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We receive many possibly paranormal photographs for analysis. While some are easier to explain than others, all of them are fascinating, and whether paranormal or not, they possess a certain beauty. These two photos, taking during a camping trip in Redwood National Park in northern California, in 2015 and sent to us by Andrew Ewing in June, 2017 for analysis, are right up there in the mystery and beauty department. (Thank you again for permission to show and discuss them here.)
While many of the photos we receive are explainable by camera or photographic anomalies such as lens flare or dust orbs, these are a bit different. Here, it is the ability of the stills camera to capture a fleeting moment of time, something not perceptible by normal human eyesight. While there is lens flare in both images (caused by the brightness of the fire bouncing around inside the lens and resulting in the large pink-purple blob in the centre and extending out in a circular pattern), this has nothing to do with the flames that are the apparent size and shape of dancing human figures appearing on the right of the campfire.
There are two obvious natural - non-paranormal - explanations that immediately came to my mind:
- It's faked! Photoshopped!
Well, I personally don't think so. Other may disagree. I believe Andrew's statement that the photos have not been tampered with. I work daily with Photoshop in my profession as a photographer and have done so for almost 20 years; so while I'm not claiming that a real expert couldn't slip a fake past me, to my eyes these photo show no signs of being messed with.
Also, if you do an internet image search along the lines of 'ghostly flame figures dancing around fire', you'll get a variety of results, some obviously faked (for various reasons). All of the fakes appear quite different to these photos (and most of the natural photos are nowhere near as good!) And if I were going to fake a ghost photo, I'd make it pretty scary-looking and unambiguous as to what it was supposed to be.
This is the more likely explanation, the one I offered Andrew. Pareidolia is something hard-wired into all of our brains that causes us to see human-like faces and figures in what are essentially random patterns, such as rocks, clouds or tree bark. The man in the moon is one example. The smiley face emoji is another. : ) It's just a couple of dots next to a curve, yet (even sideways) we all immediately see it as a face.
Personally, I think it's probably pure coincidence that these tongues of flame, each of which existed for a brief moment and just happened to be caught on camera, appear a similar shape and size to dancing figures. More info on pareidolia - and the Wikipedia article is useful.
But then again, there are coincidences and coincidences. Most of us have experienced or heard about coincidences that are so uncanny that pure chance seems way too flimsy an explanation. There just has to be something more to it. Maybe these photos are entering into that area.
Though I'm in no way certain about this, just putting it out there: I think that it takes people's presence and personal mental energy (call it spiritual energy if you prefer) to trigger events that can be experienced as paranormal. Naturally, some people are much more inclined to do this than others (like how some people can mentally calculate square roots of large numbers, or have perfect pitch). Perhaps the combined energy and unified spiritual belief of the dancers around this campfire caused, or allowed, the flames to appear in this way. And to be captured photographically. Which begs the question: what if more photos were taken, and what (if anything) would they show?
At the end of the day, though, it comes down to personal choice and belief. We're free and encouraged to form our own opinions on these photos. It's important to give consideration to any rational, natural explanations that are available, and then decide for ourselves if we accept those explanations. Or maybe we can come up with another explanation of our own, perhaps based on a similar personal experience, or on particular historical knowledge of the site of the event, the circumstances surrounding it, the people involved.
If you have an opinion or theory about what these photographs show, we'd be very interested to hear it.
Wellington, New Zealand
is a blog by James Gilberd - leader and co-founder of Strange Occurrences. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Strange Occurrences team.
James Gilberd is an amateur paranormalist, writer and musician, and a professional photographer, living in Wellington, New Zealand.