Smartphone Ghosts and image aliasing

29th November 2021. Reading Time: 5 minutes General, Stuff paranormal investigators need to know. 2059 page views. 0 comments.

The way our smartphones take photographs mean we can do more with them than ever before. The way some modes take photos however, mean it is quite easy for ghostly figures to appear that aren't ghosts at all!

The way our smartphones take photographs mean we can do more with them than ever before.  For many, there is no need to lug around a camera with a kit of lenses, because some can get the results they want with their smartphone.  One of the cool features that allows a person to take a photo of a large area is the feature of panoramic mode.

Panoramic mode

Panoramic mode is a popular feature on phones that allows you to pan an area that you typically cannot fit in a landscape photo.  The iPhone camera panoramic mode produces a panorama of up to 63 megapixels. It creates a print of 200 pixels per inch at approximately 12.5 inches by 41 inches.  They are great for shooting landscapes or even just a large room.

In order to do be able to do this an iPhone camera in panoramic mode takes a photo in stages.  The best comparison to make is how a scanner will scan a piece of paper.  It doesn't take a shot of the image as a whole.  It scans over the image in stages.  It is referred to as image aliasing.  Have you ever taken a photo and someone has a really long arm or has seemed to have merged with an item of furniture?  It happens when there is movement combined with image aliasing.  If you take a photo and you or the subject you are photographing is moving, it can cause items within it to become distorted.  It even means you can take a photo where a person appears several times in the same photo as if there were more than one of them.  

The process of image aliasing is offered as one of the explanations as to how strange figures seem to appear in some ghostly photographs.  

The Grey Lady of Hampton Court

In 2015, news outlets started circulating this peculiar photo taken by a couple of 12 year old girls at Hampton Court Palace.  After a day visit taking photos of each other on their iPhone, it wasn't until they reviewed the photos a few days later of their adventure that they realised what they had captured.  After contacting the venue, it was assumed the tall 'Grey Lady' was the spirit of Dame Sybil Penn, a servant who nursed Queen Elizabeth I and died of smallpox in 1562. 

While the image was published in newspapers all over the World, many were quick to point out that it seemed it was potentially someone dressed in costume (often seen at Hampton Court) and the height and shape of the figure were down to image aliasing on a smartphone.  There is a great thread by Mick West in the metabunk forums who has gone to great lengths to demonstrate with his own photos in detail just how this works and how you can see evidence of this in the above photo.  See his forum post here

Funnily enough, my kids are well aware of this smartphone quirk and will often take photos of one another in panoramic mode so it distorts their body and makes them look like ghosts!  Have you ever taken a photo in panoramic mode and noticed someone is missing a head or has a really long arm?  

When we go back to Hampton Court Palace, what made the story so interesting in the first place was that the location itself has many ghost stories and has been in the news several times with sightings of this 'grey lady'. 

In 2003, the palace claimed to have caught a ghostly figure on CCTV which was shown all over the World.

Locations often thrive on such publicity and it gets people through the doors.  The fact is that dark tourism or even paranormal tourism is what keeps a lot of historical locations open.  People want to visit places with the thought or maybe even hope that they will have their own paranormal experience of even capturing their own ghost in a sneaky photo.  Smartphones are smarter than ever before.  Years ago I argued that they were not a tool to use for paranormal investigating, however, there are now some very useful features that make them powerful computers in the palm of your hand that can assist to a certain degree.  They are capable of reading decibels, temperature, measuring distance with light and lidar, there are potentially a place for them, particularly as debunking tools.

The cameras in phones are now better than some DSLRs meaning that you don't need to lug around a big camera to get a good shot.  Like any sort of camera, when you are working with light, there is always going to be 'glitches in the matrix'.  From image aliasing through to even just taking a photo in low light and a person moving, it is very easy for a ghostly figure to appear in a figure.  When a person says they didn't see the figure in the shot at the time, they are not lying as it would not show on their screen when taking the photo.  These things usually only show up after the fact.  Often, people do not review their photos on the spot, they look at them later.  When this is combined with taking the photo at a location reported to be haunted, it can be easy to jump to a conclusion. Some locations depend on this sort of publicity and will often publish all sorts of photos submitted by guests.  If anything, it is a smart marketing tool.  People will continue to send their photos hoping theirs will be published online so they can get their own validation that they captured a ghost.  Whether or not they really did is another story.  I am not saying there is not something paranormal happening at these locations as I don't know that, just that the majority of the photos that are used as proof, are not a result of something paranormal.  As a general rule of thumb, if a photo has parts that are blurry, distorted, discoloured or just don't look right, it is likely to be a quirk of how the phone has processed your photo and not something paranormal.  

There is no denying though, there are some very strange photos out there that do just make you go hmmmmm.


Cover Photo by George Dolgikh @ from Pexels

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