Monthly Archives: November 2013

Goodbye to Fall

Hallows-Eve-For-WebAn old one from Halloween I only instagrammed but hadn’t edited up yet. Here’s my final version, with color corrections and the like. It’s Thanksgiving today. As with every year, there’s much to be thankful for. I’m not particularly happy to watch fall go again, but I’m pretty excited for Winter.

 

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Self-Portraiture and Speedlites

Karl Portrait-2Bought myself a speedlite today (Canon 430EXII, for those photo nerds wondering). A wonderful investment that I expect to get a lot of use out of. Particularly when it comes to shooting in front of sunsets and these coming winter twilights. I love the detail it brings out here. That I can shoot a moody dark scene with my 10-20mm f4-5.6 while on 100 ISO and have almost no noise to speak of makes me happy in a lot of ways. Expect to see this puppy get some work.

For those wondering, both were simple lighting setups as I played with getting my feet under me. The first was the flash attached, bouncing off the room to my left, and the second was a two light setup, with the on-camera light triggering the flash, which was used as a back/rim light.

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Photoshoot with AJ

AJ-For-web-1AJ: Oh, wait we’re shooting me?

Karl: Well, yeah, that’s why we’re out here.

AJ: Oh. I totally thought you were just shooting landscape shots and brought me along for the ride.

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Replaceable Things

Remember that blog that was going around a couple months ago? Something about Things Saved From a Fire? In the posts, people would arrange the things that were most important to them (i.e., what they would save from a fire).

I remember my brother remarking that he was disappointed to see how many replaceable items people had brought together.

I remember thinking that it was because the post had become not about what was irreplaceable, but instead became about what was essential to a person. The fire scenario became less about salvaging what was irreplaceable, and became more about what you would carry into your future after literally losing everything else in your life. And what I loved about that evolution was the buildup of what I love about materialism.

What you love about materialism? you say.

Indeed. I have a wallpaper in my screensaver slideshow that has a sketch of Tyler Durden that reminds you that you are not your wallpaper. The same way that he rallied in the book and movie, Fight Club, that we are not our possessions. We do not define ourselves by Ikea catalogues, the way Tyler defined himself at the beginning of the story.

And yet, I have four hundred photographs in this slideshow, many that are mine, most that aren’t, and I find that I do define myself by those photos. Those are my passions and my interests and the things that I find beauty within. And they are an illustration of me.

Yes, I went through college studying Buddhism, Mysticism, and Eastern Religions. I’m as familiar as most people toward the assertions that there’s a different between the self and the soul/core/center/being, which is selfless and a part of the whole.

But this knowledge (and inspiration) is at odds to my searing independent streak. Since a child I’ve grown up by defining myself in terms of my passions.

In the photograph below, I lay out my laptop computer and external hard-drive, which contain all my photographs from my time growing up, of family and friends, some of whom seem (or are) long gone. They contain my writing projects, old and new, all the articles I’ve ever written, as well as essays written both for school and publication. They also contain my photography, which is my recent passion and the career I’m trying to build. Though the computer itself is replaceable (and has been, many times now), these are the irreplaceable things. The photos, the artwork, the writing.

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I’ve included my Canon T3i with the 50mm 1.8 and the Sigma 10-20mm 4-5.6. Not the most amazing of equipment, but there’s a large range to operate within, even with mid-grade equipment, in learning how to manipulate the lighting and the subjects and how to take a perfect photo. These are things that are replaceable and, given the nature of the future investments I hope (and will need) to make, these are still easily replaceable. But they’re symbols of starting somewhere. They’re the symbols of the steady friends I’ll hold fast to in the next year, as I climb.

The books are even easier replaced. No more than forty dollars between the three of them. One is House of Leaves. The other is The Road. And the third is my first novel, Hallowtide. The book itself is replaceable. It’s not a first proof — not even from the first printed set. It’s just a slightly beaten version that I toss in my bag to show people. But these three books are read and worn and define me. And, though there are many more that I’ve yet to read, and many still that I feel define me, these are the friends I’ve made, that, if I had nothing else, I would turn to.

A tattered deck of Tarot cards sits atop them. Because it felt right.

And a watch. A watch I bought on a whim a month ago that I like very much. No special sentiment. Easily replaced. But there was something significant about snagging it. Perhaps because I grab for it before leaving every time I go out. Maybe there’s something symbolic there about reaching for a reminder of time passing every time I leave. Or maybe I just like wearing watches.

Can’t tell you why I decided to write this tonight, arrange a few special items and take a photo. Maybe it’s because I’m working to move into a new apartment this January, one with a high risk of fire damage. Maybe change and loss is on my mind. Maybe I’m still struggling to get over materialism and live on little. Where my essence should be no more than bread and water and other people’s happiness.

Maybe I’m a bit satisfied that my pile isn’t bigger. Could, in fact, be smaller. Maybe that makes me feel older and wiser, especially with as poorly as I’ve been or expect to be living soon. It’s good to operate with less.

But right now, I’m still ruled by my passions and dreams. Maybe I both like and am terrified that I can define myself with three books, a laptop, and a camera. Escapism and creation. Passing time. Maybe I just wanted to reflect on what was important to me.

How to Photograph a Ghost!

Photography Follow-Up:

Hey guys, I’m back with more vlogs! Sorry it was so long, my camera got stolen, and I got a new one, but then I was busy with summer work and getting the next book out. No excuses!

What I want to do is finish up on the photography topic that I was discussing before the break, and break down the different ways to photograph a potential spirit, and why some may be better than others.

So.

The setup: you’re in a very dark basement that’s said to be haunted, and there’s not much in the way of ambient light for any average camera to pick up at all. How do you best set up the situation to photograph a ghost?

The go-to camera of most experiential investigators?

Cell Phones.

Why they’re good? They’re portable, at-hand, and the images are easy to share and, these days, decent quality. Another less-known reason it’s good? Oftentimes, because the lenses are smaller and cheaper than your average point and shoot or SLR cameras, some cell phone cameras actually see a bit further into the UV light spectrum because they’re not as thoroughly filtered. Hence why lens flare is a little more wacky on a cell phone. If spirits do exist in this smaller, often unseen band, cell phones might be more likely to see them.

The problems with cell phones though, for one, is that they’re usually hand-held. Especially when so many ghost photos are examples of pareidolia, it’s important to take multiple photographs from the exact same position, to rule out anything environmental that you can later compare against. It’s also easier to recreate the shot later for further comparison.

They also need a flash in low-light conditions.

Flashes

And here’s the thing about flashes. The primary problem is that the intense burst of illumination, so close to the camera’s lens, illuminates tons of particulate matter right in your photograph (at odds to off-camera flashes or light sources). So if you have a finger, camera-strap, piece of dust, or bug hanging out in front of the lens, the flash is going to make it look like ectoplasm. Shooting without the flash removes something like 98% of variables otherwise thought to be spirit.

Photoluminescence

But the other problem is that the flash could be harmful to spirits. Photoluminescence is the process of a gas or substance absorbing photons of light and then re-emitting them. This process is a very specific scientific process, so I don’t want to go babbling about a process that could well be irrelevant (like those investigators who try to equate everything spirits do to quantum physics), but if this process happens, and a flash photograph illuminated a spirit, that substance could theoretically re-emit that light back toward the camera, giving you a strange photograph. That said, photoluminescence often fundamentally affects the structure of the substance, and carries the possibility that the spirit (or conscious substance) could be harmed by the emission, losing their substantial form after the photograph and photoluminescence.

UV Radiation

The same goes for exposure to ultra-violet radiation. One theory towards why spirits may be more active at night (as discussed in this vlog), is due to the UV radiation being harmful to a physical, manifested form. The same way that we get sunburned by UV light (our substantial structure is physically damaged by this radiation), perhaps ghosts too are broken down by such exposure. This may well apply to IR as well. We see shadowy figures more rarely walking directly through an IR beam, and more often they’re crouching behind objects, only peeking out.

IR Illumination

In order to penetrate deeply into the room with our night vision cameras, many investigators rig extremely bright IR illuminators beside their cameras. They seem dark to us because we can’t see them, but these lights are veritable spotlights blasting out these rooms. While IR is on the less-harmful end of the spectrum (the wavelengths are longer, and the same way red-light doesn’t hurt our night vision, IR is more gentle as well), in such incredibly bright doses, it still could be hurtful to spirits, or at the least, very intrusive to a spirit’s environment. If someone shone a couple car headlights into your room in the middle of the night, it’s altogether likely you’d duck out of the intensity too, regardless of it giving you a sunburn or not.

Visible Light

Given that the intensity of IR illuminators may be, after the fact, even brighter for the spirits than just keep the lights on, well, why not just keep the lights on? Certainly many investigators have their reasons for investigating in the dark, (which I still explore in this vlog), but it is a valid alternative for ghostly photography, and also minimizes low-light solutions which introduce too many false positives.

But there’s still arguments against such light. It’s very intrusive, often harsh, conflicts with investigators’ EMF equipment, their more subtle sensitivities, and potentially the spirits physical structure (as UV, photon emission, and IR may seem to do as well).

So. We’ve got issue with flash photography, IR illumination, visible lights, how are we supposed to photograph a spirit?

Long Exposure Photography

The immediate alternative is to shoot with a long exposure. Long exposure is automatically applied on the “night-shot” setting of most cameras, and a manual adjustment on most DSLRs. The exposure is adjusted by keeping the shutter open for different amounts of times. If photography is simply burning light onto a sensitive plate, quick bursts of exposure (a fast shutter speed) will capture quick movement as still, but the longer you hold the lens open (slow shutter speeds) the more the image will blur before the photo is over. At night, this can be as long as seconds that the lens will be open, and if the camera is hand-held or if there’s movement in front of the camera, you get motion-blur (which can look like creepy trails of ectoplasm, where in reality the light source seems fixed).

This is how you make cool light-paintings. By running around with a flashlight while your lens is open, you can create cool streaks of light.

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The problem here is that, while you make cool streaks of light, it doesn’t also make streaks of shadow. Because the light is, in effect, burning into the sensitive plates, it masks any dark movement because that light is already burned in.

Think of giving yourself a sun-tan tattoo. If you were to drag a heart-shaped cutout across your skin at the beach, you don’t get any kind of design. But if you leave it in one place, you get your tattoo.

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Same goes for photography, as we’re also talking about light burning into a source. If you leave your shutter open for thirty seconds at a time and a shadow (or a non-illuminated person) were to walk across the frame, they won’t show up in your photo, the same way that the heart doesn’t show up on your skin if you’re moving it around.

Which is what makes THIS picture recorded by the Ghost Hunters International team at Port Arthur Penitentiary in Tasmania so strange. Shooting thirty-second exposures outside at night, they captured the image of a man walking across the hill. Why that’s weird? Because a silhouette of a person walking, for thirty seconds across a hill, shouldn’t show up at all — even if it were a living person. But the fact that this figure shows up as a perfect, non-transparent shadow, suggests that, though it appears to be striding, did not move for the entire thirty seconds.

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Though this was indeed captured by a team, it should be a pretty rare occurrence, because everything we know about spirits is that they appear to move at normal speeds, and for the most part, it’s very rare to see a spirit in one place for as long as thirty seconds. They often seem to be fleeting. And so, unless they’re bright or producing light, they’re not going to show up very well on a long exposure, even if it gives you a nice bright photo in the dark.

So if exposures and flash photos are out, how are we supposed to take photos? And if IR illumination is out, how do we shoot video?

Great questions.

Low-Lux Cameras

One alternative is to invest in Low-Lux camera equipment, or light-amplifying night vision. Most cheap night vision cameras are so today because they’re essentially using invisible flashlights to light up a room. It’s the expensive stuff that doesn’t illuminate a room, it amplifies what’s already there. Night vision goggles? There are no little IR illuminators on the sides, they’re amplifying the light that’s already there. Consider the difference between these two IR images.

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Light amplification is great, but it’s also expensive as shit.

Back-Lighting

Your other alternative is back-lighting. Rather than setting up your light right beside your camera, blasting out the room (and, potentially, the spirit), you instead set up your illumination along a back wall in your shot, so that you can see the back of the room, and you have a bright surface to differentiate a shadow or figure moving through your shot, without blasting that figure out with intense, possibly-harmful light.

And the best light to use? Investigators like Barry Fitzgerald suggest that red is the most welcoming for spirits. The same way photographers use red light in dark rooms, because it’s the least intense of the visible light wavelengths. Where UV is very harmful, red is as far as we can get, and doesn’t effect the photographic chemicals. Same goes for our night vision. Red doesn’t  burn into our eyes as badly.

The best way to capture a ghost? Red light, splashed up over a back wall, or light-amplifying equipment. No flash, shutter speeds that aren’t too long, and tripods.

Then, go ahead and see what you might get.

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He now leads the weekend public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, he travels the nation lecturing, and he writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and the Paranormal Pop Culture Blog. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide and the book Into a Sky Below, Forever. He’s also a portrait and landscape photographer based of Fort Collins. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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Meggin Photoshoot

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Me: Yeah, that’s the bane of photography, the best light has to be hitting you right in the eyes.

Meggin: I’m gonna go blind.

Me: You won’t have any retinas when we’re done shooting, but your boyfriend will have some pretty pictures. So. You know. Priorities.
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Blasted Places

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Halloween, blasted by winds that seem to sting your cheeks, the same sting that burns children’s faces red. Hallow’s Evening.

Hallowed, hollowed, hollows, holy. Empty, but full.

The St. Malo Retreat Center, the Chapel on the Rock, in Allensparek CO, Halloween 2013. After the Retreat Center was destroyed by fire in 2011, the area surrounding the chapel was damaged in September 2013 after mudslides wrecked the area. The chapel survived both disasters. Where once a small pond settled in front of the chapel, the grounds are now a wasteland of broken tree branches and small stillwater puddles.

St. Malo's before the fire and mudslides, spring 2009. Photo by Steve Johnson.

St. Malo’s before the fire and mudslides, spring 2009. Photo by Steve Johnson.

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