Ghosts and Hauntings 101: A Procedural Manual for the Investigation of the Paranormal

December, 2008

The Orb: A General Overview
When is s a spirit entity not a sprit entity?

While mentioned previously in this manual it is necessary  to devote at least some more time to the subject of “orbs”. In recent years a number of people have reported finding anomalous circular images, often called “orbs,” in photos taken at night with a flash, under seemingly ordinary conditions. The photos have been taken both outdoors and indoors. These photos were not taken under “conventional UFO,” conditions, i.e., there were no strange lights or objects visible to the photographer. These images first
turned up in photos taken for various reasons other than to photograph “orbs,” i.e., photos of home scenes, outdoor scenery at night, etc. Subsequently numerous photographers have simply taken pictures “into the dark,” even though they didn’t see anything that could make orb images, in order to find out if “orbs” would appear in
the photos. (Note: I should point out that there have been numerous photos of unusual lights at night which were seen at the time of the photos and which have also been called orbs. Photos such as these are not the subject of this discussion. The subject of this discussion is orb images which appear in photos taken when there was no bserved
cause for them.)
The images discussed here are rather diffuse or “transparent” areas of the film that are generally slightly brighter, but sometimes much brighter, than the (generally dark) background. For many cameras the orb images are round, but for at least one type (Polaroid Model 600) the shape is nearly rectangular. Figure 1 shows an example of such images in a flash photograph of an outdoor nighttime scene. If one examines the dim circular images carefully one sees that they have a bluish tint. Images such as these appear at random locations in photos. Similar images obtained by other investigators can be found at www.orbsite.com
Photos have been taken at many different geographic locations. Some outdoor locations produce more, perhaps many more, of these images than other locations. Therefore the occurrence of these images raise the following questions: (a) what are they or what causes these images, (b) why do they occur in some locations and not (or rarely) in others, and (c) why are they (apparently) a recent photographic phenomenon? The investigation reported here has provided answers to these questions.
This investigation was prompted by several correspondents who reported to me that they had found these round images in their own digital photos. They had not seen anything when the photos were taken, yet here were the distinct, reasonably bright round images. They asked for my comments on their photos and photos of others.
My first impression upon seeing images such as these was that they were unfocused images of small, bright reflectors of light. However, I could not prove that there were such reflectors present at the times of the photos. The photographers didn’t see anything. At the same time, an alternative hypothesis presented itself. So far as I knew, the first photos in which these images appeared, or at least the first in which they were noticed, were flash photos that had been taken with consumer-grade digital cameras. This raised the question of whether or not these images were some sort of strange artifact of the digital camera like some unexpected light leak. (More recently similar images have turned up in flash photos taken with recyclable cameras, such as the one used to take Figure 1. Other photographers have found similar images in photos taken with 35 mm cameras.) On the other hand, if the cause did not lie with the camera, then it must be something outside the camera. Perhaps the flash had illuminated something very small that was close to the lens. Perhaps a few small flying insects happened to
be close to the camera lens when the flash went off. This hypothesis (tiny insects very close to the camera and lit by the flash) seemed acceptable for photos taken when such insects would be present (outdoors in the spring, summer, fall) but not when such insects would unlikely be present (very cold weather,e.g., winter, or inside buildings).
Since I did not have a digital camera (they have been quite expensive until recently) I was not able to do any experiments myself to determine whether or not these anomalous images could be an artifact of the camera and so there the matter rested until recently when a correspondent reported finding some images in digital photos he had taken inside his house using a new Olympus camera. He was worried that his new camera had some sort of strange defect. He wrote, “The (anomalous images) look like lens flares, but there appear to be too many of them, and they don’t seem to be in the right position for lens flares.” He offered to send me some of his pictures and wanted
to ask my advise as to whether or not he should return the camera.
He emailed the pictures to me and I, too, was puzzled. They showed scenes in a house where insects would not likely be flying around close to the camera lens. About the only thing I could do was suggest some experiments to determine whether or not these images were caused by something outside the camera or inside the camera. One of the
experiments was to take flash pictures with his hand over the lens to block light. This would test whether or not the images were coming from inside the camera, as, for example if there were some bizarre hole in the camera structure that would allow light to leak directly from the flash to the film. For comparison I asked him to take pictures in some area where there were no surfaces to reflect light, for example, outdoors where the nearest object was far away. I pointed out that if he got anomalous images when his hand was not on the lens and got no such images when his hand was on the lens then
the anomalous images were coming from light reflectors outside the camera. The correspondent noted that there was a bright metal ring around the lens aperture and thought that perhaps that might cause some unexpected images. I suggested that he cover it with black tape. To my suggestion that there might have been tiny reflective particles in front of the camera he replied,
The tiny, shining objects idea is an interesting one. Most Christmases, my kids make various things with glitter, which they bring home. This stuff sheds into the carpet and can be quite difficult to get out. I believe this could be the explanation for the anomalous images which appear to be silhouetted against) the carpet. I’ll take some repeated shots from the same position and see if they move–if not, then we’ve got the explanation for those, at least. As for the ‘floating’ (images), perhaps some minute particles of glitter
can float on air currents–but would they stay around for a year? Again, some sequence shots might help here, too.
It is clear from what he wrote that he thought the anomalous images that appeared silhouetted against the rug might have been caused by bright reflections from tiny pieces of reflective material – glitter – on the rug. He also wondered whether or not floating glitter could explain the images which appeared to be above the rug, e.g.,
silhouetted against the walls or ceiling. I did not believe that “Christmas glitter” in the rug or floating in the air would explain the images, but I didn’t know what would.
About a month and a half later he wrote again and this time supplied the first good suggestion as to the source of the anomalous round images:
I have followed the experiments you suggested, as well as done a few of my own. I can definitely state that the (images) are the result of the illumination of dust particles in the air by camera flash. I was able to produce a (picture) image with hundreds of (round images) by having the kids run around for several minutes on an unvacuumed
carpet! Most of the dust particles seem to be intrafocal, although even those at greater distances can produce quite a convincing small (image). I borrowed a professional flash, which fires several times a second, and was amazed at just how much ‘junk’ is stirred up in the home environment by ordinary activity. I could see hundreds of quite
brilliantly-illuminated particles with my eyes. When I read the above I knew that what the correspondent said was perfectly logical. I already knew that reflective particles so tiny
that they could not normally be seen by the naked eye could make circular, defocused images if they were close enough to the lens. What I didn’t know was the nature of these particles. The correspondent supplied that answer.
By extension, one can infer that pollen grains and aerosol particles can also cause such images. These types of particulate matter are also floating in the atmosphere at various concentrations that depend
upon the geographic location, whether inside or outside a building, the time of year, the temperature, wind, etc. For example, near a wooded area small particles from plants and trees could float in the air at higher concentrations than in areas where there are no trees or plants. Fine dirt particles, such as from a road or dry, sandy area, can be stirred up by wind or human activities (automobiles) and could be suspended in the air for considerable amounts of time and be transported over considerable distances. This could explain the geographic dependence of the phenomenon. Of course the photographer would not normally notice these particles during the time of the flash because the photographer would be looking through the viewfinder. Even with a single lens reflex camera (that allows the photographer to look through the lens) the photographer would not see the particles during the time of the flash because the “reflex
mirror” within the camera moves to a location that blocks the view through the camera while the photo is being taken.
After reading what my correspondent wrote I decided to carry out my own experiments. In order to show how an amomolous source  is far from the camera lens. If one were to assume that the image was actually caused by an object on the far side of the structure, about 20 feet away, then one could calculate that the object was several inches in diameter. However, the object which caused that image was actually only a dust grain close to the camera and the apparent blockage of the image by the structure is an illusion. The faint bluish image can be seen at the right side of the vertical support of the arch because it is silhouetted against perfect blackness. The portion of the circular image that overlaps the structural member cannot be detected because its low brightness was overwhelmed by that of the structure.


Generally one can say that the closer the spheres, the larger and brighter are the images. This is to be expected although I have not been able to determine a quantitative relationship. Qualitatively one knows that the refleted light that reaches the film plane and makes an image is proportional to the illumination reaching the object
(which depends upon the optical power output of the flash multiplied by the “radiation pattern” factor), to the reflectivity of the object, to area of the lens aperture and to the inverse fourth power of the distance (just as with radar – inverse square out t the target
and inverse square back to the receiver). The inverse fourth power with distance means that the image brightness (actually the image exposure, which is the product of the optical power per unit area within the image multiplied by the exposure time) changes rapidly with distance of the reflective object. On the other hand, the image size also decreases with increasing distance, almost in the inverse proportional to distance (even though the object is too close for to be focused) so the image area is approximately proportional to the inverse square of the distance. Therefore the combination of the
inverse fourth power decrease of illumination on the image with the inverse square shrinkage of the image area means that the exposure (proportional to the power per unit area) decreases only as the inverse square of the distance. However, distance alone does not explain the brightness variation. The image brightness is also affected by the object size and this means that a collection of different sized objects all at the same
distance will make images approximately the same size but differing considerably in brightness. The size dependence of the brightness occurs because the amount of light reflected by one of these tiny objects is proportional to its “cross-sectional area,” that is, to its diameter squared. In the case of these glass spheres there was a wide range in diameters and hence a wide range in image brightness even for spheres at nominally the same distance.


The shape of an image of a moving object is determined by the object shape itself as modified by motion during the exposure time. Hence, if a perfectly circular light or steady intensity moved in a straight line a distance 3 times its own diameter during the exposure time the resulting image would be elongated, 4 times as long as it is wide,
with rounded ends.(Why not 3 times its own width? Draw a circle on a piece of paper. It has some diameter, d. Now imagine sliding the circle to the right by the distance d, and then another distance d and then once more. Now measure the distance from the far left to the far right boundary. It is d + md, where m is the number of displacements.) In the case of a constantly moving object with a constant velocity v perpendicular to the line of sight the length of the image is d + vt. (In the previous example vt was 3 times the diameter, 3d, so we had d+3d = 4d.) (In the more general case the length of the image is the integral of the component of velocity perpendicular to the sighting line over the time of the exposure.) Clearly the shorter the exposure time the smaller the motion “smear.” In order to determine how much of the image shape might be due to motion it is necessary to know the exposure duration. This duration is determined by the shutter during ordinary non-flash photography and by the flash duration when a flash is used.
For the recyclable camera the flash intensity reached its peak very, very quickly (about 30 microseconds) and then the flash brightness decayed (approximately exponentially) over the next millisecond. The effective duration of the flash was about 300-500 microseconds (depending upon how one wants to quantitatively define “effective duration”). When photos are taken in the dark the only source of light is the flash and hence the flash duration determines the exposure time. (In normal non-flash daylight shots the shutter determines the exposure time.) This is an “effective shutter time” of 1/2000 to 1/3000 of a second. An object moving several meters per second or millimeters per millisecond will be quite effectively “stopped” in its motion by such a short shutter. By “stopping the motion” is meant having such a short exposure that
the image hardly moves during the exposure. For example, if a tiny object were to move perpendicular to the line of sight at 1 meter per second at a distance of 10 cm from the camera lens its angular rate would be (100 cm/sec)/(10 cm) = 10 rad/sec. For a 3 cm focal length this transfers to an image velocity of 30 cm/sec. In 1/3000 of a second the image would move 30 x (1/3000) = 0.01 cm = 0.1 mm. At the same time, these experiments suggest that the image diameter for a tiny object 10 cm from the lens (of the recyclable type of camera) would be a bit over 1 mm (see above). Hence the motion smear would be a small fraction of the image size and the image would be nearly
circular. Objects moving more slowly than 1 m sec or objects at greater distance would create even less smear. (However, objects at greater distance also make smaller images so for constant sized objects at the same velocity but at varying distances the percentage of the image which is smear could be constant.) In the case of the glass spheres used in these experiments the velocities were in the range of several to ten centimeters per second rather than a meter per second so the motion smear is not detectable.

With so much contradictory evidence available and considering the fact that orb photography was all but unknown before the advent of digital cameras the only safe procedure when dealing with orb photographs is to consider all orb photos suspect until and unless proven otherwise beyond any question or doubt by the elimination of any possible error, flaw or defect at any stage of the photographic process. With orb photography all possible efforts should be made to eliminate any and all naturally occurring conditions that would produce the anomaly before assuming that it even could be paranormal in nature.