Ghost HuntersHow-ToUsing the Thermal Imaging Camera

Using the Thermal Imaging Camera
By Steve Gonsalves


The thermal imaging camera is one of the most sought-after pieces of equipment used by paranormal investigators. It allows you to see hot or cold spots in any location and track temperature fluctuations in real time. It is, without a doubt, one of the most valuable tools we use at TAPS, and has provided us with one of the single most compelling pieces of paranormal evidence so far; the image of a full-bodied apparition captured on a locker at the Crescent Hotel.

Thermal imaging was memorably featured in the movie Predator, where an alien hunter used its ability to see in the infrared spectrum to track its prey day or night. The thermal imaging camera sees its environment in exactly the same way.

All objects emit infrared radiation, so by viewing in the infrared spectrum, the thermal imaging camera makes it possible to “see” one’s environment without illumination Since the amount of radiation emitted by an object increases with temperature, it can also capture temperature variations.

Through an infrared camera, warm objects—shown in red, yellow and white (if very hot)-stand out against cooler backgrounds, usually seen as blue or black. As a result, humans and other warm-blooded animals become highly visible against their environment, day or night.  Some thermal imaging camera models can change the color palette so you can choose what colors represent what temperature range.  Thermal imaging cameras are so sensitive, you can see the residual body heat left by someone who’s no longer in the room.

Step 1
Choosing the right thermal imaging camera

The FLIR camera used by TAPS goes for anywhere from six to eight thousand dollars, but thermal imaging cameras can run as high as 50 thousand dollars.

If you can’t afford a new thermal imaging camera, go to your local fire department and ask them if they have an out of date model. They may be willing to part with it for less money.  Or, you may be able to find a thermal imaging camera for sale online.  Wherever you do find it, you can count on spending a good bit of money.

Most thermal cameras are not able to record the visual information they are processing, limiting you to seeing visual information in real time with the built in screen as your only viewing option.
Some high-end models and modified versions with upgrades may have a hard drive built in to record the information.   However, most models have a video output terminal that will allow you to hook up the necessary video component to the thermal camera to record the thermal video data being collected.  This output also allows the research teams equipped with a DVR system to hard
line the thermal camera directly into your DVR for viewing and recording.

Step 2
How to use your thermal imaging camera

It is best to use slow, sweeping motions when using the thermal camera so you can track thermal hits.  At TAPS, we also leave the camera stationary for periods of time while we continue with our investigation.  During Q&A sessions, provoking, etc. the camera can track changes in temperature that might be indicative of paranormal activity.  Since the camera sees in the infrared spectrum it can also pick up normal activity that might be missed by human observation. I remember Tango and I were outside at an investigation doing a typical Q&A session at night.  We asked for some sort of sign as we usually do, and heard a loud rustling in response.  It sounded like there was someone walking right past us on the gravel path.  Sure enough, there was:  A very large rabbit that would not have been visible if not for the thermal imaging camera.

Having a thermal camera that comes equipped with a laser pointer is valuable if you’re going to be working in the dark.  While it does not necessarily help you to see what you’re pointing at, it does indicate where you are pointing the lens.  Be careful if you’re using night vision or night shot, as the pointer might show up as a light anomaly.

Step 3
Get acquainted with thermal imagery

It is very important that you familiarize yourself with your own body heat, how it reflects in a room, what surfaces reflect your heat, and how long your heat signature stays visible.  It’s very easy to mistake your own heat reflection for a paranormal presence, as your body heat will reflect off of just about any shiny surface, and even some that you don’t expect.

Step 4
Get to know your thermal camera

Thoroughly familiarize yourself with the thermal camera you are using.  How does your camera depict thermal imagery? Does it flare out of proportion?  Does it constantly focus giving objects the appearance of having slight movement?

Make sure your thermal imaging camera is in focus at all times.  This may sound like common sense, but different thermal signatures will cause the thermal camera to refocus, especially when you use it in handheld mode, during which you will come across many thermal signatures: Other investigators, clients, animals, and reflections.  “Out of focus” in this context means that the thermal imagery will flare out somewhat, colors will blend, etc.  Once you give the focus ring a slight adjustment, you should see the thermal image sharpen, making your thermal reading more accurate. Don’t worry, using the focus ring on your thermal camera will quickly become second nature. Since your goal is to capture real time paranormal activity, you should be watching the screen at all times.

Step 5
Identifying paranormal energy with the thermal camera

Thermal cameras are used by fire departments to make sure a blaze is completely extinguished.  It also helps them to see through smoke, find persons, and localize the base of a fire. Police also employ the thermal camera to find fugitives when they are holed up in buildings or areas where they can’t rely on normal surveillance techniques.

At TAPS, we’ve adapted the thermal camera for use in paranormal investigations. Because spirits are composed of energy and energy emits radiation, you can theoretically use the thermal imaging camera to see a temperature artifact left over from a spirit’s passage. We’ve learned over several investigations that balls of cold temperature detected by the thermal imaging camera may indicate a sudden energy void caused by paranormal activity.

You may also be able to see the heat exchange of spiritual energy moving past energy.  If energy is being removed from an area for a spirit to manifest or move an object there is a chance that the thermal imaging camera will capture the cold spot left by the void or energy.

The thermal imaging camera continues to provide great results for TAPS, and points to the real future of paranormal detection—human observation operating in tandem with devices that measure activity beyond normal sensory perception.


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