So you want to be a ghost hunter? Cool, welcome to the club! There has been an absolute explosion of interest in ghost hunting and the paranormal in general over the past 10 years or so. Never before has ghost hunting been so widely promoted. There are now literally dozens of television shows devoted to the paranormal, and hundreds of books are published each year on the subject. So there’s no better time than right now to get your feet wet and do a little ghost hunting of your own!
But before you jump right in, here are some quick tips and tricks on how to have the best chance for success on your next paranormal adventure.
1. Secure all Appropriate Permissions Before You Go
This is the most important tip of all, and the one that too many “ghost hunters” tend to ignore. Many, if not most, “haunted” locations are either on private property or are closed to visitors after sunset. If you intend to perform an investigation at a location, it is 100% your responsibility to know the rules and regulations involved. Contact the owner of the property and make sure they are OK with you visiting at a specified date and time. Failing that, call the local police and tell them where you’d like to investigate and when – you’d be surprised how often local authorities are willing to assist in procuring proper permissions when you ask them nicely and ahead of time.
If you don’t have permission – DON’T GO. It’s as simple as that. No ghost hunting expedition is worth ending up in jail, or worse, ending up on the wrong end of a shotgun.
2. Go with a Group of People You Trust
This one should be a no-brainer. If you’re planning on going to a creepy location late at night in search of the unknown, don’t go alone. Take a friend with you, or better yet, get a group of three or more people together and tackle it as a team. There is always safety in numbers. Plus, if you do come across something paranormal, you’re going to want other people around to help you document, debunk and/or substantiate the event.
Make sure you trust the people you’re going with, and that you’re all going with the same goals and expectations in mind. If you intend to perform a serious investigation, don’t invite a jokester who will constantly be faking voices or hitting his knuckles against a table to make people jump. If you can’t trust the people you’re with, you won’t know whether the phenomenon you just experienced was truly paranormal or just someone playing a prank.
3. Tell Others Where You’re Going
Again, if you’re headed off into the woods or some abandoned building, leave a note (or at least a Facebook post) telling friends and family at home where exactly you’re headed, who you’re going with, and what time you expect to be back. It’s very easy to get lost or injured in certain locations late at night, and if the worst happens, you want someone you trust back at home ready to call in the rescue team.
4. Do Your Research and Be Prepared
Before you leave, do as much research as you can on the location you’ll be visiting. At the very least you should have the following information printed out:
– Name and address of location
– GPS coordinates of location
– Name and contact information of the property owner or manager
– Ideally, something in writing from the owner/manager saying you have permission to be there at a certain date/time
– Contact information of the local police (should anything go wrong)
You should also be cognizant of the forecasted temperature and weather conditions for the location you’ll be investigating. Temperatures can drop quickly at night, so make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Wear appropriate clothing, or bring extra clothing for when it gets really, really cold. This is doubly true for outdoor investigations.
Finally, make sure everyone in your group has a basic understanding of the history and/or current function of the location you’re investigating. How old is it? Who built it? What was it used for? What sort of paranormal activity has been reported there?
5. Bring Some Basic Ghost Hunting Equipment
You don’t need to have thousands of dollars worth of gadgets in order to be a ghost hunter, but it is helpful to have at least a few basic tools on every investigation.
Synchronized Clocks – Whether its wristwatches or cell phones, make sure everyone in your group has a way to tell the time. Synchronize all time pieces so that you know that Susie’s 1:45am is exactly the same as Jeff’s 1:45am.
Notebook and Pencil – Its old school, but it works. Always have pencil and paper with you and document, document, document. Note where you are and what time it is whenever you change locations or experience something noteworthy. Include as much detail as possible while everything is still fresh in your mind.
Flashlight (and extra batteries) – Again, a no-brainer. You’re more than likely going to be out when its pitch-black, and bumping needlessly into walls and bannisters gets boring after a while. Don’t forget the extra batteries, especially if you plan to investigate for periods longer than 45-60 minutes total. It’s also a good idea to always have a backup light source (many cell phones now have flashlight capabilities that will work for a short time in a pinch).
The T6 Tactical Flashlight is our #1 recommendation for several reasons. First, it offers a very high 1200 Lumen output, which is bright enough to illuminate large rooms, faraway objects, and even outdoor spaces. Second, it accepts both a rechargeable 3.7V battery (included, with charger) or three regular AAA batteries, making it super simple to swap out energy sources mid-investigation. Finally, it is small enough to fit into a pocket or hang from a belt without getting in the way.
As a bonus, it even comes with a separate solar-powered keychain flashlight, which you can always use as your backup light source.
Digital Camera – Any digital camera with a flash will work, but try to avoid cheap cell phones cameras or cheap digital cameras with resolutions smaller than 4 MP. If you get something unusual or blurry in your photo you want to be able to zoom in and see more detail, so the more megapixels, the better. When photographing in the dark with others around, always give a courtesy call of “Flash!” just before you take your photo, so that everyone else can briefly shut their eyes to avoid the glare. Otherwise you’ll blind your friends. Also be sure to bring extra digital storage cards and/or extra batteries for your camera, especially for longer investigations.
There are countless options when it comes to digital cameras, but we like the Samsung ST150F for both its size (not much bigger than an iPhone, so it slips easily into a pocket without feeling bulky) and its resolution (a hefty 16.2 megapixels). It is also very reasonably priced at around $80US, so you won’t be breaking the bank with this one.
Note, however, that this camera uses micro SD cards (the smaller kind), so if you don’t already have a micro SD card, be sure to pick one up. Try to get one that has at least 8 GB of storage. For a camera of this resolution, an 8 GB card will store approximately 1,200 photographs. That should be plenty for a single night’s investigation.
Digital Audio Recorder – There are numerous digital audio recorders available for $35 or less. Many ghost hunters swear by these, and they feel that sounds and even voices appear on digital audio recorders which are otherwise not detected by the human ear (often called EVPs, or electric voice phenomena).
Our recommendation when it comes to digital voice recorders is the Sony ICD PX333. It is relatively inexpensive, at around $50US, and is small enough to easily fit into a pocket or purse. The PX333 also runs on regular AAA batteries, making it dead-simple to swap out new energy sources in mid-investigation. You can record up to 45 hours of audio on the built-in memory, or add a micro card into the expansion slot for up to 1,000+ hours of total recording time.
Best of all, a simple mini USB cord will allow you to connect the recorder directly to your PC or Mac in order to easily download your audio files for review.
EMF Meter – Many ghost hunters believe that fluctuations in electromagnetic fields can cause and/or indicate paranormal activity. These fluctuations can be documented using a relatively inexpensive tool called an EMF meter.
EMF meters can cost up to $200 or $300 – but thankfully there is the comparatively inexpensive K2 KII EMF Meter, which retails for about $55US. It has a simple one-button design and detects a wide range of electromagnetic fields.
Best of all, the K2 KII is made specifically for the ghost hunting trade, and includes a separate manual that explains exactly how to use the device during paranormal investigations for optimal results.
Laser Grid – These are laser pointers that have been modified to project a visual grid of dots or lines across a wide area. They are relatively inexpensive and they can help you catch visual phenomena that might otherwise not be detected. (If an object moves or materializes between you and the grid, a portion of the laser grid will go dark.)
Spirit Box / Ghost Box – These gizmos claim they can “translate” ghost activity into actual English words. The science behind them is a bit fuzzy but some people swear by them.
We don’t use spirit boxes on our own investigations, but those who do seem to prefer the P-SB7 Spirit Box. It has a huge number of positive reviews on Amazon, so if you’re in the market for a spirit box, this seems to be the one to get.
REM-Pods – A Rem-Pod creates a small magnetic field, and then alerts you (either visually or through audio sounds) whenever that magnetic field has been disturbed. Some believe that these disturbances signify the presence of paranormal entities.
Good Quality Headphones – Invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. You won’t wear them during the investigation, but later on when you are reviewing audio evidence you will hear a LOT more detail through a solid pair of headphones than you will through a regular speaker, or even ear buds.
You’ll be amazed how much more clarity and detail you’ll get out of your audio file evidence when using JVC HARX700 Precision Sound Headphones. They’re very inexpensive but make an enormous difference when you have hours and hours of audio evidence to sift through. The slightest noise or rustle becomes crystal clear.
Walkie-Talkies – You’ll want to stay in touch with your other team members during the investigation, especially if you split into smaller groups. If you’re in an area with cell service, texting or calling works fine – but if you’re in the boonies, it is a good idea to give each person in your group a walkie-talkie for communication. Make sure everyone has their walkie-talkie set to the same channel, and that each has a full battery charge before you begin.
Video Camera with Infrared – Not essential, but definitely a plus if you can get your hands on one. This will let you take video in the dark without an external light source, so you’ll be able to see and record details that would otherwise be lost to the human eye. There are a couple of reasonably priced infrared video cameras that cater specifically to ghost hunters. Just make sure you understand the attachments and requirements involved – often the infrared (IR) light source is sold separately. Also note that video cameras and IR lights drain batteries very, very quickly. If you plan to investigate for more than an hour, bring extra batteries (and extra data storage).
By far the most popular ghost-hunting, infrared video camera on the market is this 1080p HD Infrared Night Vision and Full Spectrum Camcorder produced and sold by the Cleveland Paranormal Supply Company. They take regular video cameras and modify them in-house so that they can capture both infrared (night-vision) and full-spectrum video. The cameras are full HD and take spectacular video in low-light and no-light conditions. Best of all, the people at Cleveland Paranormal Supply offer excellent customer support and are always happy to answer any questions you may have about the product, or how to get the most mileage out of it.
Infrared DVR System – There are now DVR systems that contain multiple infrared cameras. These cost more and require a bit more technical know-how, but they also allow you to cover a lot more real estate in your investigation. (Its what you’ll see the “Ghost Hunters” (T.A.P.S.) using on their SyFy show.) Often these systems will have 4, 8 or even more cameras that you can place in strategic positions around your location. Hook up your DVR to a lightweight flat-screen monitor, and you’ll be able to gather hours and hours of potential evidence with just the click of a button.
If you want to do it like the pros, upgrade your video setup to the LaView 4 Channel Complete 960H Security System. It includes four night-vision cameras and a dedicated DVR with 500 GB of storage space, motion-triggered automated video capture, smartphone integration… the whole nine yards. You can record up to 30 days worth of video before you’ll run out of storage space. The night-vision cameras offer excellent clarity and distance for visibility up to 65 feet, even in pitch-black conditions.
Remember, to use this in the field you’ll need a lightweight, portable monitor to along with your DVR system. (Inexpensive ones can cost as little as $99.)
Thermal-Imaging Camera – If you’ve got money to burn, and you want to look like the pros on TV, then look into getting a thermal-imaging camera. The most common provider is called FLIR – and the lowest-end thermal camera will probably cost you about $1,000 US. Unlike traditional cameras, which record light, thermal-imaging cameras record heat. You’ll be able to see all kinds of new evidence invisible to the human eye.
If you have money to burn, the FLIR Systems FLIR E4 Thermal Imaging Camera is a very, VERY cool toy for ghost hunters. It will give you entirely new views of the world based on heat-energy, not light. With a little technical know-how you can connect this camera to a laptop or tablet computer and stream the video directly to a capture device for later processing.
Definitely not a recommended purchase for the beginner – but if you’ve been around the block for a while and want to graduate to the next level, a FLIR camera system is about as high-end as it gets in this business!
6. Split into Pairs, Cover More Ground
If there are enough people in your group, try splitting into pairs of two and going in separate directions. You’ll cover a lot more ground and have much better odds of having a paranormal experience. Before you split up, make sure every group knows how to contact the others, either by text, cell phone or walkie-talkie. If one group experiences something strange, document it first, then consider calling in the rest of your group to focus your attention there for a while.
7. Take Nothing by Photographs, Leave Nothing but Footprints
It goes without saying, but … well, no, it still needs to be said. Treat every location you investigate with the utmost respect. Don’t litter. Don’t take souvenirs. Don’t move things without permission. If you’re in a populated area late at night, be quiet and don’t point your flashlights towards neighboring homes or businesses.
8. Always Be Skeptical
Your first reaction to any potentially paranormal event should be: “How do I debunk this?” 99.99% of all alleged paranormal activity can generally be explained away by natural processes – the problem is that people will often jump to the conclusion that a certain noise or shadow or photograph is paranormal, before they rationally consider other more likely causes. Following is a table of common “paranormal” phenomena experienced by ghost hunters, and a common list of natural causes for each. Keep these in mind and try to eliminate each as a possibility before you confirm something as paranormal:
|Footsteps/knocking||House settling; wood frames “popping” due to fluctuations in heat or humidity; loose or creaky floorboards; loose water pipes in the walls or structure; wind causing shutters or windows to move; wind knocking exterior trees/shrubs against structure|
|Disembodied voices||Radio interference; other people’s voices carrying from far away or echoing through ventilation ducts; audio matrixing caused by white noise (wind, water movement, etc.)|
|Photographic orbs||Most commonly caused by flash or infrared beams interacting with dust or other particulate matter in the air, as well insects, rain or even high humidity levels|
|Photo aberrations||Ensure that unusual objects/shapes/figures in photos aren’t simply caused by having your camera’s exposure set incorrectly – long exposure times with too little ambient light can cause blurriness and “ghostly-looking” artifacts|
|Moving shadows||Moving light sources such as flashlights or car headlights streaming through windows; even smaller light sources such as cell phones or LED lights on electronics can cause shadow movement in infrared|
|Doors opening/closing||Indoor drafts; negative air pressure caused by other doors/windows opening elsewhere, even far away; uneven floors or door frames|
Even if you can rule out all of these potential causes, try to think of other ways you could possibly debunk your experience based on the unique aspects of the location. Don’t be the guy that immediately screams “paranormal!” at every orb photo, or faint creaking sound. Your first reaction should always be debunk, debunk, debunk. If you can’t debunk something, ask someone else to try and see if they bring a fresh eye to it.
Once you’ve eliminated every other possible cause, then and only then can you truly label something as “paranormal.”
9. Review Your Evidence
When the investigation wraps up, its often time for the real work to begin. If you’ve taken photographs, audio and/or video, bring all your memory cards together and download them to a single machine. Before you open a single image file though, MAKE A BACKUP COPY. You’d be surprised how easy it is to accidentally delete a photo or video file. Copy everything to a thumb drive or an external hard drive, or burn a copy to CD/DVD.
When reviewing your evidence, don’t rely on your camera’s tiny 3-inch LCD screen. View images and video evidence on a full-sized, HD monitor. Wear noise-cancelling headphones when reviewing audio evidence. Keep a pencil and notebook handy. Whenever you come across something odd, record the following information:
– filename of audio, image or video
– timestamp when the aberration begins
– timestamp when the aberration ends
– detailed description of what you see/hear during the aberration
Once you’ve reviewed all your evidence, run your findings by your co-investigators and see what they think. Even better, show them only a list of files and timestamps, without your descriptions, and see if they hear/see the same thing you think you heard/saw.
10. Share Your Findings
Regardless of what you found (or if you found nothing at all), share your results with the owner/manager who gave you access to the property, and anyone who assisted you during the investigation. If you think you’ve got strong evidence of paranormal activity, consider sharing it with a local ghost hunting group or website. Even better… share it with us here at HauntedPlaces.org!