Apparitions, Orbs, Ultraviolet and Infrared Photography by Rick Moran
One of the most maligned examples of reported paranormal ev- idence has been the orb. These round balls of light hovering in ghost hunters’ photos have gone from proof of unexplained phenomena to dusty reflections in a relatively short period of time. In the process, some interesting evidence may have been tossed out like the proverbial baby with the bathwater. The conclusion that orbs are just reflective dust has been greatly overstated Like UFO sightings, orbs are ninety per- cent misidentification but ten percent un- explained or paranormal in nature. Understanding the Problem Before you can defend the notion that some orbs are evidence in support of ghostly activity, you must understand what the majority of orbs really are and how they got onto the photographic film or digital memory. When you take a picture and the resulting photo shows glowing red eyes in your subject, it is not a sign of demonic possession. The flash firing in a low-light situation catches the eye by surprise, with the iris fully dilated, thus allowing the back of the eyeball to reflect back as red due to the blood vessels found there. There is also a logical explanation for most orbs, and it has to do with the camera’s lens. I don’t see many orbs in my photos, and the reason is simple: I shoot with a fairly expensive digital camera that has a good lens and a standard UV filter. The filter is there to protect the lens, not to eliminate orbs, but the end result is the same. If you add that filter, you will elim- inate 99 percent of the causes of orbs. Inexpensive cameras usually have plastic lenses, rather than glass, and this can be the biggest drawback. Many cam- eras also have a built-in flash, which may or may not be automatic. By design, this light source is in a direct line to the lens for reflected illumination from the target object. Dust particles can be highly reflective. When the flash fires, the reflected surface (the dust) returns to the lens as an optical illusion, an out-of-focus object that is brightly illuminated. Ultraviolet filters act like a pair of UV- treated sunglasses. If you look into a lake trying to see fish with your naked eye, you might see some outline of their movement, but in general you can’t see past the sun’s rays bouncing off the surface of the water. If you put on a pair of sunglasses with UV-protective coating, you can look past the glare of the sun to see the fish
below. If you place a UV filter in front of the camera lens, it eliminates the dust re- flection, allowing the image of the subject to be captured free of orbs. Other Sources of Orbs Orbs are not only caused by dust. The same anomaly can be produced by other things hanging in the air, and even by the speed of the camera lens at its focal length or f-stop setting. I tell my team of paranormal investigators to take notes, not just of the time and place they shoot a photo, but of the atmospheric conditions, whether they are inside or out in a field. They routinely carry small, personal “weather stations” that they hang from their work vests. If and when you capture an amorphous orange cloud moving toward you late at night, the resulting photo is bound to undergo outside scrutiny. Skeptics will scream it is atmospheric in nature: fog, swamp gas, and the like. But if you are carrying a portable weather device, you have a minute-by-minute digital record of the temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, dew point, wind direction and speed, plus a host of other readings. Have an image of a ghost taken at 2:13 a.m. in the middle of nowhere? You can plug the weather station into your computer and respond to skeptics in a completely scientific manner. The readout will tell you if that orange blob could be weather-related, as well as give you proof that it was moving against the wind when photographed.
Two-Shot Rule If you still have an orb, more investigation is needed. Remembering the biggest problem is stray reflected light, you can now understand the rule of good paranormal investigators: take two shots forward and one shot behind you. Com- pare the first and second shot. Now look for other reflective objects. We had a photo of a man with an orb on his chest that almost made its way into our collection of real paranormal anomalies. We used the two-shot rule and found the anomaly was identical in both, though one was not as bright as the other. After enlarging that portion of the image, we found that our orb was actually a small metal lapel pin from a fraternal organization that the subject always wore. At a distance and with a direct light source, it looked just like a classic orb. If you still have an image that shows an orb, check the lens itself. Is it clean? The smallest smudge can cause out-of- focus reflective light. If the distortion is on all of your photos in the same general area of the frame, it might be dirt that is actually in the camera. If you still have a questionable photo, pass it around to other investigators for their opinion. Be ready to play devil’s advocate and defend the photo. To be really sure, take your photo to the local college and ask the photography professor to give an opinion. This person may not know anything about orbs, but he or she spends more time around cameras than you, so listen carefully. If all else fails, you can try to enlist the help of more prestigious organizations, like the Rochester Institute of Technology’s photo imaging department, or even Kodak. But don’t expect a quick response. Ghost Photography: Then and Now Now that we’ve talked about how to eliminate orbs, let’s consider how to improve your chances of actually capturing a real apparition’s photo. Ghost photography has been around for a long time. The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is a classic example. Recreating that photo today would be almost impossible. It was not taken with an Instamatic: it took two photographers, a weighty 8x10 camera, large wet plates, a very long exposure cycle, and darkroom processing using what we now call the “inspection method,” where you watch the image come up before your eyes to be sure it is properly processed. While others may disagree, I think the key to such photos is in the length of the exposure and the slow plate speed. While lugging an 8x10 bellows camera is not conducive to paranormal field investigations, there is a relatively simple method that has produced good results. Infrared (IR) photography has been around for 100 years, and was used by paranormal investigators in the mid-20th century . The spectrum of light that we can capture on film is very broad. For most applications, we only want a slice of that spectrum, roughly between 350 and 700 nanometers (nm). In digital cameras, this spectrum is further limited to 400 to 700 nm to give the casual camera owner a more robust color image. In that situation, the manufacturer has also blocked most of the infrared (IR) spectrum as well by adding an internal filter plate. This becomes the first obstacle in the search of those elusive apparition images.
While it is possible to take your digital camera apart to remove the filter panel, I would not advise going down that treacherous path. It is possible to send your camera out to be altered, for a price. But unless you can add a filter to the end of your lens, that will not work either. Some of the less expensive digitals are not equipped to take an external filter.
Big-League Photography If you have a camera that takes a standard-size lens filter, and doesn’t have an internal IR-blocking filter, you are ready to go ghost-hunting with the pros. There are any number of groups that limit their field trips to this form of paranormal investigating, and several have inspirational photos to show what can be accomplished with the right equipment. You do not have to take apart your camera to accomplish this feat, although the alternatives are sometimes problematic. You actually three alternatives: 1) You can buy a camera that will take the external IR filter on the lens and send it out to remove that offending IR blocking shade; 2) You can look for a camera that was produced before someone got the smart idea of adding that pesky filter; or 3) You can buy a new camera that is already suited for this purpose. Purchasing a new camera that can take the necessary lens filter and then hav- ing it altered to remove the blocker is possible, but costly. That new camera will cost about $250 and the alterations another $200. Choice three, buying a new camera that is designed to perform both IR and normal photography, is also expensive: about $1,500 for the bare-bones system; $6,000 for a full kit.
Option three involves finding a well- stocked photo retailer who will order a brand new Fuji S-3 Pro 123, UVR forensics camera for you. If your budget can afford it, this is the camera of choice, the one the real CSI guys use and built to cover the entire IR spectrum. Otherwise, this leaves choice number two. Start shopping eBay and local pawn shops for an Olympus C-2020-Z. In the digital world, this camera is old, but it is built like a rock and was designed without that annoying IR blocker. With this camera you can shoot IR immediately without making any alterations. Just slap on a good grade R-72 IR red-black filter (you will need an adapter; the Olympus takes a 41mm lens, but the standard size for the filter is 52mm), set the camera to the smallest f-stop, and shoot. With any camera, a tripod is necessary in low-light situations. The Olympus already has a wireless remote control, which is great. If you want to shoot a normal photo, just take off the IR filter, put on the UV, and shoot. This camera is not big on pixel size, at 2.3 megapixels, good for most prints but not if you intend to print your ghost photos poster size. The Olympus is the choice of most paranormal photographers, but the cam- era is no longer being manufactured, so you will have to find a good used one. Be- cause of its recent success in photograph- ing anomalous images and good press, the cost of this camera is in flux. A year ago they were selling for under $100; it is ow being offered on eBay for $140 and the price is expected to rise as more folks learn this camera’s secrets. The payoff for the use of infrared is worth the effort, no matter what decision you make; the IR trend is now adding many new ghost images. Success with Infrared My first IR photo was taken in the 1980s with a 35mm SLR and Kodak IR film. The place was a small country inn, once a stop on a stage route in New England. The team at that time would go from room to room, taking two photos at each setup while a second team member would keep a log of where, when, and who was in the image. Back in the darkroom, the film was developed by inspection and kept in one long strip. (Never cut film; critics will tear you apart if your film is not in one continuous run.) To my surprise there was one image on the last roll exposed. In what was then a living room, you could see two team members seated in the background, but in the foreground stood the figure of a man. Hat, boots, and a long coat were evident, although the apparition itself was totally black and devoid of features. He was leaning on a rocking chair, but slightly transparent. Through some rough calculations we determined that he stood about six feet four inches tall. Similar IR photos are now showing up on the Internet. Even a few of the popular TV shows are now featuring the use of IR photography. On the battlefield of Gettysburg, one photographer has captured many images of ghostly soldiers, not visible to the naked eye. While I do not expect that this will be the turning point in our search for proof of the survival of the human spirit after death, it does go a long way toward raising new questions about our world. As we dispel some common mistakes in photography, like misidentified orbs, we are introducing more exciting ways to capture otherworldly images. The FLIR System No discussion of ghost-hunting photography would be complete without acknowledging the most sought-after camera of the century, the FLIR thermal imaging system. This system displays heat signatures in real time. These signatures can then be recorded. I do not know a sin- gle paranormal investigator who does not want one of these systems, but most are unwilling to pay thousands of dollars to indulge their desire. The FLIR is a complicated device that has been used by police agencies and fire departments for years to find the heat sig- natures of victims or perpetrators in non- visible terrain. Could it be used to capture ghosts? Maybe. It will certainly capture images of anomalies that could be ghostly. Standing alone, no images I have seen are proof positive of a spirit in your midst. Like a K-2 meter, tri-field meter, IR thermometer, or any camera image, they add to the list of possible proofs, but can’t stand alone as the one single piece of evidence to prove a ghostly presence. If you are looking for yet another avenue to explore that is relatively inexpensive in the ghost-hunting field, my choice would be the properly equipped IR digital camera. It will not replace your note- book as your most important piece of equipment, but it certainly will yield some interesting evidence. ; Rick Moran is a long-time contributor to FATE magazine who wrote the definitive de- bunking of the Amityville Horror in our pages. He is a retired journalist who has more than 35 years’ experience in the para- normal field. He is currently the Coordinator for the Association for the Study of Unexplained Phenomenon