The Photography Tricks of Robbert van den Broeke


Dutch medium Robbert van den Broeke rose to fame in the Netherlands in the early 2000’s with his discovery of crop circles and contacts with deceased people. He made his appearance in several programmes on national TV. In 2005 he was exposed as a fraud by Rob Nanninga, board member of the Dutch Skeptical foundation Skepsis, when he used a non-existing word to describe the job of a deceased person from around 1800. This word, ‘genverbrander’, was found on a genealogical website as a typo for ‘geneverbrander’ (= someone who makes brandy), something Van den Broeke obviously had missed. He also made some photos in which images of deceased people appear. And he even managed to achieve this with people around him and using a camera which was not one of his own.

The devil which was photographed by Nanninga in ‘Van den Broeke’ style

Comeback in 2012

After being exposed Van den Broeke was away from mainstream media for some years, but beginning 2012 he made a comeback with new photographs and videos on a brand new website. In April Nanninga also gave a very plausible explanation for his photography tricks. In an article on the Skepsis blog he explains how Van den Broeke most likely makes his ghost photos.
In short: you prepare an image on your computer in an image editing program, cut it out so that the background is empty and then print the image on transparent foil (the type we used to use in the age of overhead projectors). You then cut that transparent foil to easily concealable size and hold in in front of the camera lens when making your pictures. Doing so, Nanninga made some pretty convincing ‘Van den Broeke’-like photographs.

The photo experiment by Van den Broeke

In an attempt to prove this theory wrong, Van den Broeke shot the following video. It’s a continuous shot, in which he first shows that his camera has no images preloaded on the memory card, shows that there is no transparent foil in front of the lens, takes three pictures and finally shows to the camera that two of those have ghosts in them! The spirits are Pat Delgado, a crop circle researcher, and Dave Chorley, one of the British couple who came forward in 1991 telling the world they had made many of the crop circles in the years before.

Now watch yourself: ‘Van den Broeke proves himself in a photographic experiment

This has caused quite a row in the world of crop circle enthusiasts. Not because of these pictures per se, but because of the messages, Van den Broeke claims to have received from the spirits of Delgado and Chorley. The story behind these ‘crop circle wars’ doesn’t really interest me, but if you do want to find out more about it, I suggest you start reading here.
On her website, Nancy Talbott, a staunch believer in Van den Broeke’s capabilities, gives quite some attention to this experiment. From Talbott’s website I copied the three images which were shot in the video (you can check by watching the video carefully that these are indeed those images). On his own website, Van den Broeke only shows the first two.

First photo showing the spirit of Dave Chorley

Photo 2 with Pat Delgado

‘normal’ photo 3 (crop of the original)

Talbott remarks that the time-stamps of the pictures, which seem to be taken within a timeframe of a few seconds,  appear strange:

Photo #1 (Dave Chorley) taken @ 03.21.04 am
Photo #2 (Pat Delgado) taken @ 03.28.58 am
Photo #3 (Stan w/video) taken @ 03.55.45 am

Most people would take this as a strong indication that there is some trickery involved, but time aberations happen more often when Van den Broeke takes his photos of spirits. His believers rather see this as more evidence that he has remarkable capabilities. But they seem to miss a more obvious example of his powers. If you look closely at the pictures above, you’ll notice that only in the last one the cameraman is wearing the hand strap of the camcorder!  If the photos are really taken within ten seconds or so, this hand strap found its way around his wrist without any noticeable camera shake as result. Truly remarkable!

The three images cropped to Stan. Only in the third image he is wearing the hand strap around hist wrist.

The explanation?

So let’s assume that the first two pictures were taken earlier, about a half hour before the video was shot. How did he manage to show the message of ‘no available pictures’ which points to an empty memory card at the start of the experiment? I had several ideas how to do this, but probably the suggestion by a commenter on points in the right direction. He mentions the possible use of the internal memory of the camera. At first, I didn’t think this was possible, because most camera’s I had used give an error message when you try to take a picture without a memory card inserted. But to my surprise, the camera which I bought two years ago (a Panasonic Lumix) does this without problems.

Page 77 of the manual (click to enlarge)

So, without a memory card inserted you first take a couple of ghost pictures using the trick described by Nanninga. You select the best two and delete the rest. Now you have two photos in internal memory. Insert an empty memory card and press ‘play’. The camera will give the message that there are no pictures available for display. It then just takes pressing a few buttons to copy the images in internal memory to the card. See page 77 of the manual of the camera Van den Broeke used to see how this is done. It’s important to know that it doesn’t matter whether you do this copying before or after taking new pictures: the sorting order is by the timestamp of the pictures.
After examining the video frame by frame I think I know when Van den Broeke performs the copying procedure. It’s just after making the last photo, between 1:19 and 1:22. For a couple of seconds you lose sight on his right-hand thumb, which shows up in sight again resting on the ‘Control’ button. That button must be used for the copying instructions. If he was just going to press ‘play’ he would have had to press the smaller button down left of the ‘Control’ button (as can be seen earlier in the video, when he shows the card is empty).
Also when the video camera is getting closer to get a close up of the LCD display, the first picture hasn’t shown up in the display yet. It looks like the camera was not yet ready and busy doing other things (like copying pictures from internal memory to the memory card?). Of course, Van den Broeke has to be quick to press the right buttons, but I’m sure it can be done. With some practice, you can do it blindly.
But there is still one issue with this theory which needs to be solved: listening to the video, you can hear three ‘clicks’. So Van den Broeke took three pictures. As he shows only three (in a loop) to the video camera, of which two were likely made a little while earlier, he must also have deleted two of the three pictures taken in front of the video camera. That looks a little too much to perform in two seconds together with the copying instructions. But a closer look at the video at the times he takes the pictures reveals something interesting. The photos are taken around 1:07, 1:11 and 1:16, but only around 1:12 you can see his face lighten up by the glow of the LCD which is displaying the photo which he has just taken. I strongly suspect that the sounds at 1:07 and 1:16 were added later when the video was edited (that’s just an easy copy-paste action) and that he only took one photo during the video.

Where did Van den Broeke get the images from?

As with his other famous images, sooner or later the source of the images Van den Broeke used are found in magazines, books or on the Internet. In this case, the likely source has also been found. Roger Wibberley shows this on YouTube in Robbert’s Fake shots of Pat Delgado and Dave Chorley“. [unfortunately the video is no longer available]

The documentary from which the images are taken reports on the public outing of Chorley and Doug Bowers as crop circle makers.

This post is more or less a translation of the Dutch original on “Robbert van den Broeke fotografeert weer eens wat

Update 9 September 2018
Last month American filmmaker William Gazecki accidentally acquired proof that Van den Broeke indeed uses cut-out forms he holds in front of the camera to makes his ghost photos. Gazecki was shooting for a documentary on Van den Broeke and lend him his iPhone for a short while. Van den Broeke shot some ghost photo’s with this phone, but when Gazeccki downloaded these images to his laptop he found that the iPhone had been set in ‘Live Photo’-modus so that it records a couple of seconds before each take as well. On this imagery, it is clearly visible that Van den Broeke holds up these forms before the lens. Van den Broeke now claims that Gazecki had asked him to do it this way (the way skeptics assume he does it) and that the photos made in this fashion would be used in the documentary to show that these look different than his ‘real’ ghost photos. Read Gazecki’s statement and see the imagery on his Facebook page.

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28 thoughts to “The Photography Tricks of Robbert van den Broeke”

  1. You write ” If you look closely at the pictures above, you’ll notice that only in the last one the cameraman is wearing the hand strap of the camcorder!”. And? In the section above this there is a 7 minute difference between the photos. I don’t think what you refer to as seconds are seconds at all, but minutes:

    Photo #1 (Dave Chorley) taken @ 03.21.04 am (3:24 and 04 seconds)
    Photo #2 (Pat Delgado) taken @ 03.28.58 am (3:28 and 58 seconds)
    Photo #3 (Stan w/video) taken @ 03.55.45 am (3:55 and 45 seconds)

    1. I think you miss the point: the video suggests that the images were taken only seconds apart. The time stamps show differently, but Talbott finds a (lame) excuse for this: the time stamps could have been manipulated by the spirit world… But the hand strap proves that the pictures were not taken within seconds.

  2. Oh come on, you can’t expect Nancy to look at this objectively! She has invested too much time in promoting Robbert. Robbert is a cheap illusionist who has routinely sent me threats for daring to question his “work”. And this new “alien limbs” story is just pathetic!

    I offered to get Robbert tested by Chris French, a leading and respected scientist, but just got a barrage of abuse in return. Robbert is a fraud, and an amateurish one at that.

    1. This latest stunt is indeed completely over the top, will Nancy still say she believes him? But I definitely prefer these pictures of hacked off octopus tentacles over the pictures and video of men whose throats were being cut with all kinds of tools, which he was sending on his Twitter account.

      At least he and Roy Boschman seem to have improved on their crop circle skills. When Boschmann is involved the designs look more complicated and better executed. Of course with two people it is easier to do that and when RvdB makes circles on his own, he has to take all the gear on his motorbike (Boschman owns a car, RvdB doesn’t).

  3. Why can’t you just meet the man yourself and give him your camera which you have prepared ahead of time with a clean drive with no photos? There is no way for a person to add additional images on to a photo that is prepared ahead of time with a clean drive. How could he possibly manipulate that?

    It’s a simple experiment. Do it yourself.

    It seems the skeptics are really scratching their heads with this one and trying so hard to prove it wrong. Just do that simple experiment.

    1. Van den Broeke has been challenged several times to collaborate on such an experiment, by people from Skepsis (Dutch Skeptics foundation) amongst others. But he has always refused to work with people who he doesn’t pick himself. He prefers to work with people like Nancy Talbott, who he calls scientists, but who in fact have shown to be naive believers in Van den Broeke’s alleged paranormal abilities.

      1. Perhaps ‘challenge’ is the operative word. The realm of the ‘numinous’ is sensitive and unstable. There is such a thing as psychic attack – its not imaginary, and it happens more than one might think. At a more mundane level, one can walk into a room where there had been a strong altercation earlier. A sensitive (empath -and there are a lot of them) will pick up on the energy that is still in the room and either suddenly feel agitated or negative in mood…if they are self-aware, they will notice the sudden shift in their mood and recognise that it does not belong to them. When you work with life and death on a daily basis, you come to develop some level of extrasensory awareness -you simply have to. Why would Robbert do anything with an association that is basically hostile towards anything that threatens a fairly limited paradigm. As soon as he walked in, he’d be psychically attacked, by the group.

        When a group does not want change -and humans fear change of any kind, it seems (basic psychology -sorry), they will go to any lengths to cut down a tall poppy. The real give away in all of this – is this; the virulent attacks on Robbert which are nothing less than character assassination (a very old MO -not even original) go completely against what he is promoting through his works with helping the herd of sheep recognise that there are more than 3 dimensions.

        Hey, maybe you are the one who is hacking into his computer etc -well -it does beg the question?

        1. That’s just a very poor excuse, which is uttered by people who claim to have paranormal abilities but are unwilling to show those under controlled circumstances. Somehow more skeptical people present will make it impossible for them to show those abilities just by their presence alone. Yeah, right.

          In the case of Van den Broeke it’s even more clear. He has stopped working with people who would not be seen as very competetent in this matter by skeptics, but were just showing a glimpse of critical thinking.

          You are assuming that all rubbish which came from RvdB’s channels (mail. Facebook, Twitter) cannot be of his doing, because of his public messages of love etc, for which he claims to be responsible. The evidence which I have seen shows otherwise and I hope the police will dig deep enough to show that beyond doubt and stop it.

      1. Come on Nancy, these ‘experiments’ of Robbert and Stan are so amateurish. Have you already watched their last one carefully? It’s so obvious that he switches cameras at a 1:37. Also, just watch his eyes at the moment he walks upto Stan, focussing on the other camera he has to pick up (which is oriented in another way as the camera he uses to start with, small error, but they are usually quite sloppy). Every time they make a new video, it usually takes just a few minutes to figure out how their trick works this time.

        By the way, I read your statement about your boycott of This really made me laugh. So you think using photos from an admitted hoaxer (who knows what he is talking about concerning the crop circle business) is worse than using photos from a delusional guy, whose tricks are so obvious that no sane person will be believe they are not faked?
        Not to mention his insane hate mail including death threats in e-mails and on Twitter (to me personal as well). Always the same lame excuse: ‘I didn’t do it, some mean hacker is trying to frame me’. Has he ever appllogized in person directly for his behaviour to the people affected? It’s just that the police has more important things to do that they don’t want to look into this. There is prove that this ‘hacker’-excuse is complete bullocks and that he always has had control over his Twitter account during his latest stream of filth (in January this year).

        Robbert doesn’t need uncritical admiration but some good advice and mental health support, I guess.

        1. I’m sorry – but there is no evidence of camera switch at 1:37 mins. Sure he approaches his colleague. But there is no real indication of anything other than an approach. I see no movement in the arms to suggest putting aside one camera in favour of another. If you are going to assassinate a person’s character you really do need to have incontrovertible evidence. Otherwise, your own methodology comes into question, as does the question of what is really ‘driving’ you. Skeptics are a dime a dozen. And just as well the evolution of consciousness does not depend on them, or we’d still be burning women at the stake for being good carers and medics.

          If you want to catch him out, replicate his work. That is, after all the scientific method, isn’t it? If tearing Robbert van den Broecke down is one of your reasons for existing, then put in a better effort. Otherwise, your own position is nebulous, and whatever you think you have to say is meaningless. Please, stop wasting people’s time. Oh and if you do take up the gauntlet, make sure that you are unbiased (I don’t think you can do it, but give it a go), and do not fake your own results. Okay?

        2. In reply to D. McKinnon above:

          That you see no evidence for a switch in the form of arm movements you think are necessary for the switch does not impress me. You could also say that that indicates that he could not have turned the camera over to the orientation it is in when the videocamera sees it again. He doesn’t have to move his arms that much, if his accomplice places the other camera in his hands.

          And about replication; I tried this myself and it simply works. RvdB makes a bold claim and he is the one who should show convincing evidence. For skeptics it suffices to point out flaws in the setup (and especially indicate where there are clues for trickery) and possibly give alternative explanations which do not rely on paranormal claims. ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’

      2. Hi Nancy,

        I have written elaborately about your protege, as is noted by Pepijn. There’s a paragraph about you as well.

        I am not hiding anywhere, even if death threats of Robbert & ‘supporters’ come my way.

        The/an ugly truth surrounding Robbert is not yet entirely cleared. But I am not letting them get away so easily with these threats and hacks, and nor should you. They have not only threatened me and other members of the Dutch Skeptic Society, but people from their ‘own’ world too, like medium Char Margolis and medium Liesbeth van Dijk.
        Let’s not forget about crop circle investigators Colin Andrews and Andy Russell.
        Oh, and let’s not forget about yourself.
        Besides threats, there were hacks, let’s also not forget about that.

        Unfortunately, what Bill says doesn’t hold up. The truth is that this proves to be absolutely impossible: testing Robbert by scientists or related..

        I was there all along, since Robbert started to appear on Dutch television in 2004 and I know the people in person who have offered to test Robbert, even the ones who are open to the idea of an afterlife.

        Push comes to shove, Robbert backed out and he always does. He will only take offers of people he knows he can cheat (like Dan Drasin). Prove us otherwise if you disagree, Nancy.

        Are you willing to let them drag you down with them? There is no doubt in my mind that they are dishonest and involved in criminal activities. But again, prove us otherwise.

        1. I’m interested to know what the skeptical critique of Drasins encounter with Robbert , as seen in the film, Calling Earth, would consist of. It seemed quite well controlled, but I’m no expert.

        2. Look at film from 1:13:08 The timestamp changes from the last ‘normal’ photo (24/73) at 15:37 to the one with the face (26/73) at 16:48, which is also taken from a slightly different angle. So a photo and one hour are missing in this session, why don’t we see the complete session in which these photo’s were taken by Robbert. Probably a lot more photo’s were erased because the nummers under the xx/73 indicate the index of all the photos ever taken with the camera. That numbering goes from 100-3750 to 100-3855 so we are probably missing 104 photos without any mentioning of this in the film. Doesn’t seem like Drasin managed to control his camera from Robbert’s trickery.

          ( if you pause the film, you can use the arrow keys to step forward per second)

    2. Apparently this has already been done by Dutch TV who turned up with a pro photographer and insisted RVDB only use his DSLR. He was still able to produce anomalous images.

      1. I am well aware of that, I think the programme can be found on YouTube. But in that case, they did not take adequate measures to prevent Robbert to hold something in front of the lens (an image printed on transparent foil or a small piece of paper as explained under ‘Comeback in 2012’).

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