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)

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.

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, dowsing rods, or a pendulum, 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.

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 higher EMF. (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 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 phone 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 feel 100% confident about their intuition.

Mentally note how you feel when you take good ghost photos. Soon, you’ll 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 – LA

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

 

More Test Photos

The following photos are from several years’ tests, trying to create convincing, fake, ghost photos.  As you can see, it’s not as easy as I thought… or as simple as skeptical critics claim.

Spider webs with moisture in them

Some people might confuse the lines for ectoplasm, but most won’t.

  

Damp, foggy morning, using the flash in all photos

As you can see, there were no orbs, even in thick fog.  The third photo (lower left) has something odd in it, but it’s not an orb, as I’d been expecting from so much dampness.

    

     

Hair

In some cases, hair could be confused with light streaks or vortex images.  The color of the hair is the clue. (My hair is auburn.)

However, notice the last of these four photos, at the lower right.  It looks like it has large, overlapping orbs. That’s also a photo of hair; when the light catches it in a certain way, it appears as a series of large, faint orbs.

 

 

Smoke

Frankly, the smoke photos showed almost nothing.  The only way we could get smoke to show up in pictures, consistently, was to use actual stick incense.  The results open some interesting questions.  And, yes, some of these could be mistaken for anomalies.  That of course raises the question: If someone nearby were using incense, wouldn’t a photographer notice the fragrance?

  

  

Pollen

Pollen was very difficult to capture in photos.  Even shaking ragweed directly over the camera lens, the pollen rarely showed up at all.  (See the third photo, in the lower left, where I was shaking the ragweed in front of the lens.) The final photo in this series shows what it looks like to crush the ragweed with your hand, and then sprinkle the pollen in front of the camera lens.  These extremes suggest that pollen is rarely a problem for an experienced ghost photographer.

However, in the few photos where it did show up, it could look similar to orbs with “faces” in them.

Unless you’re standing directly underneath a tree that’s sprinkling pollen, or it’s a very bad night for hay fever, I don’t think pollen is a major concern.  Among the few photos that showed pollen orbs, even fewer were orbs that we’d confuse with actual anomalies.

Is it possible to confuse pollen for an anomalous ghost orb?  Yes.  Is it likely?  No.

  

  

Dust and dirt

Dust particles — from household dust and dust (or dirt) kicked up while walking — were equally difficult to confuse with anomalous orbs.

In the first photo (immediately below this text), that’s a Swiffer duster, caked with dust, that my husband was shaking in front of the lens.  Nothing showed up, except the actual duster.

In the next two photos, you can see orbs and other shapes created by reflected dust.  They’re more likely to be confused with ghost orbs, but I think I took 50 photos to get these results.

The final photo in the dust & dirt series shows what very dry, fine dirt looks like, sprinkled in front of the lens.  This is the same powdery, dusty dirt that could be kicked up by people walking or a car driving past you during an investigation.  It looked almost identical to pollen, but a finer texture.

Keep in mind, all of these particles were sprinkled within three inches of the camera lens.  Few produced images large enough to look like ghost orbs, and other characteristics  — such as a solid, dark dot in the middle, or an irregular, notched circumference — usually don’t match anomalous orbs.  However, a  few dust orbs did look like anomalous “ghost orbs.”  (Some researchers might argue that those few were actual ghost orbs.  After all, most of these photos were taken in haunted cemeteries.)

  

  

Rain

Rain produced such obviously fake results, I don’t think rain is an issue for professional or experienced investigators.  First of all, you’re likely to feel the rain even if you don’t see it right away.  Then, some of the drops reflect such as solid reflection, I doubt that you’d confuse a photo of rain with an actual, anomalous orb.

  

Breath

In my opinion, the number one issue for ghost photographers is breath.  Though these photos were all taken on a winter night, I was able to achieve similar results on a warm summer night when the dew point was high.  These are a few of many photos that show strange forms and mists, the result of exhaling sharply at the exact moment I took each photo.  So, these are extremes.

The third photo (lower left) intrigues me the most.  It’s a fairly benign-looking misty shape.  It could be confused with an actual, ghostly anomaly.

  

  

Before I completed the first edition of Ghost Photography 101, I showed these photos to someone else who’s been studying ghost photos for years.  He insisted that some of the photos did represent ghosts (particularly pictures like the third in the breath series.)

I could see his point, but in my research, if something could be explained by something normal, I have to discount that as a non-anomalous photo.  I’d rather err on the side of caution.

On the other hand, I think we need to explore another possibility:  If we give the spirits something to work with — like breath or incense — should we look to see what the spirits do with it?  After all, that’s not too different than using white noise to give the ghosts sounds to work with, to form EVP.  And, it’s also similar to using a device like a Frank’s Box, ghost box or “shack hack” to give entities sounds and words to use.

I’ll expand on this in the second edition of Ghost Photography 101.

Homemade Dowsing Rods

How to make your own dowsing rods

Many ghost hunters use dowsing rods to identify things — like underground streams and electrical wiring — that can create false positives in ghost research.

Others use dowsing rods for a second purpose: To identify areas of high paranormal activity or vulnerability.

Whether or not you believe that dowsing rods work, they’re easy to make and fun to experiment with.

You’ll need:

  • Two wire coat hangers.
  • A very strong wire cutter, heavy tin snips, or a similar cutting tool.

(Some dowsers use just one rod, but it’s best to start with two until you’re accustomed to how the rods respond.)

How to make a dowsing rod from a coathanger.

Here’s all you need to do to make your dowsing rods:

  1. Cut each coat hanger at the X marks, and discard the right (twisted and hooked) section.
  2. Straighten the wires enough so that the bend in each forms a right angle (90 degree bend) like the letter L.

That’s it.  You now have a set of dowsing rods.

Here’s a video I recorded in 2018. It’s more complete, with additional options you might like.

If you're sharing that video with others, here's the YouTube URL: https://youtu.be/OLYp7xyHv9c

How to use your homemade dowsing rods

Hold one L-shaped wire in each hand, and grip each one gently, forming each hand into a loose fist.

Each thumb should rest at (but not over) the bend in the wire. The rods should point away from you, straight ahead, and swing easily from side to side when you tilt your hands.

There are other ways to hold the rods. Some grip the rods loosely with the index, middle and ring fingers, and then prop the little finger on the other side of the rod to steady it. The thumb is held away from the rod.

Some create handles from the cardboard tubes from coat hangers that are used for hanging up slacks. Cut one tube in half and rest the handle of one rod in each tube. Hold each tube so that the rod swings freely inside it.

Now, tilt the rods down very slightly.  The idea is to give gravity a chance to pull on them slightly, so the rods aren’t swinging randomly and by chance.  However, don’t point the rods down so much that the rods can’t move on their own.

Now, walk around your home or yard to see what happens. Generally, the two rods will cross in front of you when you are near water pipes.

Some genealogists report similar results in cemeteries, helping them find graves (sometimes hidden in shrubs or tall grass).

Some ghost hunters use dowsing rods to detect areas of paranormal energy.

Once you become comfortable with your new dowsing rods, you can try asking questions. That’s another way ghost hunters (especially psychics) use dowsing rods.

  • Start with questions you know the answer to.  Each should be a yes/no question, like “Is my name Fred?” or “Is my age 102?”  This will establish what movement you’ll see for the answer, “yes,” and which will indicate a “no.”

Scientists can’t explain why dowsing rods work. Some speculate that the rods react to elevated EMF levels and that electro magnetic energy pulls on the rods.

I thought dowsing rods were a lot of nonsense until I tried them.  I’ve had equally good results — in different locations — with the dowsing rods from Dowsers.com and my own, homemade dowsing rods made from coat hangers.

Also, here’s a hastily recorded video about using dowsing rods for ghost hunting. I recorded it early in 2018, before taking the time to put together a dowsing rod course for Hallowfields.com.

Here's the YouTube URL for that video: https://youtu.be/H4OCvwPBL2A