How To / Photography

How to shoot spooky images this Halloween

The Girl with the Chair. Shot by Canon Ambassador Eberhard Schuy on the Canon EOS 5D MII using an EF 24-105mm lens (courtesy Canon)

Check out the tips below from Canon on how to create some spooky images of your own this Halloween!

It’s that time of year for frights and scares. Canon got together with Eberhard Schuy (renowned still life photographer) and Professor Chris French (an expert in the psychology of paranormal beliefs at Goldsmiths University in London) to show photographers how to capture some spooky images this Halloween season.

Levitating objects

Instead of using the popular technique of double exposures, Eberhard Schuy uses fishing line to achieve a similar effect.

“In the early days, photography itself was seen as a mysterious process and the discovery that double exposures – as shown by Eberhard Schuy’s photo of the girl with the levitating chair – along with other darkroom tricks could be used to produce ghostly images was soon exploited by a number of notorious fraudsters of the day.”

Professor Chris French
The Girl with the Chair. Shot by Canon Ambassador Eberhard Schuy on the Canon EOS 5D MII using an EF 24-105mm lens (courtesy Canon)
The Girl with the Chair. Shot by Canon Ambassador Eberhard Schuy on the Canon EOS 5D MII using an EF 24-105mm lens (courtesy Canon).

All you need is fishing line (the thinnest you can find) and a prop of your choice. Of course, as you’ll be suspending it from the ceiling, you’ll want to make sure your suspended item is shatter-proof, just in case.

  1. Using the fishing line, secure an object to the ceiling so that it appears to float unsupported
  2. Position a glass half full, with a bottle of drink floating next to it or perhaps float a pen over a half-written page, so it appears as if the pen is writing by itself. Thousands of different images can be created with this technique, so get creative
  3. Ensure the hanging object is still so you can focus on the subject and create the impression of a poltergeist in action

Phantom figure

Faded figures in photos always creep people out, whether intentionally placed or shot by accident. These usually ended up being deliberate fakes or unintentional double exposures.

Two women with a female spirit, c 1920. Credit: Science & Society Picture Library / Getty Images (courtesy Canon)
Two women with a female spirit, c 1920. Credit: Science & Society Picture Library / Getty Images (courtesy Canon).

“Despite much criticism and numerous exposures of deliberate fraud, spirit photography had strong support from many people early on. The image here of an ethereal woman’s face floating above the two sitters, taken around 1920, is almost certainly a deliberate fake, probably by proven hoaxer William Hope.”  

Professor French

To create your own phantom figure photo, you’ll need a model, a pane of glass the size of a postcard (picture frame glass works good), and a flashlight or a candle.

  1. Hold the pane of glass rotated to the right or left at an angle of about 45 ° directly in front of the camera lens
  2. Position your model next to the camera in the direction the glass is tilted towards
  3. The model will be reflected in the pane of glass and appear to float transparently in front of the rest of the background
  4. For an even more striking effect, have the person shine a light on themself or maybe even hold a burning candle in their hand
  5. Capture the picture with your digital camera, trying different variations of the model and glass position to create the desired effect

The ghost on the stairs

Similar to photos of phantom figures, long exposures can create some ghostly images. When taken in famous places, people allege that these are the ghosts of famous people, like this image of the “ghost” of Sir Robert Peel.

The main staircase in Scotland Yard... Credit: Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images (courtesy Canon)
The main staircase in Scotland Yard… Credit: Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images (courtesy Canon).

“A number of artifacts can lead to spooky images being produced by the camera itself or else the processing involved. These include long exposures giving ghostly images of someone walking through the scene, camera straps being caught in the flash resulting in mysterious “energy swirls”, and so-called “orbs” produced when specks of dust are caught out-of-focus in the flash.”

Professor French

Again, you’ll need a model dressed in white or grey, a staircase, and a flashlight to create your own “ghost on the stairs” image.

  1. Take this shot at dusk, just as the light is getting low
  2. Select the highest aperture your camera is capable of – this should be an f value of around f/8 or above
  3. Switch off the automatic ISO setting and select the lowest value possible. Aim for a value between 100 or 200. This should produce an exposure time of at least 6 – 7 seconds
  4. Ask your model to walk down a flight of stairs. The model should stop at a pre-determined point for 4 – 5 seconds and then continue walking quickly until they are out of the frame
  5. The shot should show a transparent figure, looking like a ghost on the stairs
  6. If the person becomes too indistinct, simply shine a flashlight on them the moment they stop

Circling spirits

Schuy decided to try his own take on the ghost on the stairs pictures and enlisted the help of his daughter.

“For this technique I use a very light white cloth and asked my daughter to stand at the top of the stairwell and drop it, spreading the sheet a little so that it slowly sailed downwards. Using a tripod to take the picture, I could use long exposure times creating this mysterious form without blurring the rest of the picture.”

Eberhard Schuy
In the Staircase. Shot by Canon Ambassador Eberhard Schuy on the Canon EOS 5D MII using an EF 24-105mm lens (courtesy Canon)
In the Staircase. Shot by Canon Ambassador Eberhard Schuy on the Canon EOS 5D MII using an EF 24-105mm lens (courtesy Canon).

For this one you’ll need a volunteer, a staircase, and a white or very light cloth.

  1. Using a tripod or stable surface, position your camera facing upwards towards the staircase
  2. Rather than asking a model to walk down the stairs, have them stand at the top of the staircase and drop a white, very light, cloth down the stairwell from top to bottom. The lighter the cloth, the slower it will fly
  3. Capture the photo, using an exposure time of around 1/4 to 1/2 second (see instructions for tip #3 – the ghost on the stairs for how to achieve this)
  4. The result will be an ethereal swirling energy

What do you think about the tips and tricks provided by Canon on how to shoot some spooky images for Halloween? Do you have any spooky images you’ve shot? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook, or MeWe.

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