How many cameras should you carry when you go ghost hunting?

Ghost hunters should carry at least two cameras.

1. Your first camera should be your favorite.  It does everything you want. You can operate it with your eyes closed, or in total darkness, even without moonlight.

2. Your second camera should be a no-frills camera with few moving parts.

A cheap film camera from a discount store is fine, as long as you know it’s reliable. (I look for budget cameras. Usually, that’s a cardboard box with a flash, a “good enough” lens, and film inside. Then, I stock up and always keep one in my car’s glove compartment.)

These days, I rarely take film photos. The backup camera is strictly for weird haunts where my regular camera balks.

Note: I’ve talked with several ghost researchers who are returning to film cameras for investigations. Some feel the anomalies are more credible.

Others can’t articulate why they think film is a better choice. Even if it’s just a “gut feeling,” I respect those researchers to take their views seriously.

'man in blue' photo, port townsend, wa
“Man in blue” ghost photo. Fort Worden, Port Townsend, WA (USA). I took this picture with a film camera.

Always have two cameras in case the location is profoundly active. The more complex the camera, the more likely it is to fail completely.

Do not rely on the camera in your phone. Mobile phones may stop working at haunted locations.

Usually, that happens before digital cameras and EVP recorders fail. But, if the phone won’t work, its camera may not work, either. So, your phone shouldn’t be your one-and-only ghost hunting camera.

My usual backup camera is a really old, simple, point-and-shoot Olympus.

And, if all else fails, I rely on cheap, disposable cameras. I usually have at least one in my backpack or in my car.

Always carry extra batteries for your equipment. At haunted locations, batteries – even fresh, new ones — routinely lose their charge. If you have backup batteries, and lots of them, you increase your chances of a successful ghost hunt.

Think about this when buying a digital camera. My Nikon Coolpix digital camera uses standard AA batteries. Even if all of my batteries fail during an investigation, I can buy more at a nearby convenience store.

If I relied on a built-in battery, I might miss an important opportunity for great ghost photos.

Usually, a “broken” camera is a temporary problem.

If your camera stops working and seems broken, don’t panic.

In most cases, the camera will work fine if you move a few feet away from the “hot spot,” or after you leave the haunted location.

Rarely, you’ll need to be many miles away, or wait a day or so.

Before the spring of 2012, no camera remained broken after I left a haunted location. (In other words, I took ghost photos for decades before a site actually broke my camera.)

In 2011, the lens on my favorite digital camera stopped working. At the time, I was in a strange little NH haunt best described as “a cemetery that’s not a cemetery.”

I tried the camera when we were about 10 miles away. No luck.

I waited a few days, and tried the camera (at home). It remained broken.

Eventually, I gave up and bought a replacement camera.

I want to conduct more research at that weird little site. Then, I might know if the problem was an aging camera or something more interesting.

So, it’s possible that I’ve stumbled onto a site (thanks to researcher Sean Paradis) that’s so active, it actually breaks cameras.

That’s so unusual, it’s a first.

Do I need a special digital camera to take ghost photos?

young man with cameraIf you’re a beginner, use the simplest possible digital camera with a built-in flash. If your phone has a good, built-in camera — and most do — use that.

If you’re buying a ghost hunting camera, make sure it has a flash. Ask if it’s designed to take good pictures in low light conditions, too.

Other than that, you don’t need anything special.

Later, you can explore more specialized cameras. Those can include infrared cameras, heat sensing cameras, and cameras with clearer glass lenses.

(Many budget cameras have plastic lenses. The quality can be fine, but a good glass lens might produce far crisper results. Then, you can identify normal — but odd — things in “anomalous” photos.)

You might also test remote flash lighting and other devices. Still, beginners probably won’t need that equipment for at least a few months.

What are the best camera settings for ghost hunting?

Most people set their cameras to about 400 ISO (formerly called 400 ASA) in low light conditions. At that setting, your camera will be sensitive enough to capture subtle light anomalies.

Settings lower than 400 ISO don’t detect much in low light conditions.

Some ghost photographers recommend a setting of at least 1000 ISO to detect the maximum number of anomalies. I disagree, but it depends on the camera.

In low-light conditions (like at night), anything higher than 400 ISO can produce images so grainy, it’s difficult to figure out what I’m looking at.

Don’t take my word for it. Test ISO levels for each camera you intend to use. See what works best for your research.

In addition, I generally set my camera so the flash will always be triggered. If you’re taking photos of ghostly anomalies, you’ll usually get better results with a flash.

breath - not a ghost photo
This photo shows my breath, not a ghost… as far as I know, anyway.

Unfortunately, the light from the flash can reflect your own breath. This is especially risky when the weather is chilly or the dew point is high.

Experiment so you know what your own breath looks like in photographs.
I believe that breath is the number one cause of false anomalies in ghost photos.

Be sure you know what it looks like with each of your cameras. Test that in a variety of weather and light conditions.

This is important: Your breath can show up in photos on warm summer evenings as well as on icy, bone-numbing winter nights.

Once you’re comfortable with ghost photography, experiment with other camera settings. I’ve seen interesting results in low light conditions when I’ve left the lens open for an extended period of time. I’m sure there are other settings you can test to see if they improve your results.

Test everything!