Photo Analysis 101

Photographing Ghosts
Written By Wendy Cywinski
The Ghosts of Ohio Research and Investigation

Photographing Ghosts
Written By Wendy Cywinski
The Ghosts of Ohio Research and Investigation

Photographic evidence of a ghost. That is something all paranormal investigators aim to catch. There are many schools of thought on exactly what is a ghost, and just as many on how to successfully capture one on film. Here are some of my experiences that may help you both in photographing, and in determining just exactly what it is that has shown up in your photo.


Generally speaking, an orb is defined as a ball of light that represents a spirit. We currently have absolutely no solid evidence to back that up. What we do know is that a true orb is a collection of energy that will emit its own light. You should be able to see this with your own eyes. If you do catch one of these in a photo, it will look like Tinkerbell. No, seriously. It will be a moving light that will be lit up, not just a white spot on your film.

Orbs really came into being about 10 years ago. That is when digital cameras became affordable to most people. And there in itself is the answer to 99 percent of the orb phenomenon. Take a look at your film photography from 20, 15, or even 10 years ago. No orbs. Take a look at your pictures taken in the last few years using your digital camera. They are everywhere. It doesn’t mean that spirit activity has picked up, it means that we are now using a photographic instrument that not only captures items such as dust, pollen and mist, but develops the image in a completely different way than a film camera.

First, the light emitted from a digital camera during a flash picture will bounce off any piece of dust, lint, or pollen that happens to be in front of the camera and will illuminate it. At the same time your shutter is open, and the digital camera begins to write the image to your disk. This is a slower process than the film camera, which immediately burns an instant image onto film. So this gives the dust, or other object more time to reflect light and show up in the image.

Many orb believers will say that these are ghosts, that they have always been here and that now we have the ability to pick them up. No. What we have the ability to pick up is dust. We have actually conducted experiments in scientific ‘clean rooms’. Shook a Kleenex, and viola! Orbs everywhere. Unless an awful lot of ghosts have colds!!

This is a photograph I took as the fog was rolling into the Wheat fields in Gettysburg in October 2006. I was using my digital camera. It converted the fog into little mist particles. No dead civil war participants, just fog.

Last year in Savannah, a fellow investigator and I were accosted in an elevator by a man who, when he found out we were paranormal investigators, began whipping out photos and yelling about ‘all the orbs’. My friend and I shot looks back and forth to each other and just nodded to the man and went ‘ohh, ahh’, until he had left. Then both at the same time to each other said, ‘its pollen’. This was Savannah at the end of March, high pollen season. The cars were covered with it. Everything seemed to have a green/gold tint to it. I had been out in the afternoon and looking to the left, caught what looked like a dandruff attack taking place on my shoulder. THAT is how bad the pollen was. This man had approximately 100 pollen spores captured in his photo, and was SURE that he had come across a ghost party. And we felt it was better not to correct him, because as hyped up as he was, he could have done us serious physical damage!!

Looking again at my photo, you see it looks as if the orbs have a nucleus in the center. That is just the way rain, dew, dust, pollen photograph. Some people will tell you they see ‘spirit faces’ in the orb. What they are doing is called ‘matrixing’. That is the minds attempt to make sense out of a pattern it isn‘t capable of recognizing. You will also get this a lot when viewing pictures of flames, or smoke.

Spirit mist, or Ectoplasm

Another photo I took that night in Gettysburg would be attributed by some as ‘spirit ecto’, or ectoplasm, or spirit mist. In actuality it is steam. The night was beginning to cool, the fog had come in, and an investigator in the back seat of my car had just opened the door in preparation of getting out. Warm dry air met cool moist air, and resulted in this picture:

Again, no civil war spirits were joining us (darn), this is just how a digital camera is going to photograph these types of incidents.

These ‘mist’ types of photos can show up when you are photographing in cool conditions. Make sure you are holding your breath before you take the picture. Also make sure no one within 100 feet of you is smoking. You can capture smoke from a person standing 20 feet behind you that will come out looking like a spooky cobweb has come over your picture.

Plasma Lights

Plasma lights are a naturally occurring phenomenon. On a photo they may look like a dotted streak. But you need to be wary; a digital camera can create a very similar affect. If you snap a photo with your digital and move your hand, even slightly before the shutter has closed, you will get any light in your picture to streak. I usually see these streaks that look like a letter ‘S’ that has fallen over. One thing you should never do, whether it is with a digital or a film camera, is use the NightShot mode. That mode is specifically for taking a still picture with the intent of lighting up the background. In Nightshot mode, camera shutters can stay open anywhere from 3 to 7 seconds. That is a lot of time to jiggle the hand, have dust, hair or anything else blow in front of the shutter, etc. So make it a habit to never use that mode during investigations.


Vortexes, known to us photo aficionado’s as Camera Straps. Yes, take the strap off of your camera, or keep it on your wrist. These can fall in front of the lens, and the result is what looks like a whirling gray or white stream in your photo. If it is close enough to the lens, you can actually see the braiding of the strap in the ‘vortex’.

Digital vs. Film

Digital cameras are nice and handy. You see instant results, and in an ‘instant’ society like we live in, this is very desirable. Unfortunately the digitals do have their quirks, all of which I pretty must listed above. Another issue I have with the digital is you have no back up proof. The image you took is on a disk. How do you get it out? Digital pictures can be photoshopped, etc, so they are not very trustworthy. If you want to back up your photos, the best way to do that is with the film negative. A Film camera is also not as susceptible to the ‘orb’ issues that a digital is. I will pay a lot more attention to an orb, or mist in a film camera than I will with a digital. Plus, you always have that negative to pull out as proof that your photo was not the result of photoshopping. In the above orb photo, when I saw what resulted in my digital picture, I immediately snapped a pic with my 35mm. I did get orbs, but they were lighter and far fewer. So you will get some of these things to occur on a 35mm, but the digital is much more susceptible.

I like to use both when investigating. In fact sometimes I use 4 cameras. My digital, (4-5 mega pixel range seems to be best…the higher the pixel range, the higher the chance of creating orbs.), my 35 millimeter with 400 Gold Kodak film, my other 35 millimeter with Black and White film, and a Polaroid camera. 400 Gold seems to be the most favored by investigators. Kodak films in the red spectrum, whereas Fuji film is in the green spectrum. Paranormal phenomenon seems to be visible in the infra red and ultraviolet spectrums, hence the use of infrared cameras. So using Kodak instead of Fuji would seem to make more sense.. Polaroid cameras also use film that is close to the infrared spectrum, and give you the added bonus of instant gratification.

Testing your camera

Take your camera out on a test run to create a file for later use in identifying your investigation pictures. Take a picture of fog, misty rain, rain, snow, both in the day and night, so you can see how your camera reacts. Also when you notice pollen is high, take a night photo of that. Wave a Kleenex in front of your camera and take a photo of that. Find some loose dirt in the road and have someone stomp in it to get a photo of how a dirty cloud will look. Take a picture of a street light at night, and as you click your button, move your hand. Or take the picture and shake the camera.

Take all of these pictures (with whatever cameras you know you are going to consistently use on investigations) and put them in a file. That way when you get a photo on an investigation that seems suspect, you can go back to your file and compare. The more pictures you take, the easier it will be for you to be able to tell what is up in a photo. After looking at photos for close to 6 years, I can pretty much tell at a glance it if is something explainable, or if there is something in the picture that I do not have an answer to. So far I only have 2 pictures in my personal collection that I consider paranormal. One is an orb taken in the daylight, and one is of an energy stream, taken at Ft. George, Niagara on the Lake, Canada. And I did have a client show me a picture (I have a Xerox in my file), that me and my walk through partner tried our best to duplicate and couldn’t. That picture was taken on a an old 110 film camera. We tried to duplicate it using Polaroid and Digital, but were unable to account for the weird light bar that was appearing in his photo. So we chalked that one down to possibly paranormal.