Fauxtography Part 1: DIY Ghost Hoax

What a wonderful picture of...wait, is that a G-G-G-G-GHOST?!

Today I am introducing my “Fauxtography” series. In this series I will show you how you can create illusions of ghosts, manufacture orbs and rods, produce pareidolia, and have fun with a variety of photographic phenomena. Armed with my trusty Canon Rebel and Photoshop CS5, we shall run the gamut from blatant photographic manipulation to the reproduction of accidental effects which can trick amateurs into believing that they have captured something supernatural. Hopefully this equips you with a bit of behind-the-scenes knowledge into how hoaxers do their hoaxing and how photographic accidents turn into”paranormal experiences”.

Today’s Lesson: Photoshopping Ghosts…

Why would anybody intentionally fake a photograph of a ghost? I am often astounded by how many people unquestioningly accept outrageous or suspicious claims. Perhaps our sense of “innocent until proven guilty” justice bleeds into a general “honest until proven dishonest” attitude about the claims people make and the evidence that they present. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to take people at their word when it comes to general day-to-day interpersonal relations, but the idea of extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence just doesn’t come naturally for most people. When someone you know tells their amazing personal ghost story or Bigfoot encounter, you don’t want to offend the storyteller by questioning their honesty or by implying that they’re self-deluded. People lie about all sorts of things and they are particularly (and surprisingly) adept at lying to themselves and coming up with imagined supernatural experiences.

Then there are the people who intentionally deceive by forging “proof” of their claims via a hoax photograph or video. “Why would they lie?” believers will ask. Hmm, I don’t know: a good story, attention, or maybe people will actually start watching their YouTube videos. Some lucky hoaxers are able earn money through book deals, television shows, or selling ghost tours. Even the biggest believers in the paranormal must admit to the many fraudulent pieces of evidence and claims made by charlatans. In short, lying is easy and often rewarding, so of course people are willing to fake ghost photos.

Using today’s technology there are numerous ways to do this. Today we will use photos you already have on your computer to make a ghost hoax. I have the luxury of being someone who takes tons of photos, so I have access to thousands of photographs and quality editing software (by the way, if you don’t have CS5, then something less expensive like Photoshop Elements should work). My first step in the creation of the faux ghost was to find a picture that would be freaky enough on its own. Scouring through my files, I came up with this one:

Frightening, isn’t it?

The above photo is of Scout. She was a skeleton-ghost for Halloween back in 2011, so she is the perfect candidate for the this little photography experiment. This photo was taken at my studio for a Halloween themed photo session.

Now, to find my unsuspecting victim…

He doesn’t suspect a thing.

Perfect. This picture of Rob, my husband, will do just fine. I took this photo of Rob while he was showcasing the new glasses he got last year.

I knew the photo of Rob would be the background in the final photo, so I removed the background from Scout’s photo by using the “Magic Eraser Tool”. You can erase the background manually, too, if you don’t have that tool or can’t figure it out.

She looks so lonely.

My next step was to copy that image and put it into Rob’s photo.After I pasted her photo into Rob’s, I used to “Blur” tool to smooth out any rough edges.

Cute, but it's still not ready yet.
Cute, but it’s still not ready yet.

Obviously, if the ghost is in front of Rob, he’d see it, so I used the “Quick Selection Tool”, outlined Rob, copied him, and moved the copied layer above the “Scout Finch as Ghost” layer.

Again, I used the “Blur” tool and smoothed out the edges around Rob’s layer.

Now onto the finishing touch: I used a Gaussian Blur filter, blacked-out Scout’s eyes and mouth, and then also changed the opacity on Scout’s layer.

What a wonderful picture of…wait. Is that a G-G-G-G-GHOST?!

I feel that the ghost in a hoax photo should come to the viewer as a surprise. They may not see it in the first moment, which adds to the suspense, and then the ghost jumps out at them, which is exactly the creepy behavior we have come to expect from these pernicious poltergeists. By blurring the ghost layer, changing the opacity, and removing features, I made Scout’s sweet and melancholy skeleton-ghost into a creepy apparition. It’s just faint but noticeable enough that your brain kicks in and forces you to decipher what you’re seeing. Scout herself has labeled this picture “freaky-teaky”, so it passes the “Frighten a 5 Year Old with Their Own Picture” test.

More fauxtography techniques will be posted in future blogs!

Gigi Chickee

All photos are taken by me, Gigi Chickee, unless otherwise noted. Photography Correspondent here at Mad Art Lab. Wife to my gorgeous husband, Rob. Mother to my four girls. Proud Secular Homeschooler. Photographer when the occasion arises. Seamstress in training. Skeptic always. Follow me and my musings on Twitter: @gigichickee

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