Is it Halloween? Because in this guide we’ll be talking all about “ghosting.”
Even the most skilled photographers can fall victim to an unwanted phenomenon known as ghosting.
Ghosting in photography occurs when unwanted reflections, flares, or artifacts appear in an image, often obscuring or distorting the intended subject matter.
In this article, we will explore what ghosting is in photography, its causes, and how to prevent or fix it. Whether you’re an experienced photographer or a beginner, understanding ghosting and how to avoid it can make a significant difference in the quality of your photographs.
When reading this article, the main terms you need to keep in mind are ghosting, lens flare, and motion blur because these can all get intertwined and mixed up, so I’ll clarify the definition of each but just remember to separate those terms in your head.
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
What is Ghosting in Photography?
Ghosting in photography refers to the appearance of an unwanted and often transparent artifact in an image caused by a reflection or refraction of light within the camera lens.
The appearance of these artifacts can distort the intended photo by introducing an unwanted focal point or subject into the image.
Based on angles and lighting, the ghosting artifact can appear in two different ways.
The first revolves around a translucent ghost-like flare artifact showing in the image, and the second is the creation of an unwanted duplicate effect of your subject.
Why is it Called Ghosting?
The artifacts that are created are often deemed “ghosting” because they often appear translucent and have a ghost-like appearance, just showing up out of nowhere.
Based on certain angles, the artifact could also give the impression of a faint duplicate of the main subject, similar to how a ghost would appear. This type of ghosting could look like an unwanted double exposure of your subject.
Another reason it is called ghosting is that, based on lighting conditions, it may persist in your images even when moving to different angles, similar to how a ghost may linger.
What Causes Ghosting in Photography?
Ghosting in photography can be caused by a variety of factors. Let’s take a look at some of them:
If you are photographing subjects that have very reflective surfaces, such as water, glass, or windows, then the light could reflect off those and then reflect off the surface of the lens.
Poor Lens Quality
If you purchase a lens that is “cheap,” not only could it provide images that aren’t very sharp, but it could produce unwanted ghosting and other flaring issues due to the inferior optical coatings and construction of the lens.
One tip I recommend is that if you are going to purchase a budget lens, be sure to read reviews about any ghosting or flare issues.
Photographing Into the Sun
When you are photographing a subject and you are facing the sun and it’s pretty strong, then this will increase the chances of lens flare and ghosting due to the bright light entering the lens.
Dust and Dirt
If your lens has a lot of dust and dirt because you haven’t cleaned it in a while, then the dirt and smudges on the lens could cause additional reflection, contributing to ghosting.
Number of Lens Elements
If your lens has a lot of lens elements, then that means there are just more elements for light to reflect off of which could increase the chances of ghosting.
What is the Difference Between Lens Flare and Ghosting?
Let’s talk about the difference between lens flare and ghosting because these two terms can often get mixed up.
Lens flare and ghosting are two different types of optical aberrations that can occur in photography. And in short, an aberration refers to a deviation of light rays as they pass through the lens system.
Lens flare occurs when light enters the lens from an unintended angle which creates a haze or streak of light across the image. It’s often seen in images and in the camera as a series of bright colors or transparent spots. You could easily prevent lens flare from occurring by using a lens hood or covering your lens with your hand or another object.
Ghosting occurs when a reflection or transparent artifact appears in the image and it could be caused by reflections or flares. It can be harder to avoid ghosting (as we’ll discuss later) and might require some post-production editing to remove it.
An easy way to think about this is that ghosting is just a type of flare and that if there is a lens flare, then ghosting can usually occur as well.
What is the Difference Between Motion Blur and Ghosting?
When discussing ghosting, it can also be confused with motion blur, let’s touch on the two.
Motion blur occurs when there is movement between the camera and the subject being photographed, resulting in a blurred subject. This can happen either from the camera moving while photographing the subject, or the subject moving when their picture is being taken while using a slow shutter speed. The motion blur effect often appears as a streak or smearing of the subject which creates that sense of motion in the image — hence the name, motion blur.
Ghosting can seem similar to motion blur because both image distortions seem to create a “duplicate” effect on the subject matter at times.
The way I like to think of it is that motion blur is caused by movement, while ghosting is caused by reflections or optical distortions.
You can remember this by associating “motion” with movement and “blur” with a blurred image that results from the movement. For ghosting, you can remember that “ghosts” are often associated with something that is semi-transparent or a duplicate, which is similar to how ghosting appears in a photograph.
Tips to Avoid Ghosting in Photography
Now that we’ve discussed the definition of ghosting, what it looks like, and what it is not, let’s dive into some technical tips to avoid ghosting in your photo sessions.
1. Use Anti-Reflective Coatings
The first tip to avoid ghosting in photography is to use a lens with anti-reflective coating. The way anti-reflective (AR) coatings works is by minimizing the amount of light that is reflected off the surface of your lens. Usually, when light passes through a lens, some of it gets reflected back to the surface of the lens causing glare and reflections.
The coating applies a thin layer of material, usually magnesium fluoride, to the surface of the lens. The material usually has a refractive index that is different from the main lens material causing some of the reflected light to cancel out the rest of the reflected light. Due to this, the amount of light that is reflected back is reduced.
2. Choose a Lens with Fewer Elements
The second way to avoid ghosting in your photos is to choose a lens with fewer lens elements. Lenses are made up of multiple pieces of glass or plastic, and these layers are called lens elements. Each lens element has a unique shape and size and each is there to perform a specific task in terms of focusing and directing the light.
Well sometimes, the more elements you have, then the more complexity it introduces in terms of internal reflections and glare. Therefore lenses with fewer lens elements may help in avoid ghosting such as prime lenses which often have fewer lens elements.
3. Use a Lens with Internal Focusing
The third way to avoid ghosting in your photos is to choose a lens with internal focusing. Internal focusing is a lens design feature that allows the lens to change focus without physically moving the front element of the lens. Unlike external focusing, the lens barrel remains fixed in place which is useful in certain situations such as when using a polarizing filter or when shooting close-up macro images.
The reason internal focusing may help prevent ghosting is that there is no extension and retraction of the lens during focusing, which will help prevent additional reflections and glare.
4. Avoid Shooting with Dirty Lens
The fourth way to avoid ghosting in photography is to not shoot with a dirty lens. If you have dust, smudges, or fingerprints on the surface of your lens then it could create additional unwanted reflections and reduce contrast, which could contribute to ghosting in your images.
In order to keep your lenses clean, be sure to take a microfiber cloth and lens cleaning solution to them every once in a while. I like to do it at least once or month or especially after a session near the beach, sand, or rain.
5. Use a Lens with a Wider Aperture
The fifth way to avoid ghosting is to use a lens with a wide aperture such as f/1.4 or f/1.8 to allow more light to enter the lens. Using a wider aperture may help reduce ghosting by minimizing the internal reflections as mentioned earlier.
Post-Processing Techniques to Avoid Ghosting
So let’s say you have an image that you really love but you have a ghosting artifact in it that you wish wasn’t there. Well, what are your options? The only way to remove it will be through post-production at this point. Let’s take a look at some of the techniques you could use:
Clone Stamp Tool
The first technique you could use is the clone stamp tool. This tool is in most photo editing software and allows you to copy pixels from one part of the image and paste them over the ghosted part in your image to make it look like it was never there!
Content-aware fill is another tool you can use to remove the ghosted part in your image. This feature allows you to automatically fill in the missing or damaged area of the image with surrounding pixels.
Using layer masks is another way to remove ghosted parts in your image. Layer masks allow you to selectively adjust the areas of the image affected by ghosting.
In conclusion, ghosting is a common problem in photography that can be caused by various factors such as lens flare, reflections, or camera shake. Understanding the causes of ghosting and how to avoid it is essential for producing high-quality images.
By using lens hoods, polarizing filters, and anti-reflective coatings, as well as proper camera and shooting techniques, you can significantly reduce or eliminate ghosting. Additionally, post-processing techniques such as clone stamp, content-aware fill, layer masks, and HDR imaging can be used to remove ghosting in images that have already been captured.
Good luck and happy shooting!
Frequently Asked Questions
What lens prevents ghosting in photography?
Lenses with advanced anti-reflective coatings, such as those found in modern high-end lenses, can significantly reduce the occurrence of ghosting and flare, resulting in images with improved clarity and contrast.
What time of day will ghosting be most prominent?
Ghosting is most likely to occur when photographing during the daytime, especially when shooting towards the sun or other bright light sources. Shooting during the golden hour, which occurs around sunrise or sunset, can help to reduce the occurrence of ghosting as the light is softer and less intense.
Nate Torres is a portrait photographer based in Southern California. Outside of photography, Nate specializes in SEO, content marketing, and entrepreneurship. He is also the founder of Imaginated.com, a platform for creator education.