When it comes to paranormal based evidence, it is far too common to see photographs depicting user error and settings that are the cause for what is believed to be unexplained phenomena. The fact of the matter is most of those photos are explainable and are caused by a lack of understanding and knowledge about the equipment that is being used. I am going to be offering a series of articles that will hopefully educate the paranormal community about their equipment, why they are getting the anomalies they are, and how to avoid those false positives in their photographs. First let's start with the basics.
There are two classifications of cameras, digital and 35mm. 35mm is rarely used in the field anymore, mostly due to a very limited amount of photographs that can be taken as well as the possibilities for film error. For the sake of education, we are going to explain the differences in all of them. Within each classification, there are two very different styles of cameras. Both have a point and shoot and a single lens reflex (SLR).
35mm Point and Shoot
control over many aspects of the camera, including focus, exposure, etc. Along with the inability to control certain settings of the camera, it also had some developmental flaws. The flash, for example, was built in the camera for easy portability. While this is a benefit on one end, the issue was that the flash was built so close to the lens, that in some instances artifacts and particles could be seen in photographs (see figure A). These are more commonly known as "orbs" by the paranormal community. They are actually dust and other particles that are being reflected back into the lens due to the positioning of the flash.The 35mm point and shoot cameras were designed for ease of use. Little to no camera training was necessary to operate, and many of the settings were minimal and/or automatic. The user often had no
At the time these unexplained blotches, which can be a variety of shapes and colors depending on the nature of the particle and surroundings, would be noted without an explanation as to how they got there. Most often recognized as translucent white sphere, somewhere along the line they began being referred to as evidence of ghosts and spirits.
Another setback with the 35mm point and shoot is the limited amount of photographs that can be taken. Most rolls are either 12, 24, or 36 shots. This would also drastically reduce the amount of anomalies noted in photographs due to the need to "choose" your shots carefully, so as not to waste precious film. A benefit of the 35mm is the ability to produce negatives. Negative film offers more validity to the ingenuity of the photograph, but as with most 35mm, there are a variety of speeds that you could purchase for the camera. The problem is that the most affordable speeds were the least beneficial for low light conditions, the most common environment for paranormal investigations.
The biggest benefit of the 35mm point and shoot is that it is for those individuals that do not want to hassle themselves with multiple options and finding the right settings to take a photograph. The problem is, in paranormal research, point and click use is not the most beneficial. A firm understanding of your equipment and how to control your settings to reduce and eliminate variables is absolutely essential. All in all, I do not recommend the 35mm point and shoot as a primary tool for paranormal research, not that a majority are still using them anyways.
If you still desire to use 35mm for your research and investigations, than I would highly recommend the use of an SLR type camera. With the ability to have negatives on hand for photographic analysis and the ability to control your settings, the SLR is a definite upgrade from the point and shoot, but not without its own drawbacks. The problem with the SLR is that it is more involved and requires more than a basic understanding of cameras and their functions. This is beneficial if you allow the time to learn your equipment properly.
The first benefit from the SLR is that when you look through the viewfinder, you are actually looking through the lens itself. This allows you to see what you are taking photographs of. Applying this to paranormal research is not beneficial if you are quickly taking snapshots of the area, but can be beneficial if you are taking accurate photographs of the environment and surroundings during field work.
The SLR camera also allows for external flashes that can mount in the shoe or externally via a wire that connects to the flash shoe. This will help reduce the reflection of particles and objects that may be captured in front of the lens (along with allowing for better lighting control). For the most part, it is relatively slim to get particle reflections due to the size of the lens, but it is not impossible. Attaching a flash that you can adjust the angle also ensures that you do not capture these particles.
Other advantages are the ability to control and set shutter speeds and aperture settings. The slower the shutter speed, the more light that can be captured in darker settings, but also cause blurriness if there is movement, so tripods are needed for such shots, unless you are creating artistic photographs containing blur and light streaks. Controlling the aperture settings also sets how much light is let into the camera. The settings for each SLR varies depending on the camera. The settings are classified in f's. An f2 is typically a completely open aperture, allowing the most light into the camera and an f16 is a lower setting allowing minimal light into the camera. It is important to understand how each setting effects the camera when taking photographs.
35mm SLR cameras are a recommendation if you are wanting negative copies of all images. If something should be found that cannot be explained naturally, it will also be present in the negative allowing verification that something was actually captured by the camera. Of course, there are always possible processing errors on the film, which yet again brings another drawback to 35mm.
Digital Point and Shoot
The Digital point and shoot camera is probably the most commonly used camera both in paranormal investigations and in general. The popularity of the digital camera has put one in just about every household. The ease of use as well as the quality of the photographs for printing make digital cameras the most sought after of all the cameras. Again, there is little to no experience needed to utilize the point and shoot, and similar to the 35mm also comes with many of the same faulty issues with the body design.
The digital point and shoot camera utilizes many automatic settings that are registered by the camera depending on the environment. From ISO to shutter speed, the cameras are often set to AUTO mode for optimal use. The downside is that often times, the most optimal use is being misused. For example, the digital camera automatically can detect low light settings and adjust the camera accordingly. It will set the flash to fire or change the shutter speed if the flash is set to off. A slower shutter speed, as mentioned before, allows more time for light to be captured by the camera. Setting the flash not to fire will eliminate any possibility of capturing dust and particles, but you will also need to be using a tripod or an extremely steady hand, depending on the settings. So you are torn between two options...remove flash and require extra steady equipment or use flash and run the risk of capturing the inevitable dust or particle.
A great addition to the digital cameras are its ability to create digital EXIF data. Each image is tagged with EXIF data that tells specifically how the photograph was taken. From the make and model of the camera to the settings that were used (even in automatic) while the snapshot was taken. EXIF data has helped tremendously on identifying user error and false positives in paranormal photography. The more you get accustomed to understanding and knowing your camera, the easier the EXIF data is to read.
The benefit of the digital camera is its superb quality and the seemingly limitless photographs that can be taken and deleted with the push of a button. Even more, most newer digital cameras no longer come with a viewfinder as they are, in essence, obsolete in point and click digital cameras. Due the fact that these cameras can hold up to sometimes thousands of photographs on one single card, the rise in anomalous photos has drastically increased since the 35mm era. Again, the point and shoot digital cameras suffer from the same flawed design that allows for particles and objects that are close to the lens to be reflected back into the lens, giving the appearance of white spheres, called orbs. Worse, the new styles are often slimmer and the lens barely protrude from the body, allowing for a wider range of reflection and an increased chance of catching dust and particles in the lens.
In Figure B below, I have created a basic diagram that shows how and why particles are captured by the digital and even 35mm point and shoot cameras. Most point and shoot cameras are built very similarly and the avoidance of capturing dust and particles while using flash is almost impossible. The only way to be almost guaranteed to not capture dust or particles with a point and shoot camera is to take photographs in a vacuum, and I am not speaking of a household appliance. While this article is not about the discussion of dust and particles, do note that you are always surrounded by a variety of dust and particles, no matter where you are located.
The diagram above depicts a standard point and click digital camera and a basic array of how a photograph is taken, the body design is very similar to that of many models of the 35mm point and shoot. I have labeled each section according to its importance and each section is discussed below.
A: This is the section in which any particle large or close enough to the cameras lens will be reflected back showing what is commonly referred to as orbs. The bigger particles will almost always appear larger than the smaller particles. Just because it appears large on your camera, it may be no more than the diameter of a pin head.
B: This area is void of any light from the flash and will not be reflected back into the camera. Any large particles or objects may appear as blurry and shadow-like. The appearance of particles in this area really depends on the size of the particle or object.
C: This red strip that goes up the entire diagram represents the area in which the camera will not be able to automatically or manually focus on any object or particle that resides in it. This is not an accurate depiction, but rather a basic representation as each camera differs.
D: Represents the flash of the camera as it is fired. This is a close estimation of the flash and may not be completely accurate. Each make and model of the camera is located in varying positions, so the flash direction and angle may also change accordingly. It is also important to note that the further you zoom out with your lens, the less area for particles that can be captured by the flash. This is why SLR cameras are often better. There is a very small area in which dust and particles can be captured with the standard flash, and the addition of external flashes can ensure that it is reduced or removed completely.
E: This is the focal point in which all objects can be focused and objects must be larger to be captured on camera. Typically dust and particles will not show up as they are much smaller, but bugs, rain, snowflakes, etc can. It is important to note that the further away the subject is, the more blurry and out of focus objects in front of the subject will appear.
As you can see with the diagram above, that the reflection of particles is almost impossible to miss if you are using a flash. With slimmer more portable models, the ability to capture dust particles is increasingly more simple due to the fact that that distance from the lens to the flash is far less of a distance.
With the benefits of digital technology with none of the flaws of the point and shoot digital camera, the digital SLR camera is my most recommended tool to use during your field research. Not only do you get even better quality capabilities with the Digital SLR, but you also have more control over your settings to ensure that the majority of false positives are eliminated.
Granted, a firm understanding and a DSLR photography class is recommended, it is not a requirement...although a lot of reading awaits you. There are more settings and controls with the digital SLR than most even know what to do with (which we will delve into in future articles). That is why I must reiterate a firm understanding of your camera is highly recommended. You get the same benefits of the 35mm SLR without the limited film, and you also have the ability to change your photos speed and settings at any time, whereas you are stuck with whatever speed film you are using with 35mm.
While not to sound like a cheerleader for digital SLR, it will be the most beneficial tool in your arsenal. While the flash in accordance to the lens still can produce reflection from particles and dust, it will truly depend on a number of factors, including the size of the lens body and the position and angle of the flash. Most lens bodies are relatively longer leaving less opportunity to capture dust and particles back into the lens. With the ability to add an external flash via the shoe, you will eliminate the possibility of capturing particles and dust completely.
The digital SLR camera is great for capturing the environment and surroundings during your field work. As with all digital photographs, there are always downsides. The ability to manipulate digital photographs is fairly simple with current software, albeit the same technology allows for easier detection of manipulations as well. While the benefits truly outweigh the drawbacks, the digital SLR camera is a must have if you want to photograph your field investigations.
So far you should have basic knowledge of the different types of cameras that are available, and some of the drawbacks that exist within those cameras. In upcoming articles we will discuss more in depth about specific settings of your camera to ensure that you have a further understanding of not only your camera, but how to use it and detect false positives more clearly.
- digital SLR
- EXIF data
- false positives
- paranormal community
- paranormal investigations
- paranormal photography 101
- paranormal research
- photography and the paranormal 101
- shutter speed
- unexplained phenomena