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Presumably you’ve read about how models’ pictures can be Photoshopped to make the ladies appear more ‘shapely’ than they are in real life.

If that last sentence made no sense to you, here’s a brief explanation before we go any further:-

Photoshop is a computer software program that gives the user advanced image editing capability that lets you enhance, retouch, and manipulate pictures. The picture below shows you a before and after of a picture of Britney Spears in 2013.

Britney CGI

So, with a little bit of technical jiggery-pokery aided by some nifty software, the image that adorns newspapers and promotional material is a computer enhanced version of the lady in question.

The software is inexpensive and easily available to purchase as are similar programs by other software companies.

At this juncture I’d like to point out that image manipulation like this is nothing new!

The first documented photo ‘manipulation’ happened back in 1917 with the case of the Cottingley Fairies.

The picture with

The picture with “cut out” fairies.

The Cottingly fairies could only have happened because of the fact that the two girls, Frances Griffiths (9 years old) and Elsie Wright (16 years old), realised they could use a camera to fake a picture showing fairies. Elsie’s father, Arthur, was a keen amateur photographer and had his own darkroom. Arthur knew of his daughter’s artistic ability and that she had spent some time working in a photographer’s studio and he dismissed the figures as cardboard cut-outs.

Elsie and the goblin

Two months later the girls borrowed his camera again and this time returned with a photograph of Elsie sitting on the lawn holding out her hand to a 1-foot-tall gnome.

Exasperated by what he believed to be “nothing but a prank” and convinced that the girls must have tampered with his camera in some way, Arthur Wright refused to lend it to them again. His wife Polly, however, believed the photographs to be authentic.

At this time, photography was in its infancy and most people had little experience of cameras so the idea of faking a photo hadn’t yet been conceived (other than the two girls whose idea it was).

Elsie’s mother attended a meeting of the Theosophical Society in Bradford and at the end of the meeting Polly Wright showed the two fairy photographs taken by her daughter and niece to the speaker. As a result, the photographs were displayed at the Society’s annual conference in Harrogate, held a few months later.  There they came to the attention of a leading member of the Society, Edward Gardner.

Gardner sent the prints along with the original glass-plate negatives to Harold Snelling, a photography expert. Snelling’s opinion was that “the two negatives are entirely genuine, unfaked photographs … [with] no trace whatsoever of studio work involving card or paper models”. He did not go so far as to say that the photographs showed fairies, stating only that “these are straight forward photographs of whatever was in front of the camera at the time”. Gardner had the prints “clarified” by Snelling, and new negatives produced, “more conducive to printing”,  for use in the illustrated lectures he gave around the UK. Snelling supplied the photographic prints which were available for sale at Gardner’s lectures.

Author and prominent Spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle learned of the photographs from the editor of the Spiritualists’ publication Light. Gardner and Doyle sought a second expert opinion from the photographic company Kodak, who declined to issue a certificate of authenticity. The prints were also examined by another photographic company, Ilford, who reported unequivocally that there was “some evidence of faking”.

Princess Mary's Gift Book

In 1983, the cousins admitted in an article published in the magazine The Unexplained that the photographs had been faked, although both maintained that they really had seen fairies. Elsie had copied illustrations of fairies from a popular children’s book of the time, Princess Mary’s Gift Book, published in 1914.

They said they had then cut out the cardboard figures and supported them with hatpins, disposing of their props once the photograph had been taken.

Now I’d like you to have a look at the following webpage, by Mashable, which is about trick photography entitled 1850s-1950s, Photoshop before Photoshop – 100 years of manipulating images without computers.http://mashable.com/2015/02/19/before-photoshop/?utm_cid=mash-com-Tw-main-link

The Silent Screen

I realise that this next bit is less about the paranormal and more about the history of cinematography. However, the pioneers of the film industry were the first to realise, and experiment, with the moving image.  Yes they started out as films to entertain and offer a little escapism for the viewing public but film directors realised they could use film to show action that audiences had never thought possible.  Melie's Moon

Méliès’ fantasy film “A Trip To The Moon” showed a capsule being fired from a large cannon at the man in the moon, with the rocket landing in the moon’s eye. The film was one of the most popular films of the early years of the twentieth century and heralded an interesting future for cinematography which brought Buster Keaton, Keystone Cops and Charlie Chaplin to our cinema screens.

The Talkies

We know that The Jazz Singer was the first movie with sound. Fast forward to the 20th Century.  We’re used to seeing films like 2001, Independence Day, Avatar and Interstellar. These films look so real and yet we know they were filmed in a studio and special effects were added using Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), blue screen, scale models, animatronicspyrotechnics and 3D. Film makers have been experimenting and pushing the boundaries of what can be produced on film. No doubt you will have seen many SciFi and horror films where the supernatural/paranormal has been the storyline – The Shining, The Exorcist, The Ring, Paranormal Activity to name just a few.  The technology is not just the domain of those making blockbuster movies, software to create special effects is readily available for anyone with a PC, laptop, tablet or other computing device, including mobile phones.

Returning to the present

With the proliferation of smart phones and their ability to add ‘apps’ (applications i.e., programs) it is not surprising that photo imaging programs have become available for these, too.

Smart phones (they all have cameras now) have, as standard, basic image editing capability like adding a sepia effect, creating a negative view or making the picture black and white.

However, there are programs that will ‘enhance’ pictures that you take – you could add borders to your photos or create a montage but, more specifically, there are ‘ghost apps’ freely available for both iPhone and Android.

Since you are reading this document, it is a foregone conclusion that you have an interest in the paranormal and it is likely you will have seen, either in Facebook groups, through Google searches or on dedicated paranormal websites, videos and photos purporting to show one or more ghost images.

If you are going to deal with this topic objectively and rationally, you should seek to eliminate the obvious, e.g., the possibility that a picture has been doctored by superimposing an image on an otherwise ‘normal’ looking photo.

I would suggest you use as reference material the excellent FB page that RiPA HQ (Research into Paranormal Anomalistics) have put together called “Has that pic been app’d?” which you can find at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.474504212650788.1073741831.135752936525919&type=1

New in 2015: Adding a Facebook group who are on the case too and worth a look is you’re doubting a photo https://www.facebook.com/FakeGhostPhoto

A short explanation on EXIF meta data written and reproduced here with kind consent of Leon B:-

Every digital camera attaches an explanation, or record, of each photograph taken. It is attached to that photo as a secondary file internally, on that photo. It’s found by clicking on “properties”. It includes information like: camera brand/type, file size, f-stop, whether the flash was used, etc. Some also include the Geo coords.

When a photo has been manipulated, as we see a lot of in the paranormal field, that data will usually replace the original data. Sometimes the exif will only state that it is simply a jpeg, with some other non-camera data, such as the date and time.

In the case of editing software, such as ExifTool, there will be a “composite” annotation, which is not part of the camera’s exif meta data. Facebook compresses any photos and replaces the meta data with its own (raising concerns of ownership and privacy!). Transferring a photo, via email or texting from your phone, will also compress the photo with the same affect. The larger files, using cameras with 10+ megapixels can potentially cause even email transference to be compressed.
In a nutshell, the metadata on exif files, attached to all digital photos, is the easiest way to determine authenticity. The last program to affect that file will leave its signature.

Example of EXIF dataImages: exif data straight from a photo taken on my phone, and data taken from a photo downloaded from Facebook.



Addendum 20/09/15

To corroborate my comments regarding pictures and hoaxes (separately or together!) I today came across this very useful information:


Addendum 23/02/16

I’m not alone in my concern with the ways in which technology is used to ‘enhance’ a picture by adding or hiding elements.  Whilst we know photoshopping of celebs is all too common, it’s becoming that much harder to identify a real picture from a clever hoax  The blog Neuralogica addresses like-minded concerns: http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/identifying-real-or-fake-images/

In particular, what is now going to be called into question is the future of photographs  or videos used as evidence in court in the case of a crime.  If we are now able to so skilfully treat pictures and videos so that they look, to all intents and purposes, to be totally real, there is an argument that these may no longer be acceptable in a court of law.

Addendum 02/04/16

There’s an FB page that debunks pictures by showing that a ghost app has been used, so well worth a look at https://www.facebook.com/GhostAppGhosts/

However, I’ve come across a website called Obsidian Dawn who generate photoshop brushes, one of which is entitled “ghosts”.  I’ve created a document with each of the images the app provides as a handy reference tool:

www.obsidiandawn.com ghosts-photoshop-gimp-brushes

Smartphone Apps

Some examples of the type of apps you can find on GooglePlay and iTunes:-

ghost app used in photoGhostCam Spirit Photography

“The best spirit photography app on Android market. Prank and fool your friends easily with mock up haunted ghost photo.”

Ghost camera allows you apply ghosts to your photo select from gallery,  or you can use phone’s camera to take new ghost photos.


ghost capture pictures2Ghost Capture You can manipulate any photo from your iPhone photo album. After choosing an image, (or taking a new photo directly through Ghost Capture) select a ghost to superimpose onto the photo. Choose from creepy Victorian children, faceless torsos, Civil War soldiers, ghostly orbs, and more. After placing the ghost, adjust the size, rotation, and transparency to achieve the optimum effect.

ghost capture picturesGhost Effects Wanna freak out your friend with a picture with ghosts in it? You should try Ghost Effects.

ghost effectsGhost Effects lets you add horrible ghost effects to camera or pictures.

Take a photo with your friends with a ghost right behind them and send it to them, and wait to see their reaction.

They will get the chills and you will have a good laugh.

Panoramic Photos capture demons from hell?

With the advent of the smart phone it’s not just apps that you can download that can mislead the less tech savvy!  

A recent picture was captured by a schoolgirl at Hampton Court Palace and featured prominently on many daily papers, professing to show the “ghost of the grey lady”.

Not a ghost at all, just the girl's phone camera having difficulty processing the image cocrrectly!

Not a ghost at all, just the girl’s phone camera having difficulty processing the image cocrrectly!

However, gullible the general public were the simple truth is that the girl was, in all probability, using the “panoramic” setting on her phone and the phone couldn’t cope with a person moving out of shot.  It’s discussed in detail by the Independent


Panoramic photography is a technique of photography, using specialised equipment or software, that captures images with horizontally-elongated fields of view. It is sometimes known as wide format photography. The term has also been applied to a photograph that is cropped to a relatively wide aspect ratio, like the familiar letterbox format in wide-screen video.

If the explanation sounds boring, the outcome of using this feature is anything but!  Please have a look at Bored Panda’s panoramic photo fails and have a good laugh.

A brief discussion of orbs

It is appropriate, at this point, to mention photos and videos that I have no doubt that you will come across, showing “orbs”!

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orb_(optics) defines these as unexpected, typically circular, artifacts that occur in flash photography —sometimes with trails indicating motion—especially common with modern compact and ultra-compact digital cameras.

Orbs are generally understood to be produced from retro-reflection of light off solid particles (e.g., dust, pollen), liquid particles (water droplets, especially rain) or other foreign material within the camera lens. Please refer to my blog post entitled “Cameras, Orbs and Lens Flares” which deals with this topic in greater detail.

You are advised to read about these in order to familiarise yourself with the phenomenon. They are most commonly seen when viewing a photo but not at the time of taking it. There are people who attest to having seen orbs with the naked eye.

Whilst some pictures that you will find during your paranormal research are likely to have been tampered with using the techniques highlighted above, there are some photos where there is no explanation for what appears on a picture.

http://strangeoccurrencesparanormal.weebly.com/orbs-explained.html explains the phenomenon well.

Ghost videos
Akin to what has been mentioned above, there are numerous videos on Youtube and paranormal websites attesting to paranormal activity – poltergeist activity, inexplicable noises and actual sightings of ghosts, shadows and strange beings.

You only have to think back to films like Paranormal Activity, White Noise and Poltergeist, which depict “paranormal” events taking place. In big screen films we know they’ve used high tech equipment to carry out this wizardry. However, ‘home-made style’ videos are just as easy to produce, using low tech solutions, using fishing wire (invisible from a distance) or out of shot humans to move items so that they appear to have been moved by an unseen force.

Edit 28/01/2016 Came across a youtube video by Eric Biddle which I’d like you to view Obejects move by themselves (sic) since it shows some quick demonstrations of how easy it is to make objects appear to move “by themselves”.

A particular video that I watched on Youtube some time ago, purportedly showed evidence of paranormal activity in a living room.  The video camera was placed at one end of a through-lounge, showing a sofa on the right of the picture, furthest away, a window with full-length curtains in front of which was an armchair.  The video did not show the whole room, both walls, left and right, were out of shot.  The video captures the curtain behind the armchair being moved.  After a delay the sofa is up-ended by being pushed from behind so that it’s back tips forward onto the floor.  In my opinion, these  “effects” were all achievable by a person out of sight of the video camera. I’ll have to find that video and post it so that you can see for yourself.


Edit 07/12/2015 Facebook post of a children’s entertainer/magician whose video shows how expertly videos can be edited to show us the most amazing things that AREN’T possible but are fun to watch. https://www.facebook.com/ChuttiVikatan/videos/648673875235158/