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Hey, my holiday snaps are back! Let's see... sand, beach, sunset, sand, palm trees, sand, more palm trees
, sandy palm trees...
Hold on, what's the funny blur on that photo? A double exposure? A moth? A smudge? Or could it be something more? Could it be a ghost lurking just outside normal human perception, or an ominous warning of disaster to come?
Spooky photographs come in three main types:
- 1. Spectral Snaps: Overlapping with See-Thru Specs, Spectral Snaps reveal objects normally invisible to humans - ghosts and UFOs are common ones. Detail ranges from blurry blurred blur to crystal clear figure.
- 2. Foreboding Photos: The picture somehow reveals the future. Whether it blurs out the faces of those not long for this world, or depicts a brand new car as a smash-out wreck, the photographs contain depictions of future events - and they are never good.
- 3. Negative Negatives: One step beyond Foreboding, these photos actively curse the victim, causing unfortunate, often ironic, events to befall the subject.
Also see Spooky Painting
Anime and Manga
- Played with in Lucky Star: when Soujirou reminisces with his daughter Konata about his dead wife Kanata, Kanata's ghost drops by to see how her family is doing. After a heartwarming (and heartwarmingly funny) sequence, Soujirou insists on testing his new digital camera by taking a picture with his daughter, and Kanata joins in. The resultant photograph has a "spooky shadow", and Soujirou and Konata panic over whether to delete the photograph, or print it out and burn it, much to poor Kanata's distress.
- Mahou Sensei Negima! played with this one. Sayo shows up in both a photograph and Nodoka's mind reading book, unintentionally looking really scary, even though she just wants to talk to someone. So the class exorcists show up and try to get rid of her. Sayo is saved when Asakura accidentally takes a picture of her in which she isn't scary looking.
- In Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok, Loki has a Shikigami (Paper-spirit) familiar named Ecchan (who also happens to be a Ridiculously Cute Critter) which is Invisible to Normals. Sadly, Mayura the Occult Freak is considered 'normal' in this sense - but in at least one episode, it's shown that a 'group photo' of Loki and Co. shows Ecchan as well (crystal-clear, even) causing it to be one of Mayura's most treasured possessions.
- In Azumanga Daioh, the girls are weirded out when they spot what appears to be a ghost in one of their summer vacation photos. They're further weirded out when Osaka remarks that it looks kinda like someone she used to know back in Osaka.
- In MoonPhase, this is the result of every photo Kouhei takes.
- Soredemo Machi Wa Mawatteiru has an unusual explanation for this trope.
- In one chapter of Keroro Gunsou, Fuyuki finds himself appraising some "ghost photographs" taken by the Keronians. Keroro's is the result of an optical illusion, Tamama's is the result of a failed Tamama Impact, and Giroro's is the result of a childhood prank. Then the Cute Ghost Girl who lives in Keroro's room shows a photograph she took of herself with a mysterious figure standing behind her, and Fuyuki manages to explain the "mystery figure" as another optical illusion, completely ignorning the fact he has a photograph of a real ghost on his hands.
- One of the Tomie stories has a member of the photography club take photos of Tomie, but all of them come out showing her as a hideously deformed monster. Thereafter, Tomie tries to avoid having her picture taken, but the same thing happens whenever someone manages to get a snapshot.
- In The Seashore, also by Junji Ito, holiday snapshots show the ghosts of children who had drowned in the sea.
- Canada's Just For Laughs group has turned this into a Crowning Gag Of Awesome - unsuspecting customers in a minimart are 'unwittingly' given a look at one of the CCTVs, which through a simple split-screen gimmick, makes it look like there's a Grim Reaper standing in the shot - or is it?.
- Parodied in the Were Phoenix skit of the fourth Touhou M-1 Grand Prix fanvid, where Keine teaches Mokou how to act in a funeral parlor. Mokou suddenly decides to take a picture of the recently deceased, but when she looks at the photo she took, she sees a picture of the original Cute Ghost Girl of the Touhou series, Mima!
- The Others, when Grace finds the death portraits of the servants.
- This is where the eerie premonitions come from in Final Destination 3.
- In the film Shutter, a professional photographer's photos show him and his friends being stalked by otherwise invisible ghosts.
- In The Sixth Sense, every picture of Cole has an orb of light in it.
- In Les Diaboliques, the school headmaster's face appears in a window in a class photo taken after his wife and mistress have supposedly drowned him in a bathtub. Of course, this is all just part of a plot by the headmaster and mistress to literally scare the wife to death.
- MST 3 K-featured film Tormented does this. Except only one guy can see the ghost in the photo, and he's the only guy who can see the ghost outside of the photo, so it's quite pointless.
- In Beetlejuice, Lydia takes photos of Adam and Barbara wearing bedsheets, thinking they're her parents - she identifies them as ghosts when they're not visible under the sheets.
- The Whisperer in Darkness. The protagonist is unimpressed when a man turns up with a photograph of a creature his father supposedly shot, yet there's nothing to be seen because they're allegedly made up of 'a different kind of matter'. Until one of the scientists uses a parallax viewer, revealing the creepy sight of a Starfish Alien Mi-Go.
- Insidious and its sequel have a lot of these as a plot point, mostly of young Josh being threatened by the Old Woman. The first film also has Tucker being startled by a pair of ghosts as he inspects the home with See-Thru Specs.
- The M. R. James story "The Mezzotint": every time the protagonist looks at the title photograph it has changed, indistinctly depicting the progression of something horrible which, it turns out, happened in the past.
- In the Discworld book The Truth, Otto Chriek's "dark light" iconograph combines Spectral Snaps with a bit of Foreboding Photos. A picture of William de Worde shows him with a spectral version of his father looking over his shoulder, while a photo of career killer Mr. Pin shows him with a large cloud of sinister, shadowy figures behind him. The latter picture also predicts a fire that breaks out near the end of the book.
- In Stephen King's IT, several photographs physically move when they're looked at, and one of them actually cuts a character's hand.
- King's novella The Sun Dog features a very... special camera. Pictures taken with it don't show what it was pointed at, but have a large black dog in the background that gradually comes into focus, getting closer and closer, and looking more and more menacing. Despite this, a character keeps taking pictures with the camera (it's established that doing so is not entirely voluntary). Three guesses what ends up happening.
- Tanith Lee's story "Yellow and Red": the protagonist spills alcohol on photographs of his recently-deceased tomb-raiding uncle and his family (all of whom were plagued by ill-health) to reveal a malignant shape - yellow, with red dots for eyes - that seems to have stalked them. He becomes phobic about having his own photo taken, but someone does, and he cannot resist pouring whisky onto it...
- Not really photographs per-se, but Shallan's renderings of the symbol-head things in The Stormlight Archive certainly qualifies.
- In one episode of Supernatural, the ghosts in a film studio can only be seen through a camera phone.
- Kamen Rider Decade has a variation on this: Protagonist Tsukasa's photographs are always blurry and overexposed which he explains by saying he's not from that world. When he takes pictures of people from the other Kamen Rider universes, they have ghost images that show the true nature of things; for example, a picture of a girl and her grandmother shows the girl's brothernote watching over her.
- After being brought Back from the Dead, Buffy looks at a photo montage of the Scoobies on her bedroom wall and sees their faces as skulls. These and other hallucinations indicate that something else came back with her...
- In "The Calusari" of the The X-Files, a photograph taken just moments before the death of a two year old boy, thought to be an accident, yields evidence of paranormal intervention. It was an evil spirit of the boy's dead brother who lead him on the spot.
- The 2008 Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida featured their own take on Bloody Mary, in this case a phobia therapist who attempted to cure her patients of their fears by exposing them to the extremes of their fears (usually accidentally driving them insane). The website featured a long backstory and buildup to the event, showing her various cases. Her first patient to die was a photographer who saw frightening images in his photographs; she locked him in a glass coffin with a limited oxygen supply and flashbulbs going off all around him, giving him the choice of leaving the coffin to face his fear or suffocating. He chose the latter. As each case was tied into a haunted maze, the photographer's case became Dead Exposure, which was supposed to be traveling through a zombie apocalypse through photographs. The house was completely black and key props, scenery, and costumes were painted with blacklight-sensitive paint and blacklight strobes flashed simultaneously with the sound effect of a camera snapping, giving the impression of being caught in a series of photographic negatives.
- The gameplay for Fatal Frame is all about using a camera to detect and banish ghosts.
- In Metal Gear Solid, ghosts will appear in your photographs if you take pictures in certain areas. Metal Gear Solid 2 has a hidden ghost image as well.
- Metal Gear Solid 3 has several ghost cutscenes.
- At the end of the fourth case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Lotta does a group photo of everybody. She later says that she caught a ghost in the photograph, which makes her want to go back to paranormal photography. When we later see the photo, it shows Mia Fey standing beside the rest of the group.
- Pokémon Snap actually has this as a game mechanic. In at least one level, taking photos of a strange blur will have them develop as a Ghost Pokemon. And then in a later level there's a strange set of shiny things...It's one of the Pokemon Signs — a constellation of Mewtwo!
- In the ghost-hunting video game The Lost Crown, finding haunted locations and taking photographs can often reveal clues that can't be seen with ordinary vision.
- Anyone who has seen video in The Ring and will die in seven days will have their faces blurred when their picture is taken.
- Done also in the first Ringu movie with the people who have watched the video and the Japanese movie Skyhigh.
- In Ju On: The Grudge, Izumi and her friends appear in photographs which have their eyes covered by mysterious black smears.
- In The Omen, every single photo Jennings takes has some clue on how the pictured person is going to die... by Satan's influence.
- The Man With The Yellow Face.
- There was an old Twilight Zone about an instant camera which took pictures five minutes into the future.
- The X-Files:
- Episode "Tithonus" featured a photographer who could detect people who were about to die, and used it in an attempt to photograph Death.
- In "Unruhe", Gerry Schnauz takes photographs of the future victims. The pictures capture their and his mind; there are pictures of them being dragged away by screaming demons. The photos are a proof that the victims suffer and need his help: a lobotomy. As it's the maniac's subconscious that was in fact distorting the photographs, some little clues about his identity were left in every single one of them.
- Kamen Rider Double has something between Spectral Snaps and Foreboding Photos - a photo of the Sonozaki family reveals all of them in their Dopant forms, including two that haven't debuted at the time.
- In Amityville 3-D one of the main characters takes some pictures seemingly predicting the death of the evil house's real estate agent. Later, after finding a demonic face in one of the photos, she rushes to tell her friend about it, only to crash her car. Right after the crash the pictures randomly burst into flames, burning the girl down to a skeleton before causing her car to blow up.
- Ghostbusters 2 had the negatives of Vigo's Spooky Painting catch on fire by themselves in an attempt to burn down the Firehouse.
- The Dying Photo is... bad.
- The Goosebumps books "Say Cheese and Die!" and "Say Cheese and Die - Again!" both have an evil camera that curses people and prints photos predicting their fate. And in 2009, there was Say Cheese - And Die Screaming!
- The Stephen King story The Sun Dog involved a cursed or otherwise enchanted Polaroid Camera (the 1980s Sun model) which would produce pictures of the same ravenous, malevolent dog. As the camera was used, the dog progessively approached the "viewer" as if attempting to escape from the photograph itself. Eventually, it does, but is immediately re-captured when the protagonist takes its photo.
- Are You Afraid of the Dark?, "The Tale of the Curious Camera": Inspired By The Twilight Zone example, a gremlin haunts a camera and destroys everything it shoots, depicting just how in the photographs. The Hero tries to get rid of the camera, only to discover it's also a Clingy MacGuffin. The Hero manages to destroy the camera, but the gremlin just transfers itself to a videocamera, which destroys everything it points at. When that gets destroyed, the ending shows that the gremlin jumped into a computer.
- One episode of the Canadian horror anthology radio drama Nightfall featured a cursed camera. In this case, anyone who had their picture taken would die under mysterious circumstances within twenty-four hours. And when the photos were developed...the victims looked like they were already dead.
- People from societies where knowledge of photography was not widespread often believed that photographs of themselves could be used by enemies to curse them.
- Even people from technologically developed cultures who believe in curses often think that a photograph can be used in a manner similar to a Voodoo Doll.
- Though not exactly featuring ghosts most photographs by Diane Arbus are pretty scary.