Oh No You Don’t!

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Benjamin Radford is debunking ghosts again. This time, however, he goes too far. He is debunking the world of spirit photography. Obviously he has not seen the real, genuine Reuters Quality™ photographic evidence that abounds here in the Crabitat. But we digress.

Last year an exhibition of spirit photography was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Several of the pictures on display were created by Boston photographer William H. Mumler, who first claimed to have captured ghosts on film. Mumler produced many "spirit photographs" in the latter half of the 1800s, depicting faint, ghostly images in otherwise normal portraits. This caused a sensation and convinced many people with his seemingly excellent proof of ghosts.

Yet there was more to Mumler's photographic proof of life after death than met the eye; he was exposed as a hoaxer when some of the "ghosts" he had photographed were seen very much alive, living and working in Boston. In the process of his work, Mumler had simply stumbled across a crude method of double exposure, and hatched a plan to make a fortune with his fakes.

Thus, ghost photography began as an unseemly blend of photographic error and outright hoax.

Radford goes on to explain the "orbs" that are cited as "proof" of the existence of ghosts. It turns out that what causes the orb is a reflection of the camera flash off tiny particles or droplets in the air:

The easiest way to create an orb image is to take a flash photograph outdoors on a rainy night. The flash will reflect off the individual droplets and appear as white, floating orbs (the effect is most pronounced in a light rain, though even a little moisture in the air can create mysterious orbs). As researcher Joe Nickell notes in his book Camera Clues , unnoticed shiny surfaces are also common sources of orbs. (As well, flashes reflecting camera straps can produce other ghostly photo effects.)

During one investigation I conducted several years ago at Fort George ("Canada's most haunted place," in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario), I examined a large, wooden soldiers' barracks where ghosts and orbs had been reported. I took several flash photographs of the area, and I noticed that the building (essentially a barn-like structure) was quite dusty. As a television crew interviewed some ghost hunters, I noticed one orb, photographed it, and wondered what it might be ( image).

It hovered about chest-high and did not move at all, suggesting that it was not an insect nor a dust particle; instead it seemed supernaturally suspended in the air. It was several feet away from the nearest post, wall, or other visible means of support. The phenomenon was very strange.

I showed the image to one of the ghost hunters, who seemed pleased that I had captured what was obviously a ghost orb.

Upon further investigation…

Not content to simply declare my orb a sure sign of the supernatural, a fellow investigator and I searched even harder for a solution.

Sure enough, closer investigation revealed that the orb was in fact a tiny piece of dust or lint that clung to the remnants of a spider web ( image). It was a very unusual place for a web, and had I not traced the long, nearly-invisible line to its arachnid anchor, I would have rejected a web as an explanation. But it was a very long strand and just far enough away from the walkway that all but the tallest passersby would not walk through it. The dust mote was very difficult to see, and only apparent when a dark color appeared behind it for contrast, or when caught in a flash photograph. (Links removed)

Gee, he's taking all the fun out of this, isn't he? Another debunking by Radford is here.

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