RETURN TO PARANORMAL PAGE | E-MAIL ME

TOOLS OF THE GHOST HUNTING TRADE

Ghost hunting is not cheap—at least, not if one wants to do it right. It takes more than a good camera and a strong disposition to get it done; it takes all sorts of often costly devices—along with many hours of practice to make the equipment useful—otherwise one is simply wasting their time.

To understand what this equipment is supposed to be doing, it is important to recognize that paranormal researchers approach their subjects from the presumption that ghosts are basically units of energy manifesting themselves through the use of some mechanism we are as yet unfamiliar with. In other words, they work from the premise that ghosts are capable of interacting with and affecting the known physical world of linear matter and, as such, should be detectable to the proper equipment. As such, most of an investigator's equipment is made up of devices designed to detect electrical or thermal changes in the environment, such as EMF meters, thermometers, motion detectors, and ion counters. They also make considerable use of audio equipment in an effort to detect any speech or other noises a ghost may manifest, as well as use a whole range of video equipment and cameras in an attempt to capture a ghostly image on film or video tape. Below is a list of the most common types of equipment used, along with their advantages and disadvantages as a ghost hunting tool.

THE GHOSTHUNTER'S BAG of TRICKS

Film Camera: The oldest and, in many cases, most reliable type of camera used today, the traditional negative-producing 35 or 110mm camera still offers the best final product, due entirely to its high resolution capability and the fact that it provides one with a film negative that can be used to blow up a particular image while still retaining a high degree of definition. It is also far more difficult to alter a negative than manipulate a print (but not impossible—though it requires some technical prowess) thereby giving a negative that can get by the experts a better than average pedigree.

However, they are not without their flaws and limitations. Old or partially exposed film can produce all manners of anomalies that can be mistaken by the novice for a ghostly manifestation, and double exposures are always a problem (though they are becoming less so with the advent of self-winding cameras.) Heat and excessive cold can also effect film, while poor weather conditions, bad lighting, and a host of other circumstances can result in unusual objects appearing on a negative that might easily be misidentified as a ghostly image. Even something as prosaic as a camera strap or an insect flying in front of the lens can be later be identified as an 'orb' or 'vortex', so there is much that can go wrong with standard film cameras as well.

Finally, there is an additional disadvantage in using standard print film: time and money. Throughout the course of a single evening's investigation, the ghost hunter will often shoot dozens of rolls of film in their effort at capturing an image of a ghost, resulting in development costs which can start to get expensive over the long run (unless they are capable of developing the film themselves.) Film can also be difficult to load-especially in the dark-and also have the disadvantage in that they force the investigator to wait until the film has been developed to determine if they got anything of interest, by which time paranormal activity at the haunted location may have waned (this has increasingly proven to be less of a problem as of late, however, with the advent of one-hour development services.) For the most part, however, the film camera—preferably 35mm—when in competent hands, remains among the most valuable tool in the investigator's arsenal.

Back to Index

Instant Camera: When Polaroid introduced the instant camera back in the 60's, it proved to be a boon to the ghost hunter, for now one didn't need to wait days or even weeks for a roll of film to be developed, but could see the fruits of their labor appear before their very eyes in a matter of minutes. This resulted in a number of very impressive spirit photos being produced over the years, and the instant camera remains an uncommon but still valuable ghost hunting tool even today.

The biggest advantage of the instant camera, other than the savings it presents in terms of time and expense, is that it permits the anomaly to develop on film before multiple witnesses. In other words, an instant picture snapped before a number of eye witnesses that produces a ghostly image diminishes the chance of trickery and largely eliminates the likelihood of developing errors (of course, instant film can go bad as well, but usually the results are more pronounced and obvious.) Additionally, since there is no negative, it also eliminates the chance that someone has manipulated the photo, and since it is impossible to produce a double exposure since each photo is immediately ejected upon being taken, another common explanation for ghostly images appearing unexpectedly in a photo-that a roll of film has failed to advance properly-is also eliminated.

The drawbacks of instant cameras are basically that they will not generally produce as clear or crisp a picture as a 35mm camera, and the fact that they lack negatives makes it almost impossible to make clear reproductions or enlargements (to do so involves either scanning the original or taking a photo of the photo, likely causing serious degradation in the process and so reducing the overall film quality.) Additionally, they also suffer from the same problems as a traditional film camera in terms of dust, flying insects, and other objects being mistaken for ghostly manifestations, so the same precautions need to be taken with the instant camera as would be necessary with any camera.


Back to Index

Digital Camera:
The advent of digital cameras revolutionized the ghost hunting trade, for suddenly it gave investigators to ability to shoot an almost unlimited number of photos which could be examined on the spot to determine if any ghostly entities might be present. They also eliminated the possibility of double exposures and the difficulty of changing film quickly in poor light, as well as saved the researcher time by eliminating the waiting period between shooting and developing the film. This made ghost hunting quick, easy, and almost universally affordable and overnight the ranks of camera toting ghost hunting enthusiasts swelled. As such, the vast majority of spirit photos that have come out over the last decade have been taken with digital cameras, accounting for the vast profusion of such photos appearing on web sites and creating something of a renaissance in the ghost photo industry.

There's no doubt digital cameras offer certain advantages film cameras cannot match, but unfortunately their disadvantages more than offset their usefulness as a paranormal investigative tool. The biggest problem is that they do not produce negatives but exist purely as 'dots' on an electronic medium. Therefore, in blowing up a photo the dots become more diffused until in extreme close-ups the image looses all definition and detail until it appears as nothing more than a series of colored blobs, making it almost impossible to determine anything useful from the image. Even newer, high resolution cameras (often costing thousands of dollars)—while definitely better than the more common lower-end digitals—still loose definition when enlarged enough. Digital photos also can be brought into various photo manipulation programs and electronically altered and, since they have no negative with which to compare the altered version with the original, no record exists to document the changes, thereby making the photo almost worthless as evidence. While a few investigators like to use them because of a belief they can record images on a higher light spectrum than can film cameras, most use them only for documenting a location or as preliminary shots to determine possible paranormal activity prior to using a film camera.

Back to Index

Infrared Camera:
Some of the more sophisticated paranormal investigators have taken to using infra red cameras in the belief that spiritual energies might well be visible in this light range, and have shown some success in capturing unusual images using this process. However, this presumes such energies do, in fact, manifest themselves on that wave length, which begs the question of why, in that case, they are not more commonly caught on infra-red imaging and why they can also sometimes be captured on regular film as well. Yet, if we are dealing with the unknown, the theory that ghosts might more readily be seen in infra-red is no more remarkable than the fact they might be seen in regular light as well. Additionally, a ghostly image captured through such a process should be less prone to trickery and so carry more weight as evidence of paranormal activity.

The biggest problem with infra-red imaging is both the cost involved in producing it and difficulty in using the film. It's not something any novice can readily pick up, and it can be a very difficult medium to master, plus it has the same drawback as regular film cameras in having to wait for the developing process to determine whether one has had any success. The expense and difficulty of using the medium, then, makes it a tool of only the most determined and skillful investigator.

Back to Index

3-D Camera: This is a powerful tool that can yield some compelling evidence if used correctly in that by capturing an image from more than one angle as a regular film or digital camera does, it shoots it from multiple angles giving the object in question some spatial dimension. This effectively eliminates dust or moisture or the insertion of an object in front of the lens as an explanation for an anomaly, since the object is seen from different perspectives simultaneously, giving it a sense of existing within a three dimensional context. This makes any object caught on a 3-D camera of particular interest, since fakery is so much more difficult.

3-D cameras, however, suffer from the same problems as any film camera in terms of expense, development costs and time, and transportability (they tend to be larger than most cameras and more ponderous, though they are coming down in size.) As they become more accessible, however, they should start becoming a more valuable and common tool in the investigator's bag of trick.

Back to Index

Video Camera:
Obviously, capturing a paranormal entity moving is better than a still image, for it demonstrates a 'something' that is capable of interacting with the environment. As such, video cameras are becoming increasingly popular among investigators, particularly as their size and price has come down extensively over the years, making them both more affordable and easier to use that ever before (the addition of microphones and with it the possibility of capturing ghostly sounds makes them even more valuable.) It's not remarkable, then, that an increasing number of ghost videos are appearing, making the case for ghosts even more compelling in some circles.

Yet they are not without their drawbacks as well. Like all cameras, they too can be tricked by light reflections off dust, flying insects or water droplets and, with the clever manipulation of some Plexiglas and a few off camera props, can be tricked into recording some rather extraordinary reflections that can appear quite convincing. There is also a well-documented tendency for video cameras (as is often true of all sophisticated electronic equipment) to consistently malfunction at a 'haunting,' sometimes rendering them useless at the most crucial moment . Additionally, like digital photos, video tape is susceptible to manipulation and careful editing, again compromising their usefulness in providing evidence of paranormal activity.

Back to Index

Thermal Imaging Camera: A fairly new device that has come on the market recently is the thermal imaging camera, a device that perceives images according to their heat signature rather than in their ability to reflect light. Their biggest advantage is their ability to film in complete darkness—thus largely eliminating the most common photo anomalies such as lens flare and flash reflections off dust and camera straps—and their ability to detect objects that might otherwise remain invisible to the naked eye. As such, they are becoming increasingly popular with ghost hunters-especially as their price continues to come down while their quality improves.

One of the biggest problems with the device, however, has less to do with its capabilities than with the characteristics of ghosts. Thermal imaging is designed to perceive heat signatures—particularly body or mechanical heat—but it seems abundantly clear that ghosts do not emit heat in any form. In fact, in most hauntings they are more commonly identified by the sudden drop in air temperature their presence induces, rendering the camera less useful. In other words, since thermal imaging cameras are designed specifically to see warm objects as opposed to cold ones (and, like most cameras, are also better at perceiving solid objects as opposed to translucent or 'misty' objects) one would be unlikely to capture a ghostly image on one. Though they might be able to see a 'cold spot' in the environment, possibly indicating where a ghost may be attempting to manifest, the temperature difference between the 'cold spot' and the background would have to be substantial for it to register clearly. As such, while thermal imaging cameras might prove helpful in locating temperature anomalies (or detecting fully corporeal pranksters in the dark) they are not likely to capture anything of interest to the paranormal investigator.

Back to Index

Tape Recorder: Most people assume ghosts are something that one sees, not hears, so many are surprised to learn that some entities actually produce sounds and that sometimes these sounds can be captured on tape. As such, the tape recorder has become another valuable tool in the ghost hunter's bag of tricks (especially as higher quality, ultra-sensitive microphones have became increasingly available and affordable) and one that is beginning to rival the camera as an effective means of proving the existence of the paranormal and making it an invaluable tool no real investigator should be without.

Auditory recordings of ghosts are known in the trade as EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) and, while a comparatively new phenomenon, has provided some of the most intriguing and compelling evidence for the existence of ghosts out there. Of course, how a spiritual energy might manifest sound without vocal cords is a mystery, but then one no more inexplicable than trying to determine how a ghost can appear visually without a physical body. It seems the one should be no more or less remarkable than the other, so the idea that a ghost can 'talk' should not be casually dismissed.

Sometimes ghostly 'sounds' and even voices can be heard audibly and captured on tape in real time, but most of the time they are only heard on later playback after the fact. In that respect, they are much more like ghost photos in which the figure often isn't visible to the photographer at the time the picture is taken but appears afterwards. As such, investigators normally have to do a great deal of work to capture potentially disembodied voices on tape, which they do in one of two ways: either a high quality tape recorder with an extremely powerful microphone is placed inside a closed, sealed room where paranormal activity is thought to be occurring or by simply asking questions into the air (much as one would in a seance) in the hope that some faint vocalizations might be detected on a later playback. Then the tape is rewound, the volume turned to its highest setting and the investigator simply listens for any unusual sounds that might occur. The second technique has generally proven more successful (it seems to encourage ghostly interaction more than does simply waiting for a ghost to say something of its own accord) but both methods have produced some impressive results.

Normally, of course, these attempts prove futile (just as dozens of rolls of film shot at a paranormal 'hot spot' usually come up empty) leaving the investigator with either hours of uninterrupted silence or explainable noises such as a furnace running or water moving through pipes. Sometimes, however, unexplained popping or scratching sounds can be picked up, and occasionally a discernible voice (or voices) can be made out in the background. On occasion these voices are clear and distinct enough to be understandable and instances of entire coherent sentences have been recorded. However, the investigator needs to be especially careful here for the brain dislikes random patterns of noise and often attempts to make sense of even the most indistinct gibberish. As such, one needs to be careful they aren't hearing what they 'believe' an EVP is saying rather than letting it speak for itself. Just as people used to play old Beatles records backwards in an effort to hear the secret encoded clues that implied lead singer Paul McCartney was dead (he wasn't), so too are humans quite capable of fooling themselves into hearing all sorts of messages where none exists. There are, however, a few EVPs that are remarkably distinct-if faint-and seem to be genuine attempts by ghosts to communicate, so they need to be taken seriously as evidence of genuine paranormal activity.

Back to Index

Other Gadgets No Serious Ghost Hunter Should Be Without:
Beyond visually or audibly detecting a ghost, there are other ways to determine if one is in the presence of a paranormal entity. Ion counters, EMF (electro-magnetic field) readers, motion detectors, and other such instruments are invaluable in determining paranormal activity and, being that such instruments are far less prone to being tampered with, tend to carry a bit more weight with science than do blurry photos and indiscernible background noises. While they have their drawbacks and limitations too-especially in the hands of the incompetent and inexperienced-as a rule they are more trustworthy than either human memory or instincts, and can do much in demonstrating that one has indeed found something "strange in the neighborhood" (to quote a line from the Ghostbusters theme song.)

EMF Meter: Since it is theorized that ghosts are basically made up of energy, and since all energy puts out an electromagnetic signature, it is thought that a ghost might well register on any instrument designed specifically to detect such energy. As such, EMF (or, sometimes, simply EM) meters are standard fare in all 'ghost hunters' toolboxes, serving as a kind of ghost alarm that tells when 'something' has entered the room so cameras can be pointed and tape recorders turned on.

The problem with EMF meters, however, is that they really can't tell one whether a ghost has entered the room or not, for that is not their function. All they can tell you is that there is a rise in the electromagnetic energy in a particular space; not what is causing it. And, since electromagnetic energy exists almost everywhere in nature (all electrical appliances-especially microwaves, computers, and televisions-along with the Earth itself, emit considerable amounts of electromagnetic energy all the time) one would be presumptuous to assume that any spike in an EM reading is evidence that a ghost is making a visit; there are simply too many other naturally occurring sources of energy that might account for the unusual reading. However, it can tell you that something unusual is happening, especially if the readings are inconsistent with the baseline readings that were taken beforehand and there is no readily apparent source to explain the jump in energy. Like all energy sensing equipment, however, it will never be more than a helpful tool for finding a ghost; it has no real value as an empirical source of evidence, though it can be extremely useful (especially when used in conjunction with other devices. An EMF spike recorded at the precise moment an orb or vortex appears on film would give the photo considerably more weight than it would otherwise, though it wouldn't conclusively prove anything.)

Back to Index

Ion Counter:
Some paranormal investigators believe ghosts are comprised of highly charged ions (we will look at this theory in more detail later) and so, like the EM meter, an ion counter can also be a useful tool for detecting the possible presence of paranormal activity. It also has the advantage in that unlike electromagnetic energy, clusters of ionic energy are less common occurrences in nature, making an anomalous reading potentially more useful and inexplicable. However, such instruments are costly and more difficult to use and, as such, available to only the most serious investigators. They also suffer, like all electronic devices, from being only as useful as the users level of competency. It takes considerable time and effort to know how to read an ion meter correctly, and so it is only useful when in the hands of an experienced and scientifically knowledgeable user.

Back to Index

Thermometer:
Most people are familiar with the famous 'cold spots' of horror movies when a ghost signals its presence by a quick drop in room temperature (which turns out to be one of the few elements of ghost hunting Hollywood has gotten right-though they tend to overdo it.) In fact, ghostly activity often is associated with sudden and dramatic drops in localized temperature, making the use of a sensitive and precise hand-held point and shoot thermometer essential to any ghost hunt. The user must be careful, however, that they are not picking up some naturally occurring draft and, even more so, that they are using the instrument correctly. Skeptics have repeatedly demonstrated how easy it is to get erroneous readings off even the best such devices, forcing the investigator to be extremely careful when using such equipment, and why it's important to get multiple readings from different angles before jumping to any conclusions. Also, 'true' cold spots should be felt on the skin as well as seen on the readout to be valid, and it should also be remembered that even if a cold spot were indicative of a ghostly presence, that is no guarantee that anyone will see or hear (or photograph) anything out of the ordinary. Like the EMF meter and the ion counter, it is only one more tool that tells the investigator 'something' might be present, not proof that it is.

Back to Index

Motion Detector: If ghosts are made up of invisible energy, it's difficult to see how one might acquire enough mass to set off a motion detector; it should, one would imagine, be no more likely to do so than should a flashlight beam or a gentle breeze. However, since a few ghost hunters have reported some success using such devices to signal a potential paranormal presence, they shouldn't be dismissed out of hand; we know so little about what a ghost is made of in the first place, the possibility that one might register on a motion detector under certain circumstances must be at least entertained. Additionally, they often prove invaluable in detecting poltergeist activity, for while they may not be able to pick up a ghost, they can detect objects a ghost might hurtle across the room, making it possible to thoroughly stake out an entire locale with relative ease. If nothing else, they are at least useful for ensuring that no unauthorized person enters a sealed room and have even been found helpful in locating hidden animals that might be responsible for some of the inexplicable noises people have been hearing. As such, motion detectors remain a growing part of the ghost hunters arsenal of weapons, though one that seems more useful as a security measure than as a true ghost detecting device.

Back to Index

Night Vision Goggles: Ever since these devices first hit the market a few years ago, they have become extremely popular with ghost hunters, though it remains to be seen how useful they might really prove to be in attempting to see an invisible being. After all, there is no real evidence to suggest that ghosts are more likely to manifest in a darkened room than they are in a well lit one (or that they are primarily nocturnal in any case) so what's the point of turning off all the lights and watching an area through a star scope? In fact, since ghosts appear to be able to reflect light, they should be more visible in a lighted room as opposed to a darkened one, rendering such devices less valuable than one might imagine. They might be helpful in staking out an unlighted locale (such as a cemetery or old barn) but beyond that, it's difficult to see how useful they would be. As such, while one might prove useful in determining if any fully corporeal beings are wandering about in the dark trying to fool the investigators, for the most part ghost hunting is better done with the lights on so events can be clearly seen, trickery made more difficult, and any paranormal activity more clearly photographed and documented. Night scopes might have some value to the investigator, but for the most part they appear to be a better tool for the Bigfoot hunter rather than the ghost hunter, although that's simply an opinion.

Back to Index

Miscellaneous Gadgets
There are other devices the ghost hunter sometimes uses, though these are more controversial and, in some cases, bizarre. Beyond the occasional geiger counter (are ghosts radioactive?) and compass, there are those who use everything from Ouija boards and candles to divining rods to locate or entice their extra-worldly guests to make an appearance. How useful such devices are is a matter of both personal opinion and considerable debate, but all of this should be enough to demonstrate that the art of ghost hunting is nothing if not thorough. And now, armed with a good basic knowledge of the tools of the ghosthunting trade, you are ready to start off on your own unique journey into the realm of the paranormal. Good luck and good hunting!

TOP | PARANORMAL PAGE | HOME