Fortean Photography: A Second Look at the 'Ghost Photobomb' at Myrtles Plantation
Earlier this month, we reported on a group of tourists' photo from Myrtles Plantation that purported to show a ghost in the background. Opinions on the internet range from thinking that the figure is an actual ghost to assuming it is the product of Photoshop. I decided to take a look at this image myself and see what I could find.
The Myrtles Plantation was built in 1796 and is indeed famous for its paranormal activity, having been featured in the ninth season of Ghost Hunters. The most famous of the ghost stories is the legend of a slave named Chloe who accidentally poisoned the children of her master. Naturally, Chloe is the popular supernatural culprit for the ghostly image.
The first thing I do is check the metadata, where nothing is listed, not even anything detailing that it had been pulled from social media. I then zoom in on the image and compare the pixels of the rest of the image to that of the figure and the space around it. This image is 960 pixels wide at 72 dpi. That is definitely getting into a larger-sized image on the internet, but the resolution of the pixels making up the image (dots per inch) is typical web quality. My thoughts are that this was taken with a newer smartphone and then screenshot, given the black frame around the image.
Right off the bat, the pixels surrounding the ghostly face seem distorted and of lesser quality than anything else in the image. My initial instinct is that this image was indeed manipulated within Photoshop. I did keep in mind that the figure is in a dark space and cameras on auto do have to make up for missing areas of light in order to pick up subjects in darkness. I also tried to consider the scale of the figure compared to that of the foreground. Upon close examination, I speculate that the guests in the foreground are standing a considerable distance away from the building in the background. With this perspective in mind, the scale makes sense. I would have to go there in person to really know if my thought is correct.
I then dropped the image into a filter called 'solarize,' and the figure remained unchanged; which is suspicious. This is also true for the wallpaper through the window to the left and all of the black shirts worn by the guests. Solarization is a process that reverses the tone of an object in a photograph, and we can be certain that the objects that remain unchanged aren't reflecting much light. It makes sense for the wallpaper set back from the window; but the face of the 'ghost' would certainly be reflecting sunlight. So how can we see the ghost if there's no light reflecting off of her in the picture? I also tried a couple more treatments such as playing with the exposure, color channels, and inverting the image. None of these tricks reveal that this image is obviously photoshopped, although it’s hard to tell with an image of this quality.
Due to the distorted pixelation along the left side of the ghost figure, and the oddity of the 'ghost' remaining unchanged through solarization, I lean towards the idea that this image is a photomanipulation. We all like a good ghost story, though, so if another imagery expert out there can prove that Chloe, or whomever this might be, “photo-bombed” this image, then I’d be pleasantly surprised.