If you’ve seen photos of ghostly apparitions and wonder how they were captured, most likely they were not doctored or otherwise created in post process. Your camera has the fantastic ability to capture unique effects, including those often mistaken for ghosts and spirits.
Wall Of Heroes by starfish235, on Flickr
Ghostly images like seen above are created with the use of a slow shutter speed. If you’re not familiar with how your shutter speed can affect your final image, read my article here which explains it in great detail.
Before we get started, you should know that there are a few pieces of equipment needed to execute this technique:
1. DSLR Camera
…or at least a camera that you can control your shutter speed with. While you could probably get away with a point-and-shoot, your control will be rather limited.
In order to have full control over your camera and avoid any unwanted blurring, a tripod is needed to help stabilize your scene. Again, you could get away without one, but you run the risk of camera shake – not to mention being without a tripod will greatly limit your angles and vantage points.
3. Remote Shutter Release Cable
This is to ensure that you don’t touch the camera when you press the shutter button, which is one of the most common ways to cause camera shake.
4. ND Filters
Whether you purchase the slot-in filters or the threaded, an ND filter is necessary for daytime ghost photography in order to limit the amount of light that hits your sensor.
Types of Ghost Photography
Typically, there are two identifiable types of ghostly images that are captured in unique ways:
1. The Transparent Figure
The transparent figure, which is quite haunting, is executed by the use of a perfectly still model combined with an extended shutter speed. You’ll have to experiment with this method as it is very dependent on your environment (amount of available light, your aperture, etc).
I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul. by Aristocrats-hat, on Flickr
Typically, you’ll need a shutter speed of a few seconds or longer to allow for enough exposure time. The goal here is to have your model remain perfectly still, but only for a fraction of the exposure. This will allow for your camera to register an identifiable figure in sharp detail, but be transparent since the model wasn’t in frame the entire time.
When moving out of frame, do so quickly to avoid any blurring. You’re basically combining two photos in one here -one with you in frame and one without – so any slow movement in between will register.
2. The Flowing Figure
In contrast, the flowing figure actually depends on fast movement to be executed properly. Since your creating a somewhat transparent blur, there is no need for sharp detail.
ghost walk by Pedro Moura Pinheiro, on Flickr
Like with the transparent figure, this will take some experimenting as your shutter speed will vary on the amount of light you have. It's important to move fast during the exposure so that the human shape is still somewhat recognizable, but greatly blurred.
For a truly ghostly effect, wear flowing clothes or even drape a bed sheet over your shoulders. When you combine this with moving briskly throughout your frame, your figure will appear more haunting.
Also make sure to create the environment. Since you’re going for a haunting image, your final photo will be enhanced by your surroundings. Pick a location that compliments the mood you're going for – this will only be beneficial to your photo.
For more inspirational ghost photography, please visit this Youtube video. It’s a collection of images by photographer Cole Thompson, which prove to be stellar examples of this process.
Read more great articles by Christopher O’Donnell on his website or follow him on Facebook.
Hey Christopher. Is there any advantage to black and white vs. color in ghost photography? I looked at the link you gave for Cole Thompson and looks like his are all black and white.
Great article, as always! Thanks, Pam
Flowing figure photo is not showing up. Flikr says its not available.