Want to explore abandoned houses and lonely graves? Discover creepy places with tips from these six artists as they share their secrets for finding and photographing locations that haunt the senses.

Photography and superstition share a long history, dating all the way back to the “spirit photography” craze of the 19th century. While the “ghosts” that appeared in early camera experiments were in fact merely the results of long exposures, these eerie images were quite popular throughout the second half of the 1800s; many of them were widely published or sold as stereocards. And more than a century later, we still enjoy a good spooky photo.

In honor of the Halloween season, we put together this collection of spine-chilling photographs. We asked six Shutterstock contributors to tell us about the creepiest places they’ve visited, and they shared stories from around the world. While none of them spotted any “ghosts,” their images certainly raised the hair on the backs of our necks. Read on if you dare.

1. “You have to wait for nature to give you the perfect conditions.”

andreiuc88

6 Photographers on Shooting Their Favorite Creepy Places — Wait for Nature

Image by andreiuc88. Gear: Nikon D7200 camera, Sigma 10-20mm lens. Settings: Focal length 18mm; exposure 1/80 sec; f5.6; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I have been exploring a specific forest and photographing it for the past ten years. I live in the northwestern part of Transylvania, Romania, so there were always mysterious legends and myths about forests. That helps me set the mood in my mind.

On early autumn mornings, I go out and look at the mountain where this forest is. On this particular morning, it was colder than usual, and the rain was pouring. The whole mountain was shrouded in fog, and I knew it was a great day for mysterious forest photos. I always go out photographing with my brother, so we got our equipment and drove to the forest together.

As we entered the dark woods, I felt like I was in a surreal world with a haunting silence, full of mystery and wonder. After walking and taking photos for some time, we got to a place that has these old, ancient trees with twisted branches. This added to the spooky atmosphere and created a scary scene. I told my brother to walk between the trees, and I took this photo.

The light coming from the front transformed the trees into silhouettes, and the light was pretty dim, so it almost looks like a night photo. I love the surreal, dark mood and the overall atmosphere.

Pictured: [1] andreiuc88 [2] andreiuc88

Pro Tip

The key to taking this kind of photo is patience. You need perfect weather conditions (fog, light, etc.), and there is no way to create it yourself. You have to wait for nature to give you the perfect conditions. Once you have that, you have to be prepared with all your equipment. Be ready to spend a lot of time walking and searching for your shot.

I have spent a lot of days out photographing in the woods, and I’ve learned that you can’t always get the shot you want. You might have to be patient and come back another day when the conditions are just right. Bad weather for the photographer makes for great photographs, so choosing the right clothing to keep you warm and dry is essential.

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2. “Stick to the edges of the rooms where the support is strongest…”

Jacob Boomsma

6 Photographers on Shooting Their Favorite Creepy Places — Stick to the Edges of the Room

Image by Jacob Boomsma. Gear: Canon 70D camera, Tamron 18-275 lens. Settings: F3.5; ISO 800; 50 sec HDR three bracket exposure.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I’ve explored at least 150 abandoned houses in my time. Being from South Dakota, these places are becoming more common each year as farmland is consolidated. The one place that really stands out in my mind is an old house for a hired hand for a ranch a mile or two down the road.

It’s obvious that the people who lived there left in a rush, as they had left almost everything behind. The cupboards and fridge were full of food. The kids’ rooms were full of trophies and clothes. Wedding photos were still on the wall. This place was in rough shape on the outside but in relatively good shape inside, except for one room with water damage. The most shocking find in the whole place was a toy chest out in the barn full of dolls that had seen much better days.

6 Photographers on Shooting Their Favorite Creepy Places — Err on the Side of Caution

Image by Jacob Boomsma.

Pro Tip

It’s pretty easy to stumble across these abandoned farmhouses on the backroads of any midwest farming state, but there are some things to look for. Farmers tend to be clean and proud people, so signs of neglect are good indicators. Peeling paint, overgrown driveways, livestock, or old cars in the front yard tend to lean towards abandoned, while broken windows, missing doors, etc. are dead giveaways.

It’s better to be safe than sorry and err on the side of caution. Country folk don’t like trespassers. It’s also important to be safe when entering and exploring old buildings. Stick to the edges of the rooms where the support is strongest, and avoid going upstairs if there are obvious structural problems with the ceiling, as you could fall through and possibly wind up all the way in the basement.

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3. “…it’s all about finding those links between what you are shooting and the things that engage you personally.”

Yurii Zymovin

6 Photographers on Shooting Their Favorite Creepy Places — Shoot What Engages You

Image by Yurii Zymovin. Gear: Nikon D3000 camera, AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.8G lens. Settings: Exposure 1/40 sec; f1.8; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I took this photo in an ossuary in the Czech Republic, a place that offers an incredibly mysterious and dreadful atmosphere. It was discovered relatively recently, and all these skulls and bones were lying there for centuries. The general setting reminds me of catacombs, especially the dense air and extremely low light.

From the very first moment you enter this place, you unintentionally start thinking about the finite nature of human existence on Earth. I thought about all these people whose remains had once been buried deep under the soil and who had no idea about all these 21st-century visitors who would later look at them.

Pictured: [1] Yurii Zymovin [2] Yurii Zymovin [3] Yurii Zymovin

Pro Tip

The best way to create that creepy or mysterious atmosphere in your images is to somehow connect your subject to your own interests, ideas, and feelings, even if they seem unrelated to photography. For example, literature was a notable source of inspiration for me in this case, especially Gothic and Mystery fiction. And frankly, it’s pretty cool to edit mysterious photos while listening to Alice Cooper or Opeth. Again, it’s all about finding those links between what you are shooting and the things that engage you personally.

4. “You need to have a flashlight and a partner, and you have to move very slowly, carefully examining where you are going the whole way through.”

DedMityay

6 Photographers on Shooting Their Favorite Creepy Places — Move Slowly

Image by DedMityay. Gear: Canon EOS 6D camera, Canon 24-70 F4 lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 8 sec; f10; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I took this photo at an abandoned brick factory in the vicinity of Voronezh, Russia. I came here with a tripod so I could get high-quality photos with a low ISO. The atmosphere of abandoned houses, estates, factories, and plants is fascinating and delightful. In such places, a post-apocalyptic spirit and a sense of unreality reign supreme.

6 Photographers on Shooting Their Favorite Creepy Places — Take a Partner

Image by DedMityay.

Pro Tip

Spooky and haunted places are everywhere, and they can be found via the internet, through people you know, or even by accident. The main thing to remember is your own safety. Most of these buildings are in bad condition and therefore very dangerous. You need to have a flashlight and a partner, and you have to move very slowly, carefully examining where you are going the whole way through.

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5. “Usually, I take these kinds of photos in daylight because it is easier to post-process later to get that dark and spooky atmosphere.”

Mimadeo

6 Photographers on Shooting Their Favorite Creepy Places — Make the Most of Post Processing

Image by Mimadeo. Gear: Sony A6000 camera, Sony E10-18 f4 lens. Settings: Focal length 10mm; exposure 1/20 sec; f8; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Some of my favorite places to find spooky compositions are the forests of the Gorbea Natural Park in Basque Country (Spain). This natural park its very close to my house. Among all the different kinds of trees there, I especially love the “trasmocha beech.” This autochthonous tree has a scary shape because it has been modified by humans to grow wide instead of high. In this photo, you can see several examples of this tree.

Pictured: [1] Mimadeo [2] Mimadeo

Pro Tip

Usually, I take these kinds of photos in daylight because it is easier to post-process later to get that dark and spooky atmosphere. When I do this kind of work with my computer, I need to get in the proper mood. So after midnight, I’ll turn the lights off, and I’ll put on dark, ambient music by groups like Ulver and Agalloch, pour a good glass of wine, and start to process.

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6. “I find many places by driving around back roads or by doing research on the internet.”

John Arehart

6 Photographers on Shooting Their Favorite Creepy Places — Hit the Backroads

Image by John Arehart. Gear: Canon G7X Mark II camera. Settings: Exposure 1/30 sec; f1.8; ISO 125.

What’s the story behind this photo?

One of my favorite spooky locations was an old farmhouse in Skillman, NJ. The house was abandoned and dilapidated and right out of a horror movie. It was quite far from the main road and probably built in the 1800s. The door was open, and to get inside, I had to walk by a few creepy old dolls that were clearly possessed by the devil.

This house was particularly memorable not only because of the creepy dolls but also because I fell through the floor on the second floor and landed next to a deer skeleton. Even though I fell about ten feet, I only had minor cuts and scratches, and my camera was fine.

6 Photographers on Shooting Their Favorite Creepy Places — Research Locations Online

Image by John Arehart.

Pro Tip

I do not condone trespassing, but there are many abandoned “modern ruins” that are easily accessible if you look for them. I find many places by driving around back roads or by doing research on the internet. It’s smart to explore with a friend, if possible, or at least let someone know where you are in case of an emergency. Some things that I always have in my car are bug spray, a flashlight, and water.

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Top image by DedMityay.