Not all orbs are created equal




Orbs are the most common paranormal events that are captured in photos by ghost hunters.  They are pesky circles some bright some darker that look sort of like soap bubbles floating in your picture.  They show up in both digital and film pictures, more common with a digital camera and when a flash is used.


Going around to other paranormal site and you find a plethora of orb explanations. They are theorized to be everything from spirits to dust particles.  To understand orbs one must understand the equipment you are using to photograph them.  Also important is the physical properties of light.


Let’s look at light first.  All light has a color; sunlight is actually bluer than a light bulb.  Your eyes adjust to most lighting conditions and make the colors seem normal to you.  The scientific measurement of light color called the color temperature and it is measured in degrees Kelvin.  The higher the temperature the bluer the light and the lower the more yellow the light.


We can see because most objects reflect light off there surface and into our eyes.  The surface properties of the object determine what colors we see.  If a surface absorbs all colors it will look black, if it absorbs all but red then it will look red.  The exception is when we look at a source of light, then we see the light itself not a reflection.


Some things act as light modifiers; glass, water, shiny surfaces and the atmosphere are good examples.  Glass cannot only change the color and brightness and distort or focus light passing through it but can also cause reflections off its surface.  If you have ever taken a picture with glass picture frames in them and see the reflections of the glass on the wall.  Mirrors will do the same of course and if the glass has any fancy beveling that will further cause additional reflections.


There are non paranormal explanations of orbs. Orbs can be caused by light reflecting off of dust.  This is especially true of cameras that have there flash close to the lens.  The flash will illuminate dust that is close to the lens and cause out of focus circles of light in the photograph.  Snow, rain or mist can also cause “orbs” to show up in pictures.  Other natural sources of orbs or orb like phenomena are the reflections of the camera flash or light off of a shiny object such as glass or metal directly in line with the camera lens.  This will cause a bright spot and in most cases lens flare that can look like a halo and/or bright lines coming out of the spot of reflected light.


When you can rule out the above reasons that there are floating orbs in your picture then you can start speculating if it is a paranormal orb.  A good indication that you have something is if you take two or three pictures from the same spot one after the other and the orbs have moved or are not present in the other pictures.


The next question is why orbs show up in film or digital pictures but not to the eye.  Again science to the rescue!  Both film and the imaging chip in a digital camera is sensitive to more of the spectrum than the human eye is.  For instance if you point a infrared remote control at a digital camera and take a picture as you press a function the IR light (invisible to our eyes) is visible in the digital picture.  The imaging chip sees the IR as well as visible light.  The same is true for film, though the sensitivity will vary with film type.  There is also some crossover into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum.  In addition to the visible light the camera flash emits some IR & UV light.


The million dollar question is why do orbs, if they are spirits or some form of spirit energy, show up in pictures at all?  One possibility is that an orb doesn’t reflect visible light but does reflect either IR or UV.  Since the camera (film or digital) can see in those wavelengths and the flash is providing at least some IR & UV light the orb is captured on film or the image chip and shows up in the picture.


Another possibility is that orbs absorb the light given off by the flash and re-emit the light on an IR or UV wavelength.  This would be similar to the way some minerals phosphorus under UV light.  Both of these explanations would imply that orbs have physical properties.  Another topic for another time.


The best orb picture is one in which the orb is partially occluded by an object.  This would then indicate distance and size of the orb.  These pictures are rare but the most valuable orb pictures.


There are time you will get orbs in pictures that are just too unlikely a coincidence. One time a friend took a picture of someone using a pair of dowsing rods (the closeup picture of the orb at the top of the page).  A side note - some people use dowsing rods to sense paranormal energy and "talk" to spirits. There was an orb on the tip of one rod! The orb seems to be in front of the rod in the picture. Conclusive proof – no, but it is darn interesting that an orb should show up just then and right by the rod.



Spirits or dust orbs are fun to find in your pictures.


Copyright 2005 – Ralph Esposito

Reprints of this by permission only