5X5 Episode 2

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5X5 Episode 2
Ghost Photographs
13th January 2008

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5X5 1 5X5 3
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
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The SGU crew discovers a new form of photographic artifact mistaken for "ghost" photos.

Ghost Photographs[edit]

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.

S: Welcome to the SGU 5X5, five minutes with five skeptics. Today is January 13th 2008. This week we're talking about ghost photographs. Recently, the SGU was challenged with an anomalous photograph, and we did a little investigation. Bob, can you tell us about that?

B: Yeah, I found an email asking us to look at a couple of pictures that this guy Brian took, well, actually his eight-year-old son took them. He said he has no associations with any paranormal circles and doesn't want to be associated with them, so I instantly liked this guy. He sent us the pictures, essentially he gave us two pictures, one, a close-up of Brian's face with a rope-light streaking across the entire photograph, a green light, a little bit squiggly. The second picture was another picture of Brian driving with a somewhat lighter colored, thinner rope-light squiggling around on the driver's side window. So immediately I realized this must have been be some type of long exposure effect that caused this. We each came up with a bunch of different reasons why it probably was a long exposure. One of the crucial ones I came up with, I realized that digital pictures have meta-data that tells you what state the camera was in. So we looked at the meta-data and found that indeed there was a two second exposure on both of these pictures. Which to me was a smoking gun, that was the key element in these pictures, that it was a long exposure, and not just a quick shot, and that was it.

J: And typically, Bob, a lot of these anomalies come out from the flash, and when a flash is present a lot of these weird lighting effects are present.

B: Yeah, a lot of flashback is the cause of a lot of these anomalies, but this one, though, is not flashback, it had to be long-exposure-related, and it was. As a result of the blog though, a lot more details came out, and a lot of people had a lot of great insight that I didn't think of, and I think we pretty much nailed this whole thing due to a lot of the comments.

R: The odd thing about the long exposure is that nothing else in the photo looked blurry when you first look at the photo, right?

S: That's right, that was interesting. But eventually we put it together that this was a mode that some digital cameras have, it's called like a 'twilight' mode, or a 'night-time' mode, where it uses a flash, but then keeps the shutter open in order to expose the dark background, and it creates interesting effects. So if you unwittingly are in this mode, you'll take a flash picture which does keep everything sharp and in focus, and not blurred, and then you get the two-second exposure, and as you move the camera around, you get these streaks of light going around the film, so that creates this sort of two images on top of one another. One un-blurred, and then a blurred light source is whatever's in the view.

R: And the funny thing about it is that I think that when we all saw it was a two second exposure, we all thought "well, why is this guy writing in to us and lying about not staging this photo?". It just didn't make sense at all, 'cause he seemed like a perfectly normal and nice guy. And so, happily, it turns out he's a perfectly normal and nice guy who was not lying to us.

J: The clincher was that Mike actually duplicated the picture, almost identically. It's fantastic what he produced.

E: Now, what do you think, if he brought these pictures to a ghost society, any ghost society, can you imagine the feedback he would've gotten from them?

R: Ghosts


E: Ghosts left and right.

S: Well actually, I looked on, just searched for ghost photos, and of the first few that came up, many of them had these exact types of artifacts presented as ghost photographs.

J: What were they, ghost lights?

S: They presented them as 'streaks', actually, 'streaks' was the term they used.

J: Ghost streaks?

S: And they have all the features, the beading effect, multiple lights that are tracking with each other, so obviously due to movement of the camera itself. So they're just not aware of this artifact, they obviously didn't look too hard, it took us about a day to sort it out. And they're presenting them gullibly as ghost photographs.

E: Maybe we should forward these photographs to Joe Nickell and get his opinion, because if there's anyone's opinion I respect the most when it comes to these things, it would be Joe Nickell.

S: Well we can certainly make him aware of this, but I think we've totally nailed this mystery. I don't think there's anything left to really explain about it.

R: Yeah, I think the important thing is that now we've got it out there that this is a new artifact that's happening, and we're probably going to see a lot more ghost photos like this coming up now that this is out there.

S: Right. So add this to the list of artifacts that idiots mistake as ghosts


B: Right

S: Thank you for joining us, and we'll see you on the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe next week.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.

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