You cannot take pictures of a ghost with a digital camera.
October 7, 2002 7:25 AM   Subscribe

You cannot take pictures of a ghost with a digital camera. And if you're not careful with that 35mm, you might mistake dust, sunlight, or fog for ghosts. Then again, maybe there are no ghosts on film at all, especially since there's a handy guide to faking ghost pictures right on the Internet. I guess when it comes to the paranormal, it pays to be objective and balanced. Boo.
posted by headspace (31 comments total)
The ghost pictures in the last link are pretty creepy. I lived in a house that my family felt was haunted (you could never get warm in there!) for a few months before it burnt to the ground, and I wish I'd thought to take some pictures in it.
posted by SpecialK at 7:50 AM on October 7, 2002

BTW, great link, headspace.
posted by SpecialK at 7:50 AM on October 7, 2002

I think this is a great hobby and belief and all that, but does anyone else see something of a metaphor in an essay explaining how metaphysical paranormal inquiry is hindered by advances in technology?

Not trying to be too mean here, but I see it as "food doesn't spoil! God just put the maggots there!"
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:56 AM on October 7, 2002

These are some links I will have to explore thoroughly. I'm a bit taken aback by the Fake Ghost Photos, though - while it's true that I think something unexplained and not necessarily benign is living in my parents' house, I've probably taken at least one picture with each of the so-called ghosts, and never once thought I had a picture of anything except my camera strap, or a bad reflection from a mirror or whatever. It mystifies me that such things would need debunking, but maybe that's just my strict scientific upbringing speaking.
posted by kate_fairfax at 7:59 AM on October 7, 2002

I love how they take it so seriously! I was obsessed with vampires and ghosts for a long time due to reading 'salem's Lot and watching Poltergeist over and over as a kid. Those were the most horrible monsters ever! There was a time no one could have convinced me they didn't really exist. I still won't open a closed door where light shines thru underneath or go into a dark damp basement.

At least I still have Santa and the Easter Bunny.
posted by oh posey at 8:32 AM on October 7, 2002

They had ghost hunters on the Art Bell show last week who had had success with picking up 'voices' with tape recorders. Well, a friend gave them a DIGITAL recorder and they thought it wouldn't work because it was digital, but it turns out that the recordings came out CLEARER without all the machine noise. They had a live-feed back system so they could hear what was being recorded and were able to actually SPEAK with the ghost of a small child that had decided to hang out with this mortician and his wife. Whatever you choose to believe, it was a really interesting show. :-)

And I always think... just because something CAN be faked, is really no 'proof' that it was (or wasn't). (ROFL - like an orgasm - heh.)

Also, when we try to get 'proof' of the nonphysical through physical means, are we trying to extend the physical INTO the nonphysical or bring the nonphysical into the physical, and is that possible? Hmmmm. :-)
posted by thunder at 8:34 AM on October 7, 2002

The ability to see ghosts is truly remarkable sometimes. But not as remarkable as TRUE GHOST STORIES! (Warning: this link may contain squabbling goths).
posted by robself at 8:38 AM on October 7, 2002

Maybe they were just badly scanned or my screen resolution isn't up to snuff, but it seems like all the "authenticated" ghost pictures in the last link are at least slightly blurry. Are they sharp for anybody?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:44 AM on October 7, 2002

The photos were mostly clear on my machine tho the ghosts were blurry (as one would expect).

I've always wondered about ghosts. I'm a good card-carrying agnostic but I've also lived in a house for nine months where very very strange things happened and where something frightfully malicious seemed to live. A cat vanished into thin air and various doors took on a life of their own late at night, swinging back and forth wildly.

So ghosts are a weak point in my skeptical armor and sightings of them seem common. Have any other deeply skeptical, mostly rational mefites seen any?
posted by pandaharma at 8:58 AM on October 7, 2002

This caption from the last link: "It clearly shows a semi-transparent figure of a little boy in the grass dressed in a red sweater with a white collar or shirt." Is suspect. Look at the picture. How can they say that the sweater is red?
posted by Grod at 9:01 AM on October 7, 2002

Another way of producing "spectral" images is with any Polaroid camera that may have clogged or damaged rollers; the more streaks and flashes produced, the better.

It's also a fun way to create "industrial accidents" if you pose someone with an empty gasolone cannister or some electrical cables near the spot near the area of overexposure.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:07 AM on October 7, 2002

Why sure; everybody knows you can't take pictures of ghosts with a digital camera. The ectoplasmic energy is... uhh... incompatable with the isolinear chips, and due to the time/space displacement creates a chronoton field that all but cloaks the beastie. Pure emulsion film is more likely to produce a pure image because... errr... the semi-fluid nature of the emulsion holding the silver in a particulate state is far more likely to react to the... psycho-magnetic energy of a spectral field.

Get me my Proton Pack, Egon.

Wake me up when they start putting some solid science in this para-hokem. They all may as well be sitting in the dark yelling "Boo" at each other with flashlights under their chins.
posted by Perigee at 9:23 AM on October 7, 2002

Two things:

1) When I was about four, my mom heard me talking in my bedroom in the middle of the night. She asked me who I was talking to, and I described to the "T" my great-grandmother, who had passed away shortly after I was born. I would have had no memory of her, and no one had any pictures of her laying around. I don't remember being afraid, but I no longer have vivid memories of the experience.

2) A friend of mine (self-proclaimed psychic) asked me if I knew a man with white short hair, a wife beater, blue/gray work pants, and brown slippers. She also said he wore silver wire-rim glasses. When I said "yes", she said "He's standing right behind you." I had never shown her a picture of grandfather (who'd been dead for four years), nor did I have any photos of him on display. It was scary, but comforting at the same time.

I don't know what to think of the above two experiences, but I do come from a long line of people who read tarot and crystal balls. I read tarot until I scared myself -- not that what I saw was bad, but it did come true. Freaky.
posted by greengrl at 9:29 AM on October 7, 2002

...does anyone else see something of a metaphor in an essay explaining how metaphysical paranormal inquiry is hindered by advances in technology?

Yep. But at least some of the rationale behind not using digital seems logical (inasmuch it can be, given the subject matter): you have no negative to prove that the picture came out of the camera with the "ghost" on it, or to prove that it wasn't some chemical reaction or something, nor do you have a hard-to-manipulate instant print like you'd get with a Polaroid. You can PhotoShop a digital picture and leave no evidence of it. But I see what you're getting at. Despite the fact that I keep an open mind, have had some strange experiences and even find some ghost pictures creepy, all these pictures looked fake to me (either on purpose or caused by artifact).
posted by biscotti at 10:01 AM on October 7, 2002

When I was about seven my family visited the graves of some relatives in an old backwoods cemetery in North Florida. I was walking close to my mom when I noticed a rose bush. Inside the rose bush was a bird nest holding two small eggs. I stood there for a while looking at them and for some reason decided it would be cool to remove the nest and take it home with me. I carefully reached in trying to avoid the thorns. I had barely brushed the nest with my fingers when I heard a voice sharply whisper "Leave It!" I thought it was my mom and I whipped around and yelled "I'm sorry!" I had planned to finish with "I was just looking" when I realized my family was now on the other side of the cemetery talking to the preacher of the small church. My arm was bloody from thorns and I ran to my mom's side faster than I ever remember running in my life. I didn't tell her what I had been doing or what I heard, just that I had run into the bush by accident. I was freaked out by that for a long time. Now, however, looking at some of the evidence for and against hauntings I tend to believe in over active imaginations, atmospheric disturbances and magnetic fields.
posted by bunktone at 10:03 AM on October 7, 2002

ghost resource.
posted by trioperative at 10:09 AM on October 7, 2002

Some things that happen leave traces of themselves behind, like when someone burns toast [/Scatman Crothers]
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:15 AM on October 7, 2002

newsflash: You cannot take pictures of a ghost with a regular camera either!
posted by krunk at 10:30 AM on October 7, 2002

I've never actually seen or heard a "ghost" but I do have a creepy story:

Two summers ago I awoke mid-afternoon one day, and my roomate was playing Diablo 2 in the computer room. We shot the shit for awhile and I went in the kitchen to make some coffee. I left the kitchen and went back in the computer room. Five minutes later when I went to get the coffee there was appromately 60-70 dead flies all over the kitchen floor. Mind you, I had just cleaned the kitchen the previous night, the windows were closed and there were no holes in any of the walls anywhere. The really odd thing was only the floor was covered with flies, absolutely none anywhere else - none on the counters, the sink, the fridge, oven, etc... just the floor. And they were all dead, none flying about , none even twitching death throes. It wasn't a prank by my roomate since he had been in the computer room the entire time I had been awake. I called my roomate in the kitchen and we stood there speechless for about 5 minutes before we swept them all up and threw them outside. Now comes the really creepy part: After we cleaned them up we went back in the computer room trying to figure out what the hell was going on... about a half hour later I go back into my kitchen to find a second wave of dead flies had hit my floor, this time there was only about 50. We swept them up again in awe, then another half hour later there was a third wave, this time there was about 30. We didn't stay in the apartment that night, needless to say, but we returned the next day and there wasn't any flies, nor had there been to this day since. If there are ghosts in my apartment I hope they don't mind the pot smell...
posted by spungfoo at 10:58 AM on October 7, 2002

I'm usually a total skeptic but I've had a creepy experience with the paranormal as well.

(In fact, have you noticed how many usually skeptical people are posting about their paranormal experiences on this thread? Why is that? I've never noticed MeFi posters to be particularly "spiritual".)

About 8 years ago I had a house-share with some friends - my best friend would sleep over on my floor almost every single night. One evening we decided to do a ouija board and it totally freaked us out with how accurate it was and the kind of things it was telling us. We decided to go to finish the "game" and go to sleep after completely scaring ourselves stupid til 2 a.m.

Anyways, my friend was planning to stay over again and sleep on the floor but she decided that she wouldn't because she hadn't been home for about a week. Later on in the middle of the night I woke up to a loud crash and found that a shelving unit with my PC, television, hi-fi had fallen over and landed directly on where she would have been sleeping. If she hadn't gone home that night she would have had nasty cuts all over her body.

There's no real point to this story but I guess I mean to say that there are definitely strange things happening that even someone as skeptical as me finds hard to find a rational explanation for.

Apart from that experience, and friends' reported experiences, I've never actually *seen* a ghost.

(P.S. Hi - I'm new here)
posted by Lleyam at 11:30 AM on October 7, 2002

Grod your comment helped me, How can they say that the sweater is red?

I couldn't find the boy at first until I tried to find the red in the picture. Then came to life a boy with a white collar and a pullover like shirt, I guess red. Then I looked at the photo this time knowing where the boy's image was, I now saw images pieced together by my imagination of a face but no red sweater, no white color, just a child like head.

Fun whatever the truth is.

PS, welcome Lleyam.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:04 PM on October 7, 2002

Damn skeptics make me sick!
Here're some more links for those seeking photographic evidence for other nick-picky, doubting-thomas, spoil-sport ruined phenomena.
posted by HTuttle at 12:19 PM on October 7, 2002

I think something unexplained and not necessarily benign is living in my parents' house

This was definately the case with my parents. They live in an old three-story school house, and would frequently complain of strange, disquieting noises in the night...

...then my brother moved out.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 1:59 PM on October 7, 2002

Sorry for the self-link, but you obviously can capture a ghost with a digital camera.
posted by Hildago at 4:24 PM on October 7, 2002

I'm surprised no one has linked to Ghost Web yet. You can join a ghost club or go on a ghost cruise. They also have a photos page. My favorites are this one, this one (so subtle!), and this one.

I'm also a fan of The Incident.

A cat vanished into thin air

That's awful.
posted by anastasiav at 8:46 PM on October 7, 2002

I was in the Army stationed in Germany for a while. Most of the american bases we're former German "kasernes" - small posts that belonged to the Nazis or in some cases going back to WW1.

As a new LT I had to pull kaserne duty officer about once a month, which entailed staying up all night with the guard force that policed our small base. One night another LT stayed on and hung out with me. We drank coffee and told each other stories to pass time and stay awake.

We we're bitching about losing sleep and having to work the next day when his mood shifted suddenly and he became silent, but really agitated. He kept making motions to leave, but would settle back, his eyes darting all over the room. I didn't know the guy that well and he was starting to creep me out. Finally, he looked right at me and asked had anything weird ever happened to me while pulling the overnight duty. I didn't know what he was talking about - I said, "Uh not really. Why?"

It took forever for him to speak again - I could see that he was struggling to decide if he should tell me. Finally, he tells the best ghost story I've heard.

Six months earlier, he had duty and he went to lay down on a cot set up next to the radio room. He layed there unable to sleep because of too much coffee, when suddenly he felt the weight of a person on him. He thought at first someone was fucking with him, and then realized no one was there - but he couldn't move! A big guy was writhing on him, pushing him into the cot. And then he heard a voice saying something in german and moaning in agony. He says at this point he completely loses it and starts screaming and wriggles out from the invisible german. The SGT on duty comes running in, the LT is unnerved and starts spewing what just happened, asking if the SGT was playing a joke on him. The SGT goes white - blood drains right out of his face and he asks the LT what he heard. He didn't speak german, he didn't know, it sounded like (something). The SGT bolts out of the room and the LT follows him outside. The SGT starts nervously smoking and tells him the same thing happened to him. He speaks german. The voice was saying "Help me, I'm on fire."

The SGT went on to say that he'd become obsessed with his experience - it had freaked him out so bad. He hated pulling the duty now and never went into the room. The SGT asked around and found out from one of the older german maintenance workers that the kaserne had been a hospital towards the end of the war. And that the guard building was a burn ward.
posted by Zombie at 11:37 PM on October 7, 2002

Most of the "authentic" pictures in the last link are easily explanable.

#1 is the reflection of a tree and the houses across the street in the glass panels of the screen door. People tend to see faces in random data; we're hard-wired that way.

#5 is a film defect, probably caused by mishandling the negative before developing; creases in mishandled 35mm film are often cresent-shaped discolorations.

#6 is the result of badly mishandling Polaroid film before developing is complete. It looks very much like a hard object was rubbed over the surface of the film, pushing the developer out of the way. Underdeveloped Polaroid film is white.

#7 is chemical streaking caused by badly timed or improperly developed film. Infrared film is typically processed by hand in home labs since it requires refrigeration and most commercial labs won't work with it; this kind of defect is typical in inexpertly home processed film.

#9 is creasing of the last (or first) picture of 120-format film, with stress defects caused by trying to tear the film free of the spool rather than cutting it.

#12 is a folded and rolled negative. If you look the "skeleton" is nearly perfectly symmetrical, the "spine" extends all the way to the top of the frame, and it extends down past the "pelvis" into the bed (where the bedspread color washes it out; my guess is it extends to the bottom of the frame as well).

#13 is dust on the lens catching the returning light of the flash. What's funny about this is he notes that dust on the negative is a source of erroneous "spirit photographs," but can't recognize a dirty lens.

#14 is a neat one. The photo is not taken at 1/360 as stated; it's a fill flash on a longer exposure, more likely a second or more given the light levels recorded in the background. The light streak is just someone walking through the frame carrying a penlight (or wearing a reflective strip) while the shutter was open, who was not in frame when the flash was fired. This is easy to do inadvertantly on some modern cameras by setting the camera to "fill flash" mode instead of "auto flash" mode; the camera will properly hold the shutter open to expose the background, and fire the flash to expose the foreground. An inexperienced photographer could mistakenly believe the shutter was closed after the flash fired.

#15 is shadows in the grass and wishful thinking. See #1.

#16 is the shadow of the tombstone cast by the light source used. Since it's also infrared film, the part of the shadow cast on the tree trunk is not fully black as one would normally expect. The "head" and "hat" are gaps in the overhanging leaves overhead.

The remaining photos are either taken under uncertain conditions, or offer too little context to analyze casually.

Of course, Mr. Kaczmarek was not interested in these explanations, and would not "except [sic]" them, citing his extensive 25 years' experience in photography. Whatever.
posted by Cerebus at 8:16 PM on October 8, 2002

way to kill the fun cerebus! ; >
and thanks for getting rid of my chills from these stories--that burned german guy one is a killer....
posted by amberglow at 8:31 PM on October 8, 2002

Just to clarify; I'm not saying that what is normally described as "paranormal" activity doesn't exist. Since I wasn't a witness to the incidents above, I can't make constructive comments. But photographs offer some form of objective evidence that can be analyzed; and the photographs that Mr. Kaczmarek presents exhibit some obscure but mundane photographic defects the untutored observer would not normally know as significant. In these days of machine-processed film, how many people not into home photofinishing would recognize chemical streaking resulting from improperly agitated developer?

What I find most unfortunate is Mr. Kaczmarek's veneer of rigorous science is so easily torn away when confronted with analysis of his evidence that contradicts his pet theories. I was told in email, in no uncertain terms, that I was not the first person to attempt to offer a mundane explanation, and that nevertheless he rejected my ideas out of hand, as he had duly considered the matter and already decided that the photographs are genuine spirits. Which is more likely, an unusual reflection of a tree in a pane of glass, or an image of a dead woman and her bulldog's spectral heads?
posted by Cerebus at 6:16 PM on October 9, 2002

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