Fortean Photography: How to Fake a Phantom

University of Wisconsin-Madison's North Hall.

University of Wisconsin-Madison's North Hall.

The number one thing that has helped my photo analysis skills is the fact that I know how to create manipulated images with paranormal subjects. I will say, quickly, that if I ever photoshop paranormal subjects into a photograph, it is for promotional reasons or for visual storytelling purposes. I always make sure to note when a photograph has been manipulated.

In the spirit of this spooky month where we are focusing our attention to ghosts, I will teach you one quick way to photoshop a ghost into a scene. We are proud to partner with Madison Ghost Walks for this installment of Fortean Photography, and I will be editing this image in Adobe Photoshop CC.

Madison Ghost Walks recently launched their Ghost Tours at UW Madison. One stop on their tour is North Hall. This building rests near the top of Bascom Hill on the right side of the Abraham Lincoln statue if you're walking up facing him. North Hall was opened as the first building on the UW campus in September 1851 as the North Dormitory. It was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1965.

In the 1880’s, students reported seeing a ghost “skipping through the halls and vanishing.” Actually, it was a student named Samuel Whitney Trousdale from the class of 1882 playing a prank. Since this ghost story was a hoax, and since it's part of a tutorial, we felt this image to be an ethical photo manipulation.

To begin, I edited my photo of a row of windows on North Hall how I wanted it to look, and then found a free stock image of a sheet ghost. You can find free stock photos on websites such as Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay. I made sure to choose a black and white image where the ghost is white on a black background for the method I am using. First, I used the lasso tool to select the area around the ghost. Once selected, I went up to the toolbar and selected Select>Inverse so the marquee would then be in the space surrounding the ghost. Once this area is selected, hit delete and you will be left with your ghost.


To make my ghost transparent, I went to the layer panel and on the layer with the ghost, I choose the blending mode “Screen.”  This will cause all the black in the image to disappear leaving us with a transparent, ghostly figure. I erased the bottom part of the ghost that wasn’t in the window frame.


Using the move tool, I dragged the ghost over to the window where I want it to be looking from. Since the ghost is front-facing straight on in the original, I wanted its figure to follow the same angle as the window. I did this by going Edit>Transform>Distort. In doing this and being as realistic as possible, the image becomes more convincing.


I wanted to make the ghost look as though it was inside looking out through the window. To do this, I went down to my layer panel, selected my background layer, and made a copy of the background by dragging it onto the “Create new layer” icon at the bottom of the panel. I then dragged this layer to the very top and selected the blending mode “multiply” which causes the layer to become transparent and slightly darker which gives the illusion that the ghost is behind the window.


There are many ways in which one can photoshop ghosts, but this is definitely one of the easier ways, and it is enough to tell the tale of North Hall and the “ghost” that once haunted it.


If you are going to photoshop ghosts, please do so responsibly and always mention if you have manipulated an image and why. There are enough hoaxers out there in the world, and a lot of people experience things they can’t explain, and are embarrassed to tell their story because of the stigma attached to experiencing the unexplained--to which hoaxing contributes. Why degrade someone’s shocking, strange experience and contribute to a system that causes them to feel like weirdos? Let’s keep the fortean world honest.

If you are ever in Madison, Wisconsin please consider checking out Madison Ghost Walks’ UW Campus Ghost Tour and their Downtown Madison tour as well. Tours run as long as the weather is decent from Spring until around Halloween.

Unusually Yours,






Tobias Wayland