AMERICAN GHOST SOCIETY

digital cameras:
ghost hunting at its worst!

Presented by Troy Taylor, Author of the GHOST HUNTER'S GUIDEBOOK and President of the American Ghost Society

For the complete update on Digital Cameras & Ghost Hunting, See the New,
Updated & Revised Edition of the Ghost Hunter's Guidebook (2004)

Digital Cameras: No Longer Ghost Hunting At its Worst?
When I first began writing about ghost hunting and published my first research manual on the subject in 1997, I was already speaking out against digital cameras and why they should not be used for paranormal research. However, one of the statements that I made was that perhaps someday, the technology of the digital camera would finally be adaptable to the sort of research that legitimate researchers would like to do. And, after all of this time, it looks as though that day has finally arrived. I still feel that standard cameras are essential for paranormal research but I also feel that digital cameras do have a place as well.

 There are likely some readers who are amazed to see that I would actually write these words. It seems impossible to believe that I would ever endorse the use (even a limited one) of digital cameras in ghost research but hopefully, I can explain:

Since my first Guidebook was written years ago (and this website launched), I have been under constant and continued attack for my stance against digital cameras. Many of those who criticized my opinion misunderstood the point, believing that I had something against the cameras themselves. This was not the case. I always understood the benefits of them. They provided instant images, there was no wasted film or development costs. In most cases, you could actually see the photo in a matter of seconds after it was taken. I understood the reasoning behind this. Digital cameras were saving ghost hunters a lot of money but I could never just accept the authenticity of the images that were photographed by them.

No matter what I ever said or wrote though, digital cameras continued to be used in ghost research. Thankfully, not all ghost hunters were using them incorrectly. These cameras have always been excellent for documenting a location and also as a secondary, back-up camera. The problem came when the digital cameras were the only cameras used in an investigation. This was (and still is) and incorrect use for the camera and it has led to some disastrous results for the credibility of paranormal investigations. Many ghost hunters are out snapping hundreds of digital photos at random, using nothing else for their “investigation” but the camera. They are presenting digital images as absolute proof of the paranormal and by doing so, are making a mockery out of the real investigations that are going on. Fortunately, these people are in the minority when it comes to paranormal investigators, but they are still out there, wreaking havoc with their cameras.

But why was I so concerned about digital cameras and why would I maintain for more that six years that they should not be used in paranormal research?

 In another section of the website (The Trouble with "Orbs"), I mentioned the problem that the early digital cameras had when operating under low-light conditions. I have always referred to this as the “orb factor” and it was an ongoing problem with digital photography for years. There were a great number of ghost hunters who were out on “investigations” and discovering copious amounts of “orbs” in their photos. Unfortunately, they were nothing more than sections of the images where the pixels did not fill in completely. The good news is that time and advances in digital technology have all but eliminated this problem in the newer and better quality cameras. The lingering problems come from those who have not updated their cameras for newer models and we’ll discuss that a little further in a moment.

Aside from the “orb” problems in the older digital cameras, the biggest problem that was being experienced was that there was no way to determine if an image was genuine or not. To be able to analyze a photo and to be able to determine the photo’s authenticity, two things have always been needed --- a print of the photo and its negative. This was something that a digital camera could not provide and since electronic images taken with the older cameras could be easily altered and changed, it was impossible to prove they were authentic.

Time, and technology, has changed though and now it is not only possible to authenticate the images that have been taken with a digital camera but, depending on the camera, it can be used as the primary photographic instrument in an investigation.

What has changed my mind about digital cameras?

In addition to trying to rule out natural explanations for reported activity before considering that it might be haunting, one of my other research philosophies has always  been to try and continue to update my theories of the paranormal. I do not believe that we will ever know all that there is to know about this field and I have never stopped searching for further information. There is much that we still have to learn and even when it comes to something that I have been as adamant about as digital cameras, I am the first to admit when I have changed my theories based on new technology and new information.

My theories have only recently changed and I would still maintain that, prior to recent times, digital cameras have not been suitable for paranormal investigation. At no time have the older cameras been capable of collecting authentic evidence and I base this on the problems with the false “orbs” that the makers of the cameras readily admitted to and also because of the lack of a negative or any other method of examining a digital image in order to authenticate it. Until just recently, the authentication of digital images was only possible with professional quality digital cameras, which were far out of reach of the ordinary person. For this reason, only lower quality cameras were being used by investigators and strong evidence could not, and cannot, be collected using them.

But times have changed. It is now within the means of investigators to purchase 5 megapixel and greater cameras. These newer cameras not only offer clean and crisp images that do not have the problems with false “orbs” but some models also offer “Night Shot” technology and all of them even offer a way to authenticate the images that is as trustworthy as a negative. One of the options of a higher quality camera is access to what are called Raw Data files. These files are uncompressed and unprocessed and an anomalous image that is examined using this option can actually be authenticated – perhaps with even more detail than in a photographic negative. In addition, the newer cameras also offer access to the EXIF information about images that are photographed. EXIF is data that is embedded into the image once it is taken. It contains everything about the camera that took the image, including camera settings, date and time the image was taken, if flash was used, the ISO settings and more. If anyone attempts to manipulate the image, the EXIF data holds this information too. In this way, a person trying to analyze a digital image will be able to see if it has been manipulated or not. If anyone attempts to alter the EXIF data, it will destroy the image. In this way, it becomes a “digital negative” of every picture that is taken.

With this new technology now within reach of the average person, digital photography has reached a level where I believe it is finally acceptable in paranormal research. By using cameras that start at a level of no less than 5 megapixels and taking advantage of all of the options available to us, we can actually gather evidence with our digital camera that is comparable to that of a 35 mm camera.

With all of this said however, I do not want this to be misinterpreted as a blanket endorsement of the way that digital cameras have been used in the past. Neither the methods, nor the low quality cameras that have been used, have a place in the research if used improperly. Even now, with all of the technology that we have available, no camera should be used as the single tool in an investigation. Reputable photographs should still be accompanied by good research and corresponding activity, whether the captured images can be authenticated or not. 

 

Copyright 2004 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.

Return to the Ghosts of the Prairie Home Page