Horror photography is something we want to see, yet at the same time, wish we hadn’t. Most of us have experienced nightmares that feel real enough to leave us in a cold sweat. We watch horror films, wanting to be shocked, even if it ends with laughter.
Surreal horror photography covers all sorts of photography processes, techniques, and concepts. Hopefully, you’ll be able to sleep after seeing our examples.
What Is Horror Photography?
Horror photography is a sub-genre of fantasy photography and surreal photography. The horror photography version aims at creating scenes of tension. It makes the viewers cower away, yet at the same time, look on with shock, horror, and disgust.
There are many ways to create great horror photographs. Black and white serve well as a colour choice, as it reminds us of a former time. The Victorian era is where horror photography finds its roots. People used it to photograph the dead, for example.
The process of the images is also essential. A clean image makes the scene look more realistic and closer to our daily lives. A great way to add tension is to add a horror element to something that the viewers can understand.
A blurry, out-of-focus treatment adds mysticism, making the image otherworldly. Some photographers go all out and create images from scratch. Photographic manipulation adds a surreal nature to a realistic scene, making them look like the stuff of nightmares.
Horror Photography Examples
16. Untitled by Anonymous
This image serves well as a horror photograph. It is creepy on so many different levels. The scratchy, black and white image is reminiscent of a former time. It evokes the Victorian era, where mysticism was rampant.
The woman seems to be screaming out in a blurred pose, making it look as if she is moving around in agony. The worst part is the skulls in her stomach area. Did she eat them? Or are they unborn children.
These attributes make this one of the creepiest pictures on the internet. We hope that is it photographic manipulation.
15. Untitled by Rosie Hardy
Rosie Hardy is no stranger to conceptual images. This Manchurian candidate captures images in a fantasy-esque style. The images cross the blurred lines into surreal and horror photography.
Here, a self-portrait is surrounded by hands aiming to grab her. Are they shadows of massive arms, or are they from another world? Either way, the image causes tension for me.
The subject doesn’t mind, which builds the tension. Is it a planned act? She isn’t cowering away, suggesting she wants to be whisked away to another plane of existence.
14. Untitled by Kim Kim
This scene by Kim Kim is a horror photography image without going over the top. It’s so realistic that it adds to the tension and creepiness.
What we see in this scene is an image of a woman with her hand in her hair. Her hand is stretching her face and creating distortion. It looks very unnatural.
What does it say to us? Perhaps she isn’t human at all. Is she a monster in human clothing? Do we want to know? That little hint of unnatural makes our minds wander, searching through every visual image of every scary film we ever saw.
13. Untitled by Roberto De Mitri
Capturing a scene for horror photography isn’t easy. There is a thin line between scary pictures and an overly worked image that looks fake and comical.
We see a contrasted image of a woman wearing Victorian-era clothing, which is creepy enough. On top of that, her identity is missing, scratched away. Something is unnerving about not being able to see a person’s face.
Why is it missing? Someone doesn’t want us to know what she looks like. That way, the tension is repeated over and over again, until you realise she is standing right behind you!
12. Untitled by Kaveh Hosseini
There are many ways to create excellent horror photography. You can use the black and white colour scheme. This scheme gives it that creepy vintage and realistic edge. You can use unnatural content, either with the subject’s expressions or through hair and makeup.
The other way is to follow in the footsteps of Kaveh Hosseini and use photographic manipulation. Here, he captured the landscape he wanted and then added the other elements by using post-production editing software.
For something like this, you need a clear idea of what you want to achieve, so you can start building up the scene. In this horror photography scene, we see a ladder reaching to the sky that is dark and aggressive, and coming our way.
The headless man at the desk adds tension, as we ask the question ‘why?’. This image points us to our nightmares and how we feel when we have them.
11. Untitled by Anonymous
It is scenes like this that make us wonder how the photographer and subject managed to pull it off. What we see is a woman’s decapitated head being held up by her hair.
The texture on the foreground makes it look like blood, making the scene that little more realistic. What adds to the tension is we are not exactly sure what we are looking at. Is it a bathtub, or a mirror, reflecting the wall behind us.
If it is a mirror, the sink is possibly underneath. Due to the blood splatter, this means she managed to cut off her head and hang it. Perhaps she thought about it first and wrapped her hair before the terrible act.
10. Untitled by Anonymous
This image isn’t a horror photography scene. However, the expression of the man in the centre of the frame makes it a powerful, scary picture. His face is twisted and contorted out of pain and uncertainty.
From reading about this image, we know that this man has a mental health condition in a hospital. The physician on the right is applying electricity to his face through the metal rods, in facial muscle experimentation.
It looks setup, and it is to a point. The subject’s expression is real, and he is staring right through us, pleading for help. The tension makes it a powerfully creepy image.
9. Untitled by Heitor Magno
Double or multiple exposures are a great way to show disturbing pictures or horror photography. Through this process, we can add layers and play around with aspects of the image to make it seem strange and unrealistic.
The photographer, Heitor Magno, used double exposure to create the movement within the subject. This movement stops us from seeing the person, leaving ideas of our brain to fill in the gaps. There is no explanation, so we have to find one for our own sanity.
Here, the subject looks unnatural. The dark eyes show no pupils, and her mouth seems to be closed shut. The movement then feels like the person is transforming into a skeleton or other beast we would rather not see. The idea is enough.
8. Untitled by Anonymous
The concept of someone screaming is known to us all. They are in immediate danger. The scream is a potent device when it comes to visual arts, as it doesn’t attribute its self to pain, but rather fear.
Horror photography uses the fear of people, turning an idea into a physical entity or emotion. When someone screams, those in earshot also feel the same fear and it spreads like a yawn.
In this image, we see the scream, but we are robbed of the most crucial aspect – the sound. That makes the scene unnerving. On top of that, the area is smokey, which connects to a supernatural world.
We can’t see the reason why she is screaming, meaning we get the full-brunt of the tension she is feeling.
7. Untitled by Trevor Henderson
It isn’t apparent at first glance what makes this image creepy. The scene is a very realistic image of someone’s living room. And then we see the creature in the window. That fact that we can’t fully make out the creature adds to the tension.
Many times, I find myself double-checking a crack in the curtains to make sure there is no one there watching what we are doing. I’m not looking for people, but creatures of the unnatural world. No idea why I would want to see that. I should shut the curtains.
This idea is something installed into us from popular films and TV shows. A creature spies on us in the comfort of our own home before attacking. That way, the beast can get their food extra-scared.
6. Untitled by Federico Chiesa and Carolina Trotta
There are certain situations from our collective past that make us feel uncomfortable. For example, spiders, the idea of falling, or the sensation of tin foil in the mouth. Most of us feel the same way.
The same feeling goes to creepy ideas and concepts used in mainstream entertainment. The twins in The Shining are a good example. That horror film is synonymous for being creepy and scary on many levels.
Here, we see the twins grown up, and out of their usual setting. The Shining was set in a hotel, a plane far away from our reality. Here, however, they stand in a supermarket aisle – something we often see.
Knowing they could be there next time I go shopping is enough for me to order takeaway for a month!
5. XXII XV IX III V XIX by Eyes of Lamia
While searching for images to write this post, I came across many photos that were used to show anxiety, frustration or depression. Some scenes go on to show feelings and emotions on a physical scale.
We all know how our human feelings and emotions can take physical hold and how damaging they can be. This image by the eyes of Lamia is no different. Here, we see hands forcing their way out of a man’s mouth, tearing the skin as they do.
His emotions or mood is taking a physical hold, and the situation puts us at unease. We feel his pain, metaphorically or otherwise.
4. Untitled by Anonymous
It isn’t immediate what makes this image creepy. Is it the vintage black and white toning, the contrast, or the fact that arms are coming out of the wallpaper and hugging the girl? The idea that a creature we can’t see shows affection towards the girl is unsettling.
Almost as if the hands belong to a loved one who recently shuffled off the mortal coil. It is creepy because we can’t see the creature, our brains try to make sense of what we see. The wallpaper represents another world, a plane that isn’t natural.
All the other attributes add to the dark tone of the scene.
3. Birth of Evil Series by Laura Makabresku
Laura Makabresku is a Polish photographer. Her work borders on surreal photography with elements of realism. Her work often includes animals. The interaction between her subjects is what makes her images horroresque. They are unnatural.
In her Birth of Evil series, we see a naked woman near a spider/ant hybrid sort of creature. The title suggests that she is either fornicating with the otherworldly beast or just gave birth to it.
We get a sense of tension and horror as the woman doesn’t cower away from its presence. Something here is expected and planned. The subjects mixed with the decaying locations make for scary pictures.
2. Untitled by Gregory Crewdson
Gregory Crewdson isn’t your typical horror photographer. His scenes show couples and families in situations without a narrative. We are forced to look at his images without any prior knowledge of what is happening.
To me, this is particularly creepy as every setting is realistic, but something seems to be off. In this image, we see the open door and the naked woman standing in front of it.
Two people sitting at the table don’t acknowledge her, yet the man on the left does. Is it a nightmare? Is she expected? The lack of understanding makes us ask questions we can’t possibly answer.
1. Un Santo Oscuro, LA, 1987 by Joel Peter Witkin
This surreal horror photography image is by Joel Peter Witkin. He is a photographer that often looks at macabre subjects such as death, decapitation, and amputation.
Not only does he use real-life subjects in his work, but he also uses photographic manipulation to turn his scenes into creepy pictures.
What makes this image particularly creepy is that the subject is a real person. We are unsure where to draw the line between reality and nightmare.