Dallas Ft. Worth - Washington D.C. - Seattle - New Orleans
While I wish to keep this site geared towards the more advanced ghost hunter and there plenty of sites out there that have sections devoted to Ghost Hunter 101, I may yet have to put together a more organized field guide to help people get up to speed. For now, I will list some of the most common problems that I see occur again and again on an investigation. And yes, I have been guilty of most of them at one time or another.
BIGGEST PREPARATION MISTAKES
1) Forgetting to ask for protection before and/or after a hunt. I mention this in my Spiritual Safety section, but if you do not hold to this custom, then that is your personal choice.
2) Lack of flashlights. This is the most basic damn thing for any investigation, whether at night or during the day (it can get dark in a house, even at noon) but time and again I see people forgetting them and having to ask for a loaner. I don't mind lending equipment, but it could look unprofessional to a nervous householder and it can be inconvenient, even dangerous if no one is nearby when the lights go out unexpectedly.
Really, you should carry TWO electrical sources of light on your person at all times, and if mysterious power drains are known to occur in the area, then a chemical glow stick should be in quick reach. I have a Photon LED light around my neck so that I always have it on me plus two other lights when I can remember it. I prefer the Brinkmann's with their one hand action to switch on.
One other thing I should mention. DO NOT use a flammable source for illumination. One of the books listed on my page talks about carrying matches and candles for backup lighting. Bad idea, people. Do you want to be responsible for burning someone's house down? What about being in some underground area or basement and there's a gas leak? Using combustibles for lighting is one of the most phenomenally stupid suggestions I've ever heard of for ghost hunting.
If you do decide to use candles for a sťance (which is something else I don't advise) or mood lighting or whatever, please use a drip catcher underneath the candle to contain all of the wax that flows out and have a fire extinguisher nearby. Do not leave burning objects unattended.
Speaking of which, I don't understand why it is recommended to carry chalk. When is the last time you were in a historic building or someone's home and used chalk to mark their walls? What do you think they would say? Get out? Brightly colored sticky notes have much lower impact on someone's interior decorating.
3) Forgetting a pen and pad. Again, it can look unprofessional to have to borrow from the property owner and you can easily forget what it was you wanted to write down by the time you get a writing implement in your hand. I have been one of the worst offenders with regard to this one, but after I went to the store and plunked down less than a dollar each for a few of those little shirt pocket notepads, things have been a lot better. Carry more than you think you need so that you can share with others. :)
4) Not checking battery strength and/or keeping fully powered rechargeables on hand. I don't know how many times I have left drained batteries in equipment and not replaced them before the next outing. Also, it is not uncommon in this type of work to find that batteries have been mysteriously drained, even new and while still in the blister packs.
At any rate, It's tough to remember all those little gadgets and the AA, AAA, 9V diets that they have. Carry a digital multimeter with you and own several chargers. I now also carry a power inverter in the car (converts 12 V DC to 120 V AC) for emergency charging en route to a site. More on this in the Batteries equipment section. Have a set disposal or holding container for dead batteries to keep them separate from the good ones.
5) Forgetting to do research just before going out. I'm good if I can just remember to take down the weather readings and electromagnetic flare activity just before a hunt, let alone any serious historical lookups. But I usually like to do a preliminary before I can justify tearing through the library archives.
6) Most of the above is caused by the "RUSH RUSH Syndrome". You have only an hour before you have to meet everyone on the other side of town, and THEN you decide to put together all of the equipment. You think you have more than enough time, but suddenly you remember some other details that necessitate a custom equipment load, your Mom calls, and before you know it you're sprinting out to the car and have let a half-dozen things fall through the cracks. Try to make a manifest list well in advance and pack the night before. Take your time and remember to breathe.
7) Bringing equipment and then forgetting to use it or study how it works. Is that compass or thermometer not being utilized? Start noting readings or give it to someone who will. One of my personal failings is bringing and using the equipment, but not all of the accessories that come with it, notably with my Sony D8. I have a great auxiliary lamp and shotgun mike, but I sometimes forget in the rush to bring and/or connect both while using it. To be honest, while the most exciting paranormal phenomena is visual, most of the time you will run into audio anomalies.
Also, many cameras have a number of advanced features built in which can be great. What is not great is accidentally touching one of the many knobs or buttons and having the gear go into some weird mode that does something undesirable like lock the focus to two feet or sets it on a time delay. Valuable time and opportunities can be lost while you are fiddling with it - always know what you are using inside and out, even the features you don't plan to use. At the least carry the manual with you. If you are afraid of losing the manual you can often find a PDF version online and load it onto the field laptop or print it out.
8) Setting up a base in a bad location. Try to identify the "hot spot" of the haunting and then stay as far away as you can so that any readings or audio recorded is not from other investigators tromping around. Keep equipment organized and out of walkways so that no one trips in the dark.
9) Not using walkie-talkies when the group splits up. Sometimes you think, "It's just a residence. What do we need comm sets for?" Well, it's much easier to stay in touch (as opposed to shouting) when one party is upstairs or outside, and then someone hears a strange sound and wants to know where everyone's position is. "Bob, is that you thumping the side of the house with an axe? It is? Oh, good."
Another aside worth mentioning is running into strangers that eavesdrop or actively interfere with your communication. It is best to have a plan beforehand that has a preset channel jump so everyone know what frequency to retune to WITHOUT announcing it to the neighborhood. Here is a link for more info on communications:
10) Getting bored or frustrated and then trying to stir up activity. No one likes to drive out all the way out somewhere in their hard earned free time and feel like it was a dry run. But resist the temptation to pull out the Ouija board or chew out the spirits for not showing up. It's generally a good idea to take BREAKS in the middle of an investigation to clear your head and give things a chance to develop. Paranormal activity often happens when you least expect it.
DURING THE HUNT MISTAKES
1) Poor Record Keeping and Data Collection. So you brought all of your gear, notepads and a team. You get there on time and interview, take pictures and readings, and yet at the end of the evening you have very little usable data. What happened? Probably a number of things, but it helps to have one dedicated person do the readings, and perhaps have a second record the data, though it can make for a crowded investigation if the location is small.
Another issue is having an organized form to write things down on - I recommend our FORMS
Finally, knowing how to correctly interpret an instrument reading and efficiently document it is critical. Many times a reading will fluctuate and vary throughout one room which can make recording a nightmare if you are trying to do every square foot. I suggest using a range, and noting dramatic dips and peaks on a map. Also being careful with photography and not letting "false positives" creep into your work is essential to remaining objective and credible. The preview mode of many cameras may appear to show something paranormal, but downloading it to a place where you can view it on a full sized monitor will often show what it really is. ( a reflection or piece of dust in the flash)
Don't let others handle the camera until after you have safely downloaded a copy of the evidence. In the dark, it is easy for someone unfamiliar with the operation of your Nikon or Olympus recorder to ACCIDENTALLY delete the evidence.
2) Bad Interview Habits. Conducting an interview is more than just asking a series of questions and recording the answers. You have to sense which questions are appropriate and pace the interview according to the feedback and body language of the client.
3) Dangerous Counseling. Unless you have a degree in counseling or a lot of practical experience, don't try to be a therapist and even then I don't recommend it. Be careful not to ask questions that may be too personal, or give advice that may seem condescending or crossing areas that you have no business advising in.
4) Jumping to Conclusions. Tying all of this together is the all too common mistake of assuming the site is haunted. I have seen this again and again, even from groups that claim to be "skeptics" or "scientific". Be open and really look hard for other explanations without discrediting the client's experience. Not every mysterious noise or flicker is paranormal - in fact most of them aren't.
POST HUNT ISSUES
1) Not retrieving data from all team members - This is a pretty common issue. You get to the end of a hunt, everyone's tired and there is no convenient place in the field to exchange tapes and pictures. Ideally, you should have a debriefing area to work on this right afterwards, but usually people just try to get together later in the week. The downside is if there is a falling out with a team member and they leave with the data.
2) Not reviewing data - It can be pretty difficult to sit down and watch or listen to hours of blankness looking for something significant. If you are fortunate enough to find someone with the time and patience to do this consistently, then hang on to them. You might consider someone retired or housebound for one reason or another that is looking to participate in this field. Otherwise, you will probably have to find the discipline to do it yourself.
Putting EVP on a CD and listening at home might be one avenue. Transferring the video to VHS and fast forwarding through may work, though it is possible to miss something if you aren't patient enough.
3) Misinterpretation of data - Most beginners are very eager to get their first ghost photo or EVP. You need to use discernment and not automatically assume that every unknown pixel blip or odd sound is paranormal in origin. Study photography and use common sense. Don't let the adrenaline ruin your judgment.
4) Not studying enough - Don't settle for reading just one book on ghost hunting - read a dozen. And then, don't limit your reading to just on ghosts. Take a look at books on other paranormal subjects and the physical sciences. Learn how to edit photos in Photoshop or an audio program. Well-roundedness goes a long way in this field.
On a lonely walk this morning A light mist in the air Dark clouds laughing at me in silence Casting shadows through my hair In the distance I saw a woman Dressed in black with eyes of grey She wore her pain like a shackled spirit Eternal life was her debt to pay The lady wore black It's the sign of the prisoners lives The lady wore black See the years through the tears in her eyes The lady wore black Her mystic power calls to me The lady wore black Her love can set me free The wind song whispered a warning Telling me to beware Of the quiet shadowed woman And of the sadness I would share We sat together for sometime together in silence Never speaking in words Of all her thoughts she spoke with her eyes And I listened remembering all I heard (Refrain) The words she spoke were of forgotten lives And of all knowledge gained Mem'ries I had and didn't know why With a smile she explained I should have listened to the wind's cold warning And walked the other way I touched her soul and now I bear her sentence But for her love I'll gladly pay "The Lady Wore Black"