Basics of Photo Authentication

Photo Authentication“A picture is worth a thousand words”, is a phrase coined by Frederick R. Barnard is no less true today than it was when it was first spoken.  Ever since the invention of “Still Photography” by Louis Daguerre in 1838, people are captivated by photographs.  Now that we have moved into the 21st Century, photographs still carry a great amount of weight whether it is used to express ourselves, art, or as evidence to prove or disprove something.

No matter how you look at it, pardon the pun, a certain amount of controversy has cast a shadow over photographs.  It didn’t take long for some unscrupulous photographers to discover that photographs could be manipulated yielding very shocking results.  However, these early faked photographs could be easily identified by a very keen eye because of the poor quality of equipment and materials.

Over time, the quality of faked photographs improved as did equipment and materials making it more difficult to determine whether or not a photograph is authentic or a fake. This is especially true now that we have entered the “information age” with an abundance of high-tech digital cameras and computer software just a click away.  Now, a really good “faked” photograph could easily seem authentic to an untrained eye.

As a result, I have altered my authentication techniques and take a more guarded approach when authenticating photographs and think you should too.  Everything is not always as it seems at first glance.  Some of the key items you should look for are “pixilation”.  All digital images are made up of pixels and you need to inspect each of the key elements of an image to determine if the pixels match.  A “Tell Tale” sign of a fake image is the presence of any pixel distortion, pixel discoloration, or other pixel noise in the photographic image.  This becomes very evident once you enlarge the photo.  You should also check to see if the photo has more than one layer.  This can be done through computer software that allows you inspect the elements of the photo.  If the photo does in fact contain more than one layer or the key elements can be separated revealing another image underneath then the photo has been photo shopped provide you with evidence that the photo is fake.  Lastly, you should look at the image as a whole to make sure that all of the key elements are in proportion with each other.

Most people who attempt to pass off altered or fake photographs or images as authentic usually fail in one or all of these areas.  They are more interested in the “shock” value and publicity that their images will receive.  This is why you should take a more guarded approach when authenticating photographs.  By performing these simple tasks while authenticating photos you can greatly reduce the chance of authenticating a fake photo as authentic.

As technology and the skills of digital media artists improve, you will likewise have to improve your skills of authentication adding new techniques to your arsenal just to stay one step ahead of counterfeiters.

© J.F. Dietz 2013

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Night Vision “On The Cheap”

IdeaAs Ghost Hunters, we are always searching for ways to improve our ability to capture paranormal activity.  One of the main challenges we face each time we perform an investigation is very limited or no external lighting.  Although one of the positive sides to this issue is that it heightens our awareness however, the negative side is safety issues.  The solution to this problem is purchasing night vision equipment which can be very expensive and out of the price range of most people especially those on a limited budget or just entering the field for the first time.  This does not go without saying that I’m cheap and operate off of a very tight budget when it comes to my ghost hunting endeavors.  I’m also a true believer that top of the line equipment does not make anyone a good or great Ghost Hunter.  The only thing it will accomplish is tapping you out financially and high blood pressure.

As a follow-up to my first article Ghost Hunting On A Budget, I’m going to let you on a little secret of just how you can create your own night vision device for just pennies on the dollar.  You will need three inexpensive items: (1) a flashlight or hunting spotlight, (2) a red transparency sheet, and (3) a blue transparency sheet.  Once you acquire these items, the rest is very simple.  You will take your flashlight and unscrew the lens on the front.  Next, trace out the shape of your flashlight lens on a piece of paper.  Then, you will take one of your colored transparency sheets and place the drawing you made onto it.  Now, begin cutting out the shape of your flashlight lens from both.  After you do this, take your colored cut-outs and place them inside the part containing the flashlight lens.  If you have done this correctly, the flashlight lens will be completely covered.  Next, screw the flashlight lens back onto the body of the flashlight.  Finally, turn your flashlight “ON” and test out your handiwork in the dark.  Your flashlight should emit a greenish soft light instead of the harsh white light.  Voila!!  You now have instant night vision.

This “old school” neat little trick will not only save you tons of money but, will give you confidence but, bragging rights when your friends are still trying to master their high tech equipment in the field.  Another bonus is that you don’t lose the functionality of your flashlight.  You just have to do is remove the colored transparencies and your night vision will turn back into a useful flashlight.

You should already have all of these items on-hand with exception of the colored transparencies unless you or your child is dyslexic.  Don’t worry too much though because you can pick up the colored transparencies at any office or art supply store for under $1 each.

Did I mention that I’m cheap?  Your homemade night vision equipment may not have the appeal of top notch high tech equipment nor will it be the best quality night vision.  However, for the price, you simply cannot beat it plus it provides decent night vision at those dark locations.  You will be out working while your friends are still trying to figure out how to turn their fancy equipment “ON”.

© J.F. Dietz 2013

So, You Want To Be A Ghost Hunter?

Question Mark

Thanks to TV Shows on “Ghost Hunting” along with media coverage, it has created a heightened interest in ghost hunting which is fantastic.  For those who have either watched one or several of these types of shows or did a little research, I encourage you to do more if you are truly interested in this hobby rather than being morbidly curious.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  I said “hobby” and not profession.  Even the most seasoned and experienced Ghost Hunters have an outside job or are retired from an outside job while pursuing their ghost hunting interests.  It’s a rather rare occurrence for someone to make a profession out of it but, stranger things have happened.  For the serious amongst you, I highly recommend starting small to get your feet wet and see how you like it and go from there.  This way, if, you find out it’s not your “cup of tea”, you would not have much time or money invested in the hobby.

My first recommendation is to go on a ghost hunting tour.  The cost averages about the same as dinner for two and is quite fun.  You will usually be in a group setting with a tour guide leading the tour.   For people in the Houston, TX area, I highly recommend Haunted Houston Tours.  They have experienced tour guides and ghost hunters to answer questions and offer assistance for those new to this hobby.  You also have the opportunity to get hands on experience by renting equipment to be used on your ghost hunt.  You can find them at http:///www.hauntedhoustontours.com.  For those residing outside of the Houston area, you will have to check your locale for a ghost hunting tour.

Now what?  You attended your first ghost hunting tour and you absolutely loved it and want more.  I would start by trying to find a local paranormal or ghost hunting meet up group or an active paranormal investigative group.  This is not as easy as it sounds but, for the serious novice ghost hunter, persistence always pays off.  The benefits in knowledge and experience far outweighs the amount of time and research you put in trying to find one of these types of groups.

Once you have gained some experience and knowledge, don’t stop.  This is one of those types of hobbies where learning never ceases.  No matter how long you’ve been doing it, you will always learn something new or be faced with a situation that you have never experienced before.  Independent research is the proverbial “key” to this hobby.

One of the great pitfalls most newbies fall into is ghost hunting equipment.  The myth is that you need every single piece of equipment available to be a successful ghost hunter.  This false belief has poisoned the well for most causing them to abandon their new interest altogether.  Equipment is very expensive even if you are independently wealthy and is not necessary.  Personally, I only have a few pieces of equipment at my disposal (a digital camera, digital recorder, Ghost Box or Frank’s Boxdivining rods, and a pendulum) and I’ve been doing this for 32 years.  All of these pieces of equipment fit easily into my pockets or Day Travel Pack.  My absolute favorite pieces of equipment are my pendulum and divining rods.   You can read my article “Ghost Hunting On A Budget” for more information.  All in all, to be good at what you do, doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money.

Now that you feel comfortable enough to branch out on your own, “Where do you go?”.  Fall back on your skills of research to find haunted locations locally.  Our Haunted Houston Tours’ office receives several calls a month asking for the location of haunted hot spots in the area.  This route almost always never pans out for the following reasons.  Reason No. 1:  Serious ghost hunters and paranormal experts automatically draw the conclusion that you are not very serious and are very lazy when it comes to independent research.  Reason No. 2:  Serious ghost hunters and paranormal experts are not about to reveal any information pertaining to their ongoing research or locations of interest.  Reason No. 3:  Serious ghost hunters and paranormal experts are unwilling to accept liability in the event you get injured or violate any local or state laws accessing a haunted location.  I know I’m being brutally honest here but, that’s just the way it is period.

In the end, I encourage people of all ages to pursue their interests wholeheartedly no matter what it is, as long as it’s legal and enjoyable.

© J.F. Dietz 2013

 

Ghost Hunting On A Budget

Over the years, people have asked me this question the most.  Can ghost hunting be done on a small budget?  My answer is, “absolutely.”  For those of you who are financially challenged like myself, you can easily get started for under $100 or less.  In this article, I will cover very inexpensive pieces of equipment that will give you fantastic results and serve you well long term.  So, I have come up with a short-list of equipment to have in your arsenal whether you are new to ghost hunting or a well seasoned paranormal investigator.

 Digital Camera

 The first piece of equipment I suggest you purchase, if you don’t already have one, is an inexpensive digital camera which can be found for $20 or less on amazon.com.  Digital cameras with built in flash is that it allows you to take photos at night as well as during the day.  After your ghost hunt, you can go home and download your pictures right onto your computer where you can enlarge them for better viewing.  This allows you to examine your pictures more closely to determine whether or not you captured anything of interest during your hunt.

 Digital Voice Recorder

Next, I would recommend that you purchase a digital voice recorder that allows you to record in “Wave” and also has a built in USB drive.  These are also readily available on amazon.com for around $30.  Not only with this device allow you to ask questions of ghosts while on your ghost hunt but, will allow you to record their answer.  Of course with this device, you won’t be able to audibly hear the ghosts answering you but, don’t fret, you may have captured them on your recorder.  I do need to mention that the first or second time you use this device, it will appear that you are just wandering around talking to yourself giving everyone else who may see you the impression you are schizophrenic but, don’t mind the living.  You’re only concerned with the dead.  After your hunt is over and you get home, you can download your recordings directly to your computer.  You also have the option of using headphones so you can hear better.  The purpose of the Wave Sound Software is so you can bleed out excess noise making your recording a little sharper without altering the recording in any shape or form.  Also, having the USB drive built right into the device itself eliminates having to have another cord connected to your computer.  To me, this is a plus because my computer work station already has enough cords and wires that I’m constantly having to corral at different points in time.

 Spirit Box

Another great piece of equipment to have is a “Frank’s Box”, “Ghost Box”, or “Spirit Box”.  No, these are not all different pieces of equipment but all of these names plus more refer to this single piece of equipment.  You may have seen them used on some of the more popular Ghost Hunting TV Shows.  With this device, you are able to communicate with ghosts in real time meaning you can ask them questions and you will be able to audibly hear them respond to you.  It’s different from the Digital Voice Recorder I mentioned earlier for the simple fact that the “Ghost Box” does not allow you to record the ghost’s responses.  However, you can use the digital voice recorder along with the “Ghost Box” and you will be able to record ghostly responses.  The cost of a “Ghost Box” will usually set you back about $80 which is still not too bad for a micro-limit budget but, at the higher end of your budget cost-wise.  Whether new or used, the cost stays the same on average including shipping.  So, I would prefer to buy new rather than save $2-$5.  This way, you at least have a warranty on the device in case it’s defective or malfunctions.  If you want to add external speakers to this device rather than rely on the built-in speaker, you will have to fork out another $20 if, you can find them.  For me personally, external speakers are nice to have but, not necessary for the device to work.  This item will be offered for sale through Haunted Houston Tours’ website http://www.hauntedhoustontours.com June 2013.  You can also  book a Ghost Hunting Tour offered by Haunted Houston Tours to test out your device once you receive it.

 Dowsing Rods

Next on my list is somewhat unusual but, works very well is “Dowsing Rods” or “Witching Rods”.  Originally, these  devices were used by Water Witcher’s locate water in order to dig a Well.  They were predominately made out of a “Y” shaped Willow Tree branch which would bend in the direction of water sources signaling the spot in which a Water Well should be dug.  With the advent of technology, this device and it’s users became obsolete except in the world of ghost hunting.  Since our bodies are made up of 80% water, “Dowsing Rods” are quite effective in indicating the presence of a ghost.  Another benefit of this device is that they can be made very cheaply if not for free.  The materials needed to make your own set of “Dowsing Rods” are a “Y” shaped Willow Tree branch (free) or you can go to your local Walmart or  other Household Supply store and pick up a bundle of brass coat hangers ($2 or less).  If you go this route, untwist the coat hanger then straighten slightly until one end has a 90 degree angle, snip off the excess leaving you with a long side and a short side.  The short side is the handle you will hold loosely.  Now do another one just like it since you will need one for each hand for them to be effective.  If you happen to have children who are interested in ghost hunting, you can use this opportunity to make creating them a fun family project.  I personally use them all the time.  The only kicker is that the coat hangers have to be either brass or copper since both of these metals are very conductive.

Pendulum

 Finally, the last piece of equipment on my short-list is a Pendulum.  I know, I know.  I can hear everyone balking at this suggestion because of the occult connotations surrounding this item.  Believe me, I completely understand your apprehension about using such an item however, all of this nonsense aside, it’s very reliable and something that can be either purchased or made very cheaply.  If you choose to purchase one, it will cost you around $3-$7.  If you choose to make your own, you can cut this cost in half.  There is no hard and fast rule regarding the materials used to make a pendulum either.  I’ve seen them as simple as a ring on a string to rare crystals.  Let your imagination run wild on this one.  It is also a great opportunity for a fun family project too.

My parting words to you are, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that expensive equipment equals better results.  This is simply not true.  I have seen people use very expensive equipment and get zero results and people who use very inexpensive equipment who get huge results.  Trust me, equipment doesn’t make you a good ghost hunter.  Ghosts do.

Also, all photographs used in this article to represent a piece of equipment is just that, a representation.  I’m not under any circumstances promoting one brand of product over another by any means.  I will leave that job up to the marketers, advertisers, and product developers.  I’m merely a Paranormal Investigator.

© J.F. Dietz 2013

What is “matrixing?”

confused skullIn actuality, the term “matrixing” is a relative new term coined by the Sci Fi television series Ghost Hunters which encompasses several other terms already defined by Webster’s Dictionary.  Essentially, Ghost Hunters created the term to provide it’s viewers a more simplistic definition than the more scientific term counterparts.  Even so, the term “matrixing” has gained popularity among paranormal investigators and others who are interested in all things paranormal.

 As social creatures by nature, we are conditioned to make sense out of the external environment we are subjected to daily from a very early age.  From birth, we are taught pattern recognition which provides us with the necessary skills needed to help us make sense of the outside world that are essential for survival. As we grow we become so adept at this skill that it becomes an automatic subconscious response to outside stimuli.  The scientific term for this natural response is “pareidolia”.  This psychological phenomenon describes a process in which the human mind attempts to make sense of random vague images or sounds as being significant.  Some common examples are, seeing people or religious symbols in clouds or hidden messages in audio recordings played in reverse.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these things do not exist.  You just need to consider their significance and whether or not there is significance in the things you see or hear.

Similarly, the term “anthropomorphizing” refers to our attributing human form or personality to all non-human things.  A very good example is seeing the face of Jesus on a grilled cheese sandwich which was sold on eBay not too long ago.

Next, we have the term “apophenia” which is considered as being a combination of the terms, “pareidolia” and “anthropomorphizing”.  Simply put, “apophenia” refers the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data as well as, perceiving that meaningful connections exist between completely unrelated phenomena.

In conclusion, despite the existence of more suitable terms to describe the subconscious processes people go through to make sense of seemingly random and unrelated stimuli, “matrixing” has trumped them in popularity.  As a paranormal investigator, I believe this to be quite redundant to create a new term as a catch-all to attempt to clarify scientific terms which are clearly more accurate.  For those who are vocabulary challenged, I guess it works as a meager attempt to sound somewhat intelligent.  Just don’t be offended if you encounter sneers or jeers when you use the term “matrixing” when conversing with seasoned paranormal investigators.

© J.F. Dietz 2012

Is Paranormal Investigation Dangerous?

Ghostly Hands PicFinally, I’m back after much needed rest and relaxation!  It’s finally time to get back to work writing again.

The topic I’m going to cover is a question that has been posed to us on our tours on several occasions.  Is paranormal investigation dangerous?  Although, at first glance, you would think it’s a very straightforward question with a simple yes or no answer but, it’s not.  Let me explain why.  Anytime you engage in this activity, you run a very real danger of sustaining physical and/or psychological injury.  Physical and psychological injuries usually occur as a result of several factors:  1) unfamiliar terrain, 2) poor visibility due to darkness, 3) inattentiveness to your surroundings i.e. disorientation, 4) serious medical condition i.e. heart or mental disorder, and, finally 5) overreaction to our primal fear known as “fight or flight” response.  These potential risks are touted as the “Top 5 Risk Factors”As you can see, none of these injuries occur as a result of “spirit activity” but, as a direct result of the participant’s negligence; it’s your fault.

Don’t get me wrong but, if you choose to engage in any type of paranormal investigation, ghost tour, or séance, do your homework first.  The Boy Scouts of America got it right with their motto “A scout is always prepared…”  If you take anything from this article, please make this your motto also.  The risk of being harmed by an angry spirit is slim to none.  You have a better chance of winning the lotto.  If you don’t think it could happen to you, chances are that it will.  Be careful!

© J.F. Dietz 2012

What are orbs?

OrbsThis is another good question that we are frequently asked.  In this article, I will strive to do my best to explain exactly what an orb is.  On a basic level, an orb is a ball of energy.  All living organisms are made up of energy.  The Chinese call this mass of energy Chi.  In the American culture, we commonly refer to it as Spirit.  No matter what you personally choose to refer to it as, it is the core of our being.  You can find it located in the center of our body around our solar plexus.    Upon our death, whether natural or untimely, this energy source leaves our body and is supposed to crossover into the spirit world.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.  In circumstances involving an untimely or tragic death, spirits miss this window of transition.  In essence, they get trapped here.  This could occur for any one of several reasons such as i) unfinished business, ii) attachment to an object, person, or place, or iii) re-living the circumstances that brought about their demise scientifically referred as Quantum Loop Theory.  The latter will be discussed further in a later article.

The identification of orbs is a hotly debated subject in the paranormal field.  For the purposes of this article, I won’t add to an already confusing subject.  Quite simply, orbs appear as an almost transparent sphere while external light sources are opaque spheres sometimes radiating luminescent rays.  Next, you have the issue of insects and dust particles which pose another issue altogether in paranormal photography.  These are, however, easily distinguishable.  Insects appear as irregular fluorescent shapes while dust particles, although very similar to orbs, will appear in the same place on every photograph taken.

Based on the information given thus far, you can now see why the subject of orbs either legitimate or false is a very hotly debated topic in paranormal circles.  There are as many different opinions pertaining to the subject of orbs as there are paranormal investigators.  While some refuse to acknowledge orbs as definitive evidence of spirit activity, there are others who readily acknowledge and accept orbs as absolute proof.

The purpose of this article is not so much to convince you about the existence or non-existence of orbs but, rather to provide you with some basic information on the subject giving you a basis on which to form your own opinion.  No matter what your conclusions are, the whole idea is to have fun and take as many photos as you can when ghost hunting.

© J.F. Dietz 2012