Ghosts in the Dark

To capture this blur, I asked a friend to pose for a few seconds and then leave the frame. The dark clouds add to the eerieness of the image. Exposure: 8sec at f/18 (ISO 100). Photograph/Rohit S Krishnan

To capture this blur, I asked a friend to pose for a few seconds and then leave the frame. The dark clouds add to the eerieness of the image. Exposure: 8sec at f/18 (ISO 100). Photograph/Rohit S Krishnan

Rohit S Krishnan experiments with low-key, blurry effects to create photographs that are full of mystery, eerieness and spooky characters.

My Assignment

  • Description
    To create visuals that are spooky and obscure and can be interpreted by the viewer in different ways
  • Duration
    An ongoing series that I have been shooting since the past six months
  • Notes
    Forget the rules—the more you break them, the better your images will be!

The beauty of photography is that every single click of the camera has its own story to tell. Also, a viewer reacts to each photograph differently, because of the memories and associations they think of, when they see the image. It is this correlation between photographs and memories that inspired me to start this abstract photo series.

My Perspective
I wanted to create a series of images that are vague, abstract and open to interpretation, depending on the kind of memories one shares. The moment a viewer interprets these abstract images, they become a lot more personal to him, and he is bound to remember them for a long time. As Napoleon once said, “Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”
To add to the ambiguity, I decided to make the subject vague and blurry—almost like a ghost. After all, spirits are fascinating, as they are shrouded in mystery and darkness. This was how this series of moody, ghost-like images was born.

The Process
As a personal challenge to myself, I set out to identify moments in which a blurry image would be a lot more powerful than a conventionally sharp photograph. To achieve the ghost-like feel, I decided to shoot low key images in black and white. Wherever I went, I would search for mysterious shapes and shadows. To enhance the cinematic feel, I used long exposures, motion blur, out-of-focus techniques, camera shake and even grain.
Different amounts of blur lend a different mood to each image. In fact, I would spend extended periods of time just looking through the viewfinder with the focus ring twisted halfway. There needs to be a balance between sharp focus and a completely smooth blur. This is around the point when you start noticing that the shapes in your image are not completely defined, but not completely abstract either.
While shooting an assignment like this, I realised that it is important to learn how to ‘see’ in black and white. Certain scenes may look ordinary in colour, but the formation of light and tones may look great in black and white. I find it useful to shoot in RAW and also use the in-camera B&W mode. This way, you can not only see a black and white preview on the LCD, but also have the original colour RAW file for finer editing.
After having shot this series over the past few months, I believe that the best thing about it is the imperfection. I am using techniques that are considered to be mistakes. Imperfection adds a certain unsettling quality to the image, which I quite enjoy. This makes the series similar to a charred memory—complete with its distorted reality and imperfections.

My Equipment: While I used a Canon EOS 40D, I am positive that just about any camera can make a blurry picture. What you need to rely on is your own imagination.

Learn to Capture Your Own Ghosts

  • Keep an eye out for shapes and forms. Since the image is going to be out of focus, the shapes have to be powerful enough to convey meaning.
  • Shoot less and observe more through the viewfinder. Notice how the blurs interact with different elements within the frame.
  • Experiment with settings. An SLR is useful, but if you are using a compact camera that does not have manual focus, you can use the Night Landscape mode to capture ghost-like blurs.
  • While concentrating on abstract shapes, do not lose out on any important moments that may take place in front of you. Always be ready to switch back into action and shoot.
  • Use a tripod especially when shooting long exposures. It gets a little too chaotic if the entire frame contains random blurs.
  • Since this series is about body language, it is important to be spontaneous. A posed image will not be as impactful as one taken on the spur of the moment.

You can see more of Rohit’s images at

This article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: Low light, black and white, surreal, Blur, march 2010, BnW