Inside 'Shutter'

How Spirit Photography Works

Jane (Rachael Taylor) is troubled by a room of disturbing spirit photography imagery.
Jane (Rachael Taylor) is troubled by a room of disturbing spirit photography imagery.
Bill Kaye/Regency Entertainment

Spirit photography, in which ghostly figures appear in photographic images, dates back to the 1860s, when William H. Mumler produced and marketed pictures like the famous one of presidential widow Mary Todd Lincoln and a supposedly spectral image of her deceased husband. Photographs by Mumler and others were displayed in 2005 in an exhibition at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, which director Ochiai visited for inspiration.

In spirit photography, the ghostly image hovers behind the subject -- ethereal but distinct. How does it get there?

"A camera can pick up something that doesn't necessarily belong there and that can't be seen with the naked eye," says Dale D. Kaczmarek, author of "A Field Guide to Spirit Photography" and the "Windy City Ghosts" series. Kaczmarek is a lecturer and expert in the field who's been analyzing photographs for evidence of supernatural phenomena for the better part of 25 years.

Any type of camera -- including digital and video -- can capture spirit images, which might or might not look human. According to Kaczmarek, the spirit might manifest as "a streak of light, a strange light or fog." Authentic spirit photographs, he says, "don't fall into the category of easily explained."

Kaczmarek receives several photo submissions a day on his Web site,, and says he can find a natural explanation for 70 to 80 percent of them: bad film, double exposure, dust, reflections, glare, flash, fog, smoke or a person's breath. He makes his diagnosis using information about the camera, film, weather and other circumstances.

And what of intentional hoaxes? "Doctoring is very easy these days with Photoshop and computerized images," Kaczmarek says. He says he's received only around a dozen such images, though. "There are telltale signs: If the person [in the photo] is not centered, it's usually an indication that they're going to try to insert something."

Kaczmarek bases his expertise on physical evidence and on-location investigations. He works with a videographer, a technical operator (who mans a Tri-Field meter, or electromagnetic field detector) and occasionally a psychic. The EMF device picks up deviations in the electromagnetic field. "The needle will spike to indicate there's a change in the electromagnetic field, indicating the presence of a ghost," Kaczmarek explains.

Kaczmarek also lectures about spirit photography and leads workshops on how to capture spectral images on film. To start, he suggests exploring reportedly haunted locations. Bringing along a psychic, or a pet, may help. "Dogs and cats will alert you to the fact that they feel uncomfortable in a certain location," he says.

While he has not seen "Shutter," Kaczmarek gives thumbs up to portrayals of ghostly phenomena in films like "The Others," "Ghost," "The Sixth Sense," "White Noise," and even the comic "Ghostbusters." "['Ghostbusters'] showed the high-tech equipment, and that ghosts have a humorous side," says Kazmarek, whose Web site plays the movie's theme song. "They're not always there to frighten."