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Analyzing Evidence: The Thankless Task

October 16, 2018

 

 

Analyzing evidence can be a thankless task. I’ve seen a good number of ghost hunters, as well as whole teams, give up on paranormal investigation simply because of the overwhelming task of reviewing evidence. There have been countless times I have been sitting in my studio reviewing hours of footage and audio of a case I was sure would yield great evidence, only to feel like I wanted to quit in frustration. If we're honest with ourselves (and our teams), good evidence is rare. And, the more equipment you use, the more boring the review process is going to be. But, anyone who is serious about paranormal investigation knows that it’s simply a task to be endured. To that end, when you find something you cannot logically explain, it’s all worth it.

 

At the core of any good investigation are going to be good investigators. If you want the task of analyzing your collected data to suck less, you and your team must be better in the field. Debunking events on site, identifying issues before the investigation, and taking good notes as things happen is critical to the process. Due diligence during the investigation cuts down the number of things that you need to analyze, cross-reference, and examine from multiple angles. If your team has a habit of overacting to things, talking over each other during EVP sessions, and are generally disorganized, whoever is tasked with reviewing evidence is going to run into more than a few frustrating issues. The first step to being better at reviewing evidence has more control during the investigation. Make a plan and stick to it. Take notes and work out as much of the debunking process as humanly possible on site to keep from wasting time on events that may have a simple answer.  

 

Second, and on the same page as previously noted, being more organized before starting your analyzation is paramount. Whatever you have, be it video footage, audio, pictures, or simply just notes. Organize it in a manner so that it is easily cross-referenced. I find it best to create separate folders for each type of data. Then, I name them so that they will appear in chronological order along with location or device callout. This is important because when you catch something on one device, you will want to immediately look at what other devices recorded during that same section of time. This will become a much faster process if you can quickly find the files you’re looking for without having to open each one. This also makes it easier to check sections of footage that you have flagged in your investigation notes. This one little step can save you hours of time later and keep you from having to sit through useless stretches of audio and video.

 

With everything organized, you will find, that there is simply no way of getting around having to watch the footage and listen to the audio. Start from the beginning of the investigation and get going. Take notes as you watch and if you think you have found something, jot down the time it happens, the file name, and what you think you caught. Then, keep going. Don’t skip around yet, just get through the first file. If there’s a section of something going on that you were able to debunk on-site or took previous notes on; skip ahead. Once you’re finished, cross reference your notes with footage and audio from the same time period. See if you caught it on another device, or if an alternate device reveals the source. Work through the files one by one until you have visited everything on your list. When that’s finished move on to the next section of time and work the same way. Working in this organized manner will not only help the review portion of your investigation go by a little faster, but it will help you better identify legitimate evidence.

 

Always look at things with a skeptic’s eye. You may be a believer in the paranormal, but if you don’t do your research, you will be ripped to shreds. There is real evidence to be found, and if you’re persistent and careful, you will eventually find it. But, nothing is worse than claiming you have found something amazing only to have someone else debunk it later. Not only can it make you look bad as an investigator it can hurt your future credibility. Worse, people might be under the impression that you were trying to hoax them which is a blow to your reputation almost impossible to come back from. Due diligence is important above all else. Do the work in the field, cross reference your evidence, and when possible return to the location to try to recreate whatever you have found. Putting in the work now will only solidify your position later when you actually find something.

 

Going through your digital evidence with the right programs is also a big help. There are tons of free programs out there for video and audio editing that will certainly do the trick. But if you’re serious about investigation as more than an occasional hobby, consider investing in more advanced software suites. I don’t want to knock the value of good free software like Audacity or ASV4YOU; they are certainly good places to start if you have a tight budget. But, you get exactly what you pay for. A serious investigator should consider dropping money on software with larger ranges of features and more developed interfaces. Premium editing software will provide you with advanced tools such as color analysis, spectrographs, and other tools you can use to adjust the video and audio which can isolate and reveal more than you thought possible. While there are other programs out there that may be better, for the price point, I can’t recommend Reaper Digital Audio Workstation enough. For about $65.00 you can obtain a private lifetime license for the software, and the host of plugins available rivals that of even Cakewalk software. The base suite (before downloading additional plug-ins) comes with spectral analysis and isolation tools, and a host of other effects. Once I upgraded to this from what I was using before, my audio game went through the roof. It was faster to identify EVPs and much easier to debunk potential contamination.

 

To the same extent, upgrading to a more advanced video editor did the same. My previous process involved watching all the footage in VLC, then editing in the standard Windows editor. After trying a few programs, I eventually settled on the Sony Vegas line of video editors. Using effects plug-ins, I can play with brightness, contrast, shadows, opacity. All great tools for getting a better look at what’s going on in the shot. Also, the inclusion of a color inversion tool makes identifying strangeness easier. Well worth the investment considering the amount of video editing I find myself doing on a weekly basis even outside the realm of paranormal investigation.

 

Of course, if you’re going to look at images, a standard viewer is fine. But, if Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop is in your budget, they are second to none when it comes to photo enhancement. While opening files in these programs will put a flag on the metadata for your image, it is worth opening a copy to toy with the lighting and exposure. For the uninitiated, it may seem daunting at first, but the wealth of data hidden within an image can reveal a lot about what is happening in your investigation. Using the shadows tool to remove dark spots from a poorly lit image can mean the difference between epically debunking a strange shape to proving that there was something strange in the room.

 

In the end, evidence analysis will be the most important part of your investigation. It’s not always rewarding, especially when you find nothing paranormal to show for all the time you spent doing it. But, with careful organization, common sense, and the right software, you can minimize the time spent doing it and make yourself more efficient. And, hopefully, someday, find the irrefutable evidence you’re looking for.

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