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:

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.

Orbs in a 1910 Photo

Orbs are a hotly contested topic. Are they ghost orbs… or something less interesting?

ghostly orbs at gilson road cemetery
One of my own orb photos

My message today is: In ghost hunting, the most reliable person is yourself.

When anyone (including me) assures you that something is true, verify it.

Most orb debates would resolve quickly if people routinely tested their own cameras to see what dust, pollen, rain, fog, reflections, breath, and insects look like in those photos.

Do this yourself. Test every camera you use for ghost hunting. Deliberately stage “false orb” conditions.

Then, analyze those photos. Could you confuse them with truly anomalous orbs?

When I stumbled onto this discovery, I was embarrassed by how simple it was. For nearly 10 years, I’d kept insisting that most orbs were caused by dust, pollen, insects, reflections, and so on.

Then, after a heated argument with a long-time friend who insisted that all orbs are ghosts, I was irked. I set out to prove my theory. I really wanted to show him that he was wrong.

But then…

I discovered that it’s more difficult to create convincing, fake orbs — with dust, pollen, smoke, insects, etc. — than I’d realized.

The key word is “convincing.” Until you know what you’re looking for, most orbs can look alike.

I’ll explain more about this in the future.

For now, I’ve stumbled onto a great, old photo that shows some easily identified issues, as well as orbs that might be ghostly.

The following is a photo of the Custer Battlefield National Cemetery. The picture was taken in 1910, when photography was very different from now. But, the issues remain the same.

Sunrise at Custer Battlefield Cemetery - orbs

I’ve enlarged some of the orbs to show what might be an anomaly — also called a “ghost orb” — and what’s probably a glitch in the photo.

Processing Mistakes

First, an obvious glitch. In the photo above, the following area is in the lower right part of the picture, to the left of the white writing.

chemical spatters

That photo was processed in a lab. Chemical splashes and spatters could happen. That’s the most likely explanation for those irregular, somewhat circular areas.

Even in the 1990s, when I was taking film photos at haunted sites, I still had to examine the negatives for splashes and lab errors.

False Orbs – Dust and Insects

The next enlargement shows what could be pollen and insects, as well as some possible anomalies. In the original photo, this area is in the lower half of the picture, and just left of the center.

Orb #1 includes a clear dot. In a color photo, it might be yellow or orange. When it is, the orb is almost always caused by pollen.

But, I see other similar, small dots nearby. So, the orb might be real and the dots might be a glitch from the developing or printing process, or damage to the print during storage.

Solution: When you’re taking photos, ask a friend to stand to one side and in front of you. He or she can tell you if anything in the air looked highlighted by your flash.

Orb #2 is an odd shape, and part of it is more solid looking. That’s often a flying insect.

Solution: When you’re ghost hunting outdoors, regularly look up at streetlights, or have a friend leave a flashlight on for several minutes. Many insects are attracted to light.

If you see bugs flying in front of a light, keep them in mind when you’re analyzing your photos, later.

Miscellaneous Items

The next enlargement is from the sky area in the Custer photo. It’s near the top and to the right of the middle.

Irregular shape #1 is probably damage to the print or something that spilled on the negative.

Shape #2 could be almost anything, including an insect or two, or a printing glitch.

Possible Ghost Orbs

After ruling out things that look like false anomalies, I still see several orbs I can’t explain. Not entirely, anyway. (I am mindful that sunlight may have been streaming directly towards the camera.)

I’ve indicated a few possible orbs from the sky area of the photo. But, a closer examination of the original photo may reveal more.

ghost orbs at custer battlefield cemetery

Of course, they could be processing errors from the darkroom. They could be insects or pollen, or something else that’s perfectly normal.

I have no idea and, frankly, no one can be sure whether anything I’ve said is accurate about this photo.

We’d need to test the camera the photographer used.

That’s my point.

For the past several years, I routinely test every new camera. I want to see how dust, pollen, moisture, breath, smoke, and other issues may affect my photos.

It’s a semi-scientific approach to ghost photography. More importantly, testing each camera is the only way we can tell whether our photos include possible anomalies… or probable dust, insects, and so on.

This is important, as well: Even after those tests, we’ll have unanswered questions.

Never to assume that the logical, normal explanation is the only explanation. Something that “looks like dust” could still be an anomaly.

And, even if it is dust, you may have another mystery: What causes dust in that area, but nowhere else at that location or nearby?

In other words, the orb may not be the anomaly. Maybe the weird dust is.