A few days ago, Claire A emailed me saying “I am a street photographer based in Manchester, England. I took this in a cemetery using my film camera about 2 weeks ago. I made 2 images of the same scene and scanned the negatives. The photo I have attached is the 2nd exposure. I have ruled out any kind of processing error. The texture of the trail is fibre-like. Any ideas?”

You can download a larger version of the image here.

Any ideas?



  1. The texture of the trail is fibre-like.

    Then maybe it is a fibre. Could be a loose string or a strand of hair that drifted in front of the camera. I don’t know what would cause the bright spot in the middle though.

  2. It would need to be something on the negative. If the photographer has inspected the neg and there’s nothing there now, then it must have been something in the camera that was discarded after the frame was wound on – it looks to me though that you’d have seen it on adjacent frames, or on the frame line if that was the case.

    I’ve seen something a little similar where mould had grown on the emulsion and was washed off in the film bath.

  3. How has processing error been ruled out?

    Because it sure looks like there was a foreign object on the negative (which would cast a dark shadow in the negative) when it was scanned/printed (which would show up as a bright area of the scan/print when the image was reversed.)

    Is the artifact visible as a dark area on the negative?

    Do subsequent prints/scans show the artifact the same way?

    If it is visible on the negative, it would be because something bright was exposed on the original film.

    If the artifact is visible on the negative, does it extend beyon the frame? If so it could be as simple as a light leak in either the film canister or the camera, or even a static discharge when the film was exposed.

    Cameras are not magic.

    Film records ANY light that strikes it, not just that which strikes it during the intended exposure.

  4. Appears to be probably cotton wadding reflecting back light. Would be useful to know the age and make of camera and whether the flash was used. Cameras bounce light around internally do much that it is likely that a small percentage of pictures will show unusual aberrations (rather than apparitions). Add the fact it’s a film camera increases the probability of these markings, both through the developing process and possibly the deteriation of the camera through age A similar effect could be seen if there was a puddle of water on the path and a bright sun, causing ‘lense flare’ across the picture. Occam’s razor – it’s a feature of the photography process. Occam’s hatstand – it’s a ghost.

  5. If you use Photoshop /Gimp to re-invert it to the negative you can clearly see that there IS some sort of fibre on the negative. About as interesting as pocket fluff.

  6. My money’s on sunlight reflected off a nearby window. Slightly distorted glass leading to non-window-shaped shape with patchy areas. Or it could be a ghost.

  7. You’d need to examine the negatives. If it was genuinely recorded at the scene, the dark streak (remember, it’s a negative) will stop at the edges of the frame.

    If it’s a problem with the film or camera, that dark streak will extend into the 3mm ‘blank’ area which separates each frame, or even extend onto the adjacent frames.

    The most likely cause is a poorly mixed developer – a grain of developer looks like it’s been dragged over the negative as it was being pulled through the machine, overdeveloping the film.

    Did Clair use a cheap supermarket developer? (I once got my negatives back from an unnamed supermarked conveniently folded and creased at random. When I complained I was told “Sure, they’re only the negatives, you’ve got prints.” That little bit didn’t help šŸ˜‰ )

  8. Easy.

    If the camera panned to the right, you’d see Dr. Venkman holding his proton gun (fnarr…), and if the camera panned to the left, you’d see Slimer caught in the beam.

  9. Hi There. I took this photo. i didn’t know there are so many photographic experts out there šŸ˜‰

    I had 10 rolls of film processed on this day from my usual professional lab. I scanned 360 negatives. The “trail” only goes across this one negative. It does not even go onto the other negatives on either side even by 1mm. Nor onto the black border. Hence why I am curious. I sent it back to the lab and they could not give me an explanation.

    The only fact is it is highly unlikely that a processing error would occur perfectly between the borders of one 35mm negative on a roll of film that measures 1260mm.

    It’s not a reflection as it was a dry day. I’m not saying it’s a ghost! I’m just wondering what it could be.

    I’m skeptical. Believe me. I once saw psychic sally live on tour….

    anyway, if you feel to contact me: http://www.claireatkinson.net

    1. I don’t know enough about processing negatives to weigh in, but could you scan that negative (i.e. more than just the photograph, perhaps at least half of each of the frames to the left and right?) so that we* can see if there are any other clues outside the image? I think it might help.

      *i.e. the people who know more about this stuff than I do.

    2. So it is visible on the negative itself… I was going to say that it looks like a thread got pulled in during the scanning process (I’m guessing scanning was done on a motorized film scanner). But if it is on the negative, then that rules that out.

      If it really is contained to the negative frame of this single image, then I’m inclined to say it occurred during the exposure. Was this taken with a SLR camera? Perhaps a thread got momentarily stuck onto the exposure plate. The mirror or shutter movement may have may have deposited/cleared it.

      It would be interesting to know what the images before and after this one looked like. Were they taken close together in time? Were there any lens changes which might introduce foreign objects internally into the camera?

    3. I flipped the image to neg in Photoshop and put it here if anyone wants to take a look. It seems pretty obvious to me it’s some kind of fine fibre across the negative.

      Gordon’s explanation is probably right – the fibre (which is almost certainly very light) was most likely ‘puffed’ off the neg when the camera mirror moved.

  10. “I sent it back to the lab and they could not give me an explanation.” – there’s the problem really. They probably can’t really be bothered to look into it. If this had happened across a closeup portrait then it would be immediately dismissed as a processing error. But ooh, a graveyard!

  11. It’s a nice photo. How long is the exposure? It looks like a very low light setting, yet the subject is very clear. Were you wearing a wool jersey when you took the photo?

  12. Again…another case of the unexplained…but again, on a photo. Lets not lose the fact that there are numerous explanations for this, all perfectly plausible…whereas there can only ever be speculation regarding a supernatural entity at play…it can never be definitively proven, or disproven…

  13. Naughty Richard – using the word Ghost to hook people here from Twitter.

    One thing I note on top of the possible explanations listed above – it looks as though the sun may well be just out of shot, top of frame – in exactly the right place to cause a reflection/refraction that explains the bright spot.

    In the movie biz we were always checking the gate for “hairs” and occasionally you could get an inexplicable mess of fibre in there…despite all the cleaning that went on before and after loading a roll of film…

  14. It’s clearly the work of the devil. You shouldn’t mess with things liek this, it’s pure evil.

    I had the work of the devil residing in my belly button, it smelt like the devil too.

  15. I’ve had this happen to me before, it’s a piece of fluff that somehow got into the camera, it may have been there for some time probably from when the lens was changed last. It was between the film and the lens at the time of exposure. It then got blown away by the breeze from the shutter closing. It was only there for one exposure hence it didn’t appear on the previous or next frame.

  16. I have had a similar experience. It was due to rewinding my film outdoors in the cold. There was a static discharge across several frames.

    1. I had the same idea, an electrostatic discharge (lightning). Its important that the air is dry. I thought that it is possible to appear when you use a cam with a non metal back (cheap thing). The plastic back will rub on some (syntethic) clothes and cause a discharge, throught the plastic back, along the film to the (metal) frame.
      Mrs Atkinson, pleas tryout the following: Heat your darkroom until the air inside is very dry. Take a new film and pull it out of the can. Rub with a wool or syntethic cloth over the film (do it not near electronic devices !). Wind back the film to the can and do the normal exposure process….
      Let us know about the effect.
      Works also with photo paper of coarse, but then you have to add a plastic band.

  17. My question is why would anyone take a photograph of a cemetery, not a particularly good view, not a nice day, not a peculiar tombstone… just a random path. Of course, if is the ideal photo to make a “random” ghost story appear…

  18. You sometimes get defects in the fabric padding around the slit the film passes through.

    I’d guess either a fibre was shed here and obscured the frame during processing as has already been suggested, or the emulsion was damaged as a loose object passed through.

  19. Ok, I’m not trying to bash anyone here, but there are some vital errors in the “thread/fibre” theory.

    If the thread had been in between the lens and film like some people have said, that would prevent light from striking the film at all, thus leaving it white. Then when the photo is developed, it would result in a dark streak, not the light one we see here.

    If it was on the negative when it was developed, it would be light, but the chances of it lying exactly within the frame as the photographer has said (although I would like to see it myself), are so slim that it is statistically impossible to happen by mere chance.

    Don’t take this the wrong way; I don’t believe it is a supernatural occurrence, but the thread explanation simply doesn’t addup.

    1. Yes. Very good point and I should have spotted it. This means that the fibre must have been on the negative when it was printed, not in the camera. That would also explain some of the other oddities, such as why it didn’t show up on other frames (as it almost certainly would have if it was in the camera, I think). But it is definitely a fibre – you only need to look at the reversal I did above.

  20. I’d like to see the previous shot just to be able to look at what reflective surfaces might be obscured in the second shot. Meaning if we can rule out a physical problem with the film on this one shot (the fiber theory) then a reflection of sunlight seems probable – but seeing a non streaked shot from moments before would be helpful.

  21. At first I thought of a long exposure and a bike passing in front of the camera (sunlight reflected by spokes)… but the fiber hypothesis sounds better.

  22. My first thought was fluff in the photo enlarger. I really like the static electricity explanations too though, has anyone got an example of that they can show?

  23. This is a compelling image to evoke the fear and uncertainty of the environment when standing alone in the cemetery. Aside from the physics of the film and print, the impression is intriguing. Having wandered around in rural cemeteries in my youth, not on purpose but while waiting around by the church for family, I can say that the photo transports me to that mystical place and feeling.

  24. I’m guessing long exposure, then someone walked past with something very reflective, like a plastic bag or a handbag with lots of metal on it. The light “fibers” are streaks from very bright specular reflections.

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