How to Catch Ghosts on Camera: 13 Tips for Success

Camera on tripod taking pictures of a spooky forest

You don't need specialized camera gear or video equipment to get some compelling images of the supernatural. In fact, capturing ghosts on camera is mostly about technique. These helpful tips can make it easier for you to photograph spirits, whether you're using a DSLR, a film camera, a video camera, or your phone.

Use the Camera You Know

The best camera to use for paranormal photography is the camera you know. Understanding your camera's features and how to use them will go a long way toward helping you get the images you want. This is more important than investing in expensive gear, especially if you're just getting started taking photos of ghosts. Use your cell phone camera if that's what you have.

Research Where to Capture Ghosts on Camera

If you're hoping to get some great ghost photos, start by going to places you suspect are haunted. Some of the most haunted places in America include battlefields, cemeteries, old hotels, hospitals, and prisons. You may also know some haunted locations in your state where you're likely to encounter some paranormal activity to photograph.

Taking photos in a cemetery

Clean Your Lens and Equipment

Before you begin trying to get some photos of ghosts, take a few minutes to clean your equipment. This is important for two reasons: dirty equipment can cause you to miss a shot, and dust and dirt can create an unintentional fake ghost photo. If you're using a cell phone, clean the lenses with a soft cloth. If you're using a video camera, point-and-shoot, DSLR, or any other type of camera, clean as many lens surfaces as you can. Blow off any dust and very gently clean the glass with lens cleaner.

Prepare for the Shooting Conditions

If you are planning to do some ghost photography and know where you'll be shooting, it can help to prepare for the conditions ahead of time. These are a few of the conditions you might encounter:

  • Dark - If you'll be shooting in an area that is very dark, you may want to bring some additional lighting or a tripod to keep your camera steady during longer exposures.
  • Rain or snow - Rain and snow can get on your lens and create blurry areas or false ghosts. Use a lens hood or keep your camera sheltered with an umbrella to prevent this.
  • Dust - Dust can reflect light and create fake orbs in photos. If you'll be shooting where there's lots of dust, bring lens cleaner to clean your lens regularly.

Understand a Few Photography Basics

Even if you're using very simple equipment, it's important to understand a few basics about photography if you want to capture ghosts on camera. Photos are made when light hits film or a camera sensor for a period of time. The more light that hits the sensor, the less time the sensor needs to be exposed to light. There are three basic elements to creating any paranormal photograph:

  • ISO or film speed - ISO or film speed refers to how sensitive the camera or the film is to light. Lower numbers (like 100) mean less sensitivity but also less noise or grain, and higher numbers (like 800 or 3200) mean more sensitivity and more grain.
  • Aperture - Aperture is how wide the lens will open to allow light to come in. This is measured in f/ stops, with lower f/ stops (like f/1.8) allowing in more light than higher f/ stops (like f/16).
  • Shutter speed - The camera's shutter opens for a period of time to let light in. The longer it's open, the more light reaches the sensor or film.

Know Where the Light Is Coming From

Before you start taking photos or videos, take a moment to think about where the light is coming from. The best way to get a great image of something supernatural is to avoid light streaming directly into your lens, which can cause flares that can be confused with ghosts or spirit orbs. Instead, you want to shoot with the light behind you or to either side. Try to orient yourself to make the most of the lighting situation you have.

A spooky ghost of a woman in the road

Avoid the Flash

Using your flash can cause some confusion about whether you've captured a real picture of a ghost or simply created an unintentional light effect by bouncing the flash off of dust and shiny surfaces in the scene. Turn off the flash on your camera if at all possible. If it's very dark, there are other ways to add light to the scene without using the flash.

Carefully Bring in Some Light if You Need It

You can add light to a scene without using the flash, and you may need to do this sometimes. Consider bringing a source of constant light, such as a lantern, plug-in light (if there's electricity), or even a flashlight. Never place this light where it will shine directly into the lens, since this can cause false positive shots and interfere with your paranormal investigation. Instead, place the light to the side. This should help your camera focus in a dark situation.

Try Some Long Exposures

You can also use some long exposures instead of bringing in light or in addition to the light you're adding. Remember, that one of the ways your camera can get enough light to create a picture is by allowing the shutter to stay open for a long time. Longer exposures can also help you capture things you might not notice with the naked eye. The length of the exposure you take will depend on the light in the scene, the aperture or opening of your lens, and the ISO or film speed you are using. Use the exposure meter in your camera or a handheld exposure meter to determine how long it should be.

Hands reach for an antique doll

Use a Tripod or Stable Surface

Using a tripod is especially important if you're taking a long exposure, but it can be helpful even with faster shots. Movement of your camera can create a blurred effect that will make it difficult to determine whether you've captured photos of ghosts or simply ordinary objects that are blurry. If you don't have access to a tripod or you're using a cell phone that doesn't have a tripod socket, simply prop the camera on a stable surface like a table, the floor, a rock, or anything else handy.

Shoot Continuously (and Compare Shots)

Because supernatural entities may be fleeting, it helps to shoot continuously. Many cameras have a continuous shooting mode, which makes this easy. If you don't have that mode, just push the shutter button as often as you can to get lots of photos. This allows you to look back through the images afterwards and compare them. If something is present in one or two shots but not in the rest, it's definitely worth further investigation. You can also set up a video camera or security camera to shoot continuously, allowing you to review the footage or even set up a live ghost cam.

Consider Infrared Film and FLIR Camera Adapters

If you're using a film camera or have access to one, consider trying some infrared film. Most camera sensors and film record mostly the visible spectrum of light - or the light people see on a regular basis. Infrared light is outside of that range. It's all around, but people don't see it when they look at things. Infrared film is designed to capture this invisible type of light, and it may be a good way to get photos of something or someone that is present but unseen. You can also use an FLIR camera adapter to capture infrared light and thermal images with your smartphone.

Infrared thermal scan

Keep Good Notes

Whether you use a video camera or capture still images, it's essential that you keep good notes about your ghost photos. You should record the date and time you took the image, the place, the methods you used, and whether there were any environmental factors like smoke, dust, fog, or precipitation that could have impacted the final results. That way, you can sort out the real evidence from the false positives you may have recorded.

Photos Can Be Powerful Evidence

Photos can be powerful evidence for the existence of ghosts, especially if you are careful and methodical in the way you take them. If you have good notes and good photographic technique, you may discover that you've captured something beyond what people can see with the naked eye.

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How to Catch Ghosts on Camera: 13 Tips for Success