Are Orbs Truly Paranormal?

Every time there's a leap in technology a new paranormal phenomena will be born. The creation of tape recorders started EVP, EMF readers created the hypothesis that magnetic-field fluctuations indicated spirital presense and the digital camera started the fascination with orbs. Orbs are the bane of the paranormal world. They're a very recent development in the field as digital cameras have become more and more accessible to the average wagepacket, and even now their origins are still a puzzler. But what exactly are orbs? Well, this article will hopefully answer some of the questions surrounding them.

For those who don't know, orbs are the little balls of light that can sometimes appear on digital camera photos (they can sometimes appear on 35mm film camera but this is very rare). To the psychic community they are proof and say that orbs are the beginnings of spirit manifestation. Other paranormal explainations have been orbs being the soul of a departed individual or balls of energy that're created when spirit manifests itself.

As soon as Orbs started to appear on digital cameras they received the stigmata of being 'paranormal activity', undoubtedly helped along by TV programs like Most Haunted using orbs to make it appear that their earlier investigations wielded positive results. Some mediums and psychics have also stated that orbs are paranormal in origin, with some even claiming to be able to see them personally.

The camera manufacturers themselves have issued innumberable statements as to the origins of orbs, and not one of them have attributed orbs to being paranormal in nature. Instead, the manufacturers say that orbs are airborne particles or humidity in the air.

In doing research for this article I looked at the different kinds of digital camera that were being used in paranormal investigating, and discovered that pretty much every camera that was capturing orbs were of the 'compact' variety. These cameras are the cheapest you can buy (and as such are used in abundance in your average ghost-hunters kit) and are referred to as compact because of their small size. These are the types of camera that seem to continally photograph orbs whereas the more expensive models, SLR type digital cameras, picked up nothing orb-wise. Obviously there was something about these two types of digital camera designwise where, on the SLR style, something was preventing orbs from being captured.

This is what I believe causes the 'orb' effect on compact digital cameras, and also why orbs do not appear on SLR style cameras. For this article I have used my Fujifilm Finepix 2200 compact digital camera to highlight what I am referring to. I bought this back when they were new and pretty much the day after I brought it home I started to capture orbs all over the place - interesting because my house isn't haunted. This was all well and good, I was capturing orbs during a few investigations and whathaveyou until I decided to upgrade, purchasing a Fujifilm Finepix S5000 SLR. But when I started using this camera on investigations I photographed zero orbs, even though the camera was being manufactured by the same company as my older one and was being used in the same places as before. This is what led me to conclude that there must be a design element that causes orbs to appear on compact digital camera photos.

Firstly, please excuse the diagrams below. They're a little crude but do highlight the points I'm trying to make.

The main difference between Compact and SLR digital cameras (and the reason as to why I believe compact cameras capture orbs but SLR cameras don't) is the distances and angles regarding how close the flash is to the lens...

On the left here is a Fujifilm Finepix 2200 compact digital camera, the first digital camera I ever bought and one that I continually captured orbs on. If you look at the design you can see that the flash is at a very close proximity to the lens - a common feature on the compact design. The flash is less than 1cm away from the lens on this particular model. Because of this, when a photograph is taken with the flash the space almost directly in front of the lens is flooded with intense light, and particles in the aie that are close enough to appear in the photo are massively lit up as the photo is taken, thus they can appear as an 'orb'.

On the right are some crude diagrams that show the area in front of the camera is that is lit up when a photo is taken with flash. As you can see the area pretty much directly in front of the lens of the camera is flooded with the flash of the camera, and because of this any tiny airborn particles that normally would not appear on the photo are made intensely bright to such a degree that the camera captures it in a very blurred form. Now, bearing this in mind, let us now focus onto the SLR style digital camera.

The first main design feature that leaps out at you in regards to the SLR camera is the position of the lens and it's proximity to the lens. This time the lens has been placed much, much further away and is encased within a screw-on adaptor (used when other lenses are screwed onto the existing body). This is not only keeping the lens a safe distance away from the flash, it is also protectively encasing it so that none of the flash light can get anywhere as near to the front of the lens as it can on a compact digital camera. If you look at the diagram on the right you can see that the light from the flash is getting absolutely nowhere near the front of the lens, and as such any particles that're hanging in the air directly in front are not massively lit when the flash goes off, thus they do not appear on the photo.

This theory can also be used to explain why orbs never appear on photographs that're taken without the flash.

So What Causes Orbs?

As explained above, my belief is that orbs are created by particles in the air that're flooded in the light of the flash on compact digital cameras. This also explains why there are so many different styles of orbs that're out there. You can get yellow ones, dull ones, bright ones, sharp ones, ones with a dimple in them, ones that look like comets etc etc... but all of them are, in my opinion, caused by airborn debris in front of the lens. Below is a small list of many differing styles of orbs and the natural debris that has created them. All of the following photos have been taken using a Fujifilm Finepix 2200 Compact digital camera.

Debris on the Lens
Sometimes little spots or dark marks have appeared in photos that're then thought to be orbs. However, as you can see from the given example, these types of orbs are most likely caused by a spot of debris that's actually on the lens itself. It appears black because the flash is unable to light it up, being so close to the lens, but because of its size in proximity to the lens itself it appears as a black spot.

The example shown on the left was created by sprinkling a little dust in front of the camera and then taking a photo. Dust orbs are most usually small and grey, with no inner texture or anything. Dust orbs are by far the most common kind and can frequently appear in clusters as an amount is accidentally kicked up by an investigator or whathaveyou.

Lens Flare
Again, this is another common cause of orbs, and appear when there's a promiment light-source directly in front of the camera when a photo is being taken. The direct influx of strong light into the lens creates a massive flare, and can usually create multicoloured blobs of light appear in shot. The effect created on the left was done by taking a photo directly at the sun, but the light doesn't need to be that intense to create a similar effect. I've seen a number of photos that have some unusual anomaly in them but which also have a strong lightsource directly in the background.

Dead Pixel
Sometimes little pinpoints of light can appear in photographs (such as on the left) that have been classified as an orb. The truth behind these is that sometimes digital cameras can really struggle in low light, and if a photo is being taken in a place with zero light it is sometimes unable to capture information for a single pixel. Since this information isn't collected this pixel appears like a tiny pinprick of white in an otherwise black photo. These becomes increasingly common if the camera being used is old and is starting to fade a little quality wise.

Pollen is most usually the cause of an orb if the photo is being taken outside, especially near grassy areas with flowers or fields. Pollen orbs are very rarely white, most being a tint of yellow and their unique feature that distinguishes them from all the other styles is that they pretty much always have a little dimple or spot in them, as can be seen above (some people jokingly refer to pollen orbs as 'Death Star orbs'.)

Mist Orbs
This photo was taken during a very misty night where you could feel the moisture in the air on your clothes and skin. The photo was taken with a flash and showed hundreds of small orbs in shot. These mist orbs have, in the photos I have taken, appeared small in the majority and they all seem to have a slightly hexagonal shape to them. Their distinguishing feature I've noticed is that they seem to have a small dimple in the middle of them. Obviously, mist orbs always appear in clusters.

Rain / Comet Orbs
If it is raining, or has just rained, or if there is a mist, fog or humidity in the air, then you have a good chance of capturing a comet orb. But why are they pointing up towards the sky? Well, these are caused when raindrops are falling from the sky, and because of their speed coming down (terminal velocity) they move as the photo is being taken. When the photo is first taken the shutter is fully open, and all of the raindrop is exposed, but as the raindrop falls the shutter closes, cutting more and more of it out, creating a faint tail underneath it as less of the light reflected from the raindrop is allowed back into the lens. The animation on the right is pretty basic but explains this point.

These type of orbs appear rarely, and they're the most fascinating of the bunch. It's been said that they're caused by dust, although dust orbs most usually appear in clusters and are small, dull and flat. These have a kind of skin with a plasma type outer edge to them. They have a skin and a texture to their insides. They're only appear on their own as well.

Some Things to Ponder...

Many mediums have claimed to be able to see orbs with the naked eye, thus fuelling their 'paranormal nature'. However, you do have to wonder that if this were the case, why did no medium or psychic claim to see such things before orbs started to appear in photographs?

If orbs are said to be the first stage of spiritual manifestation, how come there are zero photos or videos showing an orb transgressing into the second stage (assuming, of course, that the second stage is 'ectromist')?

Some Questions About Orbs

Q: So why do orbs only tend to appear at haunted sites?
A: A pretty simple one to answer. It's most likely because your proverbial haunted home is usually more dusty than a standard place, or is a public building where a lot more people tend to visit, invariably shedding skin and creating much more dust than in a private residence. Plus, with places such as pubs, there's also the added fixture of a fireplace which can eject particles of ash up with the rising heat it creates.

Q: What about orbs captured on video?
A: Orbs on video camera are a different matter. I've seen some very interesting orb videos where the orb captured seems to have an intelligence and can interact and move around its surroundings. I have also seen video of orbs appearing from behind furniture a fair distance away, giving a scale as to its position. Although this article explains what orbs caught in photos could be, it cannot be used to try and identify the orbs that appear in video since they're two completely different formats. This will be the subject of an article in the future.

Article by Michael Harbidge. Copyright © 2007. All Rights Reserved. See copyright page for full details.