For a decade, Kenny Biddle has hosted workshops and maintained a vlog in order to explain the causes of ghostly images in photographs and videos. These apparent apparitions are usually the result of long exposures, lens flare, and dust particles, though sometimes fraud is the answer. His expertise in photography and his focus on this specialized area have made him the go-to skeptic on such matters.
This year, Tim Scullion put out a book he described as the “world’s first photo study of ghosts,” which naturally attracted Biddle’s interest. Where Scullion was seeing floating transparent corpses, Biddle was seeing lighting and equipment issues.
In a column for the Center For Scientific Inquiry, Biddle wrote, “Long exposures seem to be the technique of choice, evidenced by motion blur, use of ambient light in low light environments, and even examples of light painting, a technique where a light source such as a flashlight is used as a “paint brush” to paint designs or words with light during a long exposure. Ghost hunters often accidentally get this effect when they turn the camera flash off, causing the camera to take long exposures. Any background lights or other ghost hunters who are carrying devices with lights can cause streaks of light to appear in photos.”
In the early days of “ghost photos,” the pictures were of humanoid apparitions somehow still in clothes. This interpretation was consistent with an era of Dickens and Poe. Today, the ghost is more likely to be an orb, echoing the notions of auras and transcending spiritual planes. Biddle noted that in many of Scullion’s shots, a straight line can be drawn from the orbs to an overexposed light source. Also, most of the orbs form hexagons, which Biddle explains is a common feature of lens flare which occurs when light reflects off the inside of an aperture.
Scullion addresses these criticism in his book, writing, “Until I can get a thorough, scientific explanation that debunks anything paranormal, I have to dismiss the lens flare explanation of these light anomalies. If my camera is stationary on a tripod, then by the definition of a lens flare, the lens flare would not move nor would it shape-shift!”
But even if it were not lens flare, Biddle is not allowed to go unchallenged when he tries to make ghosts the conclusion. He is saying nothing more than, “We don’t know what this image is, so it has to be a disembodied spirit.” This is the argument from ignorance, a logical fallacy where a fact is assumed because of a lack of contrary evidence.
Scullion is also inverting the burden of proof, putting the onus on skeptics, scientists, and photography professors to prove he’s NOT taking pictures of floating dead persons.
While Biddle has no such burden, he still offers a retort, citing Scullion’s failure to employ proper testing controls when trying to get snapshots of Casper. He wrote, “Rather than taking multiple images consecutively from the same angle using the same camera without moving the camera/tripod, he changes multiples variables with each image. He took the images at different times of the year, different angles, different lighting conditions, and different cameras. The camera was in a different position each time, which changed the angle of the images, thus changing how the light entered the lens.”
This reveals sloppy research and a misunderstanding of intermediate photographic principles. However, another example from Scullion’s collection morphs into outright fraud. He blogged about visiting Gettysburg and taking images of ghosts – this time the throwback variety, fully upright and dressed in military garb.
According to Scullion, “I picked up a white figure near the trees, and it turned navy blue — indicative of a Union uniform.” Biddle examined this image and, with help from his friend and Gettysburg resident Andy Keyser, quickly determined it was of a statue that had been reworked in PhotoShop.
There may be still more intentional deception from Scullion. Biddle wrote, “Looking through more images on his blog, I found many faces, most of them appearing in window panes from various historic sites and a few appearing in fog or mists. They are not actual human faces such as in a photograph or real life. They appear to be paintings and/or chalk drawings that have been edited into the photos. The faces share an artistic style, the proportions are slightly out of proportion and/or irregular, and it’s painfully obvious they are artwork, not ghosts.”
Biddle offered to interview Scullion and go over his work. Scullion initially agreed, but since then his only response to Biddle’s inquiries has been to remove the altered Gettysburg photo from his website. Not that he’s been quiet. He’s been plying gullible, credulous media with tales of his poltergeist photography.
When geniuses bestow a monumental change on society, they want it known and their methods revealed. They announce what they did, how they did it, and welcome questions and scrutiny. That’s how Copernicus, the Wright Brothers, Alan Turing, Jonas Salk, and Albert Einstein operated.
Uncovering proof of an afterlife would be a substantial development that would have monumental impacts far beyond the photography field. Scullion has been offered the chance to have his potential proof put to the scientific test by arguably the planet’s foremost expert on ghost photography. So far, he has bypassed that offer to instead have chummy chats with TV news producers and to blog that skeptics, whom he won’t meet with, have yet to prove him wrong.