Digital Dilemma by Matthew Fabian

You know what I say, “When life hands you a dilemma, make dilemmanade.” That is what many ghost hunters have done, by flocking to digital cameras almost immediately after they had come to market. Of course, with anything new, controversy is sure to follow. Digital cameras in a ghost hunting environment are no exception. Troy Taylor of The American Ghost Society writes that “the negative points to digital cameras outweigh the good ones,” while Dave Oester of The International Ghost Hunters Society “fully recommends without reservation the use of digital cameras for field investigations.” Still, others ride the fence on the issue, finding it hard to walk away from digital photography.

Digital photography has many features such as instant gratification, no film costs, photo like prints from your inkjet printer, and the ability to post directly to the web. It seems digital photography is too good to pass up. I have to admit that even I carry around a web address rather than a photo album, and my photo developer will have a tougher time sending his children to college. Who can blame me for embracing digital photography?

With so many benefits, what is the controversy? Most of the digital camera debate centers around the authenticity of a digital photograph, and its uncanny ability to capture “orbs.”

Orbs can be described as balls of light that some believe to be spirit energy, while others believe they are artifacts from environmental factors, or other camera related anomalies. Suffice to say, orbs are entangled in their own debate, which is a whole other article in itself. A digital camera seems to be able to capture a higher than average amount of orbs. There are two explanations for these phenomena:

  1. When exposed to longer shutter speed, the CCD chip creates “noise” that is visible in the photograph. This noise is believed to be the actual cause of the orb photography.
  2. The CCD chip is sensitive to infrared light, and orbs are visible in the infrared light spectrum, therefore the camera captures them.

Which is the correct school of thought? Well, both may be accurate, to some extent. There are certain steps that you can take to help prove to yourself whether your orb is a camera flaw or at least lend some credence to your photograph.

  1. You can discard all orb photos as inconclusive.
  2. You can take a series of control shots before you begin your investigation. To do this take multiple photos in the lighting conditions you will be investigating, each time using a slower shutter speed. Review the end results to see if “noise” will be a factor, or to find your camera’s noise threshold.

The other end of the digital photography controversy is the authenticity of digital photos. A photo in digital format makes it easier to alter its original state in order to create a fake photograph. This argument doesn’t have a wooden leg to stand on. Just as with any photography, if anyone wants to fake a photo, they will do so. I spoke with representatives from several major digital camera manufacturers to discuss this issue. I have come to these two conclusions:

  1. It is next to impossible to alter a digital photo so flawlessly that it would escape detection.
  2. Assuming one could flawlessly alter a digital photo, the time and effort it would take one to do so, would be too costly to be worth while.
  3. Just as with traditional analog photos, you could send your photo to a professional, who will in turn certify its authenticity.

Some manufacturers, such as Kodak, have even gone as far as to make your camera’s firmware upgradeable with authentication software. What this software does is insert a watermark that would make the photo impossible to alter without detection. Kodak assured me this authentication would hold up in a court of law.

It seems to me that the underlying issue is not with digital photography, but with the ability to prove the existence of the spirit world. Why do we concern ourselves so much with proving the impossible? It is like trying to prove to the Flat Earth Society that the earth is round. No matter how much evidence you produce, they will never believe you. The people that live in the haunted homes I investigate believe (or they wouldn’t have contacted me), and I believe. What more do you need? I often get e-mails asking me “what does this orb photo prove?” I say “it proves I went into a cemetery in the middle of the night, and that is what I photographed.” The point is it isn’t meant to prove anything, take it for what its worth. The photos I post on my website are for your personal viewing pleasure, not to prove anything to anyone.

The bottom line is that digital photography clearly has a place alongside traditional photography. Its benefits are too great to ignore. Just as with anything scientific, be sure to take a control and a variable. Only then can you prove to yourself the validity of what you are photographing.

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