Sam: Check this out. (shows video)
Dean: Well, maybe it’s just a camera flare.Dean: Right.
Sam: That’s not like any camera flare I’ve ever seen. You know, a lot of cultures believe that a photograph can catch a glimpse of the soul.
They have used cameras while hunting to identify monsters. Like mirrors, photos and videos can capture aspects of the supernatural not otherwise visible. Some ghosts, they discover, can only be seen through a camera lens. Shapeshifters show a retinal flare on film, making their eyes glow eerily. More powerful creatures disrupt the signal, creating bars of static that make them all but impossible to identify.
Even if there is no monster-caused disruption in an image, it can have value. A decades old picture of someone who looks human, but has not aged since the photo was taken, is a sign of something odd. A glimpse of a hunter in the background of a hot suggests that something has happened in the vicinity before. If the makings of a crossroads demons summoning ritual are found, the image of the person that performed the ritual is inside.
Other times it is Sam and Dean themselves who have been caught on camera. Both have had their mugshots taken, and are officially fugitives. This makes it awkward when they are unexpectedly caught on camera, or find themselves accidentally starring in a reality TV show.
For personal photos, see Photo Album.
Sam and Dean investigate the case of missing hiker Tommy Collins in rural Colorado. Just prior to his disappearance, he sent his sister a video of himself at his camp. Sam discovers a humanoid shadow in three frames of the video, moving too fast to be human.
Zach Warren, the brother of Sam’s friend Becky, has been accused of killing his girlfriend. He claims that he was nowhere near her home at the time, but security camera footage seems to show him entering it just prior to the murder. Sam and Dean watch a copy of the tape, and notice a distinct retinal flare when “Zach” looks directly into the camera. Sam thinks it could be a sign that a creature is involved.
They later discover that it was a shapeshifter.
Children are being attacked by a shtriga, a witch that can appear human, and has an extended lifespan. Sam discovers a picture from the 1890s in a newspaper article on a mysterious illness affecting children. In the picture he sees the familiar face of Dr. Hydeker, a local physician, his appearance unchanged in over a century; Sam realizes he must be the shtriga.
They set a trap for him with a boy name Michael for bait, and watch through a CCTV camera as the shtriga approaches.
Sam and Dean are caught investigating the murders of Tony and Karen Giles. To give Sam time to escape and investigate, Dean agrees to give an on camera “confession” to the police. He then explains on camera that a vengeful spirit is responsible, angering the corrupt officer questioning him.
Sam and Dean discover a crossroads, and find a crossroads demon summoning charm buried in the center. Inside is the image of the summoner, George Darrow. Inside Lloyd's Bar next to the crossroads, they discover a picture of recent hellhound victims, and recognize that they are dealing with demon deals.
Banks are being robbed, but the suspected bank employees insist they are innocent. Sam and Dean talk to Ronald Resnick, a friend of one of the suspects. Ronald believes the robberies are the work of a Mandroid, and shows the brothers a security camera tape he copied which shows clear shapeshifter retinal flare. Sam and Dean go to the bank they suspect will be robbed next. Posing as security technicians, they watch the CCTV security cameras waiting for the flash of the shapeshifter’s eyes.
See, I made copies of all the security tapes. I knew once the cops got them they'd be buried. Here. (he fast-forwards) Now watch. Watch. Watch him, watch, watch! See, look! There it is! (he pauses the tape) You see? He's got the laser eyes. Cops said it was some kind of reflected light. Some kind of "camera flare". Okay? Ain't no damn camera flare.
Sam goes missing for a week, and when he returns, he has no memory of what he has done. Dean helps him retrace his steps, and they discover the house of hunter Steve Wandell, who is dead inside. He had security cameras in his home. The brothers watch the tapes, and see Sam attack and kill Steve. Dean eventually realizes that Sam was and is possessed.
Sam and Dean investigate a film set where deaths are being caused by some supernatural force. While watching dailies of the production, Sam sees a woman on film who was not there on the set. He realizes that the camera has picked up the ghost of a dead actress. This spirit, along with two others, is being controlled by a vengeful writer killing those who have destroyed his original script. He attacks an executive with the invisible ghosts. Sam uses the camera on his phone to see the ghosts, directing Dean’s shotgun blasts of salt to hold them off.
The film executive decides to put Sam’s camera technique in the movie.
There's a scene in the movie where people say that the camera caught a ghost on film. Apparently, in the background of one of the scenes, there was this boy that nobody remembers from set. Spirit photography.
Sam and Dean have their mugshots taken.
After one woman kills another in a shoe store over a pair of high heels; Sam, Dean and Bobby get a copy of the security footage so that they can see what happened. The camera shows Walter Rosen speaking to the woman who committed the crime just before she attack the second woman. The discover that Walter has been missing since the night the Devil's Gate in Wyoming opened, and suppose that he must be possessed.
Sam has touched the lucky rabbit's foot, and his life is temporarily charmed. Dean and he go to Biggerson's Restaurant for a meal. Balloons and confetti rain down on them as they are told they have won free food for a year. A picture is taken of the lucky winners and posted on the restaurant website. Unfortunately, when Sam's luck turns bad, Kubrick and Creedy spot the photo online, and use it to find and capture Sam.
Sam and Dean are investigating the Morton House and find themselves starring in the pilot of the Ghostfacers, the show envisioned by Harry Spengler and Ed Zeddmore. They even make the opening credits. The Ghostfacer cameras record the exploration of the house, the tragic death of Corbett the intern at the hands of a disturbed spirit, and Dean's sage advice on the use of salt. Ed confronts the death echo of Corbett to make him realize he is a ghost after seeing Sam attempt the same thing on another spirit. Corbett realizes what is happening and defeats the evil spirit. The Ghostfacers then show Sam and Dean their assembled footage. Sam and Dean compliment the work as memorializing Corbett while shamelessly taking advantage of his death, then leave an electromagnet next to the computer that stores the footage, wiping it from the hard drive.
Dean Smith and Sam Wesson believe there is a ghost at their company. They look online for advice, and discover guide videos on the Hell Hound's Lair website, run by two guys who seem to have learned everything from "The Winchesters," but hate them.
Adam Milligan contacts Sam and Dean, claiming to be the son of John Winchester. His mother is missing, and he needs help. The brothers are skeptical, but meet him and begin to look into the situation. They discover that in 1990 there were similar disappearances, and in the background of a newspaper photograph from the era, they see their father.
Two friends, Cal and Jim, meet in Cal's garage, to see his new car - what he believes to be Little Bastard, the car James Dean was killed in. Cal is in the driver's seat when Jim goes off to find a video camera to record Cal starting the car. Camera rolling, he returns to find Cal dead in the car. Dean watches the tape. In a frame of the video, he sees a reflection of what looks like James Dean. He and Sam later discover that the reflection was that of the shapeshifting pagan god Leshii.
Pestilence is using a retirement home as a headquarters and is experimenting on the patients. Sam and Dean sneak into the security office. They watch the monitors, hoping to identify the Horseman. They see a figure on one of the monitor that distorts the camera feed wherever his skin is exposed; bars of light cover his face and hands. Rightly guessing him to be Pestilence, they pursue him.
Crowley proves the sealing of his deal with Bobby with an iPhone picture of them kissing.
Sam finds a baby after its mother is murdered, and gets Dean to help him take care of it. They go to a supermarket to buy supplies, but when the baby starts crying in the checkout, they are at a loss to make it stop. An older woman behind them offers to help, but Dean sees her eyes flash on the nearby security monitor, and realizes she is a shapeshifter.
People are being cursed to hear the truth from everyone around them, and the brothers suspect that the goddess Veritas is responsible. They think she may be masquerading as a local TV reporter named Ashley Frank. RoboSam spends an entire night watching footage of her reports. He spots her odd reaction to dogs, and sees her eyes glow strangely on camera, signs that point to her supernatural nature.
Sam, Dean, and Bobby investigate a series of odd killings that may be Eve related. They find and interview a man who murdered his family after giving a ride to a strange girl who approached him at a gas station. The hunters, posing as the FBI, get the station's security footage. They see a girl in white whose face distorts horribly on camera.
Sam, Dean, Bobby, Ellen, and Jo are trying discover why people all across the country are suddenly dying in bizarre accidents. The only things the victims have in common is that their ancestors came to America on a ship called the Titanic. None of them are familiar with the ship. Sam researches it, and discovers that on its maiden voyage the ship nearly struck an iceberg, but was saved by the first mate, I.P. Freely. They find a picture of the officer, and realize that it is actually Balthazar who has gone back in time to stop the ship from sinking.
Sam, Dean, Bobby, and Castiel go to Eve's reported location armed with the phoenix ashes that may kill her. They find the town beset by monsters, both dead and alive. Sam, Bobby, and Castiel are arrested at a murder scene by the local police, and taken to the police station. Sam catches a glimpse of a security monitor, and sees retinal flare in their captors eyes. He raises the alarm that they are dealing with Jefferson Starships, and with Dean's help they escape.
Later, Sam and Dean enter a diner where Eve is hiding. Sam uses his phone camera to look at the diner's customers. Every one of them shows retinal flare, and the brothers realize they are the only humans in the place.
Bobby is investigating the death of H.P. Lovecraft in the 1930s and his efforts to open a door to Purgatory. A witness to the ritual, an old man named Westborough, tells Bobby the ritual succeeded, and that something came into the world and possessed his mother. He shows Bobby a picture of her, and Bobby recognizes his ex-girlfriend, Eleanor Visyak.
Sam and Dean follow the acts of Castiel through the internet. They find footage of his attack on a senator's office, and see him turn to the camera and smile just before he massacres everyone present.
In an attempt to find Sam and Dean, the leviathans send Leviathan!Sam and Leviathan!Dean on a very public killing spree so that law enforcement will track them down. They murder bank employees and customers in full view of security cameras. Later, they order a diner to film them with his cellphone while they slaughter others in the restaurant. After killing the phone's owner, they lean into the phone's view to make sure they are visible.
Sam, Dean, and Bobby discover that the brothers are once again wanted men from television coverage.
Dean finds footage of a ghost giving fake psychic Camille Thibodeaux a vision of her upcoming death. Camille's friend Melanie Golden recognizes the ghost from photos in the local history museum. Sam and Dean go to the museum and find an image of Kate Fox, the ghost from the video, and her sister, Margaret Fox, both of whom are buried in the local cemetery.
Sam and Dean are trying to discover what is killing off members of a family that owns a brewery. In the brewery office, they review security cam footage, hoping to catch a glimpse of their monster. They see nothing on the first viewing, but since they are tracking a shojo, decide they should get drunk and watch it again. Once drunk, they see the creature as it is released from a bottle and then follows its first victim.
When Freddie Costa shows up at Ennis Roth's home looking for information about what killed his girlfriend, when he begins asking Ennis questions he had already asked him, Ennis becomes suspicious and tests him by mentioning his dead father will be home soon, and they should catch up, when Freddie takes bait and agrees to stay. Ennis remembering what Sam told him about monsters real faces can be seen through a camera, Ennis pretends to get a text, and uses his camera phone and sees retinal flares coming from the eyes of Freddie, revealing himself as a shapeshifter.
The originator of spirit photography is usually said to be William H. Mumler, a photographer working in Boston in the mid-nineteenth century. He is believed by most to have been a fraud, who created a double exposure on his film, the result of which gave the illusion of a spirit next to the primary subject. On of his most famous images showed the 'ghost' of Abraham Lincoln over the shoulder of his widow, Mary Todd Lincoln. Mumler was tried but acquitted in 1869. Prior to Mumler's work, a photographer named Campbell took a picture of an empty chair that, once developed, showed a boy sitting in the chair. Campbell produced no other spirit photographs.
Photography and videography continues to be used by modern investigators attempting to capture proof of the supernatural. They are popular tools used on television series like Ghost Hunters. Cameras can capture infrared and ultraviolet light, spectrums not visible to the unaided eye, so they are thought to be a good tool for recording the presence of an energy being. Some organizations offer significant rewards for an authentic ghost image, as much as $500,000 U.S.