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    The CIA’s Guide to Taking Pictures of UFOs

    Written by

    Jordan Pearson

    Staff Writer (Canada)

    It’s a stellar time to be someone who knows that the truth is out there, and to trust absolutely no one.

    Around this time last year, amateur Freedom of Information Act enthusiast John Greenewald, Jr. uploaded 130,000 pages of formerly classified documentation on the US Air Force’s UFO investigations between 1947 and 1969. On Sunday, the CIA itself followed suit—sorta—by highlighting a handful of documents related to its own UFO projects, mostly in the 40s and 50s. Why? Apparently even the feds are stoked on the new season of The X-Files, which premiered on Monday.

    There are tons of curiosities in the CIA's collection of UFO documents , including some referring to the persistent efforts of famous UFO truthers, including Major Donald Keyhoe and chemical engineer Leon Davidson, to declassify CIA documents on UFOs in the 1950s. Also buried in the pile are instructions for how to take a photo of a UFO for analysis.

    The instructions are from 1960, which makes some of the tech outdated, but I was able to enlist the help of Vice Canada intern and digital photo whiz Jake Kivanc to walk me through how to make the CIA’s advice work today.

    Screengrab: CIA

    This means setting your camera so that you can pull in as much detail as possible, with everything in the image in focus—you don’t want to be the person telling anyone who will listen that the black smudge in your photo is a UFO and definitely not just some dirt on your lens.

    With a modern DSLR camera, setting your camera to infinity is about the same as it was on an old film camera: turn your lens to the infinity focus point and it should keep just about every object that's a long distance off—including your UFO—in focus. Interestingly, though, some photographers believe that it was actually easier to quickly focus to infinity with a film camera. According to a post on B&H’s blog, this is because the focus rings on old lenses would often have a hard stop at the infinity marker, so photogs could set it on the go. Now, lenses with autofocus have rings that often swing right past infinity.

    “If you're trying to capture a UFO, it could be difficult if it's spontaneous and you're an amateur,” Kivanc said. “If you're a pro or you have it set up on a tripod and are ready to shoot, then it's little issue.”

    Focusing to infinity should allow you to use a lower f-stop on your camera, which will help collect more light—for some reason, UFOs love to show up at early morning and dusk—while keeping a usable depth of field.

    Screengrab: CIA

    As you can probably guess, film types don’t matter at all anymore. “Fast film” refers to film that is really sensitive to light, so you can have a faster shutter speed (letting less light into the lens) and shoot in darker conditions. These days, cameras have ISO settings that push way past what film could achieve. Tri-X was rated with an ISO of 400, for example, and the new Nikon D5 can shoot at well past 3 million ISO.

    Screengrab: CIA

    The slower your shutter speed, the longer your exposure, and the more motion blur you’re likely going to have in the resulting image. By choosing a higher shutter speed, you mitigate the effects of blur. In the past, your shutter speed in nighttime conditions might be limited by your film’s ISO, for example; go too fast with a low ISO, and you’ll get a bunch of dark smudges. But with digital photography, you can crank the ISO up and push your shutter speed comfortably past 100, so the effects of any camera shake or UFO flight will be lessened.

    Screengrab: CIA

    This one’s obvious and still holds true today, but to a lesser extent thanks to the advancements that make using higher ISO values possible. Shooting in dim light with a high f-stop and fast shutter speed produces a lot better results when your camera can shoot at 3200 ISO without much concern.

    “This would be tougher on a film camera because ISOs were so low and the only way to get the light you need to actually capture an image with high f-stop was to use external flash,” Jake said. “That would only work in a boardroom or something, not the Nevada desert.”

    The next few pieces of advice are as true for digital cameras as they were for the film cameras of the 1950s and 60s.

    Screengrab: CIA

    Screengrab: CIA

    Obviously, negatives (and making copies of negatives) are a thing of the past, so you really don’t have to worry about this. But, it is a good reminder to backup your files on a separate hard drive, just in case you lose your camera’s memory card, or your laptop is destroyed or… uhm... goes missing.

    Another advantage of digital files over film negatives, in terms of analyzing a photo from the original, is that most digital cameras can shoot RAW files—sometimes known as “digital negatives”—which are really just minimally processed sensor image data. Since these are digital from the outset, analyzers have a great deal of flexibility when manipulating the photo (in an image editor, say) to get more detail out of the shot.

    Now, whether you’re using your parents’ old film camera or the latest DSLR kit, you’ll be all set to capture proof of alien life visiting Earth—thank the CIA.

    CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that the CIA recently declassified the posted articles, when in fact they were already declassified, and that John Greenewald, Jr. updated his site in 2016, when in fact it was 2015. Motherboard sincerely regrets the error.