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What Makes A Great Ghost Photo?

They are few are far between. Here are the elements of convincing pictures


The existence of ghosts is a difficult thing to prove. Tangible evidence is hard to come by. The greatest amount of data we have comes from eyewitness testimony. For millennia, people from every walk of life have reported seeing, hearing, feeling and even smelling entities we call ghosts. In recent years, the enigma of EVPs - electronic voice phenomena - in which a voice from an unknown source is captured by a recording device, has become one of the most fascinating and compelling areas of ghost research.

But people love ghost photos. My series of articles on The Best Ghost Photographs Ever Taken is consistently among the most popular on the site. Why? If ghosts exist, people want to see photographic proof. Really good, convincing ghost photos are rare, however (and video even rarer), simply because spirits don't pose on demand.

So what makes the photos in these articles so good? There are a number of factors, including:

  • clarity
  • recognition
  • honesty and intention
  • corroborating experiences.

We can apply these criteria to any ghost photo we come across.


The very best ghost photos capture what is clearly a human form - a body or face that is instantly recognizable as such. Although they may not always look as solid as a flesh-and-blood living person, the form is clearly discernable. The famous photo of The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England is a good example of this. Taken in 1936 by a photographer for Country Life magazine, the photo shows the distinct shape of what appears to be a female form descending the old staircase. The ghost had been seen on several other occasions going back decades.

As you can see in the Best Ghost Photos Ever Taken series, some ghost photos show figures that are even clearer than this - some, much clearer. But they do show the spectrum of ghost encounters themselves, which range from misty or smoky shapes to fully formed apparitions that look as real and solid as you or me.

This kind of clarity in a photograph is extremely rare. It's so rare, in fact, that when this kind of clarity shows up in a photo today, it immediately becomes suspect as a hoax. And with today's digital cameras and computers, fakes are easy to create. (In fact, since the invention of photography, spirit photos have been faked through double exposure and darkroom trickery.)

In the absence of this kind of clarity, snapshot takers and ghost hunters alike search for ghostly evidence of other kinds in their photos. Nowadays, the predominance of ghost photos depict "orbs," "ectoplasm" (a kind of strange mist) and "vortexes". Many of these kinds of photos can be found in the various ghost picture collections on the web and even in our own Paranormal Gallery.

The truth is, we're not 100 percent sure what these orbs, ecto and vortexes really are. It is becoming more widely believed that most of these orbs are nothing more than dust, pollen, raindrops, snow or insects caught in the camera flash. Ecto could be only moisture, fog, cigarette smoke or the vapor from the photographer's own mouth illuminated by the flash. Vortexes are very often the camera strap in front of the lens. I'm not saying that all instances of these anomalies can be explained so easily. Some could be evidence of spirit energy of some kind. We must admit, however, that we just don't know and we must err on the side of skepticism.

Next page > Recognition and honesty

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