Thursday, June 19, 2008

The FLIR Thermal Imaging Camera

A few years ago when I heard the Sci-Fi Channel was doing a show following a paranormal team, my first thought was, “How is that going to work?” There is just not much which happens on a typical paranormal investigation; especially not enough to make a weekly TV show about it. Usually everything that happens is personal experience and those cannot be recorded nor do they translate to an exciting watch for viewers. I watch the show now going on three years and think they do a great job trying to cipher the real from the fabrication. However, this season has been different.

This week on Ghost Hunters I saw something very disturbing and I want to get everyone’s opinion about it. If you did not see the episode, they were using a FLIR thermal imaging camera and captured a supposed ghost while investigating Fort Delaware. They captured a heat image of a human figure through a hallway and then it quickly walked behind the door frame and disappeared. They ran down but did not see anyone there. So they put the FLIR on a tripod, shooting into the room and left the camera. Later, during the reveal they saw the same heat signature peering around the door frame. I have much respect for the Ghost Hunters investigative team, especially Jason and Grant but I have to admit those two images with the FLIR looked faked to me; like a person was standing there.

First of all, I have a problem with the science behind using a FLIR in a paranormal investigation. My team doesn’t have one, not because we don’t trust it, but because we can’t afford it. Even if we could afford it, I would be very skeptical of the images it captured. You see, it is very easy for heat from someone to be absorbed into anything you accidentally touch. If you are leaning against a wall or touching a counter top, and then step away, the FLIR will capture something “paranormal.”

During an investigation, it is very hard to keep track of a small group like I have; much less a large group like the Ghost Hunters team usually has with them. They have their investigative team but then they probably have several more people recording the show. So using a FLIR you have to know where everybody is at all times and everyone must be very cognizant of their actions and whereabouts or the images you record are worthless.

My second problem with the FLIR is I don’t believe a ghost would appear on a FLIR as a heat image. Since 1999 I have been using an IR thermometer looking for cold spots, not heat. So the ghosts should appear as human figures radiating cold spots not heat.

In my group if someone has a personal experience, it doesn’t count unless they have some other corroborating evidence, such as. an EMF spike, a sharp temperature drop, or a photo of something (orbs don’t count). Knowing this and applying our knowledge of spirits appearing with temperature drops, I believe that situation might have been faked. So using the FLIR, if you record an image of a person but it is a heat source it is probably human, but if it a cold source then it is probably a spirit. Again, I would like for readers to leave their opinion, even if you did not see the episode; leave an opinion what you think about my FLIR hypothesis.

This is not the first time I felt The Ghost Hunters show faked something this season. Last week Jason’s pants were tugged by an invisible spirit. I am over six foot four inches tall and I am not very easily frightened but if my pants were grabbed in the dark it would startle me. Jason acted like it was no big deal and didn’t even flinch. If you are walking in complete darkness and you are grabbed, you will flinch. His reaction is hard for me to believe because I have been in multiple situations like that. I’ve never been grabbed but I would at least flinch if it happened.

Jason and Grant must be under excruciating pressure to produce something during their investigations. So far this season has been very uneventful, so the pressure from the producers must be incredible. Thoughts?

NOTE: I apologize for not responding to the comments on this blog. I didn’t realize until tonight that I had any comments. In the future, I will be more diligent in my response times.


Anonymous said...

You obviously don't know much about how a thermal imager works.
Even if something is cold it will still show up on a thermal imager, it will just show up as colder then the surrounding environment.
Did you think if something was cold, it would render it invisible to a thermal imager?
Also yes thermal Imagers can produce heat reflections as you say, BUT these don't move. If I lean up against a wall and leave a heat signature on said wall, that will stay at that location, NOT movie around.

Andrea said...

I'm not a paranormal investigator but what the person before said rings true. Hot or cold, the image would still show up on thermal.

I'm sure Jason and Grant are under a lot of pressure, especially since some people don't understand how paranormal investigations work. They don't get that you don't always get evidence. It's a tv show. It has to have some kind of entertainment value to it or people will stop watching it.

an australian site offering thermal imaging services said...

On the site I linked to, it states flir camera thermagraphic / thermographic surveys are done on any items above O degrees (celcius). So Yes, cold spots will show.
I do agree with the tugging/flinch comment however.

Haunted Missouri said...


You are completely misquoting me. I said if a ghost would be captured on a FLIR camera it should appear as a cold image NOT as a warm image; which translates as a dark purple or blue figure NOT red or white. I NEVER said it would not show up on the camera.

The Ghosthunters crew constantly has red or white images of “ghosts” appearing on the FLIR and claims they are paranormal. I think ghosts should appear on a FLIR as cold spots so any images which appear human but are warm would actually be human. I hope that clarifies everything for you.

Anonymous said...

I have been interested in horsing around with paranormal work. My question is if I was going to use a thermal imager for this which would be the best?

Or would all of those do the job? Thank in advance

Anonymous said...

As an expert I can tell you that the colors displayed in a FLIR image can not be correlated to a specific temperature or range of temperature unless it is manually set up to do so. This manual setup can take time to dial in. In an application such as ghost hunting or just looking around at random scenes, you would be using the auto gain mode. Why? Because you have no idea what range of temperatures you may find yourself looking at and you will not resolve differences in temperature outside the manual range you have set. So if you don’t want to miss something you were not expecting to see and you want a beauty shot to put on TV, manual gain mode is the way to go.
In auto gain mode the entire range of colors will be displayed somewhere on the image.
For instance, if the lowest temperature in your scene is 100 deg F and the highest temperature is 150 deg F, 100 deg F will show up as black (the coldest temperature in the scene). There are many color pallets to choose from. For example one pallet may look like this cold to hot (black blue orange red yellow white) another could easily be (red green yellow black white blue). Though my last example would not be very intuitive to look at, the coldest temperature would show up as red.
I must comment on the application of ghost hunting. To seriously make an attempt at finding ghosts (snicker) you would need to know what temperature ghosts are.
Once you know what temperature you are looking for you then can manually set up your FLIR for that range. For instance if you are looking for ghosts that are 5 deg C you might set up your range to display from 0C to 10C. This spreads out the entire color pallet over a 10C range. Now you would be able to see details such as facial features on the ghost. That’s assuming that ghosts have slight temperature differences such as a nose that is a little different temperature than a chin. To use a radiometer to accurately measure temperatures, you need to know what the emissivity of the object is that you are going to look at and set up the camera accordingly. On the list of emissivity’s to choose from, you will not find “GHOST” for some reason. When a FLIR is set up like this with a narrow range of temperature, objects within this temperature range will show up great. Everything else outside of this temperature window will either show up as the coldest color or the hottest color. This produces an image that lets you see detail in a particular item but not a nice image for TV (beauty shot). On top of all of this, a color pallet looks more Sci-Fi than a grayscale image (black to white) but in my opinion a grey scale image is most revealing. That’s just my opinion and experience. I hope this is usefull.

Anonymous said...

OOPS! the above should have read..

So if you don’t want to miss something you were not expecting to see and you want a beauty shot to put on TV, Auto gain mode is the way to go.

sorry about that

Anonymous said...

Take this with a grain of salt as I know you will. In rare cases, paranormal "entities" can produce hot spots versus cold. It appears you have not yet done enough investigation to have gotten paranormal validation . This is from someone who most definitely has gotten validation after years of investigations. Also, because someone holds tours or training sessions does not make them useless to the field. Some give tours or workshops for free (event owners keep the profits). Keep searching.

Thermal Limit said...

First off i would like to correct "an australian site offering thermal imaging services" and say that the camera will detect anything above absolute zero (-273˚C) or in laymen terms. Everything. although it will not be able to calculate a temperature unless it is within the temperature specifications of the Thermal Imaging Camera. And if you go to the Flir website some cameras are capable of reading temperatures of if im not mistaken up to 1500˚C and as low as -50˚C. The only Cold spots you will find in a house would be lack of airflow in the internal corners, Moisture infiltration from either an external wall or leaking plumbing on the backside of an internal wall. If there are any other anomalies that you can not explain with either a surface moisture meter or a more invasive moisture meter then you have gotten yourself a very in depth image of paranormal activity. Also a point and shoot laser thermometer in my opinion is very useful but very impractical and seeing as though no proper Thermal Imaging training has been obtained by yourself or your team you will not have been informed that a point and shoot laser thermometer is infact an Infrared Detector with 1 sensing unit in the front of the thermometer where as a decent Thermal Imaging Camera has at least 30000 detectors. so the thermometer at one meter (close to one yard) will be averaging out the temperature over about 400 square millimeters (around 16 square inches) of wall space. rather than 4 millimeters (1/4 inch square) or smaller. although i would encourage use of infrared thermometers for use in different applications there are alot of different things you are incapable of setting or accounting for in such device. Also there are alot of unknown factors. Such as are there air conditioning registers blowing on that area of wall from somewhere in the room or a fan blowing towards a certain area. Are there any air conditioning ducts going up part of a wall from a basement or lower levels? Just some things to think about. Informing the nation about Thermal Imaging. said...

I didn't read all the comments, but isn't the reason there is a cold spot is because the ghost is drawing energy from the room to itself? So if its drawing energy (draining batteries, etc.) wouldn't it be warm? Why would a ghost show up colder then the air around it if its taking energy out of the room? I've been a ghost hunter for years and avidly watch all of these shows (Ghosthunters, Paranormal State, etc.) and in my opinion that's what is going on. Also, I saw the Chernobyl episode on Destination Truth and there was a heat signature of a human, but then they took a regular camera view back and forth, there was nobody there. And, if I remember right, it moved, so to me, it makes sense to show up as heat. What do you think?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Yes, i have been watching Ghost Hunters for a while and it's funny because one episode a ghost apparently walked right in front of grant and he heard and saw nothing but caught an really bright human signature. Now when i paused and reviewed the image it looked like someone zipped up a jacket over their head and walked by the camera. Its very clear their was a ass and heat signature and body i don't know, |I like watching these guys because i always thought they took a more scientific approach, but you do that and like it has been said before , it don't make for good TV. But really who knows we have no scientific data that says Ghost will draw a cold or hot signature , or the that Electromagnetic energy is the form to which a spirit can be measured by

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Dennis said...

Good points about the thermal imagers. I have owned a thermal for around 5 years now and I use it with my company to do energy audits and other projects that make the imager the wise choice.I have a FLIR BX-320 thermal imager and I use a pocket DVR (DVD quality) to record the live feed on the imager to the DVR. I am trained and certified to level one thermographer. I took the training course in person at one of Flir's level one training classes. I understand that sometimes what you "see" with the imager is not what you get. I have also, over that same time frame, used my thermal for many paranormal investigations. I have found that some of the most compelling evidence is, by most accounts, not even seen as evidence in most peoples minds. Let me explain. Sometimes what we do no see with the thermal has more of an impact than what we do see with it. For instance, if the thermal was side by side with a standard video camera and the video camera picked up on an object or spirit and the imager did not, then that to me, is far more imressive than the other way around. The great thing about an imager is there is no way to hide from its detectors. If it has a surface, then it will see it. Most paranormal spirits or ghosts that have been documented do not have a solid surface or atleast not one that produces thermal energy that the imager needs to "see" or image the ghost. I did see the episode that is in reference to this post on the Ghost Hunters TV show. It did seem to be a solid mass that had all of the characteristics of a human body.I found myself doubting the evidence also. The thermal imager is a complicated piece of equipment and should be treated as such. The imager is made all-the-more complicated by the emissivity and reflectivity problems in the real world that the imager "sees". The imager itself picks up many things that most would probably say was evidence. This is why the operator will need to know alot more about what the imager has detected. This is needed so the evidence will be compelling enough to persuade the skeptics that what was imaged or found with this camera is just that, evidence of the paranormal and not some artifact or false object that the operator could not or did not document the right way. If you do not know for yourself what the object is then I bet you will have a very hard time convincing the doubters or skeptics of anything paranormal. I would advise anyone that in even considering the possibility of purchasing an imager, that the training to become a thermographer is not optional, it is required!. Training is a must to even start to understand what you are imgaging or "seeing" with the imager. I think that TAPS team would have a more reputable position if they had a certified thermographer on their staff who used and investigated, with the thermal imager. I do not think that just picking up a thermal and going on an investigation and finding "evidence" will be taken seriously unless the operator of the thermal is trained with their instrument.It will be so awesome to finally see the serious thermal evidence that can not be debunked.
Thermally Yours,

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