Hoe To Get LESS Evidence - Part Three - Photos and Video

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    Part 1 of this essay covered the basics; Part 2 dealt with Audio. Continuing the theme of gathering less, but more credible evidence we turn to pictures. I have also included video in this category since many of the same conditions apply to camcorders as well as still cameras. As with the audio category, I am not going to address hoaxing much. Since this is intended to help the investigator critique his own work it is assumed he is not hoaxing his own data. If he is, well maybe it's time he get a different hobby!

    The Camera

    We will begin with a brief look at the camera itself. It is not really the intent of this essay to make recommendations regarding equipment, rather it will only point out a few features to consider when using your camera. If your particular model cannot or does not allow you the flexibility then consider that fact the recommendation to upgrade.

    One of the most important features of any camera used in investigation is the ability to shoot manually! Point and shoot may be good for ideal conditions but an investigation on a dark night is far from normal. You will be pushing the ability of your flash to its limits when you take a picture outdoors or in a large room. And the ability to manually compensate is crucial under these conditions.

    One of the most limiting factors is dynamic range. Digital images are formed by assigning a numeric value to each pixel in the picture. The brightest areas are assigned a higher number; darker areas a lower. For simplicity we can assume a basic 8 bit value where a zero represents black, and a value of 256 would be white, or total saturation. A good range of contrast results when the darkest areas in the image are near zero and the brightest near 256.

    When it comes to paranormal investigating most parts of pictures are very dark. Often the entire image would be represented by only a few values near zero. Suppose for example the brightest value is only a 12. That means the entire image can only have 12 possible shades present instead of a full range of 256. The picture will have a very low dynamic range and will be very pixellated with large areas difficult to resolve. The solution here is to use more light, brighter flash, or get in closer to the subject so it will be better illuminated. And failing that, simply discard the picture. It is poor evidence and cannot provide the detail needed to aid the investigation.

    But there is a tendency among some to increase the range after the fact by altering the image. While it is true you can add brightness and contrast, that same operation will amplify any anomalies present in the initial image. For instance, where the digitizing process assigned a value of 3 to one pixel and 4 to an adjacent pixel, pushing brightness may force these values to 60 and 80. Now when the picture is saved the compression process will adjust nearby pixels to intermediate values between 60 and 80 which never existed in the original image. These intermediate values are assigned by the computer; their source values are not in the original. A false positive is born! Thus the reason to avoid any post processing of digital evidence. Toss it out rather than alter it!

    Those Orbs

    Orbs represent another problem. Much debate has occurred about them. The vast majority are dust, pollen , or other environmental contaminates. Consider , if a orb was really there, why do you need a flash to illuminate it! Fact is, orbs are simply a dust particle which has found its way to that sweet spot between your flash and the lens where it can be illuminated brightly and also be outside your camera's depth of field range. The solution is to keep that point farther away from the camera where the dust is not a factor. The best way to do this is move the flash and lens farther apart. But the trend today is smaller cameras which is exactly what we don't want. But if you search you can still find cameras which do address this problem either by providing a hot shoe for external flash or a lens shield which blocks the extraneous light.

    "But I caught a REAL orb", you say. And you show this image with a baseball sized circular object clearly on display. Three tests will validate it. First, did you see it with your naked eye? If no, it's dust. Your eye can see what the camera can see, and if the orb was really there you could also see it.

    But maybe you weren't present. Then let's examine the picture. In order for the camera to capture the image light had to be present. This light is either passive or active in nature. If the flash illuminated the orb, it is passive. If that is the case consider the flash gives off an even amount of light over its entire field. Some of that light struck the orb and was reflected back to the camera. As such it did not illuminate the background behind the orb. There is a reduction in the amount of light directly behind the orb. And this reduction is seen as a shadow of the orb, the same as if you held up a baseball and photographed it. It casts a shadow of itself.

    Or the source was active, that is shining by its own light. If so it should also illuminate everything around it as if it were a light bulb glowing in the dark. It will cause other objects to cast their shadows on whatever they are near. But the most conclusive evidence of an active source would be if the picture was taken without flash in total darkness and the orb appeared. That would prove it was in fact self illuminating. So if any of the above three requirements were met then maybe you captured something. But if none are present, you captured dust or pollen. Toss the picture out, unless proof of dust was your goal!

    Other Concerns

    Shutter speed and motion blur are two more concerns. Pictures taken outside in daylight generally use a shutter speed of 1/60 second or faster. Under those conditions motion blur is usually not a major concern. But when we take a picture at night things change. Low light may cause the shutter to remain open for up to several seconds. Obviously any movement while the shutter is open will cause motion blur. There are two solutions. Either use a tripod or set your camera to shutter priority and force a 1/60 second or faster shutter speed. Doing so will eliminate a lot of the "rods" and "streaks" in your pictures.

    Finally consider that many digital cameras when used in the flash mode will open the shutter before the flash and may hold it open after the flash for an instant. Thus any bright areas in the picture may exhibit motion blur if the camera is moved shortly before or after the flash goes off. Again, use a tripod to prevent movement, and allow time for the entire picture taking process to complete..

    Latency is a peculiar problem for some digital cameras. Not as common as it once was, but still worth mentioning. Some CCD imaging chips may pick up and retain a charge if exposed to bright light. If that occurs, the next picture you make may have certain areas of the frame overexposed or strange patterns present. The solution is to prevent pointing your camera at any bright light source even if you aren't taking a picture at the time. But keep in mind, even if you do your best to do so, accidents will still happen. So always take two pictures of each subject. If latency gets you the first time, taking that picture should discharge the imaging chip and the second image should be good with no latency present.

    As stated earlier use a manual camera that allows you to turn off most of the automatic features. A big offender here is the red eye feature. It can sometimes cause problems, especially if you get into a situation where the red eye flash occurs while the shutter is open!

    Auto focus is another area of trouble. Since most investigators operate lights out, the camera will have to illuminate the scene prior to taking a picture to establish proper focus. This too can create problems if it conflicts with other camera operations. Solution here too is the manual camera settings where the photographer focuses the camera based on his own distance measurements. Turn off the auto focus.

    I won't go into this too deeply here but it needs brought up. Many investigators want to use IR or night vision for their photography work. There are a couple considerations if you plan to do so. First is to get a camera with the specialized lenses needed. IR requires the use of special quartz glass in the lenses because of the longer wavelength present. The focal length will also differ. You must compensate for these factors if you expect to get valid evidence. Some manufacturers claim their cameras are good for wide spectrum use; I have not seen any that really do a good job unless they were specifically made for those wavelengths. If you are going to branch out to this area, spend the money and buy the right camera!

    Also be aware that different materials may react differently in UV or IR. Some become brightly iridescent under black light. Consider what a lint fiber from one of these might look like floating past your camera in the dark! If you are going into this type of photography know what to expect and be ready to debunk your images when it happens!

    Evidence Review

    So now that you have taken your pictures and video it's time to critique it. Images should be examined individually, in the case of video that means frame by frame. Most contain nothing significant. But let's assume you found something that caught your eye.

    For digital images examine the EXIF data. Note whether any extended shutter times are present. Also determine if the flash was fired. You can also determine the F Stop setting and ASA rating used for the image. Confirm that all of the conditions discussed above have been maintained. If severe deviations are present, toss it out! And if no EXIF data is available don't waste your time with the image.

    Check your log from the investigation. (You kept a log, didn't you?) Note whether any environmental conditions might account for what you captured. Temperature and humidity are first. How close to the dew point was the temperature at the time? If you captured a mist, was anyone nearby whose breath might account for it? Perspiration can also create mists as evaporation takes place from clothing. And don't forget the possibility of dust blown by wind if the event was outdoors.

    Also consider anything else in the area. Might a stray head light beam from a car on the highway have interfered? Sun or street light nearby, is it lens flare? Any investigators with flashlights in the area? Anybody else taking pictures causing flash interference? All pretty obvious, but also the cause of most so-called "ghosts" in pictures.

    Next step is to use Photoshop and zoom in on the edge of the anomaly. Follow along the edge of it and notice if it follows the same row or column of pixels. If it does it likely is the result of a camera problem. It is highly unlikely that you would be able to hold the camera perfectly aligned with any particular row or column of pixels. Even less likely the object would remain at the exact same distance from the camera over its entire surface to counteract the effect of parallax.

    In the case of video determine the frame refresh rate. (Most in the US are 30 per second). If the target object is in motion, you can determine its speed if you know its distance from the camera and how far it shifts position in each frame. Also note that unless the anomaly is moving very slowly, a certain degree of motion blur should be present in each frame. If not, unless the video was made on a stop action security camera, throw out the video.

    now that you have very likely discounted your image for one reason or another it is clear why the title is obtaining LESS evidence. But consider too that what you did get, and what does survive the debunking process is much stronger and better supports the reasons you are gathering data in the first place. And applying what was discussed in parts 1 and 2, you certainly have less, but more valid evidence!

    If you want to review anything from the previous essays, Part 1 of this essay covered the basics; and Part 2 dealt with Audio Evidence.

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© FEB 2014 - J. Brown . . . . . . .