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Halloween photography ideas: Shoot ghosts on the staircase

Halloween photography ideas: Shoot ghosts on the staircase
(Image credit: Eberhard Schuy / David E Scherman • The Life Picture Collection • 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. 

This first image was taken in April 1946, and is claimed to depict the ghost of Sir Robert Peel descending the main staircase in Scotland Yard. Analyzing the photograph, Professor French identifies it as a long exposure shot. 

"A number of artefacts 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."

Is this really the ghost of Sir Robert Peel on the staircase of Scotland Yard?  (Image credit: David E Scherman / The Life Picture Collection / Getty Images)

Schuy explains how to recreate this shot yourself, using your own staircase, a subject dressed in subtle white or grey colors, and a torch. 

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 subject to walk down a flight of stairs. They 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. If the person becomes too indistinct, simply shine a flashlight on them the moment they stop. 

Inspired by this famous historical image, Eberhard attempted his own modern interpretation – a more abstract approach, called 'In the Staircase', of a swirling spirit on a staircase, which you can see below.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (24mm, 1/5 sec, f/4, ISO200) (Image credit: Eberhard Schuy)

"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," said Schuy. 

"Using a tripod to take the picture, I could use long exposure times creating this mysterious form without blurring the rest of the picture." Here's how he captured the image using a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (opens in new tab) with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens:

1) Using a tripod or stable surface, position your camera facing upwards towards the staircase.

2) Rather than asking a subject 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 (you can use the instructions for the previous photo for guidance on how to achieve this). The result will be an ethereal swirling energy!

Read more: 

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV review (opens in new tab)
Best Canon standard zoom lenses (opens in new tab)
Halloween photography ideas: phantom figures and apparitions
(opens in new tab)Halloween photography ideas: levitating objects like a poltergeist (opens in new tab)

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The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a magazine and web 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 as diverse as 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, photographic and lighting tutorials, as well as industry analysis, news and rumors for publications such as Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab)PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine (opens in new tab)Digital Photographer (opens in new tab) and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and demonstrations at The Photography Show (opens in new tab). 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.