4 Mistakes Beginners Make with Ghost Photos

It’s easy for beginners – and even pros – to make mistakes with ghost photos.

That includes me. (Yes, really. Even now, it’s far too easy to blunder with ghost photos.)

Ghost Photos Mistakes

Here are the four biggest mistakes I’ve seen in the field:

  1. Thinking everything “weird” in a photo is a ghost. Sometimes, normal explanations apply… sometimes they don’t.
  2. Not taking enough photos. Each time you take a picture, take a second one, or more. Those extra photos can help you separate what’s normal from a genuine anomaly.
  3. Thinking we can explain all ghost photos as dust, bugs, rain, etc. No, we can’t. Some really are paranormal.
  4. Ignoring the context. Context and personal impressions may be the single most-important part of ghost research… and they can be the easiest to overlook.

Let’s go through those four points, one by one.  They’re things I’ve learned over decades of trial-and-error research at haunted sites.

Thinking Everything Is a Ghost

4 mistakes beginners make with ghost photosWe can explain some orbs. The #1 culprit is flying insects.

Those orbs are usually an irregular shape, like an oval instead of a nearly perfect circle.

Indoors or out, regularly look at lights – streetlights, flashlights (briefly turned on), and other lighting. See if any insects are swarming or flying past.

If you see flying insects, be especially aware of orbs in your photos.

Even better, have a friend (or team member) stand to the side, but a little in front of you. Have him/her look for anything highlighted by your flash, when you take the picture.

And then, be sure to note that, either on a notepad or with a voice recording.

Likewise, dust happens. 

The way to identify something that might be dust, is to see if – in sequential photos or video – it falls straight down because of gravity.

A straight line across the photo could be a camera glitch, or a flying insect, but it’s unlikely to be dust.

On a humid or rainy night, you may see several dozen orbs in your photos. If all – or most – of your photos show a massive number of orbs, maybe it’s the weather. (Just one or a few orbs that show up now & then…? They could be paranormal.)

The weather isn’t the only culprit when you see a lots of orbs, or a fine (but mysterious) mist. It could be your breath, even if the weather isn’t especially cold. (Don’t exhale until after taking each picture.)

I wish I’d known the breath issue when I took the following Gilson Road photo. I might have done some on-site debunking, right away. (Instead, I’ll never know if this was a genuine anomaly.)

Weird photo from Gilson Cemetery

Always consider normal explanations, even if they seem a little weird at first. And test your cameras (including your phone) at not-haunted sites, to see what dust, pollen, reflective surfaces, and humidity look like.

The two worst culprits are flying insects and your own breath as you exhale. In photos, either of them can produce cool, weird, ghostly looking anomalies.

Not Taking Enough Photos

At any haunted location, it’s essential to take two to four pictures in rapid succession. Try not to breathe or move, in between those photos.

Then, you can compare one photo with another, to see what – if anything – changed. The changes might help rule out false anomalies.

Ghost Photos - context mattersAlso, be sure to pause regularly and take photos to your right, to your left, and in back of you. Later, they’ll help you identify sources of false anomalies.

(They may also show you unexpected anomalies. Not all ghosts strike a pose for the camera. Some might flee in the other direction… in back of you.)

Indoors, take photos in other, nearby rooms.

Outdoors, walk a few hundred yards away – or up the road – and take photos.

One of the big questions to ask when you see an anomaly in a photo is: Why this anomaly, at this location?

If the anomalies show up everywhere, even 1/4 mile up the road, it might be dust or humidity or insects.

If you see few (or no) anomalies anywhere else, and there’s no easy explanation… it might be a ghost.

Thinking All Orbs Can’t Be Paranormal

Ghost orb at Fort GeorgeMany skeptics (and ill-advised investigators) insist that all orbs are dust, pollen, humidity, rain, reflections, and so on.

I know because, before I tested how likely those explanations are, I insisted we could explain most orbs. (At the time, it seemed logical.)

Yes, I was wrong.

I feel terrible about misleading people about orbs, even if it was unintentional. Please accept my apologies if I misled you.

Today, we can’t just brush them off as dust, rain, etc.

Six years of testing, under a variety of conditions, showed me that. (Yes, I was so sure I was right, I kept testing. And testing. And testing… until I had to admit I was wrong.)

Here are a few of my test photos.

NOLA - Pirates Alley, on a foggy, rainy night
Rainy, foggy night with bright lights. No orbs.
Flash reflected in glass. Lots of glass & metal objects in shop windows. Traffic cone with reflective surface. No orbs.
Toulouse Street, New Orleans.
Another damp, foggy night. Lots of bright lights. No ghost orbs.

Where’s the Proof?

The fact is, if you set things up “just so,” you can mimic almost everything we consider paranormal. That includes:

  • Apparitions (tricks of the light)
  • Shadow people (didn’t notice a light source & reasonable shadow)
  • Doors that open & close by themselves (bad carpentry or the building’s foundation shifted over time)
  • UFOs (experimental or low-flying aircraft)
  • Bigfoot (big guy in a costume)

… and so on.

(But ghost orbs…? Not so easy.)

My point is: if you’re looking for 100% irrefutable proof that something is a ghost – or that ghosts exist, at all – you’re likely to be disappointed.

For now, the only real proof is how the experience affects people, or if – in the light of day – they can explain whatever-it-was with confidence.

Ignoring the Context

If your memory isn’t perfect, take notes during the investigation.

The context matters. What else was going on, when you took those photos?

Was everyone bored or unimpressed by the location?

If that didn’t change around the time you took the unusual photos, it decreases the likelihood .

However, if several things happened at once – to you, or those near you – like chills, an uneasy feeling, an unexplained noise – take your photos more seriously.

In recent years, people have relied heavily on evidence in the form of gadgets – ghost hunting equipment, usually electronic. They’ve paid less attention to their personal experiences and observations.

Or worse, they’ve dismissed them altogether.

The biggest mistake in ghost hunting – not just ghost photos – is ignoring what your own five (or six) senses are telling you.

Pay close attention to them, and you’ll be a better ghost hunter… and take better ghost photos.


Related articles at this website:

More ghost photos articles, online:

Are Ghost Hunting Videos “Proof”?

Ghost Hunting Videos - Proof?Are ghost hunting videos proof of anything? What is “proof” of ghosts? Reality shows have affected standards, and – as I see it – that’s a problem.

Of course, networks stopped calling things like Ghost Hunters “reality shows,” and adopted the term “unscripted.”

Those shows still led people to expect paranormal investigations to be just like Ghost Hunters, Paranormal State, Ghost Adventures, and Most Haunted UK. But that wouldn’t be very interesting to watch as entertainment.

(In my opinion, the Klinge Brothers’ Ghost Lab series was far more realistic, but even that was edited for sensationalism and cliffhangers at commercial breaks.)

What Do Ghost Hunting Videos Prove?

A recent article, 5 Ghost Hunting Tactics To Use In 2019 (https://www.ghostlyactivities.com/5-ghost-hunting-tactics-to-use-in-2019/), I read the following:

“In 2018, I invested heavily in video equipment. When I go on ghost hunts now, I bring 3 or more camcorders with me. Video is the language of the Web now. If you can’t put the clip online for your peers, curiosity seekers and skeptics, then everything you captured and experienced is just fiction for the masses.”

I’m not sure when personal experience took a back seat to the goal of proving something to others. Between Photoshop and AfterEffects, almost anyone can edit ghost hunting photos and videos to look fairly convincing.

In Ghost Hunting, What is Proof?

When someone talks with me about their encounter with a ghost, their physical evidence can be compelling. Maybe even cool to see or listen to.

But that’s not the primary standard I use in evaluating whether the experience was paranormal.

I’m always listening to the words they use, and how they say them. Are they trying to convince me, or do they sound astonished, even baffled by their experience?

If it’s necessary to prove things with video clips, I wonder how much narcissism – the value of others’ opinions more than your own – is affecting this field.

Of course, if you’re hoping to spin a successful YouTube channel into a TV series, yes, videos do matter.

But, in my opinion, your personal experiences – particularly what impacts your five (or six) senses – are the real evidence.

I think they’re far more important than expecting a ghost showing up, on cue, for your photo, EVP recording, or video.

Putting Ghostly Evidence in Context

When most people talk to me about a site that may be haunted, their questions come from two very different contexts:

1) They are afraid their home is haunted, and they’re worried about their safety; OR,

2) They’ve experienced something odd (or have a photo or video with an anomaly), usually at home or at a family gathering, and they’d like to think it was a visit from their great-aunt Harriet… or someone else they loved, who’s passed.

Of course, I pay close attention to anything that might be a real safety concern. That includes everything from carbon monoxide leaks to a malicious – perhaps demonic, not ghostly – presence.

If the person might be in danger, I advise them to stay with friends or relatives while their concerns are evaluated by professionals. (This usually means a skilled home repair expert, and perhaps an expert team of paranormal investigators.)

But, if they’re unnecessarily anxious, I assure them that it’s probably not a ghost.

And, even if it is, most ghosts are harmless. They may be bad-tempered or cause mischief, but it’s not like the Paranormal Activity movies, or Netflix’s Hill House series.

On the other hand, if the person feels that they’ve had a meaningful visit from their beloved great-aunt Harriet, I’m happy to agree that her spirit may be saying hello, now and then.

Between those two extremes are the kinds of cases that most ghost hunters are looking for. I usually hear about them from fellow ghost hunters, and people who’ve just begun exploring haunted sites.

In those reports, people talk about their experiences as weird, eerie, and spooky. They’re not sure what to do next.

This is important: Almost every credible, first-person ghost story has a mix of intellectual curiosity and emotional uncertainty.

The Best Evidence is Personal

In recent conversations with fellow researchers, almost 100% of paranormal professionals have raised concerns about people’s reliance on ghost hunting equipment.

It’s something I’ve talked about before: Events where people are so fixated on their EMF devices or “ghost apps,” they completely miss the truly astonishing phenomena right in front of them… because it doesn’t show up in photos, videos, etc.

Real ghost hunting usually involves sitting in one location for hours, with nothing happening.

And then, when something does occur, it may only be a fleeting chill (or blast of heat), or a momentary visual anomaly or sound.

It might be some other sensory strangeness, and perhaps an emotional connection that can’t be explained or forgotten.

Or, it may be something terrifying, and you run out of the site as fast as you can… and hope it doesn’t follow you.

You can’t convey that in a video. Not the bone-chilling shock of your first ghost encounter.

Personal experiences are what make a ghost hunter certain that he or she just encountered something paranormal, and probably ghostly.

That’s also what draws people to this field: the eerie, spooky, utterly weird things that happen in truly haunted places. No Halloween “haunted house” or TV show can provide that experience.

Are you brave enough for that?

Why Are You Ghost Hunting?

First, decide this... why are you ghost hunting?If you’re trying to replicate something you saw on TV, that’s an unrealistic goal.

Some TV shows are more authentic than others. Few, if any, show what people really experience as ghost hunters.

If you’re hoping to create a popular YouTube channel of ghost videos – and perhaps get a TV show of your own – you’ll need to be very creative with your video editing as well as your acting.

The good news is, a lot of people have given up on ghost hunting. The bad news is, they had good reason to. Even the iconic show, Ghost Hunters, was cancelled.

Others – like Most Haunted UK‘s reboot – took a break and returned with a more authentic, slightly skeptical approach. And, they’re going out on a few limbs, as well. (So far, I like what they’re doing with the new version of that show.)

So, if you’re ghost hunting for an audience, maybe you should focus on video equipment, as recommended in the “Ghost Hunting Tactics” article I mentioned, earlier. He makes some good points in that article.

When You’re Truly Intrigued by Ghosts

But maybe – like me and many researchers – you’re hoping for an extraordinary, memorable encounter with something you know can’t be explained… except as something ghostly.

In that case, I’m not telling you to abandon your ghost hunting equipment. Instead, set it up so it’s mostly hands-off.

  • That can mean strategically placing video cameras on tripods on letting them record. Or, using a wearable video device you can ignore while you’re investigating.
  • Maybe you’ll strap your voice recorder or phone to your arm, and have it record everything for you to listen to, later.

Or, take turns with your ghost hunting equipment. For example:

  • Assign one or two people to monitor those devices for an hour or two (or an entire investigation), while you investigate without those distractions.
  • Then, swap places so the others have a chance to experience real ghost hunting.

For me, the thrill of ghost hunting is when I see something extraordinary, like a brief flicker of an apparition. Or, several of us are struck by a tidal wave of unexplained grief.

Or, we sense the anger of a very territorial ghost who disapproves of us, or he’s protecting “his” home. (Sometimes we’re polite and leave. Usually, we advise him that we have every right to be there, too.)

In general, the range of eerie experiences is wide, and – when you encounter it – you know it’s something paranormal.

I believe the real proof of a ghost is personal. It’s what you experienced and how it affected you.

And that’s what really matters, whether or not you can support it with photos, videos, EVP, or anything technological.

Can Light Effects Attract Ghosts?

attract ghosts with lightsCould light effects trigger ghosts, or at least anomalies? Maybe.

This morning, when I stumbled onto the following video about strobe lights and ghosts, I was intrigued.

Frankly, the video doesn’t show much. First, you’ll see the investigator introducing the video.

Then, if you’re still watching, you’ll see about three minutes of him investigating with a flashing strobe light.

(I noted only minor anomalies, and all of them require further study/debunking.)

After that, he spends a few minutes describing visual/light phenomena he’s observed.

Here’s the video, if you want to see it. Warning: A strobe light flashes starting around the 0:45 point.

If that video doesn't show up, and you really want to see it, here's the YouTube link: https://youtu.be/Dd-hYjehAPQ

So… why would I share a 4+ year old video that doesn’t show much…?

First of all, I appreciate any researcher who tests fresh ideas.

That’s one reason I’ve always been a fan of the Klinge brothers’ research. (You may recall them from the TV series, Ghost Lab. It was among my favorites. You may find clips of it at YouTube, and streaming at sites like Amazon Prime Videos.)

But more importantly, Alejandro’s concept – attracting ghosts with a strobe light – made me wonder about “sparkles” we sometimes see when we’re taking ghost photos.

After all, many digital and point-and-shoot cameras send out at least one, brief flash of light.

Some cameras use that flash for metering, and to reduce “red eye” in photos of people. Many people never notice it.

I wonder if – in haunted settings – it might have a similar effect to a strobe.

Perhaps we need to test more lighting effects during our investigations.

In addition, it may be worthwhile to combine those flashing lights – from strobes and cameras – with a laser grid. If something more is going on, that grid might reveal it.

For the best effects, I’d set up a video recorder, and keep it filming the area covered by the laser grid, while using a strobe or taking photos.

Light or Electrical Impulses?

Of course, we’re not sure what (if anything) ghosts see in our realm.

In general, I’ve usually thought of “lights out” as something theatrical, to increase the drama on ghost hunting TV shows. However, I’ll admit that darkness makes it easier to focus on anomalies; we’re not distracted by everyday visual elements.

Some paranormal investigators use loosened flashlights as a yes/no means of communications. But, I’m pretty sure those answers are the result of electrical (EMF) surges, and have nothing to do with the light itself.

Also, we speculate about shadow people, who may be an absence of light – something that absorbs (or consumes) light energy – rather than an actual shadow.

And then there are orbs, which are a very controversial topic. But, if most of them are dust or moisture, why do orbs show up in haunted locations, but not a hundred yards away, under identical conditions?

Is there some ghost-light connection we’ve overlooked?

In my opinion, we need to try investigating with special lighting effects, to see what happens.

If you’ve tried anything like this, let me know your results. Or, if you have suggestions to improve (or expand) research with light and shadows, I’m interested. Leave comments at this article.