Saturday, October 11, 2014

Outdoor Paranormal Photography

Frank from Delaware Bikes Organization wrote with this question:
We did a night time bicycle ride for skeptics. I took this photo in Nov. 2011, at the X cemetery in.... B. is on the right in the photo. He was examining the monument before walking toward me as I captured the image. Initially, we thought that it was caused by breathing in front of the lens, however, we were unable to recreate anything remotely close...
I never bothered to do anything with it, since it's impossible to prove. However, perhaps there are features of the image you have witnessed before?
Chair, Delaware Bikes
(some names and actual locations have been omitted)
Robin from DPRG replied: Thanks for the inquiry. That is an interesting photo. Outside photography is tricky for so many natural reasons.  I would suggest smoke, BUT that usually twirls around in wispy circlets. It is interesting the way it's all in one fairly tight mass. I wouldn't therefore think fog either - because of the close configuration. 
I love a skeptic. I'm more of the school of hard knocks myself. I like to first like to look for a rational explanation, and if not we might assume something was going on. Having said that, I checked a resource of mine which does show a photo of smoke, as from tobacco. And it was like I described at first, whirly and twisty, and not at all like your mist. The resource goes onto suggest a fog as being the next most logical explanation.
I realize the photo is a few years old, but if you do notice an anomaly in a photo there are a few things you could do at the time of the shooting. First, document the temperature if you can, and also note the changes in temperature during the preceding hours. Fall nights do get chilly, with temperatures dropping abruptly, which would lead to the condensation appearing.
The source also remarks that a good digital camera can capture carbon dioxide which is released by trees and vegetation in swampy areas, even if the area appears dry.
A couple caveats; the author cautions about making too much of "faces" seen in a mist - a tendency called parediolia. If you are also witnessing the fog while you're photographing, make note of its changing density and watch to see if it appears to be following you about.
And do what photographers do, bracket your photos. In other words, take a series of picture. If you notice something strange on one photo, take successive photos of the same scene. Check photos before and photos after. Does the "fog" move or stay the same? Is it in all the photos or only one? Something paranormal will likely appear and disappear quickly, or move about seeming to follow the action. Something natural like a fog will stay longer, dissipating much more slowly.

False Positives


Knowing the weather conditions and or humidity when taking a picture is important.  Notice the "orb" by my son's face as he was working on his snow fort.  This isn't a spirit trying to communicate with him, but a rain drop.  The snow had stopped this particular night, and it had begun to rain.  I was using the flash setting on my camera to take pictures because it had gotten very dark.  Later, on review, I noticed, voila, I had an orb! What actually happened is the flash reflected off a rain drop resulting in a really cool orb shot.  Snow, rain, dust, pollen and bugs are all capable of creating the orb effect in a photo, especially when used in conjunction with a flash. 

Similarly, dust, bugs, humidity, pollen, rain, snowflakes, all are extremely reflective in a camera with an IR setting, such as night-time surveillance cameras. I can't tell you how many orb questions I receive from people capturing such on their surveillance cams.  To date, and I've been doing this a long time, I've still never witnessed a n Orb photograph that I seriously considered the real thing. 

Cigarette Smoke and Strange Fogs

These two photos below of a strange fog are actually cigarette smoke, with the smoker placed behind the camera. This had none of the wispy, curly features that other texts had suggested would take place with cigarette smoke, but instead produced a most believable odd fog effect. The one the left is thick to the point where it might even be mistaken for a spirit coalescing.  So before you consider spirit, you might want to find out if there are some sneaky smokers getting in a quick drag. 

The Ghost in the Details; Slow Shutter Speeds

 This strange effect was caused by a slow shutter speed in a low light situation. I dislike the flat effect of a flash, so I avoid flash as often as I can.  But a slow shutter in low light causes ghosting effects in subjects whenever they move.  Notice in the first shot just the hand seems to be fuzzy.  In the second the entire head of the subject appears semi-opaque.  Is it a ghost? No, it's my son who is in perpetual motion.  A strong indicator of this anomaly are lines of light. Notice the line of light on the right side of the second picture. The light lines can also appear jaggedy or look like lightning flashes.  If you take such a picture and don't examine it immediately, and then look at it later you might believe you captured a ghost.  I say this in all honesty, having just watched a recent episode of Ghost Hunters where a photographer did just that.  The picture seemed to show a ghostly form, but also displayed the lightning flashes of light that would indicate camera movement in a low light situation. Photography students are taught to tripod any photos using a 60 shutter speed or less.  But whoever listens to what their photography instructor taught them?

The Evil Eye

Recently the team was contacted by a family whose teenage girl was worried.  Being a typical teenager she took multiple selfies of herself using the flash on her phone camera.  Her photos often showed what she described as an evil eye in the photos.  She was so unnerved by the evil eye that she purchased a new phone. But even with the phone she kept getting the evil eye effect. So I turned the flash on, and took a selfie of myself with my phone reflecting off the mirror. And voila, I too got the evil eye effect.  It turned out the "evil eye" is actually a reflection of the IR light on the camera.  The camera focuses with an IR light. The IR light is sent out and when it hits something solid it bounces back.  The time it takes to bounce back allows the camera to determine the distance between camera and subject. It then focuses for that distance.  Using the flash and a mirror illuminated and reflected that IR light which would normally be invisible to our eyes, complete with a ghosting effect around the light at the center, creating what looked like an evil eye....imagine evil laughter here. 
Notice the evil eye effect in the photo below, on the shoulder of the team's Co-Director - in yellow hoodie.  It can also occur when there's strong light sources in front of the camera. 

 Fireflies and Traveling Spiders

Sometimes it takes me awhile to work these things out. A woman sent me several pictures. It was a summer evening, and she had been taking pictures of her family when she noticed small, green orbs showing up in her pictures.  She sent them to me and I scratched my head.  On the one hand they did act like orbs should act, a ball of light illuminated from within, not being reflected from without.  And then it dawned me, it was summer night at dusk and the photos were being taken in a grassy area. Fireflies! Mystery Solved.

Another inquiry took me longer.  A gentleman had set up a deer cam in the forest near his house.  Deer cams shoot video when something moves in the frame.  In this case the video was filmed at night, using the camera's IR setting, with a lovely doe munching by a tree calmly when this filmy, guazy string floats by over her head.  I admit I was somewhat at a loss on that one, until I stepped out on my back porch one day and saw a newly hatched spider floating by on a wisp of gossamer web.  That's how newly hatched spiders find a home.  They hatch from a nest, throw out a bit of web, which catches the breeze and floats them off to a new locale. Cobwebs and spider webs are both eerily reflective on an IR camera. 

Reflections and Pareidolia

A gentleman sent in this picture.  He felt he'd captured a ghost in the window of this quaint little shop in Rehoboth Beach.  (1st story window to the right of the door) In the window he saw what he thought looked like a ghost wearing a hat.  The building had a reputation, apparently, for being haunted, which probably increased the confusion. But the form in the window isn't a spirit but a reflection off the window.  Notice that just above the figure is the perfect outline of the tree branch which has the same light quality. 

This is a case of pareidolia. Pareidolia is  defined as a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern of something where none actually exists.  Our minds do this naturally, they're hardwired to try to make order out of chaos. That's why we see pictures in the clouds, or the face of Jesus in a water stain. 

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