You are taking a photograph in a field investigation when you capture something you haven't quite seen before. A streak of light is seen moving across the image, yet you do not remember seeing any kind of light when taking the photograph. Your heart starts to beat faster. Could this be a photograph of spiritual activity? In some rare cases, it is very much possible, but the most likely cause is due to something that many people fail to think about...the camera. Some of the most common false positives that are created besides the common dust particle are attributed to incorrect settings of the shutter speed and/or aperture settings. In this article we are going to explore the nature of your cameras settings, more specifically those of the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings.
I would like to start by making note that most of the instructions and details below are relative to the digital SLR cameras. Many point and shoot cameras vary on which settings you can and cannot control. Some makes and models allow for changing the ISO settings, others do not. The majority of the point and shoot cameras really never allow you to control the aperture and shutter speeds, so know what options you have available in your point and shoot, grab a copy of the manual if you need to. The better you understand what is available for your camera and what is not, the better you can adjust for specific variables that can cause false positives. Let us begin.
If you are using a digital SLR camera, which I hope that you are in field research, you have the control over your cameras settings more than any point and shoot camera. In fact, most point and shoot cameras do not allow you to set the aperture settings of the camera. Why is this important? Simple. The aperture controls the amount of light being let into the lens. In lower light conditions, it is best to have settings that allow for the most light to be let into the cameras lens. It would be unproductive to take photographs that you cannot see due to low lighting, so being able to control the light being filtered into the lens is a large benefit in your camera.
On the digital SLR's, the aperture is typically calibrated using f-stops. Each of the f-values represents 1 times the amount of light less or more than the values before and after. For example, and f/4 will let in 1 times the amount of light in as opposed to the f/5.6 and 1 times less the amount of light than the f/2.8. The higher the f-value the less light that is let into the lens. Optimal use in low lighting would be a setting of f/2.8 or less. In the diagram below is an example of the aperture of a camera set at various f-values.
Your ISO and the importance in your camera is debatable. Personally, I never change my ISO settings due to fact that the quality of your photographs decreases the higher that you set your ISO. So what is ISO? Your ISO in the digital camera measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. Again, most camera operators are accustomed to automatic settings, so your ISO can vary depending on your environment, but if you have control over your settings, the basic idea is similar to that of film, the lower the number the lower the sensitivity of the film and the finer the grain in the shots you’re taking. Below is a series of photographs that I took using multiple ISO settings. The shutter speed and aperture were exactly the same (1/10s and f/3.5), the only changes were made to the ISO settings.
As you notice in the diagram above, the higher the ISO settings, the brighter the image. Sometimes the most optimal ISO is not higher and brighter. I have a cheat sheet at the bottom of this page that will help you match up ISO and shutter speeds. If you are looking on how to apply the ISO in your paranormal field research, than you can use a higher ISO in replace of the flash. It will look considerably more grainy in the photograph, but depending on how dark it is, you can increase the background lighting by increasing your ISO and ensuring that you aperture is fully open. If you are not using a tripod, you will need a relatively fast shutter speed as well (1/20s - 1/100s) to reduce blur and light streaks. Again, you will get more graininess and noise in your photographs, the higher you set your ISO.
The second largest culprit of false paranormal photographs is the shutter speed, but we cannot blame the technology, only the user. Often, the camera is setup to automatically adjust for whatever optimal settings are best for the conditions that the camera detects. In paranormal research and investigation, low lighting is far more common than well lit environments. If the operator of the camera is unaware of how the camera operates under specific settings, than they are going to get strange results from their photographs. Unless you are using flash, the shutter speed in low lighting will be set at a much lower number than that of a well lit area. It seems rather obvious, but this fact tends to go ignored time and time again.
The image to the left was submitted for PSIRO analysis by an individual that claimed there were multiple spirits in the photograph. This photographic is not uncommon to see posted by individuals that do not have experience with cameras or photography. Our analysis discovered that the cause was most likely the result of slow shutter speed within a moving vehicle. Read Full Analysis Here
Interestingly enough, this image sparked debate and conversation on the site, but the phenomena is definitely reproducible. If you read the full report, you will notice that the shutter speed is set at 1/0.5s. This is generally used for very low lighting conditions or blur and light effects. What you are actually getting is a little bit of everything, but the operator of the camera was unaware what was taking place. At a low shutter speed of 1/0.5s a tripod is required to eliminate any blur from the camera, although in this case, it would not have served any benefit as the photograph was taken in a moving vehicle.
Figure 3 to the right is a more common photograph that is presented as evidence of spiritual or paranormal activity, but the qualities of the photo are generally the same. Low shutter speed and low lighting. The light streaks themselves can be caused by a number of variables. From reflections from cameras flash and even red eye reducer, to other unnoticeable lights and reflections. The cause of the streak is simply the camera moving from shaking hands or walking about.
It is also important to understand how the camera processes the information as well. You see, the camera by default finds areas with higher lighting of more importance than those with lower lighting. So if there is a light in a very dark room, that will stand out more and be picked up by the camera first, as the light is registered first by that particular area. This can have a certain perceptual effect on the person reviewing the photograph, because some things may not have been registered by the camera, even though they were actually present during the time of the snapshot. To further explain, you can take a photograph of a person walking while holding a flashlight and the photograph will only show a light streak and the person is not in the photograph at all. You can also make ghostly photographic effects using slow shutter speeds as well, by having a person sitting in the frame and then get up midway through and walk out of the frame. This will give a transparent image of a person. These types of images are probably an explanation for many early ghost photographs.
I took the liberty of creating some of the effects in a more controlled way. Below are a few photographs that I took while showing the same effects as you see above. Further below are some cool effects and tricks you can do when you know how to play with lighting.
Photos A & B above are similar to the previous photos that were submitted to PSIRO for review and analysis. They are both created using a slow shutter and slight movement of the camera while the shutter is open. You will notice that in Photo B, the light trails are strikingly similar to those in the Figure 2 above. Notice how the green and red light streaks have the exact same shape and style just like those in Figure 2? That is due to the movement of the camera and the lights being the primary focal point. What you do not notice is my radio in the background. The lighting is too low to be picked up by the camera. These are typically similar conditions you will experience in a nighttime field investigation.
Photo C is a demonstration of how easy it is to create ghostly photographs. This was done by setting the shutter speed down to 8/1s (or 8 seconds) and adjusting the aperture to allow minimal lighting f/22. I let the camera shoot for 6 seconds and then jumped into the frame with 2 seconds left. The result is a transparent image of myself that appears ghostly and paranormal, but is far from. It is possible that many ghost photos scouring the net featuring see through people may be the result of using trick photography as I have done. Once you know and understand your aperture and shutter speed, you can start playing around with lighting effects and doing fun little tricks like these:
Thanks to Wikipedia, I have copied the various camera shutter speeds that are most common in DSLR cameras, and the optimal environments in which they are used to photograph. I would recommend using the table below as a cheat sheet if you are just getting familiar with your camera. You should note that with many DSLR cameras, there are far more shutter speed options than what is listed below. Use the chart below as a starting point for each level. I have added notes to some areas of the cheat sheet that I feel are very important to remember as well.
Shutter Speed Cheat Sheet
1/8000 s: The fastest speed available in production SLR cameras as of 2009. Used to take sharp photographs of very fast subjects, such as birds or planes, under good lighting conditions, with a ISO number of 1,000 or more and a large aperture lens. You must have extremely well lit environment or turn up your ISO to allow for more lighting. If you are taking a standard snapshot, the photograph will come out very dark and underexposed.
1/4000 s: The fastest speed available in consumer SLR cameras as of 2009. Used to take sharp photographs of fast subjects, such as athletes or vehicles, under good lighting conditions and with an ISO setting of up to 800.
1/2000 s and 1/1000 s: Used to take sharp photographs of moderately fast subjects under normal lighting conditions. 1/1000 s is the slowest speed that will reliably prevent image shake in unstabilized handheld shots.
1/500 s and 1/250 s: Used to take sharp photographs of people in motion in everyday situations. 1/250 s is the fastest speed useful for panning; it also allows for a larger aperture (up to f/11) in motion shots, and hence for a narrower depth of field.
1/125 s: This speed, and longer ones, are no longer useful for freezing motion. 1/125 s is used to obtain greater depth of field and overall sharpness in landscape photography, and is also often used for panning shots.
1/60 s: Used for panning shots, for images taken under dim lighting conditions, and for available light portraits. You will most likely begin shooting at this level and work your way down for your low lighting conditions in paranormal field work.
1/30 s: Used for panning subjects moving slower than 30 miles per hour (48 km/h) and for available light photography. Images taken at this and slower speeds normally require a tripod or other camera support to be sharp.
1/15 s and 1/8 s: This and slower speeds are useful for photographs other than panning shots where motion blur is employed for deliberate effect, or for taking sharp photographs of immobile subjects under bad lighting conditions with a tripod-supported camera.
1/4 s, 1/2 s and 1 s: Also mainly used for motion blur effects and/or low-light photography, but only practical with a tripod-supported camera.
1 minute to several hours: Used with a mechanically fixed camera in astrophotography and for certain special effects.
Quick Note on Point and Shoot
Many makes and models do not all for adjusting of the settings we have discussed above, so to ensure you get the best use from your camera during field work, we will discuss many of those issues and how you can avoid them in your point and shoot.
Many digital camera operators will use "AUTO MODE" for their photographs, but there are usually other "shooting modes" that will effect, and in a sense trick the camera into changing some of the settings. None of these modes will allow you to set to specifics, but you can make some minor changes and get close to the effects you want.
Night Mode - Every camera has an option for night mode, sometimes there are a couple different modes for low lighting. Shooting in night mode will still fire a flash, but the settings will allow for a slower shutter speed to allow more light. If you covered the flash completely, you may be able to take slow shutter photos. Again, slow shutter speed and movement will cause light streaks and blur, so you will need a steady surface or tripod. Even if the flash fires, the slow shutter speed can cause light streaks after the flash has gone off, in fact, this could be the reason many light streaks are seen due to the reflection of the flash on other objects or surfaces (see Figure 3). Night mode does not increase IR lighting in your photographs.
Sports Mode - If you need a faster shutter speed, shoot in sports mode. You will need adequate lighting as low lighting conditions will present very dark photographs. Probably not the most optimal for night time field work.
Portrait Mode - Shooting in portrait mode at night will require the flash as well or a tripod depending on the lighting with no flash. Portrait mode allows for a more shallow depth of field where the object in front is in focus and blurs more the further away it is.
Landscape Mode - This is better if you want a wider depth of field where everything is more in focus with each other. Again, a flash will be needed for low lighting or a tripod with no flash only if there is adequate light.
Shooting and avoiding false positives with a point and shoot camera is obviously a bit more difficult due to the lack of control of the camera itself. You are not really controlling the variables that could account for the false positives, but rather substituting one possible variable for another. If you do not want dust and particles, you may end up with blurry and light streaks or very dark and unusable photos, or vice versa. Digital point and shoot cameras are designed to be shot in "auto mode" where the camera determines what is the most optimal settings, and even then, those settings are limited. When using your digital point and shoot camera, you simply have to take what you get. You are going to get dust and particles in your photographs at times, you just have to accept that fact and be able to discard those photos as having any sort of evidential value.
Now you should have a general understanding of your aperture, ISO, and shutter speed, as well as what kinds of false positives that come about from incorrectly using your equipment. In our upcoming "Paranormal Photography 101" articles, we will further tackle false positives and evidence, answer some of your questions you have been asking, and new methods for taking photographs including IR and UV filters.
- digital SLR
- false positives
- light streak
- paranormal activity
- paranormal field research
- paranormal photography 101
- photography and the paranormal 101
- point and shoot
- shutter speed
|< Prev||Next >|