In the next episode of The Spooktator podcast, we talk about a certain ghost photo that has been in the media recently and how rather than having a paranormal origin, the oddity within is actually the result of poor photography skills. This is a common problem in ghost hunting. When you think about it, the chances of a ghost hunter being a professional photographer are pretty slim, but you don’t have to be a professional to take some basic steps to stop your photos being such poor quality that you start to see things in them that just weren’t there. The biggest problems caused by bad photography habits buring ghost hunts include heavily pixelated photographs which cause people to see faces and figures that are actually illusions caused by the pixels, and accidental long or over exposures that make people and things look see-through, blurred, and ghost-like.
Below are some examples of such photos from a variety of ghost hunting sources:
A decent ghost investigator will be concerned with establishing a cause for whatever claims they are investigating, and while doing so it is useful to document the location and what is occurring. It makes good sense, then, that the ghost investigator does this to the best of their ability and in a manner that doesn’t raise questions about the photos themselves. Anybody who takes bad quality photos during a ghost investigation and does nothing to rectify this problem is a bad investigator. Here are some simple photography tips that could cut out the most common ghost photo problems…
Stick it on a tripod
You might think that your hands are steady when you take a photo, but they’re not. Trust me. When your camera shakes your photo will be blurry and if you’re taking that photo in the dark then any light sources will possibly streak (especially if you have a long exposure setting to account for the low light) which upon reflection can look anomalous. Stabilise your camera by using a tripod. You can additionally reduce the amount of vibration affecting the camera by using a remote shutter release to trigger the shutter. This means that when the photo is taken your hands are not touching the camera at all. You can pick up shutter releases from places like Ebay for as little as £2. Or, if you don’t want to splash out on one, you could try using the timer setting on the camera instead.
Control your speed
The shutter speed settings control the rate at which the camera shutter opens and then closes when a photograph is being taken. The longer the shutter is open, the more light the camera is exposed to and the brighter an image is going to be. Fast shutter speeds are good for capturing motion – like a friend doing BMX tricks in midair who is about to be pulled back to the ground by gravity. Too slow a shutter speed and you’ll miss the trick, or she might appear blurry. However, slower shutter speeds are good in low-light settings, or for creating artistic effects such as blurring moving water. Night time photography is often done using shutter speeds of anywhere between 1-30 seconds. Yet, if your shutter speed is too slow for the conditions you are shooting in, your photo may become over exposed and will end up too bright, or blurry and messy. Exposureguide.com have a great beginner’s guide with photographic examples here.
Know your ISO
ISO is all about how sensitive your camera is to light – the lower the setting, the lower the sensitivity. Many people are tempted to just whack the ISO setting up high when it starts to get dark (especially during ghost hunts) but this comes at a cost because the higher the setting, the more noise you will see in your photos. This happens a lot in ghost photos and then alleged faces pop out of this noise because humans are pattern seeking creatures (you can learn more about the Pareidolia effect here.) There is no set rule on what ISO setting to use, and you need to get to know your particular camera model to work out what’s best in what conditions, but keeping the ISO as low as the lighting conditions allows will reduce the risk of grainy images.
Focus the mind, focus the camera
Focussing on the subject of your photo should be a given, but out-of-focus photos that create blurry oddities are numerous. A photo might look in focus when you look at the camera screen but if you zoom that image in you really start to get a feel for whether or not the photo really is as focussed as you think. Using the ‘auto’ mode can help with this and I was an auto junkie for a long time, but I now prefer to use my camera in a manual setting while taking the time to ensure a photo is set up properly. It doesn’t take very long to manually focus a shot – and if you do this while zooming in then you can rest assured that the photo will be well focussed.
Stop taking photos in the dark
Ghost hunters shouldn’t be working in the dark in the first place. It makes no sense whatsoever as it completely reduces their observation abilities. Night time photography can be stunning so I’m not saying that photos should never be taken in the dark but even the most novice amateur photographer (aka me) will tell you that to take photos in low-light settings you really need to know your camera and how to use it. Calculating the right exposure for low-light settings feels like more of an art than a precise science.
Wider lenses are said to be easier to focus in the dark when used with higher F-stop settings. The f-number determines how wide your camera’s aperture is (which is the hole that lets in the light when you snap a photo) and the lower the f-number, the wider the aperture. Each time you increase the f-number, you effectively halve the size of the aperture which halves the amount of light through. Now, if you want to take good quality, focused photos you need as much light as possible so when in low-light setting you should stick to the lower f-numbers to increase the aperture.
Be warned! Image quality can deteriorate when you work at the extreme ends of your camera’s F-stop range.
To conclude, these are just the basics that should be taken into consideration when taking photographs. The only reason ghost hunters take photos of terrible quality is because they either don’t know how to use their camera because they haven’t taken the time to learn about it (which is also the case with most of the equipment they use,) or because using it in such a manner is guaranteed to produce oddities in photos that can be presented as potential evidence of ghosts. If you start using your camera properly you can’t claim that a ghost beard appeared on your face, and where’s the fun in that, right?
Photos in the post were sourced from Unsplash (except for the ghost hunting ones)