One very convincing clue in a genuine ghost photo is that the figure is recognizable as a known person who is no longer living and therefore has no business showing up there. Some great examples of this include the ghost of Freddy Jackson. In this case, R.A.F. Officer Jackson, who had been accidentally killed two days before the photo was taken, was easily identified by his squadron mates.
Another eerie example is that of a ghost that shows up in the back seat of a car. Of course, no living person was in that back seat when the photo was snapped, but when it was developed, Mrs. Mabel Chinnery, who took it, instantly recognized the image of her own mother. Mother, of course, was dead. In fact, the photo was taken at the cemetery where she was buried.
Honesty and intention
Because ghost photos are easily faked in any number of ways, we have to rely on the honesty and intention of the photographer. Honesty is a difficult if not impossible thing to determine, unfortunately, and a person might have any number of reasons for wanting to create a hoax: exposure, minor fame… he might even try to profit from it. None of these motives automatically spell hoax, but they must be considered carefully.
The Tulip Staircase Ghost was taken by a retired clergyman named Rev. Ralph Hardy. And although clergy are certainly not above reproach, we might be more inclined to believe them. When it comes to paranormal photos, it's a wise idea to consider the source.
Intention is another factor. Most of the best ghost photos were taken unintentionally. In other words, they weren't taken by people who were out to get a ghost on film (or chip in the case of digital cameras). The accidental nature of these photos lends them credibility because the photographers didn't have an agenda - it wasn't their intention to capture a ghost image, it just happened, and they are just as surprised as anyone else to discover it. An excellent example is Grandpa's Ghost, taken by Denise Russell and which originally appeared in our Paranormal Gallery. She had taken the photo of her grandmother at her retirement home. It actually wasn't until years later that they noticed the man standing in the background staring into the camera. She and her sisters recognized him as grandpa, who had died many years before.
Another factor that lends credence to any paranormal photograph is that there have also been paranormal experiences in the home or location where the photo was taken. For example, if someone has taken a photograph and orbs, ecto or some other anomaly appears, it can be taken more seriously if the person has experienced some other signs of a haunting. Perhaps they've actually seen an apparition with their own eyes, or anomalous noises or EVPs have been recorded, or objects that have been disappearing around the house - things of that nature. This is also true of a location that has a longstanding history of ghost or haunting activity.
These experiences and history are corroborating evidence that something paranormal may be taking place at the location and therefore gives weight to any strange forms that might appear in the photo, even if they are just orbs or ecto. This is not proof positive that the photos are legitimately paranormal, but perhaps we can take them more seriously and they can provide evidence for further investigation.
What to do with your photos
If you take a photo and something strange appears in it, don't automatically assume that it's a ghost, spirit or something paranormal. Be skeptical. Show the photo around. Show it to someone who has a lot of experience with photography; he or she may be able to explain the anomaly as a camera strap, dust in the air, a light flare on the lens, or a reflection - something natural and explainable.
If the photo expert cannot explain the anomaly, show it to a paranormal research organization in your area. Of course, there are many websites that feature ghost and paranormal photos; consider e-mailing your picture to them for evaluation. I would be happy to examine any photo you have. If I think other readers will find it unusual or interesting - and possibly even showing ghost energy - I might add it to the Paranormal Gallery.