A few words about Ectoplasm, Ghost Mist, and Plasma Lights

    One of the most exciting things you can photograph when you are out ghost hunting is the manifestation phenomena known as ectoplasm (also called ghost mist and plasma lights).  Ectoplasm is a physical manifestation of a spirit or ghost that can show up on photographs, and can sometimes  even be seen with the naked eye, if you are lucky and quick.  Digital and film cameras will record it and different models will capture it better than others.

    Ectoplasm can manifest in bright, colorful, fiery clouds, such as in the photo below.  (from in mid-end of a roll of 35mm  film.)

    It can also show itself as lightning-like lines, such as in this photo:

    Here is another one. This time with red ecto:

    Here are an example of ghost mist type ectoplasm:

    Could the blue and red mist in the photo be spectral bodies forming?

 False Ecto

    There are things that can cause false ectoplasm photos you should be aware of.  The most common is the most simple to explain.  The camera strap or cap is most often the culprit.  It falls into view as the photo is taken and the flash makes it glow.  It gives the impression of being a very impressive plasma light to the untrained eye.   Here is an example of the camera strap in the way. 

    Another thing that will cause false results is smoke. 

    No smoking should ever be allowed during  investigations because smoke can give a result that looks very much like ghost mist, but is not.  Unless you know that someone nearby was smoking, it can be hard to tell the difference.  Here is a more obvious example of how smoke can look like ecto.  

    Another thing to watch out for if you are moving from a warm to cold environment (or cold to warm) when taking photos is condensation on the lens of your camera which, until it clears, can seem like a mist in the photo.   If you are outside on a cold night, be sure that the mist from your own breath is not hanging in front of the lens, giving a ghostly effect. 

Settings are everything when it comes to night photos.  Cameras set to the wrong setting (especially digital cameras) can cause false plasma lights (also known as supercharged orbs).  If your camera is set in slow shot mode, or for some cameras, in red eye reduction mode, during night shots and you point it towards a light and then move it even the littlest bit, you are likely to get false plasma lights. Here is one example we created by setting a Nikon cool pix into slow shot mode and pointing it towards a road at night as cars passed by.  With a slight shake of the wrist,we produced instant (but fake) plasma lights.

    It is extremely important to know your camera equipment before you got out and start shooting photos.  Some camera auto modes will go into slow shot automatically in low light conditions.  Because most digital cameras, and many modern film cameras have anti-shake filters, even false plasma light photos could have totally clear, straight lines in the foreground (and many will).  As you can see the straight white line at the side of the road in this fake example (above). 

    One tried and true way to spot fake plasma lights is easy.  If the plasma lights run parallel as they do above, they are false.  The movement in the photo above all follow the same path..  This is because it is actually representing the moviment of the camera in our hands and not the lights in front of the camera.  If the lights move uniformly together, you have camera movement and a slow shutter speed, not ghost phenomenon.

    Another thing that can cause false ectoplasm to appear on film (this does not apply to digital photography) is a light leak.  Light leakage most often happens when film is not fully rewound before the back of the camera is opened.  Even if it is only opened the tiniest bit, it can cause discolorations on the first few frames of the film. Light leakage can look very much like ectoplasm.  There are a few ways to check if what is on your film is ecto or light leakage.
  1. Check the negatives.  If the suspected ecto goes beyond the frame in any direction, between frames or up towards the teeth of the film then there is no doubt that it is light leakage.  Real ectoplasm will not bleed past the bounds of the original photo frame.
  2. Check the number of the exposure.  Light leakage is seen in the first few frames.  Usually not more than the first 4.  Sometimes only some of the first few frames are affected, for example frames 1,2, & 4 are affected but 3 looks fine.  If your photos are in the first few of the roll, you must consider that you have captured light leakage and not ectoplasm.
  3. Though it can be hard to tell the difference.  Light leakage usually runs in straight lines across the frame, giving it a more band-like appearance. Where it does end in a frame, it usually has a rounded edge. Whereas bright ectoplasm will almost always have a flame-like or jagged feeling to it.  Real Ectoplasm of this kind usually has what could be called a 3D look to it as it generally has more than one shade of color.
    If you have what you believe is ectoplasm on your film exposures, you must be sure your photo meets all 3 of these guidelines before you begin to consider that you have actually caught ectoplasm.

    If you look carefully at these two photos, and at the one at the top of the page you may see the difference. Unlike the photo at the top of the page, the color on these photos is soft, and flat.  But the biggest difference shows up when you look at the negative.  In these two photos, the red area goes off the frame and onto the surrounding film; and they are both from the first 3 frames of a roll of film.  Unlike the example at the top of the page.

    The best way to avoid light leakage is to be sure to fully rewind your film.  If you have a manual rewinder, rewind the film for a few extra turns once you think it is done.  If you have an auto rewinder in your camera, when you believe it has finished rewinding, count slowly to 10 before you open the back to change the film.  This is especially important if your batteries might be running low.
    If you find that you got a whole roll of film like this, before you think you have the most haunted place in the world, bring your camera in to have it checked out.  You could have something wrong with the body of the camera that is letting stray light in.
    This type of Ectoplasm is very rare.  Be sure to rule out camera issues before jumping to conclusions.

    Knowing if what you see on your photos it truly possible ghost activity or something more mundane is important.  Do not jump to conclusions.  The NEPRS teams take many hundreds of photos at each investigation site and most end up in the "uninteresting" file.

    Don't lose heart if you do not get many, or any,  photos with ectoplasmic activity.  They are far more rare than orbs and far harder to capture on film.  But don't give up. 

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