Taking intentional, controlled photos of paranormal phenomena allows you to eliminate the doubt that comes with accidental artifacts, reflections, and other distractions. This level of photographic control is the quality that shines in the best paranormal photography. When you know you haven't accidentally shaken the camera, caused a reflection, or introduced some other photographic artifact, you're left with an image that truly documents the paranormal events or entities you may encounter.
Know a Few Photography Basics
All photography, whether it's portrait, landscape, or paranormal in nature, is about managing two things: light and time. Your camera has settings that allow you to control the exposure on an image; the exposure is the amount of light hitting the camera sensor or film. You can shoot your camera in auto mode and allow it to control the exposure, but it's still important to understand the factors that control it:
- ISO - ISO refers to how sensitive the camera is to light with low numbers like 100 being less sensitive than higher numbers like 1,200. If you're shooting in a dark room, you may want to have a higher ISO to capture an image. If you're shooting on a haunted battlefield in bright sun, you'll need a lower ISO.
- Aperture - The aperture is the f/stop you see on many cameras and lenses. This is how wide a hole the light is going through to reach the sensor or film. Smaller f/stops like f/1.8 refer to wider aperture holes, and larger f/stops like f/16 refer to smaller aperture holes.
- Shutter speed - Your camera, whether it's a DSLR or your phone, uses some type of shutter to allow light in for a specified amount of time. A fast shutter speed, such as 1/250 second, will freeze most human motion. A slow shutter speed, such as 1/4 second, can introduce blur that could easily be mistaken for paranormal activity.
Clean Your Equipment
Dirt and dust on your equipment can easily create confusion when it comes to paranormal photography. A spot of dust in the wrong place on your camera sensor can give the effect of transparent shapes or orbs, and dirt or fingerprints on the lens can create blurry areas that the untrained eye might mistake for something supernatural. Dirty equipment can also keep you from getting the shot you want, since the grime can make your photos less sharp. Here are some specific things to clean:
- Clean the front of the lens with lens cleaner and a soft microfiber cloth. Blow off any loose dust first, since grit and sand can scrape your lens.
- If you have a DSLR, make sure you remove the lens and clean the rear element too. Dirt on the rear element can cause you to miss a shot you really want.
- If you have a point and shoot or DSLR, use your camera's sensor cleaning setting to clean the sensor. Consider taking the camera in for a professional sensor cleaning if you use it a lot. These run about $50 at most camera stores.
- If you're shooting with your phone, use a clean cloth to wipe the front and back lenses on your phone.
- For film shooters, make sure your film scanner glass is clean and free of dust and ensure the film is dust-free too.
Consider the Conditions
Paranormal photography doesn't always lend itself to the easiest shooting conditions. You may find yourself shooting in inclement weather, in the dark, in very bright sun, or in the rain or snow. You'll need to take good pictures in extreme heat and bitter cold sometimes. All of these conditions can affect how you shoot.
- Cold - In very cold weather, hold your breath while shooting to avoid creating steam from your breathing. This steam can look like something supernatural on your images, and it can also interfere with capturing real ghost photos.
- Heat - If you're shooting in a hot and humid environment and take your camera out of an air-conditioned car or house, your lens will fog up with condensation. Carry a clean microfiber cloth to keep your lens clean and try to let your equipment acclimate to the current conditions before you shoot.
- Bright sun - If you shoot into bright sunlight, you can accidentally create lens flares that look like spirit orbs or rods. The easiest way to avoid this is to use a lens hood or shade your lens with your hand while you're shooting. Do you best not to point the lens directly at light sources.
- Rain and snow - Precipitation can wreak havoc with paranormal photography because the water on your lens can introduce blur that someone can confuse with a spirit. It can also keep you from sharply capturing the real activity going on. Use a lens hood if possible and dry your lens with a clean cloth if you need to.
- Dark - In very dark situations, you'll need to use a longer exposure. Make sure you have a tripod for your camera and use a remote or a time to trigger the shot. If you push the shutter button on a long exposure, it can cause the camera to shake and make the whole shot blurry.
Avoid the Flash
Although it may be tempting to use the flash in dark situations, such as photographing inside a closed-up building or at night, it's almost never a good idea. This is because the flash can introduce a great deal of uncertainty into your paranormal photos - that orb or potential ghostly glow may only be the flash reflecting on the surface of something a little shiny. Flash can even reflect on suspended particles in the air to produce strange effects. Turn off the flash, and try one or more of these strategies instead:
- Extend your exposure - Set your camera to take a photo for a longer time. It could be several seconds or even a minute or more. The camera will use the available light in the room or area to create the exposure. It will just take it longer than it would in a brighter situation.
- Increase the ISO - Remember, the higher the ISO, the more sensitive your camera is to light. There's a trade-off in image quality, though, and some camera can produce very grainy photos at higher ISO. Get to know your camera and the highest ISO setting you're comfortable using.
- Open up the aperture - The wider you open the aperture, the more light you let in at one time. However, this also reduces the amount of the image that's in focus. If you shoot at a wider aperture when it's dark, have someone hold a flashlight on the place you need to focus so you can accurately focus the shot first.
- Add steady light - If you need to add light, add constant, steady light to the shot in the form of a lamp, a portable work light, or a flashlight placed on a stable surface. If the light isn't moving, it's less likely to interfere with your capture of paranormal phenomena.
Eliminate Unwanted Items in Front of the Lens
As you're shooting, regularly check to make sure you don't have anything in front of the lens that shouldn't be. Out-of-focus items can be very confusing in paranormal photography, since people regularly mistake them for entities. If you can be certain you don't have anything like this, you can have greater confidence in your photos. Keep these tips in mind:
- If you have long hair, pull it back so it doesn't hang in front of the lens.
- Check the front of the lens for water drops if you're shooting in the rain.
- Wrap your camera strap around your wrist or put it over your neck so it doesn't swing in front of the lens.
- If you're shooting somewhere with a lot of bugs, regularly check to make sure they aren't near the camera.
Don't Stop Shooting
One of the most paranormal photography tips to keep in mind is to take lots of pictures. Consider setting the camera to shoot continuously or at regular intervals using an interval timer feature (if you have it). The spirits you're trying to capture in images may only be there for a fleeting moment, and you'll have a much better chance of getting them if you don't stop shooting.
Go Where the Ghosts Are
Once you have a basic understanding of your camera settings or a few paranormal photography tips in mind, you'll need to go where you might actually have something supernatural to photograph. Visit a location where paranormal activity has been reported. Take your time and remember how to shoot to get the most trustworthy results. You just might capture something amazing, and if you do, you'll know it's genuine and not a mistake you made while taking the picture.