What is an anomalous photo?

What is an anomalous photo?
Category: Photos /

It wasn't there ...

Sometimes ASSAP receives a photo that appears to show a perfectly normal scene. The only reason why the photo is considered anomalous is that the photographer says there is something in it that they don't recall being there (see left) at the time of exposure ('that parrot wasn't there when I took the photo ...' - left). For instance, there might be an obvious figure in the picture when the photographer distinctly remembers being alone at the time they took the picture. Many such supposedly paranormal photos were taken in allegedly haunted places.

In the absence of any obvious evidence of image manipulation, simulacra or photographic faults, it usually comes down to a case of the photographer’s memory versus the facts apparent from the photograph. The 'ghost' may simply be someone who wasn't noticed at the time.

Still photographs capture a single moment, usually a fraction of a second. Human beings, on the other hand, tend to view scenes as a continuous moving process, like a movie. A moment, frozen in time, is unfamiliar. By studying a still photograph after the event, you will see far more detail than you can remember noticing at the time. If there is a glaringly obvious 'detail' visible, like a figure you didn't notice, it will stand out. It is often things that look, sound or feel 'wrong' about a situation that starts people thinking they might be dealing with the paranormal.

Also, when a photographer is looking through a tiny camera viewfinder, concentrating on framing the shot, things can easily happen entirely unobserved. It is, then, unsurprising that the photographer’s memory may differ from the photographic evidence.

Paranormal photos

We say anomalous photos, rather than paranormal photos, because they just show something anomalous or unusual. Usually, it is something that wasn't noticed at the time.

If a photo appeared out of nowhere, like an apport, it would be truly paranormal. Similarly, pictures produced without light (such as Ted Serios's thoughtography) would be considered paranormal photos. 

Why anomalous?

What makes a photo anomalous? It can look quite normal (like the parrot, left) but generally it shows something unusual, like an orb (not noticed at the time). Another type of anomalous photo is one where the photographer deliberately tried to capture something, apparently anomalous or paranormal, they were witnessing, like a UFO or ghost! These are often disappointing.

Reproducing anomalies

Generally, it is very unusual to come across something weird in a photo that cannot be reproduced (without the need for digital trickery). Orbs can be made by sprinkling fine particles (such as water droplets) in front of, and very close to, the lens of a camera taking a flash photo.

'Classic' ghost photos

It was once common to see photos showing ghostly transparent figures. Why don't we see these 'classic' photos any more? Some of these photos were probably produced using the long time exposures that were required for old, slow film cameras when used indoors in decades past. If something (or someone) was only present for part of a long exposure, they would appear transparent. If they move away quickly they will leave no other trace. 

You might ask, how could a photographer not notice someone had walked in and out of their shot during a long exposure? Well, it still happens today (see 'It wasn't there..., left)!

Though 'transparent' figures look convincing superficially, this view of what ghosts look like is largely the invention of stage and screen. Most reliable witnesses report 'real' ghosts as looking perfectly normal. 

In this photo, the torch (which was there to start with) was removed during a long exposure to leave a 'ghostly presence'. If, in a long exposure, the camera moves, rather than the subject, you can get objects appearing that were not in the original shot (see here).

Author :Maurice Townsend 2007

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