Got a question about my lighting techniques. The insanely-talented Rob at SkullandBone.com has the finest lighting tutorial around. I agree with his approach as it front-lights your props and creates some beautiful shadows and accents the most important part of your hard work - the front.
My yard haunt has two main issues that forced me to light the haunt from the above tree branches:
1. A super bright and super close street lamp (that provides a lot of ambient front-lighting).
2. A horrible family that walks through the lawn of the yard haunt, between the props, and under the tree.
One experience comes to mind. I use two strings of flickering flame bulbs for under my witches' iron cauldron. I love that effect and take a crazy amount of time to perfect it. Placing the twigs and sticks of the fire carefully as to hide the bulbs and wires, but to allow enough orange light through. A member of my family walked across the lawn and got tangled in the extension cord running to those lights. I watched those flickering bulbs go flying quite a few times over the years. Pushing the lights and sticks back under the cauldron quickly before more trick or treaters arrive is another sickening ritual I could do without. I can only imagine if I ran cords to the front of my display to feed flood lamps placed there. It's surprising how many people actually cut through the small lawn of my yard haunt.
So it's actually a practical use of lighting, and I'm surprised my family doesn't climb the tree at some point during the night, tangling my wires and breaking my bulbs while they fish around in the branches.
That said, I think tree lighting from above can work if you keep in mind the importance of shadows. I always make sure some pine needles and branches of the tree are in front of the flood lamps. And I try not to go overboard with making the haunt too bright. I think of it as moonlight. Smaller bulbs stuffed into the bushes or cornstalks on each side of the porch add a lot of atmosphere. In the case of my witches' smoking cauldron, I had a green spotlight shining straight down into the cauldron. The fog appeared to be giving off a ghostly green glow.
Every year, I venture back to where I grew up and haunt my folks' lawn. I won't be doing that forever and I'm looking forward to a change of scenery and a new environment. And you can bet I'll be using some of SkullandBone's techniques for lighting it.