Photographing spirit a few basic rules.
As many of you will know spirit chasing TV shows always end up with me yelling at the TV due to there lack of knowledge and lack of the most rudimentary camera skills. If you want to photograph spirit there are a few rules you need to follow and a few basic techniques you will need to learn.
1. Stable platform. You will see all photographers wherever possible use a tripod, this is because even the slightest most imperceptible shake can blur or introduce artifacts into an image. They ideal condition to avoid this is with a good tripod however its unlikely spirit will let you set up a studio so you need to find other ways to make the camera as stable as possible before you push that button. If you are “caught out” so to speak you need to create an impromptu platform of stability in order to get the most stable image and reduce the risk of blurring.
First thing to do is to hold the camera properly, this involves placing the camera in the palm of your left hand and then gripping it with your right. pull your elbows into your body, lean forward and steady yourself.
Watch for spirit chasing tv shows where they ignore all of this and hold cameras at arms length in the dark and snap away while walking around!
Ideally when holding the camera if you can lean against something solid too this will make a big difference. It can be a door frame or a lamp post or a tree or whatever, unless you are in the middle of the desert you will always find stuff to lean on, If you are caught short then kneel on the ground, the closer to the ground you are the more stable you will be. Why do you think soldiers do this when shooting? Its called a Stable platform.
Why do we do this? when photographing spirit chances are you will be in very low light which leads to long exposure times, with longer exposure times you are massively introducing the chances of lighting artifacts and blurring. I have watched people lean on one leg, hold the camera at arms length on “auto settings” take the most horrendous blurry terrible photos in the dark and then claim the blurry mess was a spirit. It is embarrassing and one of the reasons this sort of stuff is never taken seriously.
here is a good guide to some basic stances when taking photographs.
These should be second nature to you and you should automatically get into one of these positions every time you want to take a pic. Watch real photographers in action the way they move with there stances and positions.
2. Technical understanding – digital cameras are a curse and a blessing. On one hand anyone can just point one and take a pic on the other hand no one takes the time to learn how the camera works so just leaves it on auto and snaps away leaving the processor in the camera to make all the decisions regards the shot. Reading the manual and watching some YouTube videos on how a camera operates will increases the quality of your images by orders of magnitude. Fstop, exposure times, shutter speeds etc you should understand all the terms and know how they all interact with each other. Learning the mechanics of how a camera works can be picked up quickly you can even teach yourself in an afternoon on the internet.
You will see real photographers take multiple images of the same thing, they are experimenting with various settings looking for the sweet spot and capturing the perfect image. Once you understand even the basics you remove a large amount of artifacts mistakes and general image problems which everyone else mistakes for a spirit.
3. Digital artifacts – there are so many things can appear in an image that are not spirit and as a result of the technology, operator or environment.
Bokeh – the way a lense renders out of focus light. Most so called orbs are just Bokeh.
Lens flare – there are various kinds of this but it is essentially light bouncing around and reflecting inside the lens. Often mistaken as spirit.
over/under exposure often confused for a dark shape or a spirit, some of the so called most famous ghost images are just an exposure issue.
Image compression artifacts – images within a digital camera are compressed and stored on the memory card, an algorithm is used for this. The advantage being is that to store a full colour image requires a lot of memory so a special algorithm squishes it down so you can store lots of pics and not just a handful. Problem is if you zoom in on the image you will see all sorts of shapes, artifacts even things that look like faces. This is just the way the algorithm works, it is looking to store it as efficiently as possible and often just “makes stuff up” to fill gaps.
These are just some of the potential problems, there are many more, people think a digital camera just takes a perfect pic every time but there is a lot a photographer has to consider in order to minimize the chances of such problems.
lighting – the absolute core of photography, you are not taking pictures you are capturing a simulation of light at that particular instance. Of course when you include artificial lighting this introduces other new problems, especially with the use of flash. Normally photographers like to diffuse and bounce the flash however your average ghost hunter just shoots the flash into anything, This leads light to bounce everywhere, you shoot a flash directly at glass then congratulate yourself on the awesome entity you captured! Where possible you should completely avoid using a flash when photographing spirit. It introduces so many uncontrollable factors and creates a multitude of artifacts.
Any form of made lighting can also create all sorts of strange effects in a camera too, halogen, led, fluorescent, incandescent, you must always account for the lighting around you. Before you proclaim to the world you have a ghost photo probably best to check the led kitchen lights aren’t making the automatic exposure settings go screwy.
Lighting values – a camera is very limited in what it does capture, it only has a limited digital range of lighting based on the Maxwell colour wheel. While some cameras can simulate high dynamic range when you consider the actual range of visible light even the best camera is only capturing a tiny slither of visible light and our visible light that we perceive is again a tiny slither in a massive wide range of energy waves we know exist. Light not only has a colour it also has a “strength”. Think of it this way. If you look directly at a nuclear blast it will blind you and yet you have all seen photographs of a nuclear blast? The camera has stripped out this light strength and put the image into its narrow band of reproduction. All that information is gone. When people pass over they often talk of the brightest light they ever seen and yet if you managed to photograph it it would just appear white like a bright white wall in the sun. All the true range and power of light is stripped off by a camera.
I always laugh when I hear people say ” Ill believe it when someone takes a decent photograph of a ghost” well they believe in x-rays, infrared light, ultraviolet ! Cameras are so limited I would be amazed if anyone was good enough to capture a spiritual event anyway. It is worth learning how to use a camera, even just spending a few hours studying will make a massive difference to your results, you will be astonished at the range of settings and options available on a regular compact camera no one ever uses. Even if you never take a picture of a spirit I can guarantee your holiday snaps and selfies will improve massively. In the event you do encounter something you will take the best possible image of it and capture it forever.
So to recap..
You see a spirit
you turn the camera on
Take lens cap off – this is important even pros make this mistake
make quick settings adjustments that are best for the environment to eliminate potential image errors
you make a stable platform for the camera out of you or your environment.
You take pics, without a flash!
Then when it is over you analyze the environment for potential causes of light anomalies. For example: glass, mirrors shiny surfaces or anything that could reflect light and cause an issue in the image.
Then you have an image that at least you can say you tried your best to eliminate anything extraneous to the subject you were trying to capture. only when you eliminate as many factors as possible can you say you “may” have caught something genuine.
Chris Black 3D Artist, Artist and Photographer