Motion Blur versus the Holy Grail

1You snap a picture of a peaceful park, or if you are like me, a quaint old cemetery. You notice nothing when you are aiming your digital camera and taking the photo. Imagine your initial response when you look at your photos on the computer screen and see a translucent image in the background…did you capture the spirit from the past?

The simple answer is, not likely. If you are like most people, it is not likely that you pay much attention to the settings in your camera. Most of us are not quite sure what the symbols mean, let alone what function they serve, and after all, who needs instructions? Am I right?

In reality, however, those symbols and the functions their buttons serve make all the difference in the world – literally between this world and the next! OK, so I could not resist having a little fun with that one! One of the most common causes of these ghostly figures or oddly “dancing” lights we catch is motion blur. Motion blur is defined as the apparent streaking of rapidly moving objects in a still image or a sequence of images such as a movie or animation. It results when the image being recorded changes during the recording of a single exposure, either due to rapid movement or long exposure. [5]

2But it really looks like a ghost…how can this be my error? Among we non-photographers, some will be unfamiliar with the terminology. For those of us who investigate and actively debunk our own potential evidence in that endless quest for the Holy Grail of paranormal research – the full body apparition – these terms have become second nature. They are inter-related and have dramatic effect on your shots.

ISO – International Standards Organization: ISO involves the standards for many areas other than camera settings. For the purposes of this article, the ISO settings determine sensitivity to light. These settings can be changed before each photo you take in order to allow the perfect amount of light in for the shot you want. Since most investigating occurs in the dark, a higher ISO would be used, so that the shutter speed will increase. Shooting in daylight, a lower ISO may be more appropriate. [4]

APERTURE: aperture in any context simply means a hole. For our purposes, it is the opening in the lens through which light shines. Go ahead, look at your lens, you know you want to, and you can see it!
DEPTH OF FIELD: a narrow depth of field is ideal for taking a photo clearly focused on a small area; the rest of the photo will be fuzzy. This can be accomplished using a small aperture. A wider depth of field will leave your photo with the same crispness throughout. [4]

FOCUS: finally, a word we all know!! Or do we? Focus is controlling your depth of field by manipulating your aperture. Most of us probably use autofocus features on our digital camera. Easier is better, right? Not necessarily. Your detail will vary if you take pictures of things close and far, or in rapid succession. Taking pictures in rapid succession is common in investigating. Should you get your Holy Grail, you’d better have pictures from before and after for the debunk process!

3Many cameras use a ring around the lens to adjust focus for each shot. Some advanced cameras have continuous autofocus, which “tracks” your subject in motion, maintaining focus all along. These, however, are quite pricey. [4]
SHUTTER SPEED: this one can really be a trouble maker for avoiding those false alarm spirit photos we talked about. The definition is fairly simple; shutter speed is the time that the shutter is open, or how long your camera “sees” your subject. [6]

OK, great, now you know the big words. So what does this have to do with my spirit pic? Everything!
Remembering that all of our camera’s parts and settings work together to get that great shot, let’s look at what can go wrong and cause that “spirit” or those weird lights, and how to fix it.

OK, anyone willing to admit that their hands are not steady as steel holding a camera? Come on, be honest! No one can hold perfectly still with no hand shake for as long as they think, especially when they know they are anticipating pushing that button at just…the…right…second. Our whole body will tend to move ever so slightly as well. If that hand shakes ever so slightly, or you shift your balance…ugh, motion blur! Solution: try using a tri-pod if possible. [2]

We discussed the joys and sorrows of autofocus earlier. In some circumstances, it is fine. In taking multiple pictures with little “recovery” time, not so much. “A slight miscalculation in the focus can throw the subject completely out of (focus), or give you a portrait with a perfectly sharp earlobe and blurry eyes.” [2] Again, motion blur is quite likely.

Now to the likely culprit, shutter speed. Remember that shutter speed is related to ISO and aperture, as all work together I determining how much light gets in. Should your shutter speed be too slow, more light gets through for a longer period of time. So should a jogger accidentally enter the area where you are shooting your park/cemetery pictures – even if they notice this, turn and attempt to get out of the way, they show as your ghostly figure. Headlights or other lights will show as your dancing streaks of light. Sometimes we get motion blur even when we are aimed right where we want to shoot, but your subject moves. Perhaps you are trying to catch a child dancing, but your shutter speed is too slow. You may end up with a distorted image of the child or even a disturbing black mass due to movement combined with slow shutter speed.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that professional photographers master the use of motion blur to take some stunning shots quite purposefully for the sake of art. Conversely, we know all too well how easy and common fakery has become in the paranormal world. There are sadly those who would attempt to pass off a known case of motion blur as a spirit photo. This is why we who work so hard to push the fringe sciences forward are continuously honing out debunking skills and always, always look for the natural explanation first. Alas, no Holy Grail has been captured as of yet…

Short and sweet, the moral of the story is that instructions are our friends – read them; be aware of your camera settings, your surroundings and who is in the area, and without fail, do your due diligence.

“Camera Shutter Speed” [1] [2] [3] [4]
Wikipedia [5] [6]

Lisa Shaner-Hilty

Lisa Shaner-Hilty

I am a supervisor for several programs assisting individuals with intellectual and mental challenges. I have 2 Masters Degrees from Penn State in Communication Disorders and Psychology. My first experiences with the paranormal were around age 5. I’ve been fascinated ever since. I have been an investigator for over 10 years (first 5 years with a team, then leaving to form my own more than 5 years ago, and have taught classes on investigation, evidence analysis (especially EVP) and debunking at local community college. I also have abilities, some of which began at age 5 and others around puberty. Therefore my fields of major interest are investigation and psychic and empath. While I am open to considering all aspect and viewpoints, I am dedicated to seeking natural explanations first before anything is considered evidence.
Lisa Shaner-Hilty

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