Ghost Photography 101 – An Overview

Cover of Ghost Photography 101, by Fiona Broome - 1st EditionGhost photography is a fascinating subject.  Ghost photos are also among the easiest ways for paranormal investigators and ghost hunters to find evidence of hauntings.

In the following articles, you’ll learn more about how to take ghost pictures, and what to watch out for.

Most of these are excerpts from the first edition of my book, Ghost Photography 101.  (That first edition is now out-of-print.)

Ghost Photography Articles

In these articles, you’ll see photos — mostly in color — from the book.  Some are real anomalies, others are explained as false anomalies… things to watch out for when you’re taking pictures at haunted sites.

These articles and photos aren’t intended as the last word in ghost photography.  They’re a starting point for each investigator.

Try similar experiments with your own cameras, to see what real and fake results look like.  Then, you’ll feel far more confident about your ghost photos.

Tips for the Best Ghost Photos

Ghost Photography Tips

The following is an edited excerpt from the first edition of Ghost Photography 101, by Fiona Broome.

Man in Blue ghost photo - Fort Worden, Port Townsend, WA
Fiona’s famous ‘man in blue’ photo. (Ft. Worden, WA)

If you simply bring a camera to haunted places and take lots of photos, you’ll learn the ins and outs of ghost photography on your own.  Trial-and-error is fine.

However, the following tips might make the learning process easier.

If you take pictures at random, you won’t return home with as many ghost photos as you could with a more focused approach… no pun intended.  First, learn where the “hot spots” are at the site.  Ask others where they’ve felt the most chills, found the most EMF activity, or taken the best ghost photos.  That’s a good place to start.

Take cues from your ghost hunting tools

If you have ghost hunting tools such as an EMF meter or a pendulum, you can use them to help you identify the best locations.

For example, if your EMF meter detects energy spikes — or drops lower than it should — that’s a potential location for ghostly photos.  Try taking photos standing directly at the location where your EMF meter indicated something odd.

However, sometimes when you’re in the middle of an anomaly — or a haunted spot — your camera won’t record anything unusual.  So, step away from that spot. Turn around and take pictures of it from a distance and from several different angles.

Unexplained photo - Gilson Rd. Cemetery, Nashua, NH
One of many strange ‘ghost photos’ taken at Gilson Rd. Cemetery, Nashua, NH

Several ghost hunting tools can detect EMF-related anomalies.  Of course, an EMF meter — especially a sensitive meter such as the K-II — can reveal the most electromagnetic anomalies.

You may identify equally good, active locations using a hiking compass, dowsing rods, or more specialized tools such as an Ovilus or any real-time paranormal communication device.

If you have a hiking compass, the needle points in the direction of magnetic north.

However, if you’re near electromagnetic fields (EMF), the compass needle will point away from magnetic north and towards where the highest EMF is. (Movement can easily affect hiking compasses, so I only pay attention to needle variations more than 30 degrees from magnetic north.)

Likewise, dowsing rods can behave strangely around elevated EMF levels. For many people, the rods cross each other at the point where the EMF is at its highest.  For others, the rods separate or even swing in circles.

Keep in mind that dowsing rods may also detect underground springs, buried pipes or electrical wires.  So, if the rods continue to behave strangely along a straight line, you may be walking over underground pipes or wiring.

The Ovilus is one of many tools that became popular during 2009.  It seems to respond to EMF surges by talking.  Using a pre-programmed vocabulary — plus additional words and names that baffle many researchers — the Ovilus “speaks” out loud.  Similar tools include the Frank’s Box, the Shack Hack, ghost radar apps for mobile phones, and “ghost box” devices.

If you’re using one of these tools and it starts talking, take photos.  Take lots of photos.

If someone’s camera or cellphone suddenly stops working, that’s another cue that EMF energy is interfering.  Take photos right away.

This ghost photo is actually breath on a chilly night.
This eerie photo is probably just breath on a chilly night.

Remember to take photos inside the area where the EMF or other electronic signal occurs, but also step away and point your camera so you’re looking at the location, from a distance of at least a few feet.

Your “gut feeling”

Your “gut feeling” is the single most useful tool to help you identify spots for ghost photography. Whether you get goosebumps, the hair goes up on the back of your neck, or you simply feel prompted to take a photo, pay attention to those subtle cues.

Share those feelings with others. You may be surprised by how many people will confirm what you’ve felt.

I believe that everyone has some psychic sensitivities.  They’re often felt as a “gut feeling.”

Few people are sure of their intuition at first.  If you mentally note how you feel when you take good ghost photos, you’ll soon recognize those “gut feelings” more confidently… and then take more pictures when you do.

It’s important to learn to identify real anomalies and the normal things that can look like them.

However, it’s not as easy to create fake ghost photos as skeptical critics insist.  When it doubt, trust your gut feeling.

Sparkles and Other Surprising Anomalies

The following is an excerpt from the first edition of Ghost Photography 101, by Fiona Broome.

Your camera can suggest “hot spots” for good ghost pictures.  One of the best indications is a phenomenon called sparkles.

In the late 1990s, my research team noticed bright, sparkling lights that slowly drifted towards the ground after I took photos in haunted areas.  They appear to flare when the flash goes off, but the lights linger for about half a second afterwards.  On rare occasions, they fade over a period of nearly two seconds.

I called them “sparkles” in my earliest ghost hunting website articles in the 1990s, and the term is now used throughout the ghost hunting field.

If we could capture those sparkles in photos, they might look like the following photo. (It think it’s actually a spiderweb or some hair.)

Sparkle-type image
What sparkles can look like. (Actually a spider web or hair.)

Sparkles usually appear about 20 – 30 feet away from the camera.  They look about the size of ping-pong balls or walnuts.   We see dozens of them, sometimes all at once and sometimes in a subtle sequence.

Usually, the sparkles are white or pale pastel colors.  Some researchers report more vivid colors.

Sparkles seem to have mass, or they wouldn’t drift towards the ground as if pulled down by gravity.  However, people standing immediately underneath them don’t see or feel them as they fall.  So far, we have no idea what causes sparkles.

We know what they aren’t.  They aren’t bugs (including fireflies), dust or pollen.  They aren’t rain or moisture.

Note: Insects immediately in front of your camera can also seem like bright lights, but only when the flash highlights them.  In addition, if you’re in an area with fireflies, we’ve noticed that some fireflies “answer” the flash on the camera by flaring their lights as well.

Remember, the anomalous sparkles never show up in photos.  (I wish they did.)

They’re best seen through the camera’s viewfinder (or lens), but most spectators (about 80%) see the sparkles whether they’re looking through a camera or not.  Both film and digital cameras seem to highlight sparkles.  Some cameras are better than others.

My oldest camera is among the best to reveal sparkles.  It’s an Olympus AF-1 Twin that my mother bought me, many years ago. It uses 35 mm film. Today, you may find cameras like it at thrift shops for just a few dollars.  (I recently found one at Goodwill for $1.50.  It works well, too. You might find something similar at Amazon.com.)

Once you see sparkles, you’ll know exactly what I’m describing.

Take as many photos as you can when sparkles appear. There’s an increased likelihood that your photos will include anomalies… just not the actual sparkles you saw.

Photographing Ghost Orbs

The following is an edited excerpt from the first edition of Ghost Photography 101, by Fiona Broome.

Orbs are probably the most popular evidence of ghosts and hauntings.

Orbs are the easiest for beginners to capture in photos. They can be confused with dust, bugs, pollen, reflections and moisture… but not as often as you might think.

This photo at the lower right shows a typical orb at Pine Hill Cemetery (also called “Blood cemetery”) in Hollis, New Hampshire.  The picture was taken near some of the oldest graves in the cemetery. This orb is unusual because it was photographed without a flash.

Daytime orb - Pine Hill 'Blood' Cemetery - Hollis, NH
Arrow points at daytime orb – no flash, no reflection, no lens flare.

About 90% of orbs are photographed using the camera’s flash.  This suggests that orbs have some physical content that reflects the light of the flash.

However, if orbs have a physical form, more people should see them in real life.

In fact, most people don’t see orbs, except in their photos.

Orbs usually white or pale blue, but they can appear in a variety of colors, both pastels and vivid shades.  Some are very faint.  Others are bright and almost opaque.

Now and then, orbs seem to include faces, but most are simply translucent circular (or spherical) shapes.

Sometimes the face closely resembles the person whose ghost is supposed to haunt the site.  That’s eerily reminiscent of the fake ghost photos of the late 19th century… and baffling.

Some “face” orbs are reported in locations more associated with faeries than with ghosts.

For now, orbs are a mystery and deserve more study.  We don’t have many answers, yet.

Orbs often appear close to people. I’ve seen hundreds of orb photos in which the orb is near a baby or a bride.  It’s difficult to dismiss them as mere coincidence.  Many people are comforted by an orb that represents a loved one who’s crossed over, and is visiting our world to celebrate a happy event with his or her family.

Ghost orb over historic home in Katy, TX
Orb over historic home in Katy, Texas.

Other orbs seem to manifest near haunted objects or specific locations.

The photo on the left shows a solitary orb over a house in Katy, Texas.  It’s one of just a few homes that survived the famous Galveston Flood of 1900.  The night was cool and dry with no insects and no breezes.

Many people think that the Galveston Flood affected the island of Galveston and that’s all.

If you research that famous flood, you’ll see that the flood extended into Houston and surrounding areas.  (It was comparable to Hurricane Harvey in 2007.)

As a result, there are many rich stories and tragedies from that disaster, and some may indicate haunted locations.

In the photo at the lower right, orbs hover near haunted Houmas House in Louisiana.  It’s an extraordinary location for ghost photos.  Houmas House may look familiar because it’s been featured in movies and TV shows.  It was also the home of the man who designed the famous “Stars and Bars” flag of the Civil War.  Ghosts of Confederate soldiers have been reported near the house.

I’ve seen two full apparitions at Houmas House.  One was in the bedroom where Bette Davis slept while filming “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” at the house.

The other was at the front gate, where I saw an unusually tall black man pacing.   At first, I saw him from the “widow’s walk” on top of Houmas House.  The apparition looked only slightly translucent.  It was a sunny morning, and I saw him very clearly.

Ghost orbs at Houmas House (Louisiana)
Orbs hover at historic (and haunted) Houmas House, LA

I wanted a closer look, so I dashed downstairs and out the front door.  The figure was clearly visible until I was about 30 feet from him.  He faded quickly.  It probably took less than half a second.

After the apparition vanished from sight, I asked Kevin Kelly — the owner of Houmas House — about the ghost.  I described the figure in detail.  Mr. Kelly knew exactly which man I was describing.

Mr. Kelly showed me a photograph of the former slave, taken during the man’s lifetime.  I recognized the man in the photo right away.  His apparition looks almost exactly the same today.

I wish I’d been able to capture his ghostly image in a photo.  However, these kinds of encounters indicate locations — such as Louisiana’s Houmas House — where ghost photos are likely.

This is important: Credible ghost photos rarely occur unless other ghostly phenomena are reported, too.

Photographing Ghostly Ectoplasm

The following is an edited excerpt from the first edition of Ghost Photography 101, by Fiona Broome.

Ghostly figures in Portsmouth, NH cemetery
Smoke is the #1 explanation for crisp ‘ecto’ photos, like this one.

In the field, the word ectoplasm is often shortened to “ecto” and it’s considered rare. Ectoplasm is a complex and controversial topic.

Ectoplasm seems to be something physical.  People describe it as something that’s visible to the naked eye.  “Sparkles” may be small spots of ectoplasm, or they might be something different, since they don’t usually show up in photos.

Orb photos are popular and almost commonplace. Ectoplasm photos are rare and receive little attention.

In fact, many professional ghost hunters seem to dismiss all “ecto” photos as cigarette smoke.  Is that fair?  From my experiments, the answer is a firm “no.”  It’s remarkably difficult to photograph cigarette smoke.

Like orbs, at least 90% of modern ectoplasm pictures have been taken after dark using flash cameras.  To confuse matters even more, there are many natural explanations for ecto-like forms in photos.

False ectoplasm in photos

Ectoplasm in photos could be, in order of likelihood:

  • Smoke.
  • Breathing, fog or moisture in the air.
  • An odd, reflected light.
  • Hair, insects, dust or pollen.
  • A camera strap.
  • A light leak in a film camera.
  • An error during film processing.

Let’s rule those out, if we can.

Film errors are easy to spot.  Examine the film closely, looking for scratches, splashes, fingerprints or other surface evidence of mishandling during processing.

A light leak in the camera will usually extend beyond the frame of the photo, into the edges of the film.

Insects, dust and pollen usually look more like orbs.  However, hair can be confusing, as can camera straps.

For reflected light to cause an ecto effect, it would have to be very close to the lens… and obvious.

Fog and drifting moisture are usually evident when the photo is taken.  You can usually confirm this with a flashlight; the beam of light will highlight bands of damp air that could appear in photos.

Eerie 'ghost' images in breath, Northfield, NH
Yes, this is what breath looks like in a ‘ghost’ photo, but is that all it is?

Breathing is a problem on chilly nights. It’s easily the #1 reason someone might think “ecto” when they look at a misty photo.  To rule it out, either don’t breathe (or stand close to anyone who is breathing) or don’t take ghost photos on chilly nights or when the dew point is high.

From my experiments, smoke is not likely to cause “ecto” effects.  It’s possible, but not likely.  (Those experiments are illustrated in the book.)

As with fog and moisture, you can usually highlight smoke with a bright flashlight, so you can tell if it’s an issue before you take photos.  If its light is reflected, the smoke will reflect your camera’s flash, too.

With those factors ruled out, we’re left with another mystery:  What are those eerie, misty areas and swirling entities in our photos?

Many professional ghost hunters agree that smoke is the best explanation when we see ethereal, ectoplasmic images in photographs.

Most ghost hunters insist that, even if someone had been smoking 20 minutes earlier, smoke particulate can remain in the air and reflect light, especially light from a flash camera.

If you’re serious about ghost photography and you’ve seen images that look like ectoplasm in your photos, run tests with your own cameras.  Rule out normal effects, first.

I recommend testing in a variety of weather conditions, especially varying levels of humidity.

Take test photos of different kinds of smoke, including smoke from:

  • Cigarettes
  • Pipes
  • Incense
  • Burning wood (like a campfire)
  • Burning paper
  • Matches

If you live near a factory that spews minute particles into the air, take after-dark photos near the factory.  Airports (and traffic paths of low-flying planes) can also contribute particulate matter in the environment.

It may sound like a mantra at this point, but it’s important: Always know what different normal effects look like, before deciding that you’ve photographed anything paranormal.

For locations with particulate matter in the air, check regional environmental websites.  In the United States, you may find helpful information at AirNow.gov and at the EPA website, http://www.epa.gov/air/emissions/where.htm