Flash photography and the paranormal

10th May 2017. Reading Time: 4 minutes Photography, General, Stuff paranormal investigators need to know. 1655 page views. 1 comments.

Flash photography and paranormal investigating are not a great combination. Here are the reasons why I don't like it.

At the start of every public investigation, I usually go up the front and make a bit of a speech. I love to talk so I am the obvious choice to take this job! I introduce myself, do a quick run through of what we are going to be doing and quickly just go through some general rules. Some are OH&S rules, some are rules at the request of the venue and others are general rules that apply to any sort of event. One of these rules is that I insist upon is that flash photography is not allowed. While it is sometimes a request of the venue, it is a rule that I apply to every investigation that I do. Here are reasons why I believe that flash photography should not be used on an investigation.

It messes with your eyesight

When we are in the dark, our eyes begin to adjust using their natural night vision.  It is called dark adaptation and is why people will use red light to see.  Whenever white light is introduced, you essentially have to start this process of adapting to the light again.  On average this is 20 minutes, however for it to go through the process properly takes a couple of hours.  It means you can mistake shadows for something else.  The flash itself can introduce its own problems.  If you flash a bright light in your eyes, you could be seeing black spots or even have blurry vision afterwards.  Essentially, by using a flash, you are compromising your vision and you cannot fully trust what you are seeing.

It encourages people not to use their mobile phones

I actually request that people completely switch their mobile phones off so that it does not interfere with the equipment anyway. The majority of people don’t bring digital cameras to investigations anymore. Smart phones have eliminated the need for simple digital cameras. Why would you carry a camera around when you can use your phone? By telling them not only to turn off their phone, but that they cannot use a flash to take photos, they have no need for their phone, and they are more likely to leave it off in their bag or pocket. They can take a photo without a flash, but they are not going to see anything so what is the point?  

Orb Photos

I have done a previous article: Understanding the different causes of orbs which goes into the technical side of why orbs appear in photos taken with a flash. In a nutshell the way the light bounces off dust and moisture particles, causes these little orbs of light in your photos. They can also appear in other ways without using a flash, however a flash is the number one culprit when to comes to orbs.

The venue does not allow it for preservation reasons

It is widely believed that flash photography can be harmful to art and wallpaper, causing it to fade. While one flash is seemingly harmless, if you are a large scale location and have hundreds of people through every day using the flash, over time it can cause it to fade. Sometimes this is more of an excuse to hide the fact that the venue itself doesn’t want photos taken at all. Some venues don’t want too many photos of their interior showing up online and they believe people won’t come and see it for themselves as they already know what it looks like. It is very important that if this is a rule of your venue, to respect this.  


On an investigation, you are generally walking around in the dark. There are hazards everywhere. As someone responsible for your safety, the last thing I want is for you to turn around and have a bright light flashed in your face. It can be disorientating and you can lose your balance, bump into something, fall over, the list goes on. In a nutshell, it is for your own safety.

It is annoying for the rest of the group not using a camera

A common technique used on an investigation mainly to avoid the problem with OH&S is for the person taking the photos to shout ‘FLASH’ just before they take a photo. This can prepare the rest of the group and it also explains a sudden burst of light as well. This is all well and good if you are the person taking photos. Spare a moment to think of the rest of your group. Sitting there quietly trying to investigate while every few seconds you hear someone yelling ‘FLASH’ followed by a bright light. It can become quite frustrating after a few hours.  We have all been there.

Turn the lights on

You don't have to investigate in the dark.  Turn the lights on.  Having the lights off doesn't make it any more likely that you will capture something paranormal.  If anything what you capture with the lights on is more interesting.  You won't have as much motion blur from shooting in low light and you aren't mistaking the hat stand in the corner as a shadow figure.  Photos in the dark are open to a lot of misinterpretation.

For all of the reasons above, I don’t allow flash photography on our investigations. There are always going to be occasions where a flash accidently goes off.  I have been there, we all have.  It just happens sometimes.  If paranormal photography look into using red light. This not only helps you see in the dark, but it also won't compromise your eye's natural night vision.  So next time you are ready to pack that digital camera, have a think about the above. You and the rest of the group may thank me later!

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  • Ross Downie 4 years ago

    An interesting article on flash photography. I am a ghost tour guide at the Q Station at Manly, and I discourage flash photography but give a concession and say flash photography can only be done after we have finished at a location and we are exiting the site/location. But in my experience the best captures happen when flash photography is not used - ""so why use your flash?"".
    I also encourage people to take several non flash photos in quick succession rather than take a single photo. Cheers!