Ghosts, ghosts everywhere, and anywhere you want them to be.

Okay, this one will hit some of my readers as a slap in the face, so I guess I’ll apologize for that right now.  That is not going to keep me from putting this little article out here for all to ponder and enjoy, and in some cases to learn from.  

Ghost photography is one of the easiest tricks in the book (maybe I should add it to one of my books), and it doesn’t take any special skills in Photoshop® or any other editing software.  You can create ghost photos with almost any Digital SLR camera, and you can do it in many environments.  As examples I’ve included several “ghost” photos that I took on one trip in Oklahoma.  Have a look at the photos and we’ll talk about them a bit along the way so you will have an idea of how these are created.  PLEASE TAKE NOTE: NONE of these photos was faked, or double-exposed, they are presented here “as shot” with the exception of cropping, resizing and sharpening.  Absolutely NO other edits were done on these photos.


 Ghosts, ghosts everywhere, and anywhere you want them to be.


The Salt & Pepper Ghosts of Cracker Barrel.

The Salt & Pepper Ghosts of Cracker Barrel.

Here we have a pair of salt & pepper shakers.  A little shuffling of them during a long exposure and we have 2 pairs (one pepper shaker is very faint on the left side).  We can still see all of the items on the table behind the salt and pepper shakers, like the camera, oil lamp and sweetener bowl.  Note the patron in the background on the right side, and the arm motion.  The patron in the background on left center was standing relatively still for the entire exposure.

The ghosts of Cracker Barrel.

The ghosts of Cracker Barrel.

 In this photo we have those notorious Cracker Barrel Drink Cup Ghosts.  Well really, there is only one drink cup in this photo, at least on the table where this scene was set up.  In the background we can see a patron rubbing his eyes and you’ll notice that the items on his table are not moving at all, nor is the camera on the table with my drink cup.  Look carefully and you will see the straw in the cup on the left, as it cuts across the picture on the lattice wall.

Self-Portrait of a Ghost at Turner Falls.

Self-Portrait of a Ghost at Turner Falls.

Now we change scenery a little bit and move to a cave at Turner Falls in Davis, OK.  In this photo we have the Self-Portrait of a ghost, oh wait, that’s just me using my camera on a tripod.  Even though the light was fairly strong in part of the cave, I could achieve a long exposure by stopping down the aperture as far as i could go, and setting the ISO to 50.  Using the self-time gives me ample time to be in position when the shutter opens.  The 30 second exposure provides plenty of opportunity for me to move out of the frame before the exposure is completed. 

Steve the Photographer Ghost

Steve the Photographer Ghost

Still at Turner Falls, and here we have my buddy Steve the Photographer Ghost in front of a fireplace.  Here again, we simply go for a long exposure by using the slowest possible ISO and smallest possible Aperture.  This shot was done at ISO 50, f/32 @ 30 seconds.  Clearly there is a need of a sturdy tripod for these shots, because you don’t want the camera to move around at all while you’re doing a 30 second exposure.

An innocent bystander ghost.

An innocent bystander ghost.

Wow!  Who could imagine that I might catch an unknown ghost just a minute after my friend Steve moved out of that position.  Now that’s some serious good fortune for a ‘ghost hunter,’ isn’t it?  Let’s be serious now; almost any bystander is willing to jump into the action when you offer to turn them into a ghost.  (Go ahead and think on that comment for a while).

Coffee with a ghost in Davis, OK.

Coffee with a ghost in Davis, OK.

After all that ghost photography, I decided to have coffee and breakfast with a ghost the next morning.  No tripod this time, but we are still working with a 30 second exposure at f/32 and ISO 50.  For a shot like this I set the camera on the table and use the self-timer to start the exposure.  Please note the Steve deserves a lot of credit for sitting so perfectly still for 15 seconds.  WHAT’S THAT?!?  “15 seconds, I thought you said it was a 30 second exposure?”  Yes folks, that is the entire secret to ghost photography.  Everything in the scene that is permanent and not moving is going to be properly exposed when a set such a slow ISO, small aperture and long exposure.  The ghost, on the other hand, needs to move out of the scene before full exposure is achieved.  Steve sat here for about 15 seconds while the shutter was open, then he picked up his coffee cup and chair, and walked out of the scene while the shutter remained open for another 15 seconds.  Because we only got halfway exposed with Steve in the photo, we have a ghost of Steve.

The next time you want to go out for some ghost photos, maybe you should just join me on one of my photo excursions.  All of the photos used in this blog post were taken during my annual Turner Falls Fall Foliage Photo Excursion, typically held on the first weekend of November.

These photos happen to have been taken with a Canon 1Ds Mark II camera, but could just as easily be shot with my Canon 20D.  One other trick to increase your exposure time is to use a polarizer or neutral density filter.


A ghostly self-portrait, with company.

A ghostly self-portrait, with company.

Okay, I had to come back to this entry and add one more photo.  This photo was shot in a covered bridge in New York in November
of 2007, while I was teaching my sister how to create ghost photos.  Just thought I’d add a photo from somewhere other than Oklahoma.

©2009 Jeff Cowell, jeffcowell.com


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~ by jrcowell on June 6, 2009.

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