What Is Kirlian Photography? History, Examples and How-to

If you love taking photos, you have probably heard about Kirlian photography. You also might have read some opposing opinions about it.

Interestingly, some people believe that this photography technique is mystical. This is despite the fact that scientists have proven it to be due to the corona effect and has nothing to do with pseudoscience.

Kirlian photography has been a very interesting and controversial technique since its discovery. The process is quite simple, but the results are amazing.

If you’re wondering about the principle behind it, this article will teach you about Kirlian photography. This includes a step-by-step guide on how to do it. Make sure to read it from start to finish.

What Exactly is Kirlian Photography?

What Exactly is Kirlian Photography

Kirlian photography is a technique for creating spectacular photos by capturing the phenomenon of electrical coronal discharges. Also known as the corona effect, a coronal discharge is an electrical discharge brought about by the ionization of a fluid, such as gas surrounding a certain object. It was earlier referred to as electrophotography.

By applying the Kirlian photography process correctly to an image, the object reveals a so-called halo effect. Interestingly, some spiritualists thought that this “glowing” effect is a supernatural phenomenon.

Allegedly, this is a diagnostic tool that can show the emotional and physical states of a human. But no, this amazing technique is a product of science.

Brief History of Kirlian Photography

Brief History of Kirlian Photography

Kirlian photography was named after Semyon Kirlian, a Soviet electrician who invented it by accident in 1939. He used to repair electrical equipment in hospitals.

One day, Kirlian observed a patient being treated using a high-frequency electrotherapy device. He then noticed a neon glow between the patient’s skin and the machine’s electrodes.

Although Kirlian was not the first person to notice it, he was the only one who conducted experiments, hoping that he could take a photo of it. Kirlian and his wife Valentina Khrisanovn, then made a similar apparatus using metal plates instead of gas electrodes. With a voltage source and electric current, he used his hand and a leaf as the subjects.

Just like what happened to the patient, a small flash of light appeared on Kirlian’s hand and a leaf. He then took photos of them, and the Kirlian couple was able to develop an apparatus that produced similar results.

However, it took more than 10 years before the public learned about their experiments, which was later called Kirlian photography.

The Kirlian Photography Myth

The Kirlian Photography Myth

Kirlian claimed that his machine can produce photographic images that can provide psychic insights. In fact, he and Valentina promoted it as a diagnostic tool for showing the aura, life force, or emotional state of a certain subject. Some people even believed that Kirlian’s invention can also predict if a person is perfectly healthy or has a disease.

In 1958, this myth caught the attention of the public and was even reported in some newspapers and magazines. Nevertheless, the first scientific paper on Kirlian’s work was published in Russia’s Journal of Scientific and Applied Photography in 1961. In the US, it was mentioned in the 1970 book, “Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain.”

But while some paranormal practitioners continue to believe that Kirlian photography can capture auras, no evidence can prove it. On the other hand, the consensus among scientists is that this phenomenon is due to the corona effect. For instance, the Van de Graaff generator and the Tesla coil also produce similar effects.

The Science Behind the Kirlian Phantom Leaf Experiment 

There have been several experiments on Kirlian photography, but the phantom leaf experiment is the most controversial of all. Also called the torn leaf experiment, this infamous leaf experiment was first conducted by Kirlian himself. He then claimed that Kirlian photography is a psychic phenomenon and can reveal the aura of an object.

In the Kirlian leaf experiment, a leaf was placed on a photographic plate. When the plate was electrified, there was a bright light surrounding the leaf.

Kirlian believed that the light is the “soul” of the leaf. The tip of the leaf was cut off, and a photo was taken again. A “ghostly apparition” appeared again on the leaf, including on the tip that has been cut.

A lot of pseudoscientists agreed with Kirlian about the phantom leaf effect, but several scientists were in doubt. They conducted the same leaf experiment, but with a twist.

After cutting the tip of the leaf, the scientists cleaned the plate before taking a photo again. The tip did not glow, though. This is because the moisture residue was removed.

What Camera Is Used in Kirlian Photography?

Technically, no camera is used in Kirlian photography since it is a print contact process. In short, there is no such thing as Kirlian cameras.

But in the 1970s, an entrepreneur from California named Guy Coggins who has a background in electrical engineering was inspired by Kirlian photography. He created a camera system, the AuraCam 3000.

Meanwhile, some camera companies claim that their cameras can take photos of an aura of a person. Dubbed aura photography, this technique can supposedly capture an aura in an array of wispy colors.

Each color is said to present a visual representation of people’s feelings. This is why aura cameras are sometimes called Kirlian cameras.

How Does Kirlian Photography Work?

How Does Kirlian Photography Work

As mentioned earlier, Kirlian photography does not require using a camera and it is not a result of paranormal activity. If an electric charge will move fast enough through the air, the air molecules will be ripped off and electricity will energize them. Once the electrons collide with air again, the energy will be released and will form a small pattern of light.

Gas discharge is achieved when electric current flows through the air that is closest to a conductive object, such as a metal plate.

A pattern of light will then appear, forming the same shape as that object. This phenomenon is also present in fluorescent bulbs, neon signs, arc welding, and lighting. The pattern also depends on the object’s conductivity.

Like gas discharge, Kirlian photography is also a source of light. Here, a photographic plate is placed very close to the subject while air is being electrified.

Then, there will be a leak in electricity which will strike the plate directly. Light will appear barely touching the plate, resulting in a beautiful glow surrounding the object. This is science, not magic.

How to Make a DIY Kirlian Photography Device?

The Kirlian photography technique is not as hard as you think. In fact, you can build your Kirlian device at home. But although the process is quite simple, you should be extra careful since you will use a high voltage supply, about 10,000-20,000 volts! There are also several ways to make a Kirlian photography device. Here is a simple one, though.

Equipment and materials needed:

  • High voltage supply (AC) with low current (1mA) and variable frequency
  • Glass plates 2 pcs. (4 x 8 inches)
  • Solid, non-insulated copper wire #20 (around 2 ½ feet long)
  • Rubber mat
  • Nylon spacers 4 pcs. (3/8 x 1 inch)
  • Self-stick foot pads 4 pcs (3/8 inch)
  • Silicone
  • Foam


  1. Make a rim on the perimeter of one of the glass plates about 5 mm high, with about 1/8 inch away from the edges.
  1. Place the copper wire on the rim of the entire perimeter. Leave about 1/8 inch of space between the wire ends and about 10 cm long outside. This is for the positive end of the power supply.
  1. Mix some water and salt. Slowly pour small amounts of the conductive solution into the rim of the glass plate to wet the copper.
  1. Place the other glass plate on top, and make sure the two plates are flat. The wire should be properly positioned before you seal the edges of the two plates. Make sure there is no water leak.
  1. To serve as legs, stick the 4 nylon spacers on the corners of the glass plates. Then, stick the foot pads to the nylon spacers.
  1. Place the plates on the rubber mat and make sure it stands firmly.
  1. Let the plates sit for about 8 hours to make sure that the seal is completely dry.
  1. Connect the positive electrode of the power supply to the exposed copper wire.
  1. Make a small hole at the center of the foam. This is where the negative electrode (ground) of the power supply will pass through.
  1. Put a coin on top of the foam, just above the hole of the foam.
  1. Place the foam under the plates. Make sure that the coin is pressed tightly on the foam.
  1. Insert the ground of the power supply into the hole of the foam. Bent the wire properly, and make sure it touches the coin properly.
  1. Double-check everything before switching on the power supply.
  1. Once the power supply is on, turn off the lights so you can see the Kirlian photography effect.
  1. You can now start taking photos of the object.

Important Safety Reminders:

  • Don’t let the power supply run for more than 10 seconds.
  • Use only light objects such as coins, a leaf, or a key.
  • Although the low electric current is not deadly, you should still wear rubber gloves to avoid electric shock.

Does Kirlian Photography Work on Smartphone Cameras?

Kirlian photography also works on smartphone cameras. Technically, you can use any kind of camera when taking Kirlian photos.

Again, this technique is a print contact process. Yet, you still do aura photography without the Kirlian device. There are a lot of AI-driven aura apps you can choose from. Just don’t expect them to predict your health.

What Is Kirlian Photography? History, Examples and How-to