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Monday, 02 June 2014 19:22

The Truth About Orbs Featured

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Note: This article originally appeared in Investigating The Haunted – Ghost Hunting Taken to the Next Level [1]. It has been revised and updated with new information as of June 2014.

Orbs here, there and everywhere!

Eventually you will stumble across the topic of orbs no matter where you go for paranormal information. Orbs were and still are a hot topic of debate among paranormal investigators. There are a variety of hypotheses on what they are, where they come from and why they are captured on cameras. Paranormal explanations include ghosts, spirits, angels, fairies and poltergeists [2-5]. At the opposite end are those explanations that are very natural and include dust, bugs, water vapor and/or artifacts created by the digital camera itself [6-7].

While debate continues between the hardcore believers and skeptics, what does the published literature tells us about the real origin and causes of orbs?

There are three main views on orbs [8]:

  1. The rationalist view – All orbs have a natural explanation.

  2. Minority belief – Some orbs have a natural explanation while others have a paranormal explanation.

  3. Rejection-of-rationalism – All orbs are paranormal.


Those who hold the rationalist view believe that all orbs have a natural explanation and there is no link to the paranormal. Natural causes of orbs include:


  1. Stray reflections (often from a high powered flash close to the lens) from shiny objects in the environment are re-reflected off of the lens surface. This can even occur without a flash! All it takes is just a light source and/or shiny object that reflect light into the camera lens.

  2. There is diffraction from the flash reflecting off of dust, dirt, pollen or other particles near but not on the lens [7].

  3. The phenomenon known as ‘blooming.’ This is the bleed-over from one pixel to another [9]. This is mainly attributed to the older and lower mega pixel digital cameras.

  4. The Association for Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) determined that orbs are light reflected off of an object near the lens and are within a small angle between the digital camera’s flash or IR light on a video camera. This area close to the lens and flash and at a certain angle has been termed the Orb Zone [8, 11-12].


Support for the Orb Zone theory comes from two studies done by researchers in the UK. The results were [8, 12].


  1. There was no difference in the number of orb photos between haunted and non-haunted locations.

  2. Increasing the depth of field increased the number of orbs.

  3. There were more orbs while using a flash in low light conditions compared to not using a flash under the same conditions.

  4. Increasing the distance of the flash from the camera lens resulted in fewer orbs.

  5. The 35mm film camera had fewer orb pictures then digital camera pictures.

  6. There were fewer orbs when using a higher mega pixel setting versus a low mega pixel setting.


One can see that the data strongly supports the view that all orbs are not paranormal and most can be attributed to natural causes. However, these studies could not definitively rule out the possibility that some orbs are paranormal in nature and a number paranormal investigators claim that a small minority of orbs (1 to 2%) could have a paranormal causation. Therefore, more research with a new approach was needed.

Steven Parsons of Para.Science devised a novel experiment utilizing stereo photography to test the hypothesis that orbs are nothing more than airborne matter that reflect the light of the flash back toward the camera (i.e. proof of the Orb Zone hypothesis) [13]. If an orb was seen in only one picture of the stereo pair and not the other then that would indicate the source of the orb producing material was in the angle of the view between the flash and the lens and it was close to the lens (in the Orb Zone). However, if the orb showed up in both pictures and in the exact same location then the object was outside of the Orb Zone and other origins of the orb should be considered.

Parsons used a Fujifilm W1 3D camera for the experiment. The stereo pairs of the two pictures were identical with regard to flash and flash settings, image systems and exposure. The only difference was in the parallax – the displacement of difference in apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight.

1,870 stereo pairs of pictures were taken at a variety of haunted locations and 1,000 pictures were taken at non-haunted locations. In the haunted locations, 491 pairs had an orb in the right or left picture only and 139 pairs contained an orb in both pictures but not in the same place. The results were the same in the non-haunted locations. The data supported the Orb Zone hypothesis and indicates that orbs have a natural cause.

Parsons also noted that if the 1-2% of orb pictures were paranormal, as claimed by ghost hunters and paranormal groups, then approximately 6 to 12 paired photos in the study should have been potentially paranormal (i.e. an orb would have appeared in both images in the same location). This was not the case. None of the pictures indicated a paranormal causation for orbs.

There is enough evidence to now indicate that orbs found in digital photos have natural explanations. With that being said, paranormal investigators and ghost hunters will still get orb pictures simply based on the nature of the equipment used. These naturally caused orb photos can be reduced by:


  1. Moving the flash away from the lens.

  2. Controlling the environment – dust, moisture, reflective surfaces, etc…

  3. Using an antireflective lens coatings [14].

  4. Using baffles to trap stray reflections within the lens [15].

It looks like there is now enough evidence to put the digital paranormal orb photo debate to rest…RIP digital paranormal orbs!



1) Lauer & Schumacher (2007). Investigating The Haunted – Ghost Hunting Taken to the Next Level. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Corporation.

2) Chambers (Ed.). (2007). Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained. Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd.

3) Cooper & Crosswell (2007). Ascension Through Orbs. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn Press.

4) Hall & Pickering (2006). Beyond Photography. Encounters with Orbs, Angels and Light Forms. Hants: O Books.

5) Heinemann & Ledwith (2007). The Orb Project. New York, NY: Atria Books – Simon and Schuster.

6) Radford (2007). Skeptical Inquiree, 31.5 URL

7) Schwartz & Creath (2005). Journal of Scientific Exploration, 19(3), 343-358.

8) Wood (2007). PSI Journal of Investigative Psychical Research, 3(1), 10-18.

9) Hannemyr (2007). Imaging Defects: Blooming URL

10)  UKParanormal (2007). Orbs, what the hell are they? URL


12) Wood (2005). Journal of Investigative Psychical Research, 1(1), 10-15.

13) Parsons (2014). Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal. 5(2), 44-49.

14) Macleod, H.A. (1986). Thin Film Optical Filters. (2nd edition) (Chapter 3)

15) Breault, R.P. (1995). Handbook of Optics. (Volume 1) (Chapter 38)




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