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