Monday, 2 September 2013

Why people don't photograph ghosts.

Ghostly woman!With the widespread use of mobile phones, more people carry round a camera, for more of the time, than ever before. So why don't they take photos of ghosts?

I realise there are contentious assumptions in that question, so let's go back a bit. Firstly, the number of ghost photos being sent to ASSAP is undoubtedly increasing. That could, of course, be due to increased ASSAP visibility on the web, but I strongly suspect most of it actually reflects a big increase in the number of anomalous photos being taken. But in the overwhelming majority of such photos, no ghost was actually SEEN by any witness at the time the photo was taken, so there is no evidence that one was even present. And, on close examination, the vast majority of these photos (where no ghost was actually seen) turn out to be photographic artefacts.

What I am talking about in my original question is someone seeing a ghost and then taking its photo. The number of such cases is incredibly small. And those photos that ARE taken in such circumstances usually show no ghost. So what is going on?

I have some experience of seeing ghosts (as regular readers will know), probably far more than the average member of the population. I have also examined many reports from others who have seen ghosts. So, I have some appreciation of what the experience is like. And there are three important points about these reports that affect whether someone takes a photo or not. Firstly, sightings are quick. Seconds is a normal duration and minutes unusually long. This gives little time for anyone to take a photo. Secondly, ghost sightings always seem to be unexpected. People hardly ever see ghosts when they are actually looking for them. So, witnesses rarely have the presence of mind to even consider taking a photo. Thirdly, many people are not even aware they are seeing a ghost at the time of the sighting. It often only becomes obvious afterwards, if the figure vanishes, for instance. And if witnesses ARE aware they are looking at a ghost at the time, they have a tendency to stare at it, not wishing to look away. Seeing something extraordinary is not an experience to be cut short. It may never happen again! Taking a photo means looking away from the ghost and it might vanish while the witness is fumbling for their phone! I get the same feeling when I see a rare bird - it's difficult to look away! I usually only get a photo of a bird if it hangs around for a while, much longer than the average ghost sighting.

And even on the incredibly rare occasions when people do see a ghost AND photograph it, most of the time there is nothing unusual in the resulting photo! This is not that surprising when you consider that most ghosts are misperception or hallucination. The photo above shows a ghostly woman I saw once. Except it doesn't! It shows the reed bed scene where, seconds before, I had quite clearly seen the figure of an old woman. It was a typical example of a misperception and such effects don't work if you can study them at leisure in a photo. They are usually seen in brief glimpses or peripheral vision or in poor lighting conditions, none of which applies in a well exposed still photo.

So there you have it - why people don't (usually) take photos of ghosts! And why it isn't that exciting even when they do. So, although there are more people carrying cameras than ever before, sadly it doesn't mean we are going to get many more photos of ghosts. But we WILL get a lot more photographic artefacts.

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