The inside of the cans is still reflective which makes them more efficient.

Here's the baby formula can (now spray painted as well) covering the floodlight.

Here's a failed experiment: A spotlight (and, unrelated, the almost-assembled lamppost in the background).

UPDATE: Even though this failed with an incandescent bulb, it works perfectly with CFL spotlights.

I used glass paint on this bulb, but it was never sufficiently dark and creepy, even after two coats.  The result leaned more lavender, and that's just not scary in the ways I intended.

Note: The purple light on the porch in the second picture on this page was a plastic cup lined with this same paint and sitting over the top of a CFL.  We abandoned that approach for the same reason: Weak effect.  It just wasn't purple enough.

Fully painted bulb.  Another problem was the paint just didn't hold up with the heat an incandescent bulb puts out.  No big investment in this case since I have many of these on hand from the previous owners and never use any for house lights.

UPDATE: Like I said above, you can't get away with this on an incandescent bulb because it puts out too much heat.  However, it works perfectly with CFL spotlights since they're much cooler.

The house isn't normally this white-trashy, I swear!  This year we ripped off the exterior walls and insulated as well as updated the wiring (much of which dates from the 1920s!) including adding additional outlets all over the house, particularly out front.

I hadn't gotten everything in place yet for Halloween, so everything ran through just the one outlet (GFCI, of course) that had its own dedicated breaker.  Fortunately, most of what was run through here were those CFL lights which are low-wattage to begin with due to their inherent efficiency, plus the colored "party lights" are lower wattage than the conventional white variety.

Early in the evening.  I don't have the porch lights on yet, and it's still so early that the blacklight on the Halloween Countdown Clock is only barely visible.  And yes, that's a nearly-full moon above the house.

From a different angle with some Trick or Treaters out front.

Looking up the walkway with the luminaria set out.

Note the gravestone to the right.  The green floodlight gives it a tint around the edges and white in the center from its own dedicated white spotlight.

The front porch with the glowing skulls on the roof.

The Halloween Countdown Clock with the glowing effect from a blacklight on glow-in-the-dark paint.

A look across the front porch.  If you look past the piles of scrap wood (formerly a couple of the haunted tvs), you can see the spotlights back-lighting the ghosts.  I have them jammed in flower pots.

Wider shot.

The gravestones and skeleton.

I also added a strobe light inside to backlight this spirit in the window.

The moon overhead.

Postscript: Color-changing lights
This may grow into its own section later and isn't really appropriately described as spotlights anyway since we're talking about low-power lights in every case.

Color-changing bulbs have the advantage of making things look alive, not just lit-up.  Pulsing through a series of color changes does wonders, almost animating something without the need for motors or solenoids.

These are sold as pumpkin lights.  They have three LEDs and can be static lights in any basic color of the red, blue, or green LED (or combinations) via the button on the side, but even better, they also rotate through the colors either fast or slow.  Very cool.

As you can see with the one on the left, I had Dani apply some adhesive velcro to drop these inside the tv sets, as seen on the Haunted '50s TV page, for example.

However, the problems with this include the fact that they require either 3 AAA batteries or can accept an AC power supply (not included; has to be a 4.5V adapter, and you need one for each light).

If you're using batteries, then you have to be able to physically get to the light to turn it on and off, which is difficult if it is inside of a prop.

As a result of the above, I looked for AC-only bulbs that fit conventional sockets.

The first I found (most left) sells for around $60 here in the States, but you can order it via eBay direct from Hong Kong for $15.  In fact, the picture here was lifted from the auction listing for one.  I believe it is 3W, although I have seen 5W versions for the same price lately.  This was the first one I bought.  It has a number of advantages:

  • The remote control allows you to select which color or color-changing mode you prefer.  You can also dim it, although the light really isn't powerful enough to need dimming.
  • It remembers the last selected mode.  I always prefer to have it on color-change mode, so this means not having to re-set it every time I turn it on.
  • It has a smaller profile than a bulb, flat on top, so it fits inside of or under things like the glowing skulls or the canopy of the flying saucer.

That's it on the left.  The second light pictured was a more recent discovery (and its packaging is shown here to help you track it down).  Found at Home Depot.  Like the pumpkin lights, it also cycles through modes (one of each color, fast change, and smooth transition) via a small button on the side of the base.  My only complaint is it doesn't remember the last mode once turned off, unlike the more expensive (and smaller) version at left, so you still have to have access to it.  However, at $5 a piece, though only 0.6 Watts, I bought four of them just because I know I'll use some no matter what.

Copyright 2009-2010 the Ale[x]orcist.