When Maisie Ellen Crook was studying forensic science at Teesside University in England, she never thought she’d one day use her skills to photograph the undead.
But that’s exactly what she found herself doing on October 24, when she took clients out to an Earlysville farm to take pictures of them fending off a zombie attack.
This is a sharp departure from Crook’s work photographing weddings, engagements, and families, but it’s also a return to her roots. Crook learned she loved being behind the camera while being trained in crime scene photography as part of her degree.
Shooting crime scenes involves capturing everything from smashed windows at a break-in to shattered locks in a stolen car to injuries on a murder victim. It all has to be left exactly as it was, and work calls often come in the middle of the night, meaning photographers have to contend with strange angles and lighting.
Crook learned everything, from capturing depth of field to focusing on tiny details, as she crouched in dark rooms at two in the morning, maneuvering to photograph bodies without disturbing the scene. She brought her unique skills across the ocean to Charlottesville, where taking pictures of friends and family turned into a second business she runs alongside her work at the University of Virginia, where she is a lab technician in the biology department.
“Everything (at crime scenes) is photographed, pretty much mostly just so it can be presented at court as a record,” Crook says. “For the body, you’re going to take photos of wounds on people. So hopefully that skill’s going to come in handy for zombie photography. Good close-ups of some gross things.”
This time, the gross things are made of latex and paint rather than flesh and blood. And it’s a happier, more creative reason to get out her camera.
“With crime scene photography, there’s not so much of an artistic side,” Crook says. “I like the freedom that this gives me with families to explore that more artistic side of photography, rather than just document things.”
Clients who have signed up for the zombie attack photo shoot range from couples getting creative with anniversary images to families looking for a bloody Christmas card. Years of doing Halloween makeup for friends means Crook is armed with everything from fake blood to colored contacts in order to make her assistant into a realistic-looking zombie attacker.
“I’m going to make sure that (the kids) meet the zombie first, so that they’re not too scared when he comes out of the woods,” Crook says. “He’s a nice, friendly zombie.”
Having raided Spirit Halloween for prop weapons, Crook supplies clients with everything from a baseball bat to a shovel to an ax to fend off their undead attacker. She even has a Styrofoam wrench small enough for the littlest zombie fighters.
“I’m really excited to get pictures of a little toddler just sitting…holding a blood-covered wrench with a zombie in the background,” Crook laughs.
The initial shoot sold out as demand for socially-distant fall activities has spiked, so Crook added an additional date on November 14. For those concerned about a bigger virus, the monster wears a mask and the prop weapons are disinfected between appointments. Crook wants the only virus her clients worry about to be the kind that makes you crave human brains.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited to do a shoot, because instead of having everyone looking at me smiling, I’m going to have everyone screaming and running,” Crook says with a smile. “This is going to be fun.”