As an amateur digital photographer, putting a camera onto “Automatic” and just pressing the button is an amazing experience. With this little piece of technology, we can save all of the lights and colors that make up our visual experience of that moment and put it on to our computer to hold for virtually forever without needing to be a photographer or engineer to understand how a picture is taken. The problem is, every once in a while, something strange “comes up” in a photo and we are left to wonder why it happened. Photos with orbs, light rays, and blur, often show up on our facebook site and people often ask us, “Is this paranormal”?
As amateur photographers, it is important to know about three main settings that affect how a digital camera captures a picture. The three main settings are: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. In this week’s segment, I want to focus specifically on shutter speed.
What is a shutter? A shutter is a device that blocks light from the sensor when closed and move out of the way to let light accumulate on the sensor while open. In some cameras, this is a mechanical device, in others, it is an electronic device (Chaney, 2014). How a shutter functions depends on the type of sensor your phone or camera has. Modern progressive CCD sensors use a mechanical shutter and “after exposure, all of the pixels are shifted to out of the sensor by being passed in a bucked brigade fashion from pixel to pixel. Thus, it is essential that while shifting the image out of the sensor, one must put the sensor in the dark so as to not confuse the image” (Caspe, 2014). For CMOS sensors, like the Iphone, use the following, “each column of pixels can be independently reset to zero and allowed, after the reset, to integrate the light hitting it. As well, each column can be instantaneously read out, effectively ending the exposure time for that column. The method used for controlling the exposure is to reset a column, and then to wait the exposure time and finally to read out the accumulated values of that column.” (Caspe, 2014).
Before we fast-forward to paranormal, let’s look at a daylight-nature scene. The following two pictures are provided in the article, Simple solutions to master your new DSLR. The author gives the following practical advice and two example photos. If you want to freeze subjects in motion, such as sports or wildlife, set a fast shutter speed (eg 1/500 sec or 1/1000 sec). If you want to capture motion over time, you would set a slow shutter speed (Meyer, 2014). You can see the effects of slow and fast shutter speeds on the movement of the water and clouds.
Now let’s apply this knowledge to paranormal investigations. Typically these photos want a somewhat wide field of view (a whole room as opposed to a single object) and are shot at night or in dark rooms with a flash. In this case, dust, bugs, and other objects with physical qualities that may not be visible due to their size are captured by the camera sensor as light from the flash hits them. Dust and bugs are in constant motion and do not stay still, thus, our shutter speed can change how the image of them is stored. A typical orb can be created with a fast shutter speed that quickly catches the light bouncing off of the object and a slow shutter speed will capture a longer streak of light tracing the motion of the object through the picture. The myth about “clean edges” or wobbly edges most likely has to do with shutter speed creating blur.
For other non-orb effects, here are some final thoughts from Caspe about effects of shutter speed: in a normally lit picture, a slow shutter speed can cause, “distortion of the image in the form of either a wave or elongation of the object” and images being shot with a flash, a shutter speed that is too fast will cause a blurred secondary Image. (Caspe, 2014). This explanation can describe various streaks of light and blurred objects in paranormal photos.
Here is a picture that I took at Rolling Hills in East Bethany, NY. Do you think I took this picture using a fast shutter speed or a slow shutter speed? How do you think the blur of light may have been created?
Caspe, B. (n.d.). How an electronic shutter works in a CMOS camera. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from http://caspegroup.com/How an electronic shutter works in a CMOS camera.pdf
Chaney, M. (n.d.). Why Digital Cameras Have Mechanical Shutters. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from http://www.steves-digicams.com/knowledge-center/why-digital-cameras-have-mechanical-shutters.html#b
Meyer, J. (n.d.). First camera crash course: Simple solutions to master your new DSLR. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2013/06/25/first-camera-crash-course-simple-solutions-for-mastering-your-new-dslr/4/