Wednesday, 22 October 2014

But it never happens to me!

Apparent figure by fence'There was definitely no one there when I took the photo but when I got home and examined it closely, this is what I saw'. I hear this sort of thing all the time when someone is giving an account of how they took their ghost photo. But it never happens to me. Until the other day!

There was certainly nobody visible when I took the photo (right). I know because I carefully checked at the time. So, you can imagine my consternation when I examined the photo later to discover a figure in tricorn hat with pony tail plainly visible.

In case you can't see it, here's what I see. There is what appears to be a human figure, just right of centre, sideways on facing right, as if walking in that direction. The figure, which appears to have a ponytail, seems to be wearing a tricorn hat and what could be a frock coat (only the top part is visible). Of course, readers may not see the ghostly figure at all. It depends on the equipment used to display the image and probably whether readers are prone to noticing misperception.

Here are are some other odd points about the photo. Firstly, the ghostly figure only became apparent when the image was resized downwards ('zoomed out'). Secondly, the tricorn hat and ponytail are, of course, a fashionable look that occurred together in the same period in history. So the figure makes sense as a real historical person. Thirdly, the figure appears to be in scale with its surroundings. So, again, it looks reasonable as either a real person or ghost. Fourthly, the figure looks oddly insubstantial, with the faded colours, suggesting a ghost rather than a real person. Fifthly, I took this photo deliberately because I thought the object pictured might suggest a human figure, even though I never saw one at the time, even as a misperception.

Apparent figure zoomedI took a second, zoomed, photo of the same object at the same time. I did that so that, if I looked at the photo years later, I'd be sure what it really was. If everyone did this I suspect there would be fewer ghost photos reported. The picture here (right) is NOT the second photo but a tightly cropped version of the one above. I did that just in case there was a real ghost in the first photo which had disappeared before the second shot was taken. The second shot looks just like this one but with more detail visible. In other words, there was no change in the scene between the two shots. In this closely cropped version of the original photo, as well as in the second zoomed photo, the 'tricorn-hatted figure' is revealed to be a dark reed.

Oddly, I still see the 'tricorn-hatted figure' in the upper version, even after comparing it with the second one. I think that the tricorn-hatted figure is a misperception (which is why some people won't see it at all). The fact that the 'figure' doesn't appear in the zoomed version suggests that the two versions are materially different. The change happened when I resized the photo to a lower number of pixels. So, the tricorn-hatted figure is an artefact of the resizing process in the photo editing software. That is why it is important to obtain the original when examining anomalous photos. People often 'tidy up' their photos, to eliminate extraneous background, for instance. Or they may compress photos to send them with an email. But even such simple edits, like cropping, resizing or compressing, can change the look of an object dramatically, as in this case.

I think this particular 'ghost photo' works because of the points I mentioned earlier, such as its scale and historical accuracy, which contribute to a credible ghost figure. Scale is a crucial factor in misperception.

1 comment:

  1. I've never had what looks like a ghost appear on any of my photos. However, I did once see a remarkable example of a 'spirit extra'. A young lady and her mother came to a CPSG meeting some years ago and showed us an official wedding photo of hers, which contained the wedding party, occupying the right-hand two-thirds of the picture, with a grassy area to the left. In the middle of the grassy area was a lady with no feet, who was not seen by anyone at the time. The image was a really good likeness of the bride's grandmother, who'd died 10 years earlier.

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