While out in the desert of Utah recently, I took this photo at my campsite. It’s very spooky, and I know a lot of people would immediately jump to a paranormal conclusion, since the majority of people are under the false assumption that a camera just takes a picture of what they see and there is no way for it to do anything else. What you see is what you get.
This particular picture was taken with a Canon 5D Mark III, at night, under a full moon. How was I lucky enough to catch this Ghostly Apparition? Was this a Haunted Area? Did I get to see it with my own eyes? Well, none of the above. Although this is an extreme example of slow shutter speed, it does show a perfect example of how odd images can be created. I say extreme only because a slow shutter speed for most shots would be 1 second or less. This one, was around 20 seconds.
So what are we seeing here? Let me set it up. As I said, this was at night, under a full moon, so actually plenty of light for this type of shot. The key is the length of time the shutter is open, thus how much light is captured by the sensor. Since there is nothing else moving besides the Ghostly figure (Myself), and the stars of course, everything will be in focus, no blurred objects. Even at 20 seconds, the stars will have moved in the sky slightly, so there will be a small amount of streaking to them.
What is also needed, is a steady tripod and a remote control. The camera is set on bulb, so that the length of time the shutter is open can be controlled, and from a distance. To create the effect is simple. Stand whatever distance you want from the camera, open the shutter, stay in place for 10 seconds, and then move to the second position for the remaining 10ish seconds. Release the shutter and you have your incredible Ghostly image of yourself.
Now, how does this work and why does it appear this way, why am I see through? Since it is at night, with only minimal light from the moon, there would need to be around 20 total seconds in one position for the camera to fully pick up my image as it did with the surroundings in this photo. Since I was only in place for half that time, it was only able to pick up a partial image in each location. It also did not pick up my motion blur while moving to the second location because it was too fast for the sensor to pick up any image at all at that slow shutter speed.
Now, when we talk about a slow shutter speed under normal Paranormal Photography circumstances, Dark Location, Cell Camera or Point and Shoot and either a flash or no flash, we are only normally talking about a shutter speed of 1 second or less. But as opposed to this photo, within that 1 second, it can catch any motion blur that occurs, even with a flash. Since the flash on either a cell or point and shoot is not especially powerful, it will actually flash for as long as it thinks it needs to capture a photo, which in most cases is between ½ – 1 second. Couple the long shutter speed with hand shake, and you get a photo that not only catches motion blur, but also the movement blur of the hand shake. I must say, that in the thousands of “Paranormal” photo’s I have seen, this is the culprit in the vast majority of Ghostly Sightings. Either a photo of a scene with no moving objects, or a real person that was caught while moving, causing them to appear blurry in the beginning of the shot and more translucent at the end.
Conclusion and Recommendation: A cell phone and point and shoot were never meant to take low light or total darkness pictures. Why people continue to use them while investigating is a mystery to me. They are not, I repeat not going to take a perfect picture, they will take, blurry, grainy, and shaky pictures, every time. Even if a tripod is used, the shutter speed will still be slow enough to blur moving objects, even with a flash. I whole heartedly would never recommend taking photo’s during an investigation; it will only lead to misidentification of normal surrounding and false conclusions. If you must take photos please, never submit them as evidence, and always have them reviewed by multiple individuals. Could a photo catch a ghost, sure, anything is possible. Probable? Maybe 1 in a billion chance.