So, I shot a ghost at this wedding…

Let me preface this post with this: I’m not a believer or disbeliever in the supernatural world. I’m open to the idea of everything from God to earth-bound spirits. Sensational headline aside, I can only internally settle on my experience last Saturday while shooting my first wedding at Tarpy’s Roadhouse in Monterey as – unexplainable, curious, and fascinating. As I’ll explain, several things happened independently that, at the time, didn’t bring to mind “ghostly presence” of their own merit. It was only two days later, after coming across a strange photo while sorting through images, that my brain led down the path that has arrived at this blog post.

I’ll begin with the moment that I realized something unexplainable had occurred. As I said before, this alone didn’t originally strike me as particularly odd; and I possibly could’ve overlooked it completely had I not put it in context of other things that had happened, or with what I would learn a few minutes later. It was Monday morning, two days after I photographed this awesome wedding, and I was at The Buttery in Santa Cruz sipping my Americano and sorting through the 1600+ photos I’d shot two days earlier, picking which ones to keep or throw out. I was looking at a series of images of the bride and groom dancing with some friends. They were on the outdoor upper patio (next to the “Library”), which served as a small dance area next to the bar at Tarpy’s Roadhouse in Monterey. Since it was dark, I had two off-camera light sources illuminating the scene – a 30″ softbox camera right as the key light, and a single speedlight clamped to an elevated garden/fence area that was providing backlighting to the dancers at about hip height.

The thing that caught my attention in the photo was the distinct white vapor cloud illuminated by the single speedlight. My first thought was “Did my flash explode?” But no, it continued to work normally in subsequent shots. I was taking photos pretty much every second for this series, so I backed up in time by one second. In this first photo (below), you can see the “mist cloud” forming around the periphery of the brightest part of the flash, but it clearly hasn’t coalesced yet. Keep in mind the time between this shot and THE shot is only one second. The frames immediately thereafter were blocked by people, but no evidence of any smoke cloud can be seen in between. The first clear shot I had after the cloud had fully formed was 12 seconds later, and there was no evidence of it at all in that shot. Keep in mind that without the flashes going off, you really can’t see anything as it was so dark. Here’s the series of photos, my comments beneath each (note: all images shot on a Nikon D800 w/ 50mm lens @ F2.8 1/50th sec ISO 800; off-camera Nikon speedlights are triggered and synced by Pocketwizard Flex TT5 units; RAW files edited in Lightroom, but only with basic exposure tweaks):

Vapor Cloud - Spiritual Presence - Caught on Camera - Tarpy

8:46:03pm (-1 second from event) – Mist cloud is starting to form, visible around flare from the flash

Vapor Cloud - Spiritual Presence - Caught on Camera - Tarpy

8:46:04pm (unexplained event full visual) – the vapor/mist(?) cloud is fully formed abour 4 or 5 feet behind and in-between the couple. It appears to emanate from the same location as there’s no directional movement. It is clearly a thick or dense phenomena with compact shape, not spreading out or dissipating like you’d expect smoke to do outdoors with people nearby dancing and moving quickly, which would disturb the air in the small patio area.


CLOSEUP - Vapor Cloud - Spiritual Presence - Caught on Camera - Tarpy

Closeup crop of the cloud, highlights compressed a little bit to enhance detail.

Vapor Cloud - Spiritual Presence - Caught on Camera - Tarpy

8:46:05pm (+1 second from event) – Although the bride is blocking most of the area, upon closer inspection along the edge of the bride’s profile head/shoulder, there is some air distortion, like whorls or turbulence, something I’d associate with heat distortion from a jet engine

CLOSEUP - Vapor Cloud - Spiritual Presence - Caught on Camera - Tarpy

Closeup crop, notice the whorl-like disturbance in the air. Not sure if the cloud is still there behind the bride (given that’s it is only one second after its full appearance).


CLOSEUP - Vapor Cloud - Spiritual Presence - Caught on Camera - Tarpy

I converted the same crop into black and white to see the disturbance a little more clearly along the bride’s profile.

Vapor Cloud - Spiritual Presence - Caught on Camera - Tarpy

8:46:09pm (+5 seconds from event) – This is a strange triple exposure, something that happens when another flash goes off at almost the same time as mine. Except that normally this would mean an overexposure. I have three speedlights firing into the soft box camera right, providing most of the illumination here, I can only assume that each of these flashes went off slightly out of sync over the course of the 1/50th second exposure, which–to be honest, has never happened in the several years I’ve been using the setup. The off-camera flash system I use is synced by radio frequency aka instantaneous, no lag. I can’t explain this electrical stuttering. At all. If there wasn’t all this other circumstantial evidence of weirdness going on, I wouldn’t have thought twice about this photo and would have quickly culled it out, deleting it forever.

Vapor Cloud - Spiritual Presence - Caught on Camera - Tarpy

8:46:10pm (+6 seconds from event) – Although the groom is blocking the space, you can’t see any evidence of the vapor behind – as you’d expect from smoke or mist dissipating 6 seconds later

Vapor Cloud - Spiritual Presence - Caught on Camera - Tarpy

8:46:12pm (+8 seconds from event) – Again, nothing to be seen in-between or behind people

Vapor Cloud - Spiritual Presence - Caught on Camera - Tarpy

8:46:16pm (+12 seconds from event) – The first shot where you can clearly see the rear flash and space around it – and no distortion or vapor is apparent. Just the normal lens flare.

Vapor Cloud - Spiritual Presence - Caught on Camera - Tarpy

8:46:18pm (+14 seconds from event) – Similar composition to the original photo – and there’s nothing to see here. I didn’t notice any of this while shooting as it was dark and I wasn’t looking at the camera between shots. I’m just glad I was snapping off photos so quickly so I could get a real sense of the fleeting nature of this phenomenon.

Of course my culling process completely came to a halt at this point as I went back and forth through this series of images. My mind naturally sought explanations for the visual anomaly, and every one I had to discount.

  1. Was it caused by the flash physically exploding or malfunctioning? No, it was manually set at its lowest setting of 1/128th power, and continued to operate and expose the scene consistently before and after.
  2. Was it caused by someone’s cigarette? No, there was nobody standing there, and nobody smoking anywhere anyway. Plus the cloud appeared at hip/chest height.
  3. Was it caused by someone exhaling? No, again no one there, not high enough in the air, and it was a warm evening.
  4. Was it caused by the vapor from the heat of the flash? This seemed like the most rational explanation, given it happened near the same height as the speedlight, BUT barely any heat is given off at that power setting, and even at full power the heat can only be felt an inch or two away. Plus, it was not. Cold. Out.

Perhaps the strangest factor is how quickly it appeared and disappeared. If it was smoke, it would have lingered and dissipated, likely floating up in the process. This white cloud appeared at a specific location, not at head height, without any implied directional movement, and disappeared just as quickly. It reminds me of the photos you see of the cloud around a jet fighter formed by a sonic boom. And even though there were periodic low-flying aircraft given our proximity to the airport, that by no means explains this phenomenon.

OK, so back to the “other things” that, in their context, led me to consider more supernatural explanations for the visual conundrum I’d captured on my camera. Earlier in the evening, I’d walked out to the patio to set up my lights for the dancing that was going to happen, and the bride and groom accompanied me. The couple were standing together about 8 feet from me and we were talking. Then the bride exhaled and noticed that she could see her breath. So of course both her and her husband started breathing out so we could see their breath forming in the air. We all just kind of laughed about it, thinking it was weird as it wasn’t cold out. I asked her later (after finding the weird photo) if she remembered that moment, and whether she felt cold. She said she did remember, but that she didn’t have a sense of being cold at the time. Anyways, when I recalled this event, it took on a different context given the photo I’d found – and of course the photo by association became even more mysterious. Which leads me to the third “thing” that really solidified things in my mind as a possible-supernatural-occurence.

The Buttery doesn’t have wi-fi, so I got out my phone and performed a quick google search for “Tarpy’s Roadhouse Ghost” – and guess what? Turns out the place is considered haunted by many people, especially those who have worked at the property. I didn’t go into this situation knowing Tarpy’s has an interesting history, I only knew it was an old building that used to be a house. After a little online research, I discovered the original owner had been lynched in 1873 for murdering his neighbor, and that over the years there’s been quite a few “tragic deaths” on the property. I watched a seven minute YouTube video filled with interviews from employees’ stories of “chills,” seeing a ghostly female apparition, strange voices, and even poltergeist-like presences making a mess in the kitchen. Take all this with a grain of salt, as I do, but keep in mind my experience began with a strange photo, and I made my way to the ghostly/supernatural presence only based on my direct experience. I had no idea about the history of the house when I shot the wedding, and I can honestly say that the whole experience on the wedding day was awesome. The staff at Tarpy’s are all incredibly nice, the food is insanely good – so I don’t want to tarnish the image of the restaurant in any way. I’d happily shoot there again, although I would definitely be on the lookout for weirdness!

So was it a ghost? I don’t know. It was a cloud of mist that was most definitely there, captured in high-resolution and well-lit. Given the strange breath-clouds experienced earlier in the day, and now knowing a little about its haunted history, I’m definitely open to the possibility that I photographed a unexplained presence that night. I find the whole thing fascinating, and will leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. Until next time…

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  • April 30, 2013 - 7:07 pm

    Tory Hoke - Umm… so I'm pretty sure our photographer does this with all his clients: "Sure, YOU'RE the special snowflake that had a spectral event at your wedding!" Still. If he thinks it's interesting, I do, too. I prayed a lot that weekend, and I choose to believe this grace note was God's thumbprint on the night, as if to say, "I was here, and you are okay."

  • April 30, 2013 - 7:22 pm

    Alena Davis - Well, it certainly is very weird!

  • April 30, 2013 - 7:50 pm

    Mike Felts - What if ghosts just turn out to be God passing gas?

  • April 30, 2013 - 8:10 pm

    Laura Crow - CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • April 30, 2013 - 9:09 pm

    Tory Hoke - Mike — that is the least popular Joan Osborne song.

  • April 30, 2013 - 11:03 pm

    Lacy Wetmore - Alright. Your wedding had just surpassed mine in coolness. Which is saying something.

  • May 1, 2013 - 12:01 am

    Chris Kesler - So….you're haunted?

  • April 30, 2013 - 7:07 pm

    Tory Adore - Umm… so I’m pretty sure our photographer does this with all his clients: “Sure, YOU’RE the special snowflake that had a spectral event at your wedding!” Still. If he thinks it’s interesting, I do, too. I prayed a lot that weekend, and I choose to believe this grace note was God’s thumbprint on the night, as if to say, “I was here, and you are okay.”

  • May 1, 2013 - 4:14 am

    Chelsea Coleman - Craziness, and more importantly, congrats!

  • May 2, 2013 - 9:09 am

    Sandra Moeggenberg - Hmm Tory, you need to stop being so darned cool that ghosts want to attend your nuptials!

  • January 31, 2014 - 2:20 am

    Barry Taff - Given the possible paranormal history of that location, such images are not surprise me. In order to get a better overall perspective here, it'd be necessary to know some details about the medical histories of the people at the center of these events, including the photographer. However, what everyone's failed to notice is that in the third photo, where the image of the cloud is enlarged for detail, there appears to be an even more anomalous image at the top right of the cloud structure bordering the bride's dress. I will not say what I see there, as such would influence your judgment in objectively evaluation the image. But please tell me if you see anything.

  • January 30, 2014 - 6:44 pm

    Barry Taff, Ph.D. - These types of luminous, photographic anomalies are not all that uncommon, especially given the historical location reference cited here. I find it odd the no one has commented on an even stranger anomaly in the third photo where the cloud is enlarge for detail. Does anyone see anything unusual in the upper, right-hand portion of the cloud that’s right next to the upper edge of the bride’s dress. So as to not influence anyone’s objective opinion I will not say what I see. What do you see there? Barry E. Taff, Ph.D. Parapsychologist

  • January 31, 2014 - 3:21 am

    Abel Garcia - I attempted to download the photograph because it's a clone or copy of the original. It looks like the admin has locked them down because my hunch that they are manufactured or photo edited.

  • January 30, 2014 - 7:30 pm

    A Garcia - The one thing you learn in digital forensics is that the filters don’t pixelated like the photographs. So unless you want to be known as a fraud could you send me the originals for verification, because these are all manufactured photos.

  • January 31, 2014 - 3:34 am

    Abel Garcia - As i thought it's fraud.

    EXIF.Make / Software EXIF.Model Quality Subsamp Match?
    ————————- ———————————– —————- ————–
    CAM:[NIKON ] [E5700 ] [RAW ] Yes
    SW :[Adobe Photoshop Elements ] [Save As 10 ]

    NOTE: Photoshop IRB detected
    NOTE: EXIF Software field recognized as from editor
    Based on the analysis of compression characteristics and EXIF metadata:

    ASSESSMENT: Class 1 – Image is processed/edited <—- photoshopped

    file: So, I shot a ghost at this wedding… GoodEye Photography + Design Blog_files6651_d800_Tory_and_Jeremy_Tarpys_Roadhouse_Monterey_Wedding_Photography_web.jpg

  • January 31, 2014 - 3:38 am

    Abel Garcia - i knew taking digital forensics in college would pay off someday ;D

  • January 30, 2014 - 7:53 pm

    Chris Schmauch - Hey there, easy on the accusations there buddy – of course these photos are edited; the raw files are processed in lightroom, and I ran my usual photoshop action to put my watermark on them. You don’t have to look at the metadata to realize those basic things have occurred. I’m not hiding the originals either, I just didn’t post them. I’m not making any outlandish claims about the visual anomaly, simply putting it out there as I was fascinated by it. I’m out of town at the moment but can post the original NEF files if you can present a more respectful tone. I know the anonymous nature of the internet makes it easy to act like a jerk, but I’m telling you right now that I didn’t manipulate the photos in any way, as you have so quickly accused.

  • January 31, 2014 - 3:58 am

    Abel Garcia - Here is a pdf of the effects of the program the photographer/manufacturer is using.

  • January 30, 2014 - 8:14 pm

    A Garcia - Mad bro? There is really no need to send me the originals. I have no reason to apologies, but to bring the fascination to peoples minds of how far people are wiling to go. The method of you handling this situation is another indicator that there is a integrity issue. So god speed to you.

  • January 30, 2014 - 8:56 pm

    Chris Schmauch - I’m not even sure what you’re trying to say man. Good luck with the cyber-sleuthing, though.

  • January 30, 2014 - 9:04 pm

    Chris Schmauch - Nice PDF from 2007 – sorry to say I don’t even own Photoshop Elements, which you claim I used…and certainly none of the lame filters mentioned in that PDF. As I said the raw files are available to anyone who asks, which kind if throws a wrench in your accusation.

  • January 30, 2014 - 9:10 pm

    Chris Schmauch - Wow Barry, I didn’t notice that – looks like a dog skull with a horn or something. Freaky. Let me know if you want any of the original raw files.

  • January 31, 2014 - 5:36 am

    Darren Davies - Pareidolia?

  • January 30, 2014 - 10:13 pm

    Jolene Rae Harrington - I would be most interested, Chris, in what Dr. Taff has to say upon further examination. He’s probably the most reliable, no-nonsense paranormal investigator in the world and does frequent lectures and media interviews–wouldn’t it be cool to have one of your photos as one of his exhibits? I think you’ve presented this case admirably, with appropriate details and an open mind. It’s so easy for the uninformed to hurl accusations and jump to conclusions. The process is: you start with a mystery, you gather all the facts, eliminate possible prosaic explanations one at a time, factor in the context, compare with similar well-investigated/documented cases, make a tentative conclusion pending further evidence. Thank you for sharing this information, and I’m sorry you were flamed for doing so.

  • January 30, 2014 - 10:16 pm

    Chris Schmauch - Thanks Jolene, if Dr Taff is interested I’d be happy to provide whatever he needs. Your comment was a breath of fresh air, faith in humanity restored 🙂

  • January 30, 2014 - 10:34 pm

    Barry Taff, Ph.D. - Chris: I’d very much like to see and examine original raw files. Please feel free to send them to my email address;

    By the way, what I saw in the upper right portion of the cloud was not what you see. This is where we project our own interpretations into an image that our brain cannot make sense of. But as I’ve looked at literally thousands of such photos over the last 45 years, I’m keenly aware of not allowing myself to fall prey to that problem. It’s sort of seeing a face in a cloud in the sky or in the fumes of a fire. Our brain can easily be tricked through primary process mechanisms.


  • January 31, 2014 - 2:20 am

    Barry Taff - Given the possible paranormal history of that location, such images are not surprise me. In order to get a better overall perspective here, it’d be necessary to know some details about the medical histories of the people at the center of these events, including the photographer. However, what everyone’s failed to notice is that in the third photo, where the image of the cloud is enlarged for detail, there appears to be an even more anomalous image at the top right of the cloud structure bordering the bride’s dress. I will not say what I see there, as such would influence your judgment in objectively evaluation the image. But please tell me if you see anything.

  • January 31, 2014 - 4:18 pm

    Pris Ect - You can see it better it's a face but it really tree trunk.

  • January 31, 2014 - 5:49 pm

    Kirsten Marie Seaver - Abel is right- after looking at the picture from far away and up close-the survey says it is a fraudulent picture trying to be passed off as legitimate. Not only do you have a program that validates the farce- take a really good look and realize that the so called anomaly does not fit naturally.

  • January 31, 2014 - 1:37 pm

    Barry Taff, Ph.D. - Although I’m not trying to cloud the issue here (excuse the pun), I now see even more anomalous images in the upper right section of the enlarged cloud edging on the bride’s dress strap. I had a few friends look at it as well, and almost everyone saw something different depending on who is looking at it. This makes objective evaluation very difficult due to the intense subjective interpretation here. But in the end, all that really matters is the precise and detailed examination of the raw footage.

  • February 1, 2014 - 1:32 pm

    Frances Marie - …and this is why I love proper photography 😀

  • February 2, 2014 - 5:54 pm

    Jc Anderson - Has anyone considered there are lights strung about the dance area? as for the fleeting mist, it appears to be smoke. I don't have any special equipment except for common sense.

  • February 5, 2014 - 11:16 pm

    Barry Taff - Some preliminary enhancement of the cloud image suggests that it is any but a normal cloud of smoke. In fact, the more I analyze it, the clearer the anomaliy shows up

  • February 20, 2014 - 10:39 am

    Tina Parsley Glymph - @abel is it possible that it was just photoshopped for filter purposes and not an edition to the photograph? Most of the pictures I shoot are filtered or shopped, but is that specific image added?

  • February 20, 2014 - 10:48 am

    Tina Parsley Glymph - 3rd picture top right looks like a full straight forward shot of a dogs head.

  • February 28, 2014 - 1:37 pm

    Jolene Rae Harrington - JC Andersen: Dr. Taff and his colleagues have been conducting analysis of the photo originals which show no evidence of being doctored. Nor do the lights have an impact on the appearance of the anomaly.

  • February 28, 2014 - 1:54 pm

    Barry Taff, Ph.D. - At this point, I’ve subjected the cloud image to numerous types and methods of enhancement, line, edge, contract and various spectrum breakdowns. No matter how I enhanced and analyzed this photo, the anomalous image in the upper right hand section of the luminosity near the woman’s dress strap remained constant. If this the result of CGI, the anomaly would get washed out through the methods. In fact, most of the processing methods brought even greater clarity and resolution to the anomaly, the exact opposite of what one would expect if this were a fraud. Even though there’s more work to be done here, the analysis thus far strongly suggests that there was something there either emitting or reflecting light, but that something was not visible to the naked eye. While this does not prove that ghosts exist, it certainly tends to rule out any sophisticated manipulation by the photographer or his associates. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what our debunker here is pontificating, as it appears that this individual is an online paranormal bully, who goes around claiming that everything is a fraud. When he started claiming that our photos from the San Pedro case were fraudulent or misrepresentations of normal events, that’s where I drew the line. We were there over the course of several years investigating that woman’s case, he was not. Therefore, his debunking efforts ring hollow.