What Not to Do
Don't use your phone-camera. Seriously, don't even think about it. If that's your only option available at the time, here's what you should do. Forget about fumbling around looking for your phone, instead focus 100% of your senses on the UFO itself. First, make a mental note of the current time of day, location and weather conditions. Second, take note of the shape, size, color, intensity and direction of travel of the object. Even the latest and greatest phone and tablet-cams can't hold a candle to a DSLR or even a mid-range point and shoot (at least not yet). The 9mp camera in my Galaxy S2 is wonderful...until you try to zoom in on anything in the distance. Or use it in the dark.
|UFO added to photo using a popular app.|
The web is absolutely flooded with out of focus, pixelated blobs or multi-colored swooshes that people breathlessly refer to as their "UFO sighting" when no photo at all--and a more detailed eyewitness description--would have been far more useful to an investigator. I won't even go into the possibility of lint or dirt on the lens from having it shoved in your pocket contaminating the image, or the plethora of apps now available that allow you to insert a fake "UFO" into your photos.
The bottom line is that out of tens of thousands of phonecam shots of UFO's that have been taken, I can count on one hand how many of those are actually useful. Some may argue 'it's better than nothing.' Yes and no. In most cases it only adds unnecessary clutter to the testimony, and in some cases gives diehard skeptics an even bigger bone to chew on. The human eye will always be FAR superior to any camera, combine that with our ability to process more than just what we're seeing visually and our brain becomes a far superior option to a smartphone.
Your Moment of Opportunity
|The Floridad, Uruguay UFO photo sequence|
That all said, let's assume you have an actual camera on you at the time of the sighting. Great. If the camera has a burst mode, enable it immediately. Taking a handful of shots is borderline useless. As an investigator, I want to see 10...20...40 shots in succession. This not only enables me to determine a rough trajectory of the object but it rules out the entry-level hoaxer who is typically lazy and won't spend the time to doctor 20 individual photos.
Secondly, and this is critical, try to establish a frame of reference. If the object is hovering above the horizon line, make sure you begin your sequence with an establishing photo that shows the surroundings, the horizon line, the tree tops, any nearby landmarks, buildings, etc. Even if the object is nearly too small to see at that zoom level, don't worry about it. A frame of reference is crucial in determining a variety of factors when analyzing a photo. Next, zoom in halfway, not all the way because most cameras will hunt for a focus lock for precious seconds while your target could be moving or even disappear entirely while you're trying to find it in frame. Fire off a mid-range burst of shots, stop, re-establish a new focus lock if necessary and fire off a second burst. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Calm, Cool and Collected
At this point you should be multi-tasking and by that I mean looking for the nearest solid structure to lean your body against. Even the best anti-shake cameras in the world aren't perfect and it's critical to try and stabilize yourself before you attempt any further zooming. It could be a wall, a tree, the roof of a car, even a street sign or lamp post. Once you feel sufficiently stable, zoom in for the money shot. Be patient, it will seem like the camera isn't cooperating with you to establish a focus lock on a distant object in the sky. If you're a camera whisperer and you feel confident focusing manually, by all means this is your opportunity. Most point and shoots are too difficult to focus manually, but DSLR's are typically much quicker and easier. Again, shoot in burst mode whenever possible. When you depress that shutter and hold it down not only are you taking a rapid series of shots but you're also increasing the stability of your shot by instinctively gripping the camera even tighter. If you're like me, your hands will want to involuntarily shake due to the adrenaline rush and excitement. Try to remain calm and focused, this could be your first and final shot at capturing something extraordinary on record.
Luck Favors the Prepared
Tripods. You never have one handy when you need it, but even if you did you probably wouldn't have time to use it. More than 80% of UFO sightings last less than 30 seconds and that's just about how long it takes to get even the slickest tripod deployed. Now if this is an event that occurs on a regular basis and you have the time to pre-plan for it's arrival, by all means have a tripod deployed and ready to go. Have TWO ready and strategically positioned if possible. But more often than not this won't be the case. You'll be in your car driving near a forest or a lake at dusk and your wife will nonchalantly point out a glowing disc hovering above the opposite shoreline. Be ready! Have a disposable 35mm camera in the glovebox. You may not be able to zoom, but film is priceless when it comes to UFO footage because it's still higher resolution than even the best digital camera. If you own an extra camera that's maybe a little older and doesn't get much use anymore, keep it in the car or throw it in your briefcase or purse for the commute to work, you never know when an opportunity will present itself and you don't want to be the person saying "I didn't have a camera with me." I bought my nephew a pair of binoculars with a built-in digital camera a couple years ago, it was the best thing since sliced bread. They're cheap enough now (less than $50) that it's actually possible to have a couple of them stashed in strategic spots.
A Shot in the Dark
|This does nobody any good.|
But what if it's dark? Your challenge has now become exponentially more difficult. It's notoriously hard to get a focus lock on a pinpoint of light much less adjust your aperture so it's not wide open for multiple seconds creating those wonderfully useless multi-colored ribbons of light photos we see all over the web. If you have a night shot mode on your camera, enable it. If you have a steadyshot or VR mode on your camera, enable it. I know it's hard, but try to stay as steady as possible and rest either yourself or the camera against a solid surface: the roof of your car, a nearby light pole or street sign. The less you move around the more visual data an investigator will have to ascertain from the footage. Videographic stabilizers only go so far, especially with night time footage because stabilization software has a very difficult time with light streaks.
I realize these are mostly fundamental, common sense points I've been making here, but in the adrenaline rush of the moment most people 'black out' and forget everything. For instance, if we can't hear anything in the footage over the shouts of "HOLY SHIT!!! OH MY GOD, IT'S A FUCKING UFO!!" then we can't determine if the object is making any sound, even a fairly distant object. A low level, low frequency 'hum' or 'buzz' is typically associated with giant black triangle UFO sightings. Capturing the audible evidence of a UFO is just as important as the visual evidence. I realize it will be difficult to contain yourself verbally during such a sighting, but try to replace expletives with whispered details of what your eye is capturing, not the camera. In many cases what the eyewitness is describing visually doesn't match up with what the camera is capturing for any number of reasons, so a verbal description can be helpful in an investigation.
The Diamond of Deceit
Once you've captured your footage it's time to analyze it and reach a whole multitude of incorrect conclusions about it, especially if it involves a pinpoint of light in the distance. The first misconception people make about cameras is that what you see in the video playback is exactly what the object looked like. Cameras don't lie, right? Wrong. They are imperfect machines built by other imperfect machines and you have to keep in mind a number of common artifacts that can appear in film, digital images and video. Halo's, atmospheric distortion, lens flares, digital interpolation...the list is long. Probably one of the most common misidentifications is the dreaded diamond of death. Most cameras have an aperture with one of three geometric shapes--a diamond, hexagon or heptagon.
|Aperture shapes vary according to the number of petals they use.|
This is an artifact of the camera having either a 4, 6 or 7 bladed aperture. Many older generation video cameras have a 4 bladed aperture which can turn a round point of light into a glowing diamond at full zoom. Here's an excellent example of how easily one can be fooled into thinking that distant light in the sky is anything other than an aircraft.
The Irony of Truth
We live in a cynical world equal parts skeptic and believer, it's an unfortunate fact that your 'mind blowing' UFO video may not be as impressive as you think it is. Youtube is bursting at the seams with videos entitled "ABSOLUTELY ASTONISHING UFO FOOTAGE - BEST EVER RECORDED!!!!" and the vast majority of them are shaky, blurry, 240p garbage that serve only to further muddy the already murky waters of UFO videos. In this day and age people expect slick HD footage, if it's not 720p we're not even going to bother paying attention. The UFO footage dilemma is that the higher resolution your footage is, the higher our scrutiny of said footage will be. Ironically, the better your footage is the more people write it off as 'fake' or CGI! So you cannot assume the footage will stand on it's own, there needs to be more specific 'metadata' if you will, which is why I said it's important to have a good corroborating eyewitness testimony along with specifics like location, time, date, weather conditions, etc.
The video above is a good example of a well recorded, close up and clear UFO sighting by Mauricio Ruiz from Alvin, Texas which has subsequently been investigated by multiple researchers and (thus far) has not been proven to be a hoax or fake. It was recorded on cassette tape with his camcorder on April 11, 2008. This sighting has a number of interesting elements worth noting, such as Mauricio's calm demeanor during the experience and the obvious agitation expressed by his dog. Is it the best footage ever? No, but it presents a strong case and I felt it was noteworthy. (Watch the full episode and results of the footage analysis here)
At some point someone out there is going to capture the most amazing UFO footage in history in high definition, steady, stabilized zoom with a high quality camera. It will be independently analyzed and vetted by professionals, determined to be genuine, and we will truly have a piece of visual history making headlines. Until that day comes, keep your eyes to the sky and your camera always at the ready.
Feel free to contact us with your own UFO footage.