We all now know about orbs, usually caused by the camera flash reflecting of close-proximity airborn dust particles or moisture droplets, the highlights reflecting back and rendering out-of-focus as mysterious looking pseudo-objects still thought by some to be a spirit manifestations.
But these days, with current camera design, lens flare is taking over from orbs as the number one cause of false positives in photographs purporting to show paranormal activity. The evidence for this claim is the proportion of photos sent to us for examination for which lens flare is the most obvious explanation for the phenomena photographed.
Lens flare is caused by (1) any light entering the camera lens that does not form part of the image being photographed (non-image-forming light), and/or (2) bright light sources - natural or man-made - within the area photographed. The stray light bounces around inside the lens, internally reflecting from its optical surfaces and often acquiring colour from the microscopic anti-flare lens coatings. Sometimes the shap of the aperture blades within the lens have an effect.
Lens flare is much more various in appearance than orbs and so is harder to exactly identify. It can also cause orbs by either striking dust or other marks on or within the lens, or by creating optical artefacts. There are two such artefacts in the photo below, which was recently sent in to us for analysis.
What is most likely happening here is the sun coming in through the trees is causing lens flare. Images of the sun bounce around inside the lens and end up registering on the sensor, after being affected by the anti-flare lens coating (which changes the colour, here mostly to green), the shape of the lens aperture (a daimond shape in this case), the surface shape and quality of the lens, and digital processing and file compression.
Lens flare can be caused by sunlight, moonlight and man-made light sources, always coming from somewhere in front of the camera, even if not necessarily in the picture area. It can create some bizarre effects that can give a sense of a spiritual presence, a UFO, or other things. The same sort of thing happens in film cameras but digital cameras seem more prone to it, perhaps due to the more compact design (no shading of the lens, usually) and the processing and compression of the image after capture.
The photo below, taken in Milford Sound in New Zealand's South Island and kindly sent in by Mike Brown, shows lens flare that has taken on the appearence of a demonic face. This is an example of lens flare combining with the psychological phenomenon called visual pareidolia (see links below for more info). The patterns caused by the flare are meaningless but we humans have a hard-wired tendency in our visual perception to see faces and figures in such random, insignificant data.
Lens flare: more examples on Strange Occurrences site
Visual pareidolia - more info:
Other pareidolia photos on Strange Occurrences site
More about orbs: photo examples on Strange occurrences site
Orbs Explained - orbs as false positives, article by James Gilberd
Photography tips: how to avoid lens flare
Lens flare, if not actually producing artefacts in your photo, will generally deteriorate the photo's quality by slightly fogging the image, reducing contrast, colour saturation and definition, so you want to minimise flare for the best quality photos in any case (paranormal or not).
As a professional photographer engaged in trying to produce the clearest possible photos (usually, anyway), lens flare is something to always be aware of. With a DSLR or SLR film camera, the lenses usually come with a lens hood, and this should be used for every photo taken (not stored reversed over the lens!). In situations where the lens hood is unavailable or inadequate, use your hand or (preferably) some dark, flat object to shade the lens from the sun or other direct light source. Hint: if you can see the light hitting the front surface of your camera lens, you're going to get lens flare in your photo.
With compact cameras (most have no lens hood provision) or phone cameras, using your hand to block out the source of the flare is a good technique. Move your hand closer in until you can just see it in the picture onscreen, then withdraw it slightly. (Try taking two photos, one with and one without using this technique. You will see a marked difference in quality.) If the light souce is actually directly in your photo, this will not help: you are going to get lens flare.
is a blog by James Gilberd - leader and co-founder of Strange Occurrences. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Strange Occurrences team.
James Gilberd is an amateur paranormalist, writer and musician, and a professional photographer, living in Wellington, New Zealand.