Halloween photography ideas: phantom figures and apparitions

Halloween photography ideas
(Image credit: Eberhard Schuy / Science & Society Picture Library / Getty Images)

Spooky season is here, so what better time to shoot some Halloween photography! And we've got a real treat – and, indeed, a few tricks – in store, as a professional photographer and a professor of paranormal beliefs are here to inspire you to shoot scary snaps based on historical haunted photographs! 

Canon ambassador Eberhard Schuy has taken some cues from actual paranormal pictures throughout history to take some high concept Halloween photography. And Professor Chris French, an expert in the psychology of paranormal beliefs at Goldsmiths University London, gives some context to the hotly debated authenticity of such images. 

Here Schuy has chosen to produce a shot inspired by floating apparitions appearing behind unsuspecting individuals, which is typical of haunted images such as these two historical examples below. Are they truly paranormal pictures, though? 

“Despite much criticism and numerous exposures of deliberate fraud, spirit photography had strong support from many people early on," says Professor French. 

"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. Close inspection of the photo of Ellen Nammell reveals that this is almost certainly another example of double exposure, possibly unintentional.”

This 'apparition', photographed around 1920, is likely a fake produced by William Hope (Image credit: Science & Society Picture Library / Getty Images)

This photograph of Ellen Nammell  (Image credit: Mabel Chinnery / Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

Schuy has put his own spin on the phantom figure concept with his shot, 'Dancing Girl' (below). Shot on the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV using the all-purpose Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens, he used a method that doesn't involve taking multiple exposures.

The trick to this treat is a pane of glass the size of a postcard – you can try taking the glass from a picture frame, as it should be just the right size. Along with a subject to photograph, and a torch or candle, you've got everything you need. Just follow these simple steps: 

1) Hold the pane of glass rotated to the right or left, at an angle of about 45 degrees, directly in front of the camera lens.

2) Position your subject next to the camera in the direction that the glass is tilted towards.

3)  The subject 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 subject shine a light on themselves, 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.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (60mm, 15 secs, f/11, ISO100) (Image credit: Eberhard Schuy)

Read more: 

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV review
Best Canon standard zoom lenses
Home photography ideas: Shoot a double exposure in-camera
How to create a double exposure in Photoshop Elements
How to create a double exposure effect in Affinity Photo

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James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Photo: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.