by Robert Novella
Tales of ghosts and spirits can be quite compelling and convincing but many people view photographs of these ghostly phenomena as better evidence or even proof of their existence. They have been proffered as evidence ever since the development of modern photography in 1839. Images generally range from bright spots of light and wispy smoke-like forms to detailed images of human faces. But, disregarding hoaxes, many convincing photographs can more easily be explained as photographic artifacts produced accidentally by the photographer, the developer, or even the camera manufacturer.
Photographic artifacts are anomalous images in photos caused by poor camera work, faulty camera design or improper developing. They are ubiquitous because millions of people take photographs every day throughout the world and because cameras are readily available and inexpensive. Once there are enough people involved in an activity, any activity, even rare events become more and more commonplace. Exacerbating this is the fact that most of these photographers are non-professionals with little technical knowledge and experience in proper camera work. The result is a glut of poor pictures with unusual images that seem to defy conventional explanation. Since many people are enamored with the paranormal and rarely, if ever, consider more mundane explanations for mysterious phenomena, a metaphysical conclusion is quickly and easily reached. What they do not realize is that these more mundane explanations concerning artifacts are the simplest explanations and they have been shown to be responsible for all “ghost” photographs that have been seriously investigated. The principle of parsimony (Occam’s Razor)guides us in these situations recommending that the simplest explanation, among two or more that explain the same phenomena equally well, should be ruled out before more complex ones are supported. There are many types of photographic artifacts but they can be distilled down to five major types; flashback, multiple exposure, light diffraction, camera cords, and light leakage.
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