Digital Photography

Photographs of the paranormal have been a topic of discussion from the days when the first photographs were taken and published.  Photography has been known to capture images on media not seen by the naked eye when the picture was taken.  Some in paranormal field has the belief that spheres of light on pictures, known as “orbs” are proof of such anomalies.   WCGAPS finds that most of these anomalies, are common photographic errors from particles, such as dust, reflecting light from the flash and the circular shape is because they are out of focus.  The particles are usually within inches of the lens while the camera is focusing on things further away.  When using photography in paranormal investigations, it becomes an invaluable asset in documenting the surroundings and environment of each location. 

HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE PARANORMAL

The actual practice of attempting to capture ghosts on file dates back to around 1861.  Not surprisingly, this type of photography has been controversial and subject of much debate ever since.

In the early days photographs were riddled with fraud.  Today, it is one of the methods used scientifically to document and examine paranormal claims by investigators.  With digital photography, we can examine the file information from each picture, which records camera data and information on the original file. 

One of the most controversial of all cases was a photographer called William Mumler, who was able to take many still photographs and in each there would appear the blurry image of a deceased family member or friend in the 1860’s in Jersey.  Many skeptics appeared to prove he was a fraud, including William Black a leading Boston photographer, Dr. Child a well known physician from Philadelphia and New York Supreme Court Judge John Edmonds.  After spending much time reviewing Mumler’s methods they were not able to prove otherwise.

Spirit photography sprang up overnight and was used as a means of gaining fortune and fame for many people.  In 1911 it had entered mainstream with the publication of the book “Photographing The Invisible” by James Coates.  It covered dozens of cases of spirit activity in detail and was later revised and expanded in 1921.  It remained one of the most comprehensive books on the subject during this period.

USING PHOTOGRAPHY DURING AN INVESTIGATION

There are some key points to remember when taking pictures; many “anomalies” can be duplicated and it is important to be aware of your surroundings when you begin.

Always take a control shot (By taking two photos, you have one for comparison)

Don’t snap pictures facing the sun or even at a right angle to the sun as the light can flare off the lens causing a false light.

A bright or full moon can distort certain lights and look “cloudy” on the picture.

Avoid taking pictures of items that may ‘reflect” such as city lights, headlights, streetlights, reflecting street signs, joggers, dust, moisture, rain, fog, pollen, floating milkweed “puffs” smoke, and insects.

Be careful when shooting outdoors.  There are so many things that can reflect from the flash of the camera.  Anything from windows, television sets and metal items can cause a false glare.

The biggest thing that investigators may forget is to keep the camera strap, fingers and rings away from the lens.  Camera straps appear as a long white streak across the frame and can be mistaken as something paranormal.

If you have a Polaroid or digital camera, check the pictures or preview screen before snapping a bunch of pictures, that way you save time (and money).  Take your time with the flashes, “over flashing” can cause a false picture also.

Be very aware of your surroundings.  If there seems to be a lot of “orbs” on the screen, that may be caused by dust.  Arizona is well known for our dust storms, even turning on the air, fan or moving an object can kick up the area.

Try to wait around 10 to 30 minutes upon arrival to take pictures as it is good to assess the area to find a good place to start.  Always have a plan of action, have a controlled direction, and eliminate as much contamination as you can before you begin.  Random pictures will strain your memory when reviewing them!

Always check your camera settings before you start and understand what each setting does.  If you have the setting on a digital camera set to the default, then at night it will usually switch to a night mode which allows for long term exposure.  Example:  Let’s say you were shooting a picture of a street and down the street was a light pole.  When your holding the camera and press the button to snap the photo, you may shake the camera ever so slightly that it’s not even noticeable under normal circumstances.  With long term exposure, you may see a stream of light across the picture.  This is because the lens stayed open longer to allow more light in and everything else in the photo is in focus.  The stream of light is the camera movement from pushing the button and the source is the street light, thus creating the wave of light across part of the photo.

REVIEWING PICTURES

Reviewing any type of evidence can be tedious, including photography.  Many pictures capturing orbs can be identified as a reflection of light from particles in the air. 

When going through the photos always keep a log of what is found.  As there may be hundreds if not thousands of pictures, write down the info and move on.  You can review these in more detail later.  Include the file name, number in sequence and which part of the frame this is in.  This is so important when reviewing back as sometimes these can be harder to spot.

It is always up to the lead investigator to dismiss the pictures for the final review.  If you are not sure always present this but allow the lead to say yes or no.

Pay close attention to every single picture, you just never know what could be at the very top of the photo… or partially hidden by an object.

AND REMEMBER THAT CONTINUED RESEARCH ON THE EQUIPMENT YOU USE, HOW IT WORKS, WHEN TO USE IT, AND WHAT CAN BE ELIMINATED AS COMMON PHOTOGRAPHIC ERRORS IS A KEY TO BEING A GOOD PARANORMAL INVESTIGATOR, NOT JUST A GHOST HUNTER!