Category Archives: Advice

Everything You Need to Know When Buying Your First DSLR

Hey all! So the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of friends and acquaintances hit me up asking me what a good SLR and lens is for someone who’s just starting out and wants to shoot with an SLR. After the first couple emails, I decided it might be easier to put it all in blog form (though I’m sure there are already dozens out there already).

Obviously, if you just want me to tell you a camera and lens, this is going to be a bit more in depth. If that’s the case, just go to Canon or Nikon, find something in your price range, and click the buy button.

But if you want advice on something more customized to your needs, then this is for you!

So first off, a couple basics:

DSLRs vs. Mirrorless Cameras

DSLR means Digital Single Lens Reflex. Popularly, this has been relatively synonymous with any camera with a changeable lens. But lately, that’s not so universal. The D is easy — it’s a digital camera and doesn’t take film. But the Lens Reflex part refers to the mirrors inside the camera body. When you look through the viewfinder, you see the light coming through the lens, hitting an angled mirror, and bouncing the image into your eye. When you take the photo, the lens is pulled back, and the light strikes the digital sensor behind it.

Nowadays though, you have the option to go Mirrorless. These are smaller cameras that also have changeable lenses, but they have no viewfinder. The light goes directly through the lens to the digital sensor and your only preview is on the back screen of the camera. This is very much the future of digital photography, but for the beginner, most of these are very expensive, but do often boast features many of the DSLRs are fighting to keep up with.

Camera Bodies

Now, it should be stated right off the bat that I’m a Canon guy, so it’s all I know. Nikon also produces excellent cameras and lenses, and what’s nice about the Canon vs. Nikon Debate is that they’re in many ways neck and neck with each other in terms of quality and features. So if you feel you want to buy Nikon, you can still read through this blog, but should I recommend something specific for Canon, just run a quick Google search for comparable Nikon products, and you’ll likely find the parallel model.

Beginner grade camera bodies are constantly changing. What I started with back in 2010 was a Canon XTi. Good luck finding one of those these days, almost seven years later! My second camera was a Canon T3i Rebel. I think the new starter level of the Rebel series has gotten up to T6i, and boasts far better quality.

The point being, with starter bodies, it’s tough to go wrong. Megapixels are fine and dandy and as a starter, you’re not needing a lot. For the most part, Megapixels refers to how many pixels are in one image (think the pixel-length of one side multiplied by the pixel length on the other). It’s just the total. The higher the Megapixel-count, the larger you can print off your photos without quality-loss, and the closer you can crop an image in post. Not important stuff for beginners.

The only other big factor that I look for in camera bodies is Low-Light Quality. There are three main ways light is used to make an image: the shutter speed (how long the light is allowed to hit your sensor), the Aperture (how wide the opening is in your lens to allow light in), and ISO (the digital sensor extrapolating the light — the fancy in-camera version of brightening up your  photo in post). This is called the exposure triangle.

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The best exposure triangle chart you’ll ever see.

Shutter speed doesn’t change much, and Aperture is a lens feature we’ll discuss later). ISO, then, is what we want to consider here. 50  or 100 is the normal baseline. Cameras these days can go up to 256,000! (The ISO typically doubles each time you bump it up, so you go from 100 to 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 128,000, 256,000). Now, the thing with ISO is that the further you bump it up, the more noise and grain is added to your image as the camera tries to brighten up light that isn’t there. It’s why your front-facing camera on your phone, in a dark room, looks grainy and pixelly as hell. Even the  best cameras when cranked to too high an ISO will get this way. It’s a limitation of tech.

Low-light capabilities will be one of the first things you start to notice being a limitation with your beginner-level camera. Taking photos at Christmastime, indoors, for example, will quickly teach you the limits of your gear. The best part about limits? That’s how you learn to shoot — you workaround what you have. When I reached the limits of my low-light abilities on my t3i? I bought a flash. Boom! My skills had to skyrocket!

So, do you have some extra money to spend on a camera body beyond the cheapest model offered? I’d advise you to do some research into “Low Light Quality for Entry Level Canon DSLRs” and see which one the reviews recommend.

At the moment, I’ve been hearing some of the best stuff about the Canon SL1, but that’s constantly in flux.

Lenses

Now, lenses are where the real meat and potatoes hit. There’s a LOT to talk about when it comes to lenses.

Let’s first take a look at a typical lens on Amazon and begin to dissect just what the hell all these numbers mean.

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First of all, your Focal Length. Focal length is “the distance between the center of a lens or curved mirror and its focus.” It’s what people are referring to when they talk about their “24mm” or their “35mm” or what have you. Is it important to know all about the mirror and center and all that? Not really.

What you need to know in relation to this number is how the photos look. 10-24mm is the ultra-wide range. You get shots like this, which is shot at 24mm:

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Portland Waterfall at 24mm

You get a nice, wide shot, that fits a lot into the frame. Of course, the wider you go, you get distortion. It starts to make stuff in the center of the frame smaller, and the edges of the frame stretched wider.

Think of a fisheye lens as the most exaggerated of this.

24mm is still considered wide, but isn’t as extreme as a lens in the 10-24mm range.

35mm is relatively standard as a way to get a wider shot without much distortion.

50mm is very little distortion and gives a nice look for portraits. Standing in roughly the same spot, this is what a 50mm looks like:

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Portland Waterfall at 50mm

While this is a horizontal image where the other is shot vertical, you can see it’s a bit closer in than the other. We call this “telephoto” as opposed to “wide” or “ultrawide”. Telephoto lenses mean you’re getting an image closer to your subject while standing the same distance away.

The 50 is a lovely focal length, particularly for shooting people (the human eye is said to see somewhere between 30-50mm itself). However, most beginners will quickly learn that the 50 is a bit annoying to shoot with because you can’t, say, take a selfie with it, or get a good shot sitting beside someone. It’s a bit too close. Cellphones are typically in the 24-35mm range these days. And since we shoot with cellphone cameras the most, that’s a good point of reference.

Anything upwards of 50 is only going to exaggerate the effect. 85mm? 135mm? 400mm? You’re going to be shooting people’s nosehairs from 20 feet back.

Meanwhile, if you’re shooting portraits of people with a wide lens, you’re going to distort their face in an unnatural way that doesn’t look genuine. Maybe that’s your goal! Maybe a bit of wacky distortion is fun! But maybe not just starting out.

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10mm (crop lens). See how the center of the image is smaller, and the ends are stretched? Often fun! But not always flattering. 

So which focal length do you buy?

Depends on what you’re shooting!

Is your goal landscapes? Go wide! You can capture those wide mountains and get all the scope and majesty into your frame! The drawback? If you’re not very close to the mountain range you’re ogling, you might find it to be quite small in your photo (think of trying to get that full moon shot on your phone).

Is your goal portraiture? Go ahead and start around 50mm or 85mm. You might have to stand back from your subject a bit, but if you plan to specifically shoot planned out images, 50 and 85 are very workable lengths.

But what if I want something normal? It works as a day to day lens, but maybe also for landscapes and people?

Zooms vs. Primes

This might be where you want to get a zoom! So in the Photography World, “zoom” doesn’t mean “close up” — that’s “telephoto” remember? “Zoom” means that it can change focal length, and isn’t fixed on one length all the time.

So, a “10-22mm” lens? Zoom! You can adjust it to any focal length within that range! Most Kit Lenses (the lens that comes standard with the camera body you buy) are zoom lenses, to allow the beginner to find the range they prefer.

The drawback to zooms? Though the quality of zooms is getting really good these days, Prime lenses are typically sharper and cleaner lenses. So if you really love that INSANELY sharp detail, you’re going to have better luck with a prime.

The other drawback to entry-level zooms? Well, first we have to talk about Aperture.

Aperture

Aperture is the size of the opening of your lens. Think of it like the Iris of your eye. When it’s bright out and there’s a lot of light, that iris shrinks to allow less light in. When you’re in a dim room, that iris opens up. Lenses are the same!

The aperture is written as a number called an “F-Stop”. This is because the aperture, rather than being a universal fixed size that produces the same results in every lens, is thought of as a ratio between the focal length and the size of the opening. Why? Not important. What’s important to you is what it does.

Apertures typically cover a range of f/1.2 to f/22 or so. 1.2 is the brightest, widest opening. 22 is the smallest.

When shooting wide open, at something like f/1.2, you get a bright image, but also a TON of what’s called Bokeh. Bokeh is that creamy, super-blurry background that you likely relate to high quality photos.

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24mm, f/1.2. Wide lens, wide open. That blurry background.

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24mm, f/10. Wide lens, small aperture. The background stays much clearer. 

Typically, the lower that aperture number, the better the quality lens.

So as a beginner, you likely can’t afford a 1500 dollar lens that’s an f/1.4.

Something more in your price range is going to start around f/4.0. Is that bad? No, but it doesn’t  let in as much light in low-lighting conditions. So you could find yourself in a dim room, unable to get decent images without leaving your shutter open for too long and getting something blurry (or using a flash).

The drawbacks to a lot of entry-level zooms? As you zoom in, the aperture will often get smaller. This is presented as a range on your amazon listing.

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What it means is that at 10mm, your camera can shoot at f/3.5. But at 22mm, you can only go down to f/4.5. So as you zoom in, if you don’t change your settings and you’re shooting wide-open, your photo will get darker.

Is it the end of the world? No way! If you’re outside shooting landscapes, you’ve got enough light to just bump your shutter open a bit more. If you’re already in a dim area? You might find you can only shoot as wide as you can zoom.

Crop Lenses and Bodies

Another important thing to consider is Crop Lenses and Crop bodies!

There are two sensor sizes on most DSLRs. One is called a “crop sensor” and the other is a “full-frame sensor”.

A crop sensor is smaller than full frame (think “cropped down”). Just about every beginner DSLR is a crop sensor. Full frame gives bigger images at a better quality.

Curious if the camera body you’re looking at is a full-frame or crop sensor? Check the specs. It’ll tell you.

Why does it matter? For camera bodies? It doesn’t matter much. You’re gonna get a nice image regardless.

For lenses though? Lenses it matters.

There are two different types of lenses: Lenses built for crop cameras. And lenses built for Full-Frame AND crop cameras.

Canon’s EF lenses are built for full frame sensors. You slap that 24mm EF lens on a full frame camera, you’re ready to go. The picture you get back is a 24mm wide photo that shows you everything.

If you put that 24mm EF lens on a CROP sensor camera, the sensor is smaller and your image? Well. It’s cropped down. Think of the sensor automatically cropping your photos down before you even put them on your computer.

Is this bad? No. It’s just not totally a 24mm shot. It’s a cropped 24mm shot. The ratio being that your 24mm lens is going to look more like what a 35mm would show you. Your 50mm? More like an 85mm.

But! They make lenses specifically for crop sensors! These  lenses are true to size! Canon uses the EF-S indicator for their crop lenses. A 24mm EF-S lens on a crop camera gives you a 24mm photo!

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EF-S? That means it’s a crop lens.

A 10mm EF-S lens on a full frame camera? It gives you this:

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10mm Crop Lens on a Full Frame Camera

Because the lens narrows the view down to the same size as the crop sensor. The full-frame camera is just too big of a sensor! It reveals all the black around the narrow, crop lens.

Can you put a crop lens on a full-frame camera and then crop it down in post? Sure. But it’s a smaller photo and takes more work.

10mm-crop-2

10mm Crop Lens on a Full Frame Camera Cropped Down (to simulate a Crop Sensor).

Why do I tell you this? Because crop-lenses are WAY cheaper than full frame lenses. But, if you get super hooked on this Photo Hobby of yours, your lens won’t be able to go up with your camera, and then you’ve got lenses sitting around.

So what do you do? You can go either way. If you don’t expect to upgrade your camera body, sure, go for the crop lens. It’s better quality than a full-frame lens at the same price (typically). But paying for quality lenses is also in many ways more important than the body you buy. So figure out what you want and go for it!

The second lens I ever bought was a crop lens. Does it just sit around and gather dust now? Sure. (Except for when I need photos for blogs like this!). Was it still worth the money even though I only used it for a year and a half? I think so!

Off-Brands

Off brands are something you also want to look at! Will a Nikon lens work on a Canon camera? No, not without adapters and headaches. But companies like Sigma, Rokinon, or Tamron make fantastic lenses that work across the board (just make sure it says “For Canon” or “For Nikon” in the header!).

I’m a big fan of Sigma. They made the second lens I ever used and the quality was fantastic. Now that they’re rolling out their Art series of lenses (cheaper than Canon’s fancy L-Glass, but still a bit much for a beginner), I’m dying to buy a couple. They’re fantastic.

If you have a focal range in mind, feel free to put that into Amazon or Google and see what off-brands might be offering, then read the reviews. There’s a lot of quality stuff out there that doesn’t have to be the same brand as your camera body.

The designator for Canon and other brands crop sensors and full frame:

  • Canon: EF-S (EF for full frame)
  • Nikon: DX (FX for full frame)
  • Pentax: DA (FA or D FA for full frame)
  • Sigma: DC (DG for full frame)
  • Sony/Minolta: DT
  • Tamron: Di II (Di for full frame)

What I recommend:

If you’ve got some money, you’ve got a couple options. Full-Frame cameras run upwards of $1500.00. That’s probably out of your budget.

So you start with the crop body. I recommend the Canon SL1. I’ve heard lots of good stuff.

As far as lenses? You CANNOT go wrong with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8. It’s $100.

Study that for a second. EF — it’s a full frame lens (works with both crop bodies and full frame bodies AND it upgrades if you upgrade your camera — It’s the first lens I bought and I still use it to this day). It’s widest aperture is 1.8. That’s unheard of for lenses at this price. You get great photos in low light and that artistic bokeh in the background. All for a hundred bucks. It’s called the nifty fifty and it’s KILLER.

But that’s a 50mm prime. Maybe you want something wider. Maybe you want something that you don’t have to stand six feet from someone to get a medium-shot.

Well shoot, grab the 50mm anyway and learn it. It’s a gem to keep in your bag for those moments when you want it. But then I’d recommend also adding a wide or ultra-wide crop lens to your bag as well. Do some research into what’s cheap and what’s in the focal range you want.

I started with the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6. It was around $400 back then  but it was SUCH a fun lens. Ultra-wide for portraits always cracked me up, and it was gorgeous for steadycam video and nature shots.

Even today, as I pulled it out and slapped it on my 6D, I was impressed at the sharpness of the image! It’s fun as hell.

Or you can just go with the SL1 and the kit lens package, slap on a nifty fifty, and then you’ll be off to the races!

Feel free to leave any questions in the comments, or reach out via email. I’m always happy to clarify!

Karl Pfeiffer is a novelist, photographer, and ghost hunter. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, the short story collection Into a Sky Below, Forever, and the forthcoming Amarricages. He won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy, went on to work with the GHI team, and now lectures across America. For five years he led the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. He’s also a portrait photographer and conceputal artist based in Northern Colorado. Follow him on Twitter: @KarlPfeiffer

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Recommended Paranormal Reading

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A fantastic question, and one that I wish I get more often. I answered this one a couple months ago, but thought it might be easier to lay it out in a blog.

Caveats of course come in the sense that there’s still dozens upon dozens of wonderful and mind-bending books on the paranormal that I haven’t gotten to yet. But there are a few that I think would be wonderful if people started getting their hands on.

9781450253567_p0_v1_s260x4201. Paranormal Technology: Understanding the Science of Ghost Hunting by David Rountree. 

If there is one book any serious technical investigator of the paranormal should read, it’s this one. Where in today’s paranormal world many teams are largely ignorant to scientific theories, equipment, and genuine methodologies, this book is quintessential reading to help understand not only how the tools you’re using work, but what they’re measuring. Some is over my head. Some is borderline scientistic and narrow-sighted, but overall required reading. There’s a big part of me that wants to suggest to any investigator to not use any piece of technology again until after reading this book.

 

 

images2. Psychic Explorations: A Challenge for Science, Understanding the Nature and Power of Consciousness by Edgar D. Mitchell. 

The paranormal extends SO much farther than simply ghosts. If you want your mind BLOWN when it comes to the paranormal, you absolutely must read this book. A compilation of articles from psi researchers in 1973, this book synthesizes data collected by three generations of psychical researchers, whose conclusions come up again and again that the existence of psychic abilities have been effectively proven to exist, and that the next step is learning more about how they work. Readable. Mind-bending. Wonderful. It’s thoroughly referenced and footnoted, so opportunities for further reading abound. 

(From my reading in this, I’ve got sitting near my headboard my on-deck reading, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death by FWH Myers and The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena by Dean Radin, which has gotten a wealth of wonderful reader reviews on Amazon.)

 

5676823. The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel

But the paranormal doesn’t stop at spirits and psychic phenomena. In fact, much of my reading list strays away from ghosts on their own entirely. Because of popular culture right now, we all get the general ideas behind the existence of ghosts. How many of us, after watching the first two seasons of Ghost Hunters can relay the three types of haunting and how EVP is different from disembodied voice? Keel’s Mothman Prophecies is a true achievement in paranormal research. Though I’m a big fan of the Pellington-directed movie, the book is fantastic reading. Diving so deeply into the strange events at point pleasant, Keel can’t help but become a part of the story. Despite breaking one of the first rules of journalism, the book then becomes instantly engaging on a level not purely intellectual, but reads as good as a fiction thriller. Mothman Prophecies brings together UFOlogy, some of the earliest reports of the Men in Black phenomena, poltergeist-type happenings, cryptids, and the titular prophecies. Where one phenomena stops and another begins? That’s the real question below this book.

(Note: Keel also wrote the wonderful Our Haunted Planet, which, while eye-opening as it dissects ancient mythology and the potential reality of gods, aliens, and faeries, is poorly referenced throughout, making many of his lofty claims immediately suspect to the careful reader. Though I’ve only read the opening chapters, it seems that Jacques Vallee’s Passport to Magonia–which is available used for $400 dollars on amazon, or as a free PDF on a quick google search–is a much better presented exploration of similar study).

9780253221810_med4. Phenomenology and Mysticism: The Verticality of Religious Experience by Anthony Steinbock

Readers familiar with my areas of research know that in much of college, I focused a lot of study on philosophy of religions (both east and west) as well as an emphasis on mysticism. Mysticism is the practice of having an experience of something divine or transcendent of the world around us. Steinbock’s textbook examines what makes a spiritual experience inherently spiritual and where it crosses with the world around us. Indeed, as paranormal researchers, if we are coming into contact with beings or creatures from a plane truly beyond our own, the similarities in experiences immediately come together. If any researchers are interested in the broader implications of what it means to contact beings from “somewhere beyond”, Steinbock is a must read.

(Mystical experience is broadly classified and broadly researched in a way that much of the paranormal hasn’t. Some other books for reading on the subject include William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience. James was one of the founding members of the Society for Psychical research, which is necessarily referenced in Mitchell’s Psychic Explorations book. Funny how they all start linking together again, isn’t it? Also, try Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts, Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Beliefand Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience.)

9780060653378 5. Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans by Malachi Martin

It should be noted that I have a problem with fundamental religious belief (which you’ll understand far more deeply if you pursue the mystical readings), but Martin’s book on possession is one of the best. It very thoroughly documents five case studies on various possessions that he researched. Where many television shows today like to throw around the “demon” word to keep their episodes exciting for the audience at home, the reality of demonic possession is shocking and very different. This book explores not only the exorcisms, but the circumstances surrounding the onset of the possession. This can be difficult to digest for the non-religious reader, as its very fundamentalist. But Martin is a professional and does a fine job of presenting the circumstances with very little bias. Even from the 1970s and with deeply religious background, such topics as transgender individuals are handled gracefully, though certain implications do leave a critical reader a bit wary. Regardless, as a study on the fact of possession, there’s much that cannot be denied, and the presentation here borders on masterpiece.

(If demonology is your thing, there is some fascinating reading on the subject. I also recommend The Dark Sacrament by David Kiely and Christina McKenna and The Rite by Matt Baglio).

41NPF555BTLHonorable Mention: The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion by James George Frazer.

The first time I tossed out these books on twitter, I added also that you should read anything that John Tenney recommends. If he told me there was insight in the phone book, I’d take to the phone book with a magnifying glass. At the time, his go-to book to add to the list was The Golden Bough. Because of his recommendation, this fat tome is sitting on my shelf patiently waiting my read. Written around the turn of the 20th century, this book is considered a foundation for modern-day Anthropology, studying how beliefs over time have changed from magic to religion, and from religion to science.

Those are my suggestions, caveats and thoughts and all. I do hope these help. If you have any suggestions of your own, feel free to sound off in the comments down below!

 

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, writes for the TAPS Paramagazine and Paranormal Pop Culture Blog, works with investigative teams across Colorado, lectures across America, and leads the public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

 

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UV Light and Spirit Photography (Feat. Barry Fitzgerald)

You’ve done a lot of work with full spectrum photography. A lot of teams are trying to do the same. What are some of the nuances of this kind of photography?

You have to understand that what we’re trying to do is to film into those light frequencies without projecting unnecessary light into those frequencies. So these lights–full spectrum floodlights–they really go against what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to observe phenomena that occurs within those frequencies. So producing UV light starts to break down the manifestation of spirit as it starts to come into this form that we understand. So that light starts to hinder on both sides of what we appreciate as the visual spectrum.

What would you suggest then as an alternative for the floodlights?

The alternative that we’ve been using that’s shown to be successful is a low lux full spectrum video camera. This is something that’s like a security camera, but it runs at sixteen frames per second, so it gets much more light into it and you’re able to see those breakdowns of energy as they collapse in on themselves, and we’ve been able to see some amazing stuff in that low lux range.

Spirit find it easier to manifest in RED light…

So a small amount of red and with a low lux camera capturing a wider range of the EMF spectrum yields greater success in capturing something that truly is of the supernatural realm.

So for folks at home, with money worries, are there any more manageable options available? 

There are alternatives on eBay but you want to make sure you’re going for a generation 3 or 4. They will run you around 300 dollars. Compared to what we have on the market at the moment, which are claiming to be full spectrum, they don’t actually film in low light conditions. You have to use extraneous light, lighting these places up, trying to capture something that will not appear because of the light being used. 16 frames per second can really go down into those low lux areas. When you have a hand held camera converted to full spectrum, it shoots in 35 frames per second, and it needs a lot more light, which doesn’t work in the field.

So in terms of flash photography versus long exposures, pros and cons to both?

You do have pros and cons to both. It’s one of those things, the flash itself can present–if there’s no filter on the flash–it can present the UV that can illuminate the manifestation and bounce back the light to the camera, but of course when that happens, the materialization pulls back altogether and you get a one shot deal. The open shutter uses existing light already there, not being blasted with other light sources, but of course you have the problem as well that on a thirty second exposure, you have something that walks straight through your shot, leaving a blur, so you have no idea what it was. Or you could be lucky enough to get that one solid shot, but those are rare deals.

You’ve only had it happen the one time?

One time.

With the flash, if the physical form is broken down, can they not affect the world? Or only not materialize visually again?

Understanding that materialization and the structures required for a spirit to materialize, you’re able to understand what they can interfere with and at one time. They can pull back in a fully lighted environment but still have the ability to influence. That’s something I wrote about in my book, The Influence. That in itself can be quite a dangerous little subject on its own.

But really it’s practice and getting a good knowledge base behind you and understanding what you’re dealing with.

Karl Pfeiffer won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, works with investigative teams across Colorado, lectures across America, and leads the public ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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Ghosts and Flares and Mists and Photos

Following last week’s blog about Orbs and photography, I want to use this week to talk some about other issues in photography, primarily camera flares, mists, and the importance of paying attention.

So what is a lens flare?

Most of you guys are familiar with lens flares if you’ve seen the movie Star Trek by JJ Abrams. It’s called “anamorphic lens flare” because it’s a lens flare on an anamorphic wide screen lens, so it’s very wide and very dramatic. He uses it because he loves this idea of the future being so bright that the light can’t be contained outside of the lens.

Lens flare though is when your camera is set up and you have a really bright light source either in the shot, or just outside of it. The light then strikes your camera lens and it’s redirected into your camera, giving you glare and often illuminating odd-looking artifacts.

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 1.25.29 PMIf it’s off the side of your shot, you will see evidence of this object in the photo even if the object is not in your shot.

You might sometimes get dusty looking elements, a washed out effect, and sometimes a mirroring of the lens, in which you see curves and orb-like shapes.

The first thing you want to do then if you get one of these bright glowing oddly-shaped objects, is to look for bright objects just off to the side of the shot. Lens flare is not always a crazy disruptive streak of light. Sometimes it’s only a  haze, bad contrast, or strange orb anomalies.

CCTV_Lens_flare

What else shows up in pictures aside from flares?

Mists. And the easiest way to experience a false mist is to be taking pictures outside in the winter. You’ll be holding your camera in front of your face, or near your face, and your breath is illuminated in the flash.

Most people claim to not remember seeing their breath while taking pictures. Which can be true. Normally we don’t look immediately in front of our cameras when using a flash, and the flash can sometimes illuminate vapors more brightly than whatever ambient lighting is around at the time (the way that afternoon sun illuminates the dust floating through your living room).

It’s important to also remember that seeing your breath does not necessarily only occur in freezing temperatures. Sometimes, with the help of additional environmental factors, it can appear on a humid day with temperatures as high as forty or fifty degrees. Cold is important because what you’re seeing is condensation of water vapor as you breathe out. If it’s cold enough, it turns the vapor into a more dense form, and you see breath.

But this segues into the third part, which is observation.

This is a hard topic to discuss with people who are enthusiastic about their ghost photo. Why?

Because everyone thinks that they’re very observant.

I see a fair amount of photos that people have taken with figures in the background. Oftentimes this is from my stomping grounds, the Stanley Hotel, in which folks on a tour will capture of a photo of something eerie.

My problem is that I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how controlled the situation was. I don’t know for sure if that room was indeed locked down and if the photographer was as alone as they thought they were. Without a video setup or having been there myself, it’s too hard to make that call.

Oftentimes though this is seen in reflections. Most people will be taking a picture of a shiny surface and later find a figure in the background of the reflection. What’s challenging here is that most times, you don’t pay attention to what’s in the reflection itself. You pay attention to what’s in the space between you and the reflecting surface.

But think too about the time it takes to snap three photos, the delay between each photo, and then the time it takes before you study the photo. By the time most people have found a strange figure, zoomed in, and realized it is significant, when they look up again, if that person who was in the photo was on the move, often times they’re gone. Mysteriously vanishing.

And further still, we think observation and experience is the best form of evidence. However, what’s interesting is that it’s actually  not.

I worked for the cops for a couple years in their explorer program, and we studied this idea about the unreliability of witness testimony. In fact, if you want to run the same experiment that we did, put a bunch of friends in a room together. Have one person walk into your group and say something to you briefly. Then, after they go, give a few minutes delay, and ask everyone in the room to (first without talking) record what they remember the person to be wearing and what the person looked like. Emphasis on colors of clothes, hair cut, types of clothes.

It’s incredible the amount of radically different answers you will get.

In fact, it’s interesting to consider how unreliable this testimony is in court, despite how high we hold it qualitatively.

Look even at some of your childhood memories. Compare them to old photos.

Try this.

So be as observant as possible if you’re trying to actually capture a ghost. Such “evidence” should not be presented lightly. And it shouldn’t be acquired lightly either.

That’s all I got this week! Thoughts? Leave them in the comments down below, AND, as always,

My name is Karl Pfeiffer. I’m a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. I won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then I’ve lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published my first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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Let’s Talk Provoking

I want to talk to you guys today about provoking spirits on a ghost hunt.

This always seems to be a popular topic to be asked about up at the Stanley on our ghost hunts and so I want to clarify it for many of the rest of you too:

Firstly, what is provocation?

Provocation is antagonizing a spirit on a ghost hunt in order to illicit an emotional reaction from them in a way that might manifest something happening. Technically speaking, it’s an incentive for the spirit to do something, albeit a not very nice one.

Most investigators will throw around insults in order to stir up such a reaction.

Usually the reaction is violent. It always makes me laugh on ghost hunts when someone gets super pissed off when a spirit attacks them after provocation.

Some investigators will draw lines about this. TAPS used the framework that they only provoke if it’s a negative entity with a history of attacking people

Provocation usually successfully brings such an entity out… but the results are usually less conclusive in seeing what the true nature of the spirit is. If you want to see if a spirit is violent and malevolent by nature, don’t insult it first. I can think of a number of living people not malevolent in nature who would react violently to such antagonism.

Dustin Pari for example, you might remember him provoking the elemental at Leap Castle in Ireland. He was picked up and thrown down for his verbal assault and he never provoked again.

Ghost Adventures uses the philosophy of putting as much energy as they can into the environment around them and, being as they’re often in dark places with dark histories, they often provoke these seemingly violent negative figures.

Does provoking work?

Yes. Fifty percent of the time. It usually stirs up spirits who are happy to fight. And annoys the ones who don’t want your bullshit.

Problems with provocation:

One of the biggest problems I’ve seen with provocation is this sense of entitlement from people. They pay to go on a ghost hunt, or they visit a haunted place and go out of their way to have an experience, and then they think that means they deserve it. News flash: ghosts are people too. And most spirits aren’t on the payroll for a location. They’re there for personal reasons. You treating them like shit because you think you deserve an experience really poorly reflects on your sense of place in the world.

Another problem is that you don’t know who you’re talking to. Just because reports might have a violent encounter or an ugly history doesn’t mean the spirit is evil or negative. Violent spirits often are violent for a reason. Go figure. If you listen to what they have to say, you’re often going to be surprised. How many living people do you know who had a sad, decidedly human story at the heart of their anger?

Problem three is that good spirits are often provoked. Like our spirit Lucy at the Stanley, who died young when she ran away from home. Provoking her would earn you the status of biggest douchebag ever. And would get you very little activity. She hangs out with us because she enjoys it.

Conclusion:

Give spirits as much respect as you think they deserve, and then be prepared for the consequences.

Many people believe that everyone deserves equal amounts of respect, no matter what their history. Loving everyone because hate is bad, no matter who you’re hating. Other people believe that there are some darker spirits out there, you don’t treat them well, and you might get some good results…. and entertaining television anyway.

Just be prepared when you get a smack to the face.

But that’s all I’ve got this week. As always,

My name is Karl Pfeiffer. I’m a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. I won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then I’ve lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published my first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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EVIL SPIRITS AND THINGS THAT WATCH YOU SLEEP!

I want to go ahead and piggy-back off that last blog with this blog. In the last vlog we talked about deconstructing and dividing these ideas between what is “scary” and what is “evil. Now, the obvious place I want to go with this is to apply it to ghost hunting.

Historically speaking, hauntings have always been fodder for horror movies. And so investigating hauntings is easy to present as a “dangerous” profession, or at least a risky and exciting one for television. That’s why we get all these ghost hunting teams on television who present themselves like badasses. I would know! I did that for a while and I’d love to do it again.

But so, in our present state of media-driven ghost popularity, we get these recurring ideas of how “dangerous” it is to ghost hunt.

Now there’s absolutely real dangers out there. Every thing I say in this vlog can have an asterisk footnote that says “unless you’re dealing with something really bad.” A point about that: it’s rare as Hell. If you want to know what stuff like that REALLY looks like:

Read THIS BOOK. Or THIS BOOK. Or THIS BOOK. And if you’re really worried about those real dangers and how they present themselves (usually in Christian terms), you’ll be left with a better idea of how the darkness really acts in the world around us (at least as far as we know).

But what I want to address right now is toward the deconstruction of the evil-nature of many spirits.

Let’s look at evil situation number 1: A spirit following you home.

Everyone is super freaked about this lately, and it’s the number two question everyone likes to ask para-celebs at events.

Point of order: for the most part, it’s not scary. It’s awkward.

Most spirits we deal with. MOST. Are human spirits. With human wants and human attachments. If one follows you home, it’s because they like you. Or they want something from you. One is awkward if you don’t want a new roommate. The other isn’t frightening. Watch the Sixth Sense again and play it cool.

Like any other human being, things get worse when you don’t treat a spirit with respect. If you don’t want the there, ask them politely to leave. If that doesn’t help, being assertive goes a long way.

Evil situation number 2: ANYTHING ghostly that happens at your house.

Same goes. It’s your house. You don’t want to take your work home with you. You don’t want to bother with energy drains and creepy people watching you sleep. But simply because you see a black figure standing by your bed. Or because you get a dark feeling in your chest and it feels bad. Or because you hear a growl. None of that means it’s evil.

Ghosts have to appear somehow, often times it’s what we’ve always labeled as “creepy.” But so was that guy with all the tattoos and the biker boots who helped you pick up your groceries when you dropped them that one time. Dark feelings in our chests are usually indicators of the presence of a spirit. Not necessarily it’s mood. It’s usually an energy drain. Or just the funky feeling that accompanies a spirit’s presence. (Which could even be due to ions, if you see the last blog or read THIS BOOK.).

Growls happen. Maybe they want your attention. Maybe it’s a ghost dog. Maybe it’s a ghost with indigestion. In fact, even the most evil seeming stuff isn’t evil. Look at Evil situation number 3:

I want to tell a story now, but I can’t for the life of me find where I got it from. Part of me wants to say it was shared by Andy Coppock and Michelle Brown, but I could be wrong.

Anyway, there was this hospital in California. Run down. Abandoned. Creepy as hell. And apparently there was a very angry spirit in the basement who would curse and throw objects and make a big scare. Instead of calling it a demon and yelling at it, they sat down, said “dispense with the bull,” and had a conversation about why the spirit was so upset. What they learned was that the spirit was a patient at the hospital in the sixties or seventies, who wound up dying on the operating table because of a surgeon’s mistake. So he took it upon himself to scare way anyone he could so that the same thing didn’t happen to them. He still sees the hospital as functioning.

This I think is a classic example of a situation that seems negative, but is actually very human and very understandable. MOST of the spirits we deal with on investigation are human beings dealing with human problems. If they’re angry, it’s for a reason. If they’re attached to something, it’s for a reason.

So before you freak out, understand what’s happening. Be confident. Be assertive. And above all else, be respectful. Like any bully, even the bad stuff has a hard time getting to you if you’re confident. If you don’t react. If you don’t let yourself get scared (which can be very hard, for sure).

This way you have the tools to deal with it if it is a grumpy human being, and you’re already reasonably well protected emotionally if it turns out to be something darker or more persistent (which usually seeks to draw out negative energy from you). Where we talk about energies and attitudes on a regular basis, being positive when dealing with ANY entity is paramount.

Next week I’ll be getting controversial and covering evil situation number 4: There’s no topic that freaks more people out than bringing up the terrible and cursed portal to hell plastic board game…

The Ouija Board.

Until then, be positive, be respectful, and rock on with your bad selves.

Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. He won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published his first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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Use Your Words, Dude

Today I want to talk about our Words and specificity.

Some people think it’s nerdy to be concerned about word choice or specifics. To which I say it’s everything, and fascinating, and incredibly important.

This vlog will be simple today. Only two parts.

For the first part, I want to examine the importance of being specific in your questions on a ghost hunt. Let’s take a listen again to the interaction we had with the spirit of Lucy through a cell sensor April of two years ago. In this example, we have the instance of my asking Lucy the question:

“Do some spirits feel negative energy?”

Lucy responds without an answer, indicative of a “no” response. But her answer is immediately ambiguous in the yes/no situation. Is this true that no other spirits feel negative energy? Or, I wonder, quickly adjusting my question,

“Do you KNOW if some spirits feel different energies?”

Her response is again no. So to fully clarify, I ask;

“So you don’t know?” And she then responds with a yes.

But even here in this example, there’s loads and loads of questions and clarifications I didn’t ask, that I didn’t realize at the time, being younger and put on the spot. We’d been asking Lucy about feeling our “positive energies” and then opposed them to whether she feels (or, sometimes, as we accidentally used interchangeably, “draws from”) negative energies.

See the obvious problem here? She might have understood what we meant, discussing the positive attitudes and excitement of the group, versus the negative energy put off by grumpy people. But especially when asking even pseudo-scientific interview questions, we start talking about “positive energies” and that could mean something completely different to her, or say, a scientist. Some scientists theorize that ions may contribute to paranormal phenomena, or be a factor in the manifestation. Ions are charged particles. What’s interesting is that an excessive amount of positively charged ions in the air make people feel bad. And, inversely, excessive negatively charged particles make you feel good. (This is where you get those “Ionic breeze home air filters” on infomercials. They charge the particles negatively so that your room feels better.) Some think then, that as a byproduct or condition of the spirit’s manifestation, positive ions may contribute, and may also explain the heavy, more negative feelings associated with even benevolent hauntings.

So as we sit asking about Lucy only drawing from “positive energies,” who’s to say she wasn’t referring to ionic charge, not attitudes?

You can understand how quickly, from even this one example, what seems like a simple question can be loaded, and especially difficult for a spirit to answer with just a yes or a no.

Look at the simple difference between the questions “Can you do something?” and “Do you do something?” One speaks to potential, the other speaks to whether it actually happens. How easy would it be to ask Lucy if she can interact with the other spirits, then begin to tell the story that Lucy does interact with the spirits. There’s a jump in the facts here. Perhaps she can but doesn’t.

What I find interesting about this forms the second part of the vlog today, and that applies to real life applications of thinking about our words.

For example, I have a tattoo on my forearm of a Jack o’ lantern. Some people would say specifically that I have an “evil Jack o’ lantern” tattooed on my arm. I’d say I have a scary looking Jack o’ lantern. Now this isn’t an issue of semantics. My tattoo is supposed to be scary. And specifically so.

IMG_2413

In fact, I got it partially because of this idea that Jack o’ lanterns were meant to scare off evil or negative spirits. So to say that my tattoo is itself an evil Jack o’ lantern is not only inaccurate, but also contradictive to it’s very purpose in a MEANINGFUL way. Having an evil Jack o’ lantern would make my ink a part of that evil rather than combating against it.

If you think about it, we see a lot of things that way. Many of us see things that are scary as inherently evil.

And I think that making that distinction between scary and evil is a very important distinction. One that horror aficionados, for example, have made for a long time. But one that a fair amount of the general public have been ignorant of. They often act under the assumption that for one: scary things are evil. And then leap to two, if you like scary things, you’re interacting with things that are evil or are romanticizing the evil.

This opens doors to different conversations, but what I want to stress is the importance of the distinction.

So I urge you to continue to make distinctions. To study those binaries we tend to group. Not just within the paranormal and the questions we ask, but with ANY distinction. In politics, in literature, in music. In social interaction. Because it’s important to clarify what you mean, what society means, and where you stand.

If you liked this vlog, feel free to check out the earlier episodes here, subscribe, and give that like button a click.

Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. He won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published his first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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Talking to a Dishwasher With a K2 Meter!

Today I want to talk to you guys about K2 meters and the Rule of Five. Odds are you’ve probably heard of a K2 meter, but you haven’t heard of the Rule of Five (Probably because I made up the Rule of Five, but I’ll get to that in a second).

First the K2 Meter, ghost hunting device, electrician’s tool. It measures EMF.

Scientists would like to say that if you’re going to measure EMF on an investigation, you have to know your sources, think critically about it, and get down to the heart of what’s actually sending out that signal.

I like to say that if you’re getting responses for twenty minutes in perfect answer to your questions, you’re probably not talking to a stray signal from a washing machine. (Unless of course it’s a really smart washing machine, which would be paranormal in its own right, but not quite what we’re looking for).

But this opens up problems between the Experiential Investigator (the person just doing it to have an experience of the paranormal) and the Scientific Investigator (the person writing a proof, or trying to understand what’s happening empirically).

Quick secret, you don’t have to be a “scientific investigator” to do a paranormal investigation.

Quick secret about the secret, you should probably learn as much as you possibly can about the subject anyway.

Which is why I’m doing this vlog right now. We have a huge trend right now in experiential investigators. We have to educate ourselves. I’ve seen way too many people go through the Stanley Hotel believing every little thing is a spirit. (Which isn’t to say that I blame them, most have never done this before, but there is a trend in that SO many people now are joining teams, creating teams, and investigating as a hobby EVERYWHERE, that we need to cover our basics).

So, speaking about the K2, we need to cover the device and this idea of  justified “perfect answers to your questions” as an acceptable substitute for “scientifically investigating.”

So the rest of this will come at you in five points.

Point ONE: If you don’t already know, some people theorize that as a spirit manifests, it produces EMF at the frequency that a K2 registers, or they can take this EMF from somewhere else, and reproduce it to communicate back and forth.

But, point TWO: Just because your K2 is going off, doesn’t mean it’s a ghost.

Which leads to point THREE: K2 meters are set off by EVERYTHING. Cell phones. Wireless signals. Walkie talkies. GPS. All of these communication signals that we have around us all the time, K2 meters pick up on those.

Point FOUR: The Rule of Five. Storytime. So I’m sitting up at the Stanley Hotel a number of months ago, we’re sitting in Lucy’s room with a group of about fifteen people, and the K2 meter starts going off. Now it’s going off a little different than normally. It flickers eight times in succession, then pauses for twenty or thirty seconds before going off eight times again.

Now I’m thinking mechanical. My gut instinct as a technical investigator, if it’s that repetitive, it’s probably mechanical.

Meanwhile, I start timing the intervals in my head, then with my iphone, and about the time I realize for sure that there’s twenty or thirty seconds between each flicker, I decide to write it off. But in the time it took me to do this, the group had already built up a whole story. Which isn’t hard to do.

By getting “yes” confirmations at every twenty seconds, you can build a conversation. Are you a woman? No. Are you a man? Yes. Okay. Are you a spirit from the Stanley Hotel with us? No. Are you the spirit of someone in this room with us right now? Yes.

What I’ve seen from enough instances like this though, is that the spirit stops making sense around four or five questions.

Why?

Because for one, it’s not a spirit. But for two, it’s because you’ve built up enough of a specific story that you start to expect answers around then, and then it stops giving you the answers that you want. You start asking more, targeted questions that you’re expecting a “yes” answer to, and less questions you’re expecting a “no” answer to. So you’d expect that the frequency of the “yes” answers would increase, but it doesn’t, because it’s on a specific, twenty to thirty second signal.

So point FIVE, ask good critical questions. Ask the same questions in a different way twice and hold the spirit very accountable for those answers.

Now, is this a hard and fast rule? No. Maybe the spirit takes a little extra time to rebuild their energy again before they answer you again so quickly. Maybe it takes them some time to get their bearings back before answering the second question. Maybe they can only answer five questions before losing their energy and maybe it’s really hard for them to come through on one of these devices.

But because information is so crucial in this field right now, and people think we’re crazy enough already, we have to be as specific as possible.

Now, unfortunately for the spirits, this could get a little bit annoying, but as is the nature of the beast, we have to hold these spirits to a standard that we can get this “evidence” as specific and sure as possible.

Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. He won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published his first novel, Hallowtide, in October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

Taking a brief aside from all the Hallowtide publicity, I thought I’d post my answer to an interesting email I got last night.

This group [I might join] in particular uses a lot of different equipment, but seems to focus a lot on dowsing or divining rods. I was just curious to get your take on dowsing rods and whether or not you’ve used them.

-Karen

I have been around dowsing rods a fair amount these past few months. I’m still very skeptical about them, but they seem to be onto something just the same. The critical side of me points out that they’re incredibly easy to manipulate, consciously or not. I think that as people try to hold their hands steady, they’re not nearly as steady as they think. They never move for me. On the other hand, I could very well be working against any “spiritual energy” in my effort to try and stay as steady as possible, and causing the opposite effect.

But they have seemed to provide some pretty accurate information for those that use them. And I’ve heard many times that when they do cross, the pull is *significant* and stands against any natural drift. Whichever is the case, I’m most compelled by good evidence, which is to say employing double blind techniques. Assuming the spirits can manipulate two sets at the same time, have investigators sit back to back and see if responses align. Or have one investigator wait out of earshot and then bring them in and ask the questions a second time. (Just make sure the spirits know what you’re up to and don’t get annoyed at the hassel. They’re people too!)

(There’s also that idea that spirits might have to get very intimate with your own energy to use them, so be sure to keep yourself protected just in case).

No matter how much I trust an investigator, I’ve still got too much doubt in one set of responses alone. And I’m always for validation. But definitely go for it! They certainly seem to be an interesting tool when used critically. Good luck!

Dowsing Rods: Friend or Foe?

A Warning

Scientism is this belief that any and all information, facts, and phenomena are ultimately reducible and can be expressed in the form of science. And, closely related, anything which is not reducible to physics, chemistry, or biological investigation, is not a legitimate area of pursuit. Science does not equal scientism. 

The field of the paranormal, at least as far as ghosts are concerned, inherently deals with this realm we call the spiritual, in which spirits exist, sometimes detected but often undetected by human beings.

The question is then whether this spiritual realm can be documented by science, or whether it follows the path of mysticism and exists by definition beyond the realms of physical experience. The question is whether what we experience as paranormal phenomena (moving objects, voices, apparitions) are themselves spirits appearing, or are manifesting from a spiritual realm into this physical realm.

If the latter is the case, then our science can only go so far, can only measure the manifestation, and never reach the source itself.

But if indeed we, as human beings, carry some kind of soul or connection to the spiritual, then it’s through spiritual pursuit that will get us closer to the source, these entities that we pursue.

Which isn’t then to say we should stop pursuing science. Science will lead us to new discoveries, we’ll push at that edge of the veil, we’ll be able to find proof of the manifestation.

But we should stop the scientism.

We should stop condemning people for going on investigations for personal enjoyment, for trying devices that have no real “scientific” value (or even sense), for not using a row of technical devices connected to computers. Stop all the bickering and stay open minded. And smart.