How To Photograph Ghosts

So in the past, I have written several pieces on different photographic ‘how tos’ and I plan on making more of a habit of it. To kick off this series, I figured I should start with something fun. And seasonal. So here we go:

How To Photograph Ghosts

Or rather, a ‘ghost.’ Because I am not promising that by reading this, you are going to be able to go out and find a ghost who is willing to pose for you. But I am here to make it look like you did…

Lets take a quick look at the history of ghost photos:



So these photos are clearly old and appear to contain ghosts. And while there wasn’t photoshop back in the day, there were still frugal people.

Are you wondering what the heck I am talking about? Well before the days of films, photographs used to be taken on glass slides. But if a photographer used a slide and didn’t like the final photo, they would wash the slide and re-use it, to save money. However, sometimes the slides weren’t washed all that well, so they would end up with a ghost like figure in the new photo.

Now obviously in this day & age, you don’t really see people photographing on slides…ever. So how can we replicate this effect? The answer is actually quite easily! While it is obviously possible to make double exposure photos with any number of photo editing program, it is also very much possible to make them in camera. And making them in camera is WAY more fun.

What you need:

  • A DSLR camera, or a camera in which you can manually adjust all the settings.
  • Tripod
  • A piece of thick, dark paper or cardboard
  • A remote for your camera (although it is possible to do without)
  • A light (any kind will do; off camera flash, flashlight or even phone light in a pinch)
  • A ‘ghostly’ figure. Friends and family work quite nicely

Now for this to work best, and for best creepy effect, I suggest doing it at night, maybe add in some flickering candles.

So while it is possible to do this with a wide range of camera settings, what you decided to set your camera on will depend on what look you are going for. You will need to experiment with aperture and ISO while shooting on Bulb mode for shutter. Regardless of what you set your camera to aperature/ISO wise, the principle is the same:

  1. Set up your tripod with your camera looking at the scene you want to photograph. A static scene is best, since you want the only moving object to be your subject.
  2. With your camera set to ‘bulb’, you are going to trigger the shutter, with your subject outside of the frame.
  3. Do not end the shot, but take the piece of cardboard/dark paper and cover the camera lens (gently! Don’t move the camera) and get your subject into position in the frame.
  4. Now remove the piece of paper, letting the camera capture your subject before triggering the shutter to close.


Experiment with how long you let the shutter stay open, and try doing shorter bursts with your subject in frame, to see how ghostly, or how solid, you can make them appear. If you find that they are always appearing too dark in the frame, then briefly shine a light on them while you are photographing them.

Get creative with this, play around! Get your subject to dress up, or wear ghoulish make up. Try different sorts of settings and see what kind of photos you can create. Its easy to see why this kind of photo shoot can be so much fun; way more fun than sitting at your computer and mashing two photos together in photoshop.

You can also apply this principle to non creepy shoots. Ever wanted to try cloning?


Self Portrait x3 by M. Corriveau

Want to make it look like the ‘orbs’ that paranormal activity shows seem to see all over? Try playing with light instead of a living subject.


This photo was actually an accident on my part…

There is no wrong way to do this as long as you are getting the desired effect. Its also a great way to get to know your camera settings and what you can do with them. Share your best ‘ghost’ photos with me over on my Facebook page! 

Good luck!

– Chels

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