Ghost Hunting with CCTV

Ghost captured on CCTV…

I remember when I got into the overnight Paranormal investigating part of what I do well over ten years ago now, when Ghost Hunters was dominating the paranormal TV show slot, everyone had a CCTV system of some kind or another. At that point in time it seemed very much like we were all scrambling around to set up as many night vision CCTV cameras as we could. All with the intention of capturing that holy grail of evidence ‘a ghost’.

My Top Ten Most Haunted Locations in the UK - Henrick's Hairdressers in Royston

Back then it seemed so easy with our limited gadgetry, rock up to the location with your ten flight cases and spend your first hour and half setting up kit like CCTV. Then you would investigate for around seven hours, moving around your location holding vigils all over the place, as you try to connect with probable entities supposedly haunting the place. Once you finish those vigils, you pack up your kit into your car and drive home on energy drinks. After you’ve caught up on the sleep you lost from a nights investigation, then you set about reviewing your footage. The likes of Ghost Hunters made the review part seem so very simple, but TV does have a way of doing this doesn’t it? In reality reviewing footage from your CCTV alone could take hours and hours; bearing in mind if you watch footage for each individual camera for the entire investigation then you would be looking at around seven times the number of cameras you had been running through the night. Forget the next day, you would be reviewing footage in your spare time for the following week.

After all that the likelihood that you may even catch something paranormal is pretty much slim to none. In fact in all my years investigating haunted locations I don’t think I have ever captured compelling footage on my CCTV systems.

However there did seem a time where CCTV was almost as popular as a black polo shirt with your teams logo on the front.

Don’t get me wrong I have heard of a few capturing some oddities on their systems and there were of course the various TV shows out there using them that often appeared to capture ‘evidence’ !

Rethinking the purpose of CCTV…

Over the years I’ve gradually re-evaluated how and when I utilise a CCTV system within a paranormal investigation. As odd as it sounds trying to focus its use on capturing paranormal activity is actually a complete waste of something that could really help you to understand the structure of your investigation.

I know, I know! You’re probably scratching your heads right now confused at what I’ve just said, right? Surely the CCTV system is perfect for capturing activity! Well of course it is, but there are major issues with this. One video image caught via one camera with little or no other supporting data, just won’t cut it as evidence.

Let me highlight this with a brief example. You set up your CCTV around a location at various ‘hotspots’. In one room where you have a CCTV camera you have a trigger object on a table. The camera monitors what’s on the table, but to do so you loose the whole table. The object moves in shot of the camera. You’ve captured a moving object with one camera. This is where the problem arises; as you’ve got areas out of shot here the validity of the video comes into question and rightly so too. As you can hopefully see with this simple example, the CCTV systems can be flawed when it comes to establishing captured video as ‘evidence’.

With an understanding in the utilisation of my CCTV changed over the years now, I tend to use the system in a different way perhaps these days.

Don’t get me wrong when approaching a new case I still may focus a camera or two on a possibly active location, but this is aimed to analyse that hotspot to see if there is anything to the claim. Pretty much as we always have. The difference is that more often than not I will use other triggers to check the footage at the same time for a cross reference of activity.

However these days I often utilise my CCTV systems more for clarification of things like the Investigators location during an investigation. The movement of the team during an investigation is actually quite an important element of the data we should look to capture. The amount of times I’ve spoken to team members following a particularly interesting part of the investigation and they have provided various pieces of information, which they believe to be correct, but actually their understanding of the time line is not quite right.

This isn’t about Investigators falsifying information to sensationalise them, it’s a simple fact that out memories aren’t quite as reliable as we would hope. This is what is often referred to as false memory. Hence the need for things to help us establish those events correctly.

Hence in any investigation establishing a time line is essential in order to comprehend when things occurred and who may have been present for those events. This is where CCTV can help you immensely, as most systems will run with a running clock giving you that time link.

Granted you may not be able to place a CCTV camera absolutely everywhere, but you can place what you have in key locations to cover your teams movement around that location. Doorways, stairways and hallways are all great locations that cover a teams movement.

Let the tech do the work…

These days CCTV systems are a bit more clever than the systems I first started using all those years ago. They can do all sorts of cool stuff, including recording only if they detect movement or generating a log of movement. Which means we can use them to gather data useful to the construction of our investigation timeline.

My own system does something similar where it creates a clever log of the recording time frame and any movement too. It doesn’t end there though as these systems can also be interconnected with other sensory systems too.

As my good friend Carl Hutchinson would agree get to know your technology and get the most out of it in order to capture good investigation data, which can be used to cross reference other data. It’s in multiple streams of data that support a single anomaly that we will find truly compelling evidence of the paranormal.

In fact when I spoke to Carl about CCTV he told me the following:-

Being a little bit of an equipment geek, sometimes I get asked by people what type of equipment I use and the reasons behind this. Ashley came to me the other day and asked me about CCTV systems, so here goes and I hope this helps.

My CCTV set is based around the Swann 1080 16 Channel DVR system with a 16 camera setup (standard 8 indoor and 8 outdoor cameras), all the cameras have motion and heat active sensors; and night vision up to 40 meters in ambient light. The system has a 2TB hard drive and also can be remotely accessed using a smart phone or tablet, so you can view the camera’s from anywhere that has a wi-fi signal. The system has been upgrade so I can connect both wi-fi and cabled camera’s. The main reason for this was to give me the flexibility, as some location you can’t cable the cameras due to the amount of cable required. The only draw back of wifi cameras is that they have to be contacted to a power supply to be able to work. Which is great when you have a location that has power plugs all over the place, but not very helpful when your in a dungeon or tunnels.

I also have the following additional camera’s that boost my capacity to cover all possible requirements that a location might kick up.

3 x Swabb Pro – 1080 FLD 1080 Micro Dome Cameras with Audio

6 x Swann wifi 1080p security cameras

1 x Swann 1080p pan and tilf zoom dome security camera

All my cameras have a great 80 degree viewing angle, both horizontally and vertically. The cable I use is standard BNC cable and I have roles of cables at different lengths because there is nothing worse than only needing 30 meters and all you have is a 100 meter roll!

There are cheaper or more expensive systems and cameras for sale. However I would suggest to anyone thinking about buying a system; do your research first and work out what you want out of it, plus how your going to use it. Most importantly stick to your budget.

Lastly one other bit of advice is about set up. Make sure this is done first when you get to a location and have it recording as soon as possible. And if you have a reported hot spot of activity then try and cover all angles, but keep in mind the IR glare. And if your setting up an area for trigger object, try and make sure you are covering all the room. So if it’s on a table make sure the camera covers all of the legs. The more camera angles you have the more chance you have of being able to debunk things and the more chance you have of capturing activity.

Thank you Carl, my Paranormal tech guru. It’s always good to obtain other perspectives in how we investigate as we can often fall into a pattern of doing the same old thing over and over again.

If you’re interested in a similar CCTV System to the one mentioned by Carl, follow this link.. 

So, when you next setup your CCTV or even camcorders, don’t just set them up with the hope of capturing activity; utilise them to establish good data of your investigations time line too.

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