Email received with photograph, July 8th 2014:
" Last Friday evening, we were at the 4th of July fireworks on Fort Stewart, GA. We sat in a parking lot with just a few other people, only a few hundred feet away from Warrior's Walk, which is a place around the parade field that has hundreds of trees, each planted for a fallen soldier. I was snapping pics of my grand daughter playing and running with the 2 young boys of the man in the light blue shirt. The pics came out a little blurry because the kids were running and it was dusk, but when I went through to delete them, I came upon this shot! My daughter-in-law was right next to me watching me delete the shots and saw the figure the same time I did. I cropped it down and immediately shared it with the gentleman in light blue and the few other people with us in the parking lot. There was NO ONE walking past or standing there when I took the shot... How can I find out if this is truly a spirit I captured?"
Next email below, replying to questions: (1) were you outside when taking the photo? (not inside looking through glass - there may have been a reflection, and (2) do you have any other photos taken before and after the one you sent?
"To answer your question, yes, I was outside. I was sitting in a chair just like the man in the blue shirt, getting ready to watch the fireworks. All of us sat in a parking lot across the street from the gym. Unfortunately, I had already deleted the other pictures I took before this one - but I honestly believe "he" was not in those. I am confident that I would have noticed before deleting. I am sending you the one I took AFTER I took this shot however. I took that to see if something would show up again, but as you can see, nothing."
"Well, there is definitely a figure of some description in your photo. It's not a photographic anomaly of any kind, and it's not some other object (a tree, or whatever) that has the shape of a human. Most of the photos we receive are either some kind of photographic fault (dust orbs, camera movement, lens flare, etc) or a random pattern that looks like a face or figure (pareidolia, simulacrum). Your photo fits neither category.
"The lack of detail in the figure is probably caused by to the low light level (under-exposure, due to back-lighting) combined with the long-ish shutter speed (not given in the photo file's Exif data, but I would estimate to be in the range of 1/4 to 1/15 of a second) and jpeg file compression applied by the phone-camera.
"The question is then: is this an image of an actual, living human being, or is it a ghost of some kind?
"The natural explanation is that there was a tall man passing through the scene, who appears in the photo but who you did not personally observe.
"Have you ever seen the video of the people passing a basketball and you're asked to count the number of passes? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo
"You've probably seen it before, but it illustrates perfectly the concept of selective attention. In this case, you might be concentrating to capture your daughter with the camera to a level where you don't notice some other things occurring in the scene at that time: a man wanders in and out but you don't see him because you're not looking for him. This is one of the ways that our brain's processing of visual and other sensory information is unreliable. Lawyers often use this type of argument in court when challenging eyewitness accounts of crimes.
"So, selective attention is a likely natural explanation. A less likely explanation - but not an inconceivable or impossible one - is that you managed to capture a ghost with your camera.
"Skeptics are fond of the argument known as Occam's Razor, which says that when offered multiple explanationss for a thing, we should choose the simplest. (This WIkipedia article explains it better.) It's a strong argument, but it seems to break down when applied to things that are exceptionally complex, things for which no simple explanation exists, for example in quantum mechanics. Explanations for things that are observed in the quantum scale of things are so mind-bogglingly unintuitive and complex that even specialised scientists struggle with them. In other words, Occam's Razor doesn't necessarily apply outside of certain situations or contexts. The same counter-argument might apply to some paranormal phenomena.
"I like the quote from Fred W H Myers; "Whatever else, indeed, a 'ghost' may be, it is probably one of the most complex phenomena in nature."
"Ultimately, this photograph as potential proof of the existence of ghosts would fail because it is dependent on testimony that there was no actual human being present to account for the strange figure. What would be needed to strengthen the case is other documentary evidence, for example a video taken by someone else that covers the same place and time as your photo.
"In a nutshell; there is a probable natural explanation for the figure in the photograph; but we can't be certain of it, so there remains the possibility that the was no living human there and the photo shows someone who has already passed, perhaps indeed a fallen soldier."
Further email received, providing some corroboration that there was no unaccounted-for living human present when the photo was taken:
"Again, thank you very much for giving so much attention to my photo. After hearing over and over again that there had to be a human standing or walking there, I started wondering if I indeed missed someone standing there or walking past, so I called the wife of the "man in the blue shirt" to ask her about it as well. I still had her phone number because she had asked me to text her my photo. When I asked her if she thinks that someone was there and we just missed him, she said, and I quote, "I am a mama bear. If there was a man walking by or standing near my children, I would have noticed it. I am positive that no one was there." So you see, she confirmed my account that there was no one there outside of the children and her husband. She restored my faith because I truly was beginning to doubt myself, but I once again believe that the figure in the photo was not of this earth and I was lucky to get a shot of him. I also believe it's a soldier and found it interesting that I caught a shot of him just as the announcer was listing all the foreign wars the U.S. fought in."
"Thank you for that corroborating information. That helps make a good case for your photo being a genuine mystery. Also, thanks for permission [to use the photo on our website]."
In summary, we think that the semi-silhouetted figure in the centre of the photo is definitely a human figure, not something caused by pareidolia or any combination of photographic anomalies. If we accept the corroborated declaration that there was no actual unaccounted-for human present when the photo was taken, then we have a picture of some kind of spirit or ghost - a historical trace of a soldier, perhaps.
We don't think that anyone is lying or has deliberated faked or Photoshopped the image. (If they have they've done an extraordinary, expert job of it! - and that's speaking as a professional photographer with two decades of Photoshop experience). The tone of the email converstaion has been genuine throughout (we've edited out names and some polite chit-chat). So it comes down to the reliability of two eyewitness testimonies. If they are not mistaken, then apparently we have a ghost!
Photo Exif data (main photo, using ExifReader )
ImageWidth : 1611
ImageHeight : 1316
Make : LG Electronics
Model : VS980 4G
DateTime : 2014:07:04 20:56:24
FNumber : 24/10
MeteringMode : Unknown (65535)
LightSource : Unidentified
Flash : Not fired
FocalLength : 3.97(mm)
WhiteBalance : Auto
What are your thoughts on this?
Please feel free to post relevant comments below.
A semi-relevant link:
ADDENDUM - 7th August
Andrew (see comments, pretty far down) has picked me up on my logic, which is fair enough. I need to express my thinking here more clearly and methodically.
So, avoiding an 'either/or' type of logic, there are a number of possible explanations for this photo (and most other photographs that may show a ghost or other paranormal phenomenon). They are:
1. is the reason for most of the purported paranormal photos, but it is in the main part eliminated. However, the lack of clarity of the image is caused by the camera's inadequate ability to automatically compensate for the low light level and backlighting, and the amount of JPEG compression it has applied to the recorded image file, so 1. is a contributing factor. If the image were of better quality, we might not be having this discussion over it because the physical situation would be obvious.
2. is eliminated. The questionable figure in the photo is not a tree or any other object that happens to look a bit like a human figure. (Visual pareidolia is the cause of most of the other purported paranormal photos we see.)
3. is eliminated. The photo shows no evidence of tampering, the photographer says she did not tamper with the photo and I believe her; she did not have the means or motive to do so. Also, if you were going to fake a ghost photo, you would most likely make it a bit more of an obvious-looking ghost than this one. Deliberately faked photos are quite rare these days (at least in the requests we get for photo analysis), because they are just too easy to make. Why bother? People often make the accusation, 'It's Photoshopped' (see comments) but they usually have no basis for their opinion.
4. This is the one we can't discount with certainty. As I've stated repeatedly in the body of the blog, I believe that the photographer and the other witness are being totally honest. But no matter how much people are convinced that events happened in a certain way, countless episodes exist where one witness's testimony does not match up to anothers, or to recorded versions of events. Human perception, memory processes, and recall can all be flawed, or contaminated.
5. While we do not yet know of any mechanism by which an image of a ghost can be recorded, there remains the outside possibility that somehow this has occurred. If we can eliminate 1, 2, 3 and 4 with certainty and can't discover any other normal reason for the anomaly, we have to give 5 some very serious consideration.
I don't think we can eliminate all of these natural explanations with certainty, but this photo is tantalising nonetheless. The nearly 30,000 page views so far are testimony to that, and I thank the photographer for sending us the photo, and for her work in replying to the comments below.
We all now know about orbs, usually caused by the camera flash reflecting of close-proximity airborn dust particles or moisture droplets, the highlights reflecting back and rendering out-of-focus as mysterious looking pseudo-objects still thought by some to be a spirit manifestations.
But these days, with current camera design, lens flare is taking over from orbs as the number one cause of false positives in photographs purporting to show paranormal activity. The evidence for this claim is the proportion of photos sent to us for examination for which lens flare is the most obvious explanation for the phenomena photographed.
Lens flare is caused by (1) any light entering the camera lens that does not form part of the image being photographed (non-image-forming light), and/or (2) bright light sources - natural or man-made - within the area photographed. The stray light bounces around inside the lens, internally reflecting from its optical surfaces and often acquiring colour from the microscopic anti-flare lens coatings. Sometimes the shap of the aperture blades within the lens have an effect.
Lens flare is much more various in appearance than orbs and so is harder to exactly identify. It can also cause orbs by either striking dust or other marks on or within the lens, or by creating optical artefacts. There are two such artefacts in the photo below, which was recently sent in to us for analysis.
What is most likely happening here is the sun coming in through the trees is causing lens flare. Images of the sun bounce around inside the lens and end up registering on the sensor, after being affected by the anti-flare lens coating (which changes the colour, here mostly to green), the shape of the lens aperture (a daimond shape in this case), the surface shape and quality of the lens, and digital processing and file compression.
Lens flare can be caused by sunlight, moonlight and man-made light sources, always coming from somewhere in front of the camera, even if not necessarily in the picture area. It can create some bizarre effects that can give a sense of a spiritual presence, a UFO, or other things. The same sort of thing happens in film cameras but digital cameras seem more prone to it, perhaps due to the more compact design (no shading of the lens, usually) and the processing and compression of the image after capture.
The photo below, taken in Milford Sound in New Zealand's South Island and kindly sent in by Mike Brown, shows lens flare that has taken on the appearence of a demonic face. This is an example of lens flare combining with the psychological phenomenon called visual pareidolia (see links below for more info). The patterns caused by the flare are meaningless but we humans have a hard-wired tendency in our visual perception to see faces and figures in such random, insignificant data.
Lens flare: more examples on Strange Occurrences site
Visual pareidolia - more info:
Other pareidolia photos on Strange Occurrences site
More about orbs: photo examples on Strange occurrences site
Orbs Explained - orbs as false positives, article by James Gilberd
Photography tips: how to avoid lens flare
Lens flare, if not actually producing artefacts in your photo, will generally deteriorate the photo's quality by slightly fogging the image, reducing contrast, colour saturation and definition, so you want to minimise flare for the best quality photos in any case (paranormal or not).
As a professional photographer engaged in trying to produce the clearest possible photos (usually, anyway), lens flare is something to always be aware of. With a DSLR or SLR film camera, the lenses usually come with a lens hood, and this should be used for every photo taken (not stored reversed over the lens!). In situations where the lens hood is unavailable or inadequate, use your hand or (preferably) some dark, flat object to shade the lens from the sun or other direct light source. Hint: if you can see the light hitting the front surface of your camera lens, you're going to get lens flare in your photo.
With compact cameras (most have no lens hood provision) or phone cameras, using your hand to block out the source of the flare is a good technique. Move your hand closer in until you can just see it in the picture onscreen, then withdraw it slightly. (Try taking two photos, one with and one without using this technique. You will see a marked difference in quality.) If the light souce is actually directly in your photo, this will not help: you are going to get lens flare.
Earlier in 2014...
"Jo Davy and James Gilberd of Strange Occurrences were delighted to be invited to speak at Paracon Australia, which will be held at Maitland Gaol (out of Sydney) on the weekend of May 10th-11th, 2014.
"We will be talking about some of the topics covered in our book 'Spooked - Exploring the Paranormal in New Zealand', including a section on photography and the paranormal.
"We are looking forward to meeting others in the paranormal community and hearing international speakers such as Dr Cairan O'Keeffe. The venue should be interesting, too!"
After the event...
Well, sadly neither Jo nor Dr O'Keeffe were able to attend. The Paracon was a success, though. Some organisational glitches meant the lead-up was a little tense, but James Gilberd, and Mark Wallbank from Haunted Auckland, attended and spoke at the conference. There were about a hundred paying punters, and we all met some great people, made new friends and contacts in the paranormal world and had a great time. We are hoping to attend (and maybe speak at) the next Paracon in Australia, possibly in Melbourne.
Looking forward to it.
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.