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Orb Analysis
Thursday, 02 September 2004


On Monday 30th August 2004 an e-mail was sent to the Mostly Haunted inbox from a person called Ashley. Ashley had a question to ask regarding a photograph that they had taken at a wedding that had what appeared to be an orb on the picture.

The picture had been taken on a sunny and warm day at Oldway Mansion, Paignton, Devon. Oldway Mansion was purchased in 1871 by Issac Merritt Singer (the founder of the sewing machine company). After Issac’s death his third eldest son, Paris Singer, altered Oldway Mansion.

In 1914 Oldway Mansion was used as a hospital during the Great War, and in 1940 Oldway Mansion was used as a training wing for RAF cadets learning to be aircrew. It was damaged in 1943 during a bombing raid on Paignton.

Ashley had provided a number of other photographs that had been taken on the same digital camera at the same venue. The camera used was a HP Photosmart 635. The other photographs were two taken immediately prior to the picture with the orb, and one taken immediately after. These were to be used as comparison pictures. In addition, Ashley believes that the Bride’s father had died recently.

The Analysis

The initial analysis of the photograph was a simple matter of looking at the picture (fig 1) to determine whether there was anything of note. On first inspection the following details were noticed:

  1. The picture appeared underexposed
  2. There seemed to be no use of flash or any other artificial light source
  3. The main light source appears to be natural light from the right side rear of the picture
  4. There is an anomaly in the area to the lower right of the Bride’s necklace.

It is this anomaly that warrants further investigation.

The initial description of the anomaly is that it is circular with a white circumference (halo). Within this the main body is a hazy light grey colour with a lighter white patch just off centre. It matches the classic description of an “orb” as referred to in popular paranormal investigations.
Fig 1.
Fig 1.

From this initial viewing a closer inspection follows. All pictures are now enhanced using Adobe Photoshop CS. The next phase is to enlarge the area showing the anomaly for a more in depth examination (fig 2).

The image has now been cropped and enlarged by 300% to bring out more detail for analysis.
Fig 2.
Fig 2.

There are now two things of note:

  1. The edge of the anomaly can be seen above the Bride’s neckline indicating that the anomaly is between the Bride and the camera
  2. The upper left edge of the anomaly appears to be indented around the necklace.

There is very little else of note with regards to this anomaly. It is possible that the indented effect is a result of the relief on the necklace being brighter than the anomaly. To determine the likelihood of this possibility further enhancement is required.

The picture is then adjusted to create a brighter image (fig 3) to determine any other “bright” spots that may have an effect on the anomaly. In particular, to test the hypothesis that the relief on the brooch has caused the indent effect.
Fig 3.
Fig 3.

It is possible to see that the lower right corner of the relief is indeed the brighter area and it does seem to be brighter than the “halo” of the anomaly. This gives the impression that the “halo” is indented when, in fact, it continues to be a standard circle.

So far, the anomaly is, in all probability, between the Bride and the camera. The next step is to try to determine what the physical attributes of the anomaly are i.e. Does it have any surface features present on it. To do this a function on Adobe Photoshop CS that is called Bas Relief is used. It converts the image to a monochrome relief picture that shows areas of variation more clearly. This allows a better examination of the surface of the anomaly. The image is then viewed again (fig 4).
Fig 4.
Fig 4.

The anomaly when viewed now has two specks in the centre. One is larger than the other; this is the large white spot in the original area. The other is in the upper right quarter. This is imperceptible in the original image.

The anomaly bears a resemblance to a cell, such as a dead skin cell. The point in the centre could conceivably be a nucleus. To compare there now appears a picture of human cells (fig 5).
Fig 5.
Fig 5.

As can be seen the picture, fig 5, shows the cells with a halo and nucleus, similar to what is seen in fig 4.

It is possible that a dead skin cell has become stuck on the camera lens or passed in front of it. It is more likely to have passed in front of it as the anomaly does not appear in any of the comparison pictures.
Fig 6.
Fig 6. This photograph was taken two prior to the image with the anomaly.
Fig 7.
Fig 7. This photograph was taken immediately before the image with the anomaly.
Fig 8.
Fig 8. This picture was taken immediately after the image with the anomaly.

As can be seen there is no anomaly in any of the other photographs. This would suggest that if the anomaly is caused by debris then it is not stuck to the lens and may be passing by the camera. It would have to be quite close to the camera for it to be seen with so much clarity.


The analysis of any photograph is not easy, and often a definitive answer cannot be given. In some cases an anomaly may be caused by something that can be explained quite rationally.

In the case of the photograph submitted by Ashley, the results of the analysis are not conclusive. That does not mean that a conclusion cannot be drawn, it just means that it cannot be proven in this case.

In favour of the anomaly being paranormal in origin the following evidence can be presented:

  1. The anomaly is bright and well defined in the absence of any flash that would give off infra-red reflection on any debris in front of the camera
  2. The Bride’s father is believed to have died recently and the anomaly is “around” the Bride
  3. The venue itself has a history of being a hospital where people will have died suddenly.

The evidence for the anomaly being natural in origin is as follows:

  1. The anomaly has similarities to the make up of a skin cell
  2. The anomaly does not appear on any other photographs. If it was believed to be the spirit of the Bride’s dead father then it may be expected to appear in other photographs
  3. The anomaly may be expected to appear in other photographs if it was a spirit of someone who had died at the venue.

Unfortunately, photographs like this cannot be taken under strict, controlled conditions and as such it is unlikely that the true cause of this anomaly will ever be discovered. Working to the balance of probabilities then it would be concluded in this investigation that, the anomaly is probably of natural origin and is likely to be a skin cell.

Ian R. Thompson
Mostly Haunted Senior Team Member

2nd September 2004

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