Have you ever seen ghosts while photographing abandoned buildings?

“Have you ever seen ghosts while photographing abandoned buildings at night?” It’s one of the most common questions I am asked. I have been places that are allegedly haunted after all. 

The creepiest place I have ever photographed

Moundsville Penitentiary.
The eerily creepy Moundsville Penitentiary at night, fluttering bats and all.

The creepiest place I have ever photographed is Moundsville Penitentiary in West Virginia. Why? It’s a large stone Gothic behemoth of a penitentiary. This imposing place was a last stop for murderers, rapists and thieves. Almost 1,000 men lost their lives here. Between 1876 and 1995, these prisoners were hung, electrocuted, bludgeoned or have committed suicide. Some met grisly deaths in the outside weightlifting area.

A most unsettling room

I began photographing in the Sugar Shack.

Sugar Shack Moundsville Penitentiary
The infamous Sugar Shack in Moundsville Penitentiary, home to numerous unspeakable tragedies. Many say that it is haunted.

This room was basically a free-for-all, a place where the guards looked the other way, a place where gambling, fighting, rape and murder took place. As you might imagine, there was indescribable mayhem, violence and injuries in this room. Chuck Ghent, our guide during our day tour, said, “Things happened in this room that made people call it the ‘Sugar Shack’ …  something you may not want to think too much about, heh heh.”

Paranormal investigators have reported hearing whispers, arguments, unexplained noises and cold spots in Sugar Shack. Ghent has said, “I’ve had footsteps walking behind me, and I’ve had doors close behind me.” Ghent worked as a correctional officer in the facility from 1986–1995. “In here, there wasn’t a day when you didn’t wonder if today might be your last day.”

“It just went dark in here!”

Worse, my head lamp died while I was setting up. I finished off a long exposure photo. I felt extremely uneasy there. And given that I regularly explore abandoned places at night, I’m typically not the uneasy sort. I left after that one photo. None of my other friends ever went there.

Was this due to malevolent spirits, ghosts of ones bludgeoned? Or was it because it was dark and creepy? Or because I already knew the history? 

I don’t know. But I wanted to leave.

Moundsville Penitentiary at night.
Moundsville Penitentiary at night.

A haunted abandoned water park

Abandoned water park at night
A creepy abandoned water park at night.

The caretaker of the abandoned water park had been giving me a tour. “The gift shop is haunted. There is a painting of a woman on the wall inside. People keep tagging it. But the paint never stays on.”

I asked how long this had been happening. “I’m not sure. It’s been happening for a while, though. Don’t worry, they won’t bother you,” he assured me. 

Later that night while photographing, I came across the gift shop. 

Haunted gift shop abandoned water park.
The haunted gift shop in the abandoned water park. Shortly after this, I felt a sudden cold wind.

I ventured in, saw the painting of the woman, and smiled. I shined some blue light on her to give an eerie, bold and cartoonish quality. This sort of light painting would never stay on her. True to the caretaker’s word, the spirits never bothered me.

Shortly after that, an eerie cold wind blew in from nowhere. The air had been still and hot, but the sudden wind was gusty and cooler. Then just as suddenly, it stopped. Whether this was an atmospheric anomaly or the last vestiges of a seance, who can say?

Bunny inside abandoned truck Halloween night
An eerie scene inside an abandoned truck.

The haunted ghost town from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” film

Grafton ghost town at night.
Grafton ghost town, Utah. Allegedly haunted, this is also the site of several movies.

I photographed the Grafton ghost town in Utah. It was first settled in 1859. Later, it was the site of several movies, including the bicycle scene in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

And of course, it’s rumored to be haunted.

While photographing there, a car pulled up, and some young people got out and began exploring the area for ghosts. They said that they would record on their iPhones, mentioning that sometimes, voices that they didn’t hear initially would show up there.

I am sad to report that I never got any creepiness, weird activities or sounds there. But the people were quite friendly.

Creating my own ghost

A ghost on a swing set.
A light drawing and light painting of a ghost floating over a swing.

Since I have had a dearth of encounters with ghosts, I thought I would create my own ghost. I created a light drawing of a ghost floating over a swing. If you want to learn how I created this, check out this article!


A ghost with a bicycle, a surreal image, Goldwell Open Air Museum near Rhyolite, Nevada.
A ghost with a bicycle, a surreal image, Goldwell Open Air Museum near Rhyolite, Nevada.

So far, I have had no verifiable, definite encounters with ghosts. I’ve outlined some of my experiences, discussing them here, other articles, and on The Nightaxians YouTube podcast episodes. These may have been the result of paranormal activity. However, they could just as well be attributed to active imagination, weather anomalies, or something else.

However, I have had a number of frightening encounters. I’ve had bats suddenly whizzing past so close that I could feel the “whoosh” of their wings flapping. I’ve had scary encounters with angry burros, frightened birds and curious deer sneaking up on me. And of course, the usual scurrying rodents and other critters.

But for now, I’ve not seen something strange in my neighborhood. I’ve not seen something weird that don’t look good. And I ain’t seen no ghost.

We discuss our creepiest places to photograph here on our YouTube podcast.


Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are available there and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Booktopia, Books A Million, IBS, and Aladin. If you enjoy the book, please leave a nice review, thanks!


Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like)

Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020


How We Got the Shots: Five Photographers, Five Stories – Night Photo Summit 2022


Ken Lee’s Abandoned Trains Planes and Automobiles with Tim Little of Cape Nights Photography
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

A Photographer Captures Haunting Nighttime Images of Abandoned Buildings, Planes, and Cars in the American Southwest – Business Insider by Erin McDowell
A Photographer Explores Southern California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols



Ghost Towns of Nevada: Goldfield Motel

3154-2014-07-10-2314-97sf8iso400-goldfieldhotelwhiter-kenlee_goldfieldnevada-960pxPlease click on the photo to view it larger and more clearly!  Thanks!

The Goldfield Hotel is by far the largest, most dominant building in Goldfield, and at one point was considered one of the finest hotels west of the Mississippi. Built in 1907 at the height of the gold rush, the hotel is now thought by many to be haunted, and has been featured in TV shows. The hotel is currently not open for looking around, but plans are underway for reconstruction. I light painted this, although some of the lighting is from the nearby streetlights. Light painting photos of this nature are often best done near a full moon, and although occasionally plagued with dark cloudy skies, I kept shooting, clear skies or no.
Title: Goldfield Motel (3154)
Photo: Ken Lee Photography
Info: Nikon D610, AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens at 14mm, 97 seconds, f/8, ISO 400. 2014-07-10 23:14. I used an LED flashlight and SB-600 with gels to light paint. All colored light work was done during the exposure, and is not a Photoshop creation.
Location: Goldfield, NV, USA
Fotografía nocturna con la pintura de luz en el desierto de Nevada, EE.UU. en el pueblo fantasma de Goldfield. Se trata de una instalación artística en el medio de la nada. Asimismo, el artista no era dueño de la tierra. 😀
Título: Goldfield Motel (3154)
Foto: Ken Lee Photography
Info:. Nikon D610, AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED a 14mm, 97 segundos, f / 8, ISO 400 07/10/2014 23:14. He utilizado un flash LED y el SB-600 con geles a la pintura de luz. Todo el trabajo ligero de color se hizo durante la exposición, y no es una creación de Photoshop.
Ubicación: Goldfield, NV, EE.UU.
#night   #nikon  #kenlee  #goldfield  #lightpainting  #nightskyphotography  #desert  #nevada  #ghosttown  #miningtown  #haunted  #goldfieldhotel

Equipment:  Nikon D610, Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens, Feisol tripod.

You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like), on 500px, or my Ken Lee Google+ Page. We discuss long exposure, night sky, star trails, and coastal long exposure photography, as well as lots of other things, so I hope you can join us!

And you can go to the Ken Lee Photography website, which has more photos from Ken Lee.  Thank you very much for visiting!


Featured Photo – Haunted Bathtub: Light Painting in the Desert

What Is Light Painting?  It’s a photographic technique in which photos are made by moving a hand-held light source around (or by moving the camera) to create an exposure. Today, I’m illustrating a technique in which I am using colored filters to create different colors through light.

Haunted outdoor bathtub underneath the desert stars, all illuminated by shining a light source on the structure and bathtub.

Here, the shutter of my camera remained open for a little over four minutes while I “light painted” the outdoor “bathtub spa” with my trusty mag light, discovering that a metal mag light can become very cold when it is several degrees above freezing at night.  Brrrrrrrr!

Have a look at the bathtub. It has an eerie blue glow!  I placed my mag light inside the tub, covering it with a blue filter.  Fun!

My “light paintbrush” was my trusty mag light, which incidentally gets really cold when it’s 35 degrees Fahrenheit unless you have gloves. I placed my mag light inside the bathtub for about 30-35 seconds with a couple of blue filters laid over the flashlight to give the bathtub its eerie blue glow!!!  The ceiling was “painted” with a green filter, but it doesn’t seem to really show up very much at all.

The streaks of light, or star trails, seen in the sky are the stars moving.  Since the lens was open for over four minutes, they show the movement of the earth.  Longer exposures can show even more circular movements of the stars in the photograph.

250.1 second exposure, F/3.5, 18-200mm VR AF lens, ISO 200.

To see another example of light painting, check out a previous blog of mine, “Midnight In Pioneertown:  Painting With Light“.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens