An Update on Orbs: photographic anomalies in paranormal investigation - by James Gilberd.
So, when (or if) you read this article, please don’t regard it as dogma. The purpose of it is to help to understand some of the common photographic anomalies that are easily mistaken for paranormal phenomena. Also please note that if I give an opinion on a photo, it is just that: an opinion. Interpretation and meaning is ultimately personal. If your uncle recently passed away and an orb appears just over his head in the last photo ever taken of him alive, who am I to tell you it’s just a bit of dust?
These little chaps began to crop up in large numbers early this century, when small, cheap digital cameras came into common use. These new cameras had more compact optical systems than their 35mm film predecessors, with lenses that had lots more depth of field (meaning when they were focused out into a room, objects only a few centimeters away, such as airborne dust and moisture droplets, could appear partially in focus). Also, the flash was typically situated close to the lens, so it would light up the area just in front of the lens and highlight said objects. Voila – orbs! At this time the new wave of TV ghost hunting shows hit our screens, which was like throwing petrol on the barbecue as far as paranormal claims for orbs were concerned. (For a detailed explanation of how tiny objects manifest as orbs, go to the Photos/Orbs section of www.strange-occurrences.com.)
Also, due to the flat profile of the cellphone and the way it’s usually held to take a photo, there is no shielding of the lens from stray light, so lens flare has become a more common factor in anomalous photos. Lens flare occurs when light which is not part of the image, and/or any bright light source within the image area, gets into the lens and interferes with the camera's ability to render a clear image of the scene.
Flare orbs stand out best when there’s a dark area behind them (see examples, cropped in from some photos we've received), but still occur in light areas – you just won’t notice them, for the same reason you can’t see the stars during the daytime.
The benefit of understanding these anomalies by deliberately creating them yourself is to see what is normal and not paranormal. This is important if you’re involved in paranormal investigation, because it could help avoid that embarrassing situation where something is offered up as evidence of paranormal activity when in fact there is a perfectly natural explanation for the thing, and you end up with egg on your face (as has happened to me, and to most of us at one time or another). In the eyes of the scientific community, and even the general public, we in the paranormal field have some credibility issues, so the less egg we end up with on our collective face, the better.
Despite finding that many paranormal photos probably have mundane explanations, I’m still excited about the uses of photography in exploring the paranormal, with the present technology and with what’s yet to come. I hope you are too. Keep at it, and if you capture something you don’t fully understand and would like a second opinion on, please email me and my team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Further reading: Photography and the Paranormal (by the same author).