Thermal Cameras Guide for Ghost Hunters

An Introduction to Thermal Imaging Cameras

A thermal imaging camera is a type of video camera that picks up infrared radiation and creates an image that shows the temperatures of the objects within the frame.

Have you ever wished that there was a device that could provide undeniable evidence of the paranormal? Thermal cameras might just be the answer to your prayers. Every serious paranormal team uses one at some point during the investigation to capture evidence that regular cameras cannot detect. FLIR is the most popular brand that can be seen on several popular TV shows like Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters.

Just as living people and animals produce body heat, spirits often produce cold spots and sometimes even create mysterious heat signatures. Thermal cameras convert the infrared radiation emitted from objects into an image in a process that is called thermal imaging.  

This guide will introduce you to the origins of thermal cameras, how to use them, how to recognize false positives, and how to get the best results.

What is a Thermal Cemara?

Infrared energy has a wavelength that is not visible to the human eye. The purpose of thermal imaging is to convert infrared light into electrical signals that create a digital image that we can interpret. Instead of showing the environment in the same way that we see it with our eyes, these cameras show heat signatures and depict the environment in terms of temperature.

The lens of a thermal camera focuses the infrared energy onto a set of detectors that use the data to create a detailed pattern called a thermogram. In these thermograms, objects that are cold show up in a blue or purple color, while objects that are warm show up as yellow-red, with the hottest temperature showing up as white.

A Brief History of Thermal Cameras

It is a common misconception that thermal imaging technology was invented for military use. The real origins of infrared technology date all the way back to the 1800s when Sir Willam Herschel was on a mission to devise a filter that would allow him to safely study the sun through a telescope.

In an attempt to reduce the dangerous glare of the sun, he used a red filter on his telescope and noticed that it seemed to produce heat. He decided to measure the perceived temperature change and found that the thermometer that he held behind a prism just beyond the end of the red field of the visible spectrum registered a temperature that was higher than the ambient air in the visible spectrum. This brought him to believe that there was another form of light beyond what could be seen by the naked eye, which he called “the invisible rays.” In 1840 Herschel was able to capture the first thermal image printed on paper, and he called it the “thermograph.”

In 1878 American astronomer and physicist Samuel Langley, Invented the Bolomenter, a radiant-heat detector that could accurately measure differences in temperature of one hundred-thousandth of a degree Celsius. This device allowed him to study the light rays coming from the sun within the infrared region and measure the intensity of solar radiation at various wavelengths.

In 1929, Hungarian physicist and electrical engineer Kálmán Tihanyi invented the first infrared-sensitive electronic television camera that was capable of capturing thermal images. He was hired by the British military to build infrared night-vision anti-aircraft prototypes, along with remote-control devices and fire control systems for tanks, anti-aircraft guns, and anti-aircraft reflectors.

In 1978, Teledyne FLIR established itself as the “global leader in the design, manufacture, and marketing of thermal imaging infrared cameras,” as stated on its website. The company focuses on developing high-performance, low-cost infrared thermal imaging systems for airborne applications, but it has quickly become the go-to brand for paranormal investigators.  FLIR cameras are extremely high-quality devices that allow operators to see in pitch-black darkness, adverse weather, and through smoke, making them an excellent tool for ghost hunting.

Nowadays, this type of technology has been integrated with cellular devices. Several apps offer thermal imaging features that anybody can download onto their phone and start using easily. It is becoming easier and easier to become a paranormal investigator!

What are Thermal Cameras Used for in Paranormal Investigations?

Generally speaking, thermal imaging cameras are used to supplement video evidence of paranormal activity. When evidence is captured by both regular cameras and thermal imaging cameras, this lends credibility to the claim that paranormal phenomena occurred.

Thermal cameras are particularly useful when doing outdoor investigations, or when the property is very large, as they can pick up heat signatures from very long distances and can detect objects through smoke, rain, or through barriers that would block the view of a regular camera.

When investigating a haunted forest, any sound or movement can be cause for alarm, but determining what made the sound can be very challenging. A thermal camera can easily detect heat signatures and show the size and shape of the culprit.

Usually, a living being will have a distinct heat signature, while a spirit will have a cold outline in the shape of a person. If you see a perfect outline of a person walking or standing but it’s not radiating any heat, it’s impossible for that to be a living human, and you’ve just captured intriguing evidence of the paranormal.

Another fascinating use for thermal cameras is detecting handprints or other types of mysterious heat residues. In the popular TV show Ghost Hunters, lead investigators Jason and Grant discover a perfect handprint on a locker that was registering as warm and gradually faded after it was discovered. When they reviewed their evidence, they determined that nobody on their team had touched the locker and deemed it one of the best pieces of evidence they had ever captured.

When using a thermal imaging camera, there are several false positives to look out for:

  • Reflections: Heat signatures will show up in reflections. If you, or a team member, are standing in front of a mirror, a window, or even a reflective metal surface, your body heat will bounce off that surface and read as a heat signature on your device. It is common for investigators to be startled by their own reflection while staring at the display of their thermal camera.
  • Residuals: Anything you touch will absorb some of your body heat (even through clothing) and temporarily have a heat signature. Do your best to remember what surfaces you have come into contact with, and don’t jump to conclusions when you see a residual hot spot. Review the cameras and do your due diligence to rule out any man-made residuals before declaring anything as paranormal evidence.
  • False cold spots: Not every cold spot indicates the presence of a ghost. Cold anomalies can be caused by water damage, air conditioning, drafts, or missing insulation. If a cold spot never moves or changes shape, you may want to inspect the area to see if you can determine what environmental factors are affecting the temperature difference.
  • Pareidolia: This is the tendency to perceive a meaningful image in an ambiguous visual pattern. In other words, this is a case of “your eyes are playing tricks on you.” If you see an ambiguous shape on your thermal imaging camera at a time when you’re expecting something paranormal to be there, you might interpret what you are seeing based on your bias. If the shape is not moving or changing, then you should be leaning toward dismissing it as natural. But if you capture a clear human-like blue shape moving across the room, then you have hit the thermal jackpot!

Alternative Uses for Thermal Imaging Cameras

Thermal Cameras are extremely useful in various fields outside of ghost hunting. Aside from military anti-aircraft defense systems, these devices are also used to facilitate rescue operations and save lives. Firefighters use thermal imaging to see through the smoke when trying to locate people trapped in burning buildings, and first responders use them to find missing persons in remote locations.

Additionally, they can be used in building inspections to detect termites, identify leaks, and locate damaged pipes. Doctors can use thermal imaging to detect the presence of inflammation, irregular blood flow, and even some forms of cancer.

Thermal cameras are widely used for security, as they can easily determine the presence of people and their position on a property. Since thermal technology is becoming more cost-effective and available, it is not uncommon for businesses and even households to have some type of thermal camera watching over their property.

Thermal Cameras are an Essential Tool for Paranormal Investigators

Every ghost hunter needs a thermal camera in their tool kit. If your goal is to collect compelling evidence of the paranormal for yourself or a family you are helping out, thermal is the way to go.

With this information, you should now have a solid understanding of how thermal cameras work and the best practices for conducting thermal imaging readings. All that’s left for you to do is grab your gear and begin your paranormal journey!

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