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Orbs in Paranormal Photography
Monday, 01 December 2003

Orbs in Paranormal Photography
© Mostly Haunted 2003

Ian R Thompson


Thought by many to be the first indicator of a ghostly manifestation it is no wonder that the presence of an orb on a photograph causes much excitement. Those hazy grey circles which, unseen to the human eye, suddenly appear on a photograph taken in an allegedly haunted location cannot be readily explained, therefore, they must be supernatural! Or, is there an explanation for orbs in paranormal photography?

What is an Orb?

An orb, in the context of paranormal photography, is a light anomaly that is captured on a photograph. It is not necessarily round in shape. Many orbs have been identified in many shapes such as L-shaped, crescent shaped. Some orbs even have the appearance of feathers or threads.

Fig 1.Fig 1. An enlarged image of an “orb” photographed during a vigil at Wycoller Hall, Lancashire

It is widely believed that orbs are an indication of a paranormal manifestation, or, to put more simply, the early stages of a ghost formation. It is a commonly held theory that a ghost will draw energy from its surroundings as it is about to manifest itself. Energy can be present in three forms: heat, light, and sound, and reported hauntings often feature one or more of these forms. For example: “cold spots” have often been reported during hauntings. This could be the ghost drawing heat from the surroundings as an energy source. The energy continues to be drawn from the environment to a point where it expresses itself as a light. Whether the light is constant, flashing, or a dim glow, this is what is known as an orb. Should further energy be drawn then sounds may be heard also.

Orbs on Photographs – Possible Causes

In recent years the paranormal media has been awash with photographs featuring orbs, especially since the advent of the digital camera. It could almost be argued that orbs are a phenomenon that is specific to digital cameras. When a photograph of an orb is examined, it is necessary for the investigator to consider the following:

* Was the photograph taken in dusty conditions? E.g. a building that had not been visited for some time.
* Were there any reflective surfaces close by when the photograph was taken?
* Was any person using a torch nearby?
* Was the camera lens clean?
* Were there any draughts or pockets of warm air present when the photograph was taken?

In the case of a photograph being taken in a dusty location then orbs may be nothing more mysterious than particles of dust being raised, appearing in the photograph as orbs.
Nearby reflective surfaces could have “bounced” flash from the camera back onto the lens causing strange light effects. This could also be the case with a torch being used nearby.
If the camera lens was dirty then particles on the lens would appear as anomalies on the photograph.
Also, dust and pollen can be carried on draughts and warm air which, when photographed, causes orbs to appear.

However, if precautions are taken to eliminate these factors and orbs still appear does that mean that they must be indicators of the presence of a ghost?

It is important to note that a clothed human body sheds particles all the time in the form of hair, dead skin cells, and other clothing particles. All of these can be picked up by warm air currents and brought in front of a camera lens, creating the appearance of orbs. A good example of this is when a photograph is taken using a digital camera at a venue with lots of people present, such as a party (see Fig 2).

Fig 2.Fig 2. A typical photograph taken at a party upon which can “orbs” can be seen.

Orbs tend to be very common on this type of photograph. In addition, orbs can be picked up on photographs taken outdoors. However, plants give off pollen, dust can be picked up from the ground by the wind, and tiny insects may be everywhere, all invisible to the naked eye.

These types of orbs appear when the particles are less than one metre from the camera’s lens. When taking standard photographs, it is uncommon that the subject is within this range, so this area is not focussed. Particles that enter this zone reflect light from a flash, or other source, back at the lens, thus creating an orb.

It can be argued that the reason why orbs appear more frequently (almost exclusively in fact) on digital pictures rather than on pictures taken with a standard 35mm camera is due to infrared radiation. White light, when broken into the spectrum of colours, forms seven visible colours – red through to violet. Beyond violet is ultra-violet, invisible to the naked eye, and beyond red is infrared, also invisible to the naked eye.

Most digital camera flashes emit light that goes beyond white light and into the infrared wavelength. In addition to this, the digital camera “sees” into the near infrared wavelengths. It could be argued then, that when a picture is taken with a digital camera using a flash, the infrared light is reflected off any particles in front of the lens and is picked up by the camera, thereby creating the presence of orbs.

Conventional 35mm camera film will not pick up infrared light. To do this requires specialist film and filters, hence why orbs rarely appear on conventional film. In the case of orbs appearing on 35mm film, this could be explained by faults on the film, faults in the developing process, or white light reflecting off airborne particles.

Orbs have also appeared on video footage, and the above theory of infrared radiation can go some way to explaining this. Video cameras that operate using a “night sight” ability do so by using emitters that are sensitive to infrared light to illuminate the surroundings. If multiple cameras are being used close by then the infrared emitters can be “seen” and create a lens flare, similar to filming a torches light.

Some light anomalies occur which do not have the appearance of the classic orb i.e. a hazy, grey object. Instead they appear as a light. These could be reflections from lichen, quartz, insects or metal. They could also be the result of accidental photographic capture of stars, or aircraft, or, as mentioned above, film or processing faults.


When investigating these phenomena it is important that the following steps are taken with regards to conventional film:

* Negatives from conventional film are retained for closer scrutiny
* If an anomaly occurs then it is good practice to obtain a duplicate picture to see if it can be recreated. Failure for the anomaly to reappear suggests a fault in the development process.

With digital pictures, a second picture should be taken instantly after the first, under exactly the same conditions (see Fig 3 & 4).

Fig 3.Fig 3. Note the pinprick of light in the background.

Fig 4.Fig 4. A second photograph of the scene in Fig. 3. This was taken immediately afterwards. Note the pinprick of light is now absent.

This second picture acts as a control, and aids identification of the anomaly. For example, if a grey, hazy ball appears in exactly the same place on both pictures than it may be a speck of dirt on the lens (see Fig 5).

Fig 6.Fig 6. The “orb” in the doorway was identified as a speck of dirt on the camera lens. The mist to the left of the doorway remains unexplained.

This process of elimination should continue until all explanations are exhausted.

The objective investigator will not jump to conclusions. Instead they will seek rational explanations. If rational explanations can not be formulated then there may be a paranormal explanation. If the investigator wishes to prove that their photograph contains some evidence of the paranormal then they should set about to prove that it does not contain evidence of the paranormal. Only by failing to provide a rational explanation, will their evidence be stronger.

Further Reading:

Permutt, Cyril – “Photographing The Spirit World: Images From Beyond The Spectrum”, The Aquarian Press, 1988.

Kodak – “An Introduction to Infrared Photography”, Kodak Information Sheet AM-900 (H)

www.urbanparanormal.fsnet.co.uk – This website features a comprehensive examination into the Orb phenomenon and details some of the author’s own experiments in capturing orbs on camera.

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