With Halloween coming up, now is the perfect time to freak out your friends by adding a ghost to your profile picture. While you can go all out and find a creepy location for staging your ghost photo, I prefer to make one with a normal selfie.
Adding supernatural creatures to photos is a time honoured pastime of photographers. The tools available now make it easy for anyone to do it. You don’t even need a professional camera, all the photos I used were taken on an iPhone.
Taking the Starting Pictures
A ghost photo is normally a composite of two images. There is a base photo and a photo of a person that you use an image editor to turn into a ghost.
You can use any photo you want for the base picture, however, I like the effect best when it doesn’t appear staged. In this tutorial I’m going to use a selfie. You can ignore all my colleague Dave’s advice on things to avoid, you want the base image to be as natural as possible.
The photo for the ghost requires a bit more consideration. The ghost has to be cut from the background and merged with the base photo. Too many photographers don’t think about post-processing while they are shooting. If you shoot your ghost against a plain background that contrasts with it, it’s going to be really easy to cut out. If you shoot it against a complex background, or one that it blends with, it will take ages and you’ll need to use some of Photoshop’s more advanced tools.
No one was around to help when I was creating my spooky profile picture so I just took another selfie — this time a little more carefully — against a white door. I’ve released this image under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license so you can use it in your own ghost photos.
Prepping the Ghost
Once you have both images, open the ghost photo in Photoshop. We’re going to start by cutting out the ghost from the background. This is where the extra time thinking about the background as you took the picture gets made up.
Normally, if I’m creating selections, I use the pen tool, however, because the background is much lighter than the subject (me), we can use one of Photoshop’s most misunderstood tools: the quick selection tool.
The quick selection tool gets a bad reputation because, even though it is — as the name suggests — really quick to use, the selections it makes tend to be quite bad. Fortunately, the steps later in this tutorial will blur and fade the ghost so you don’t need a perfect selection to begin with.
The quick selection tool works by selecting similar colours adjacent to the spot you click. You can add more areas to the selection by clicking again. You can select things even faster by holding down your cursor and dragging around the area you want to select. If you accidentally add an area to the selection that you don’t want, hold down alt and click on the area you want to deselect.
Select the background of the ghost image using the quick select tool. The quick select tool’s keyboard shortcut is shift+w.
To select the subject, invert the background selection by going to Inverse in the Select menu. You can also use the keyboard shortcut command/ctrl+shift+i.
Press command/control–j to duplicate your selection to a new layer. Turn off or delete the old background layer.
Ghosts are traditionally pale and bright so now it’s time to lighten and desaturate it. Select the layer with your cut out ghost and choose Hue/Saturation from the Image > Adjustments menu. Fully desaturate the ghost by dragging the Saturation slider all the way to the left. Lighten it by dragging the Lightness slider to the right.
Play around a bit and, when you’re happy with the changes, save your ghost image as a TIFF or PSD.
Adding the Ghost
Now it’s time to add the ghost to the base photo. Open the base photo in Photoshop. Add the ghost as a layer by selecting Place from the File menu and choosing the ghost image you just saved.
Use the move tool — the keyboard shortcut is v — to position the ghost in the base photo. Somewhere in the background works best.
Once you have the ghost positioned, resize it using the transform tool — the keyboard shortcut is command/control–t. To use the transform tool, drag the control handles along the edge of the image to make it bigger or smaller. To constrain the proportions of the ghost, hold the shift key as you resize it.
Making the Ghost Look Real
Now that the ghost is in position, the only thing left to do is blend it into the image. To start, you need to add some blur to the ghost. Go to the Filter > Blur menu and select Motion Blur…. For my ghost, I found an Angle of 0 and a Distance of 5 pixels worked perfectly.
Next, you need to remove the hard edges of the selection. Click on the Add Layer Mask button — it’s the black circle on a white background — to add one to the ghost layer.
Using the brush tool — the keyboard shortcut is B — paint black on your layer mask with a soft brush to blend the edges into the image.
Finally, reduce the opacity of the ghost layer to around 30%, found under layer options accessible by double clicking (Photoshop).
You’ve now added a ghost to your image. The only thing left to do is share it on social media.
To make everything seem even more authentic, I like to crop the image into a square, save it to my iPhone and then use Instagram to add a filter and upload it to Facebook and Twitter. Adding a filter on top of the ghost really makes everything blend together.
Remember: this is only an outline and you can use any combination of images that you rightfully own (or those licensed for reuse), so get creative and play around.
Did you follow this tutorial and make your own? Post it in the comments and let us see!