Great new review article on ghosts, hauntings and theories. I would consider it a must read if you are serious about this field. You can download the article here.

Monday, 02 June 2014 19:22

The Truth About Orbs


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)




Published in PRG updates...
Wednesday, 30 October 2013 01:39

Investigating the Investigator

Investigating the Investigators

Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Groups Examined


The 21st century has seen an explosion in the number of ghost hunting and paranormal investigation groups. This massive growth in groups and investigators was and continues to be fueled by various reality shows such as Ghost Hunters, a variety of affordable paranormal investigation equipment, the internet and a plethora of haunted locations (both public and private) that these seekers of paranormal activity can investigate.

There is a long list of parapsychology studies in the peer reviewed literature dealing with ghosts and hauntings. However, this is dwarfed by the number of pictures, videos, audio recordings, investigation reports, equipment lists, podcasts, etc… that are found on ghost hunting and paranormal investigation websites.

So, why not have researchers investigate the investigators?

Well, that is exactly what has been done in the past three years.

Below are three studies that examine ghost hunting and paranormal investigation groups in regards to beliefs, practices, equipment used, goals, services, types of people who are part of ghost hunting and paranormal research groups, general procedures and how groups utilize the word ‘science’ and present themselves.


Schumacher, Dave. (2013). Paranormal Beliefs of Those Involved in the Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigation Field. Paranormal Research Group – Anomalous Research Department.

Pdf report available at:

Here is the quoted text from the Conclusions and Discussion section.

“There was a high level of experiences and belief in ghost and haunt phenomena among those who are interested in and involved in the ghost hunting and paranormal investigation field. The individual Extraordinary Belief Inventory statements that had the highest frequency of the “7 - Strongly Agree” response were those dealing with a supreme being, life after death, spirits can communicate with the living, immortal soul, ESP, haunted buildings and ghosts. The individual Extraordinary Belief Inventory statements that had the highest frequency of the “1 - Strongly Disagree” response were those dealing with luck.

There were statistically significant differences in the six types of paranormal beliefs with spirits and psychic experiences having the highest levels of belief and creatures and luck having the lowest levels of belief.

These results were expected because of the websites, boards and e-mail lists where survey participants were recruited from as they were mainly focused on ghosts and hauntings. However, they did have information and areas for religion, cryptozoology and skeptics.”

Observations and Comments:


  • Belief on one type of paranormal phenomena does not mean there is belief in other types of paranormal phenomena.
  • The high level of belief in ghosts and hauntings is interesting since many ghost hunters and paranormal researchers indicate that they are open minded, are seeking the truth, have not made a decision if ghosts exist or not and are driven by science and the scientific method. These high levels of beliefs could present a potential bias when investigating and interpreting experiences and data.



Duffy, Rick. (2012). Survey of Paranormal Research and Ghost Hunting Groups. Independent Investigations Group, Colorado.

Pdf report available at:

Excel raw data file available at:

Here is the quoted text from Section 3 General Observations.

“Responses sometimes varied quite a bit, and the actual questions and breakout of responses fill out most of the rest of this report. Below are some generalizations of those responses.

Most group names include a local city or area identifier, along with the words Paranormal, Research, Ghost, Investigations, or Society. The most common group was founded 5-6 years ago with 4 people, and has since doubled in size. Their primary goal is to help people reporting strange occurrences, along with conducting investigations and research, and educating others and themselves. Some also have the goal of helping ghosts. Roles include a founder, investigators, technical specialists, and case managers. Many also have psychics or sensitives. While most groups have no specific new goals for the future, they hope to continue what they are doing now, and feel they get better at what they do over time.

Most groups do not consider themselves a business, have not registered a trade name, are not insured, and are not registered as a non-profit organization. The average group spends $1000 a year, and does not charge for their services, or collect membership fees. They have no overall group religious identity, though 41% of the groups indicated their members have been blessed or prayed over during an investigation, and about half have encountered activity they felt was evil. Few have ever encountered anyone they would consider possessed, but those who have often then seek aid from Catholic clergy.

Most members are 20 to 40 years old, though there are older members, but few under 20, and few retirees. Occupations are roughly similar to the US population, with heavier concentrations in photography, writing, and the media industry, and life, physical, and social sciences, and lighter participation in office support, food preparation, and installer/maintainers. Potential new members contact groups out of the blue, often due to information about the group on the web. While groups value any education or training their members may bring, there are not generally any specific educational requirements to becoming a member. Most training occurs in-house by other team members.

Groups rarely investigate in cemeteries. The most common locations are private residences. When a client contacts the group with concerns about possible paranormal activity, the group begins to collect more information and to determine the next step. Often an investigation is recommended. Occasionally a group will also recommend the client keep a journal to document any unusual disturbances.

The typical group has performed at least 70 total investigations, and now performs about 2 per month. Investigating with another group is uncommon. Investigations usually occur in the evening into the morning hours, since that is when the client requests, or the activity is reported, and since that is the time that conflicts least with the investigators outside work schedules. Nighttime (with the lights off) also is said to be beneficial because of less environmental noise (sounds, light, and so on), and because some of the equipment used works best in the dark. The most common equipment used is audio/video, EMF detectors, thermometers, and IR or night vision technology. Very few groups use things like dowsing rods, religious items, or Ouija boards.

Actually finding something a group would consider paranormal does not happen every time, but it does occur at least half the time. About half the groups have encountered clients they felt should seek psychological help.”

Observations and Comments:


  • First, make sure you download and read the pdf report and the Excel file with the raw data. The data is informative, surprising and will cause one to pause and perhaps evaluate and re-evaluate what their group is doing and why. The next few observations and my comments are on those things that particularly peaked my interest.
  • Goals of the group: 95% help people; 94% conduct research; 85% educate others; 72% answer personal questions about the paranormal; and 21% develop or be on a TV show. The top four goals are impressive and will lead to increasing the credibility of investigators. However, proper methods must be used to conduct research and good information must be provided to people.
  • Describe what the group does: 63% investigate/research; 58% help people; 31% educate others; 20% try to find other explanations; 9% document; 8% help spirits or cleanse or clear; 5% public events and fund raise; and 3% collect stories or legends.
  • Plans for the future: 42% continue doing what they are currently doing; 21% help people and investigate more; 18% educate others; 18% legitimize the field and/or find proof; 13% increase TV, radio, web and/or film presence; 12% educate themselves; 2% fix group problems; 2% increase income; 1% join TAPS; and 1% publish book.
  • Investigation goals: 85% help those experiencing paranormal phenomena; 75% conduct research; 73% collect evidence; 54% help ghosts or spirits; and 28% have fun. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have fun. Just make sure that the locations investigated will meet that purpose. If conducting investigations of private residences one needs to make sure that the best interest of the clients are the main consideration.
  • Training or education required for those joining a group: 39% in-house training; 17% no training; 14% hands-on; 8% read; 7% degrees; 3% research or scientific methods; 2% parapsychology; and 1% psychology.
  • Training provided to members: 35% in-house; 24% hands-on; 21% generic – must be trained; 19% research on-line; 9% little or none; 7% outside experts; 6% instrument manuals; and 2% manufacturer training. For this point and the one before it - 17% requiring no training is a concern. Even though there are no experts in the field, there has to be some level of training and/or expertise in some area. Considering how much parapsychology and psychology are involved in this field it is surprising there is not more training in these areas. It would also be very beneficial to thoroughly read and understand any equipment manuals.
  • Services offered by groups: 37% teach classes; 36% cleansings; 27% guide spirit onward; 24%  blessings; 18% tours; 15% spiritual protection; and 4% exorcism.
  • When do investigations take place: 44% best for client or when activity occurs; 30% best for investigator’s schedule; 18% more activity occur at night; 16% activity occurs in the day as well; and 1% more fun in the dark. The vast majority of investigations should take place during the time activity is reported to occur.
  • 61% listed private residences as very common investigation locations. If the goal of the group and the investigation is to help people and conduct research then this is ok. If there are any other goals then perhaps investigating locations other than private residences would be better.
  • Lighting conditions: 49% dark; 21% greater than half the time in the dark; 13% lights sometime on and sometimes off;  and 5% lights on more than off. Again, investigations should be done at the time and under the conditions that activity has been reported to occur.
  • 0% reported experiences when the lights were on most of the time. Interesting since there are numerous reports of paranormal experiences occurring during times when it was light outside and/or the lights were on inside.
  • Environmental conditions groups consider when investigating: 74% age of structure and/or location; 70% weather; 57% water in area; 41% phase of the moon; 38% solar activity; 6% astrology; 7% toxins, gases, chemicals; 5% mineral and geology; 3% EMF; 3% history; 1% client beliefs; 1% geomagnetism; and 1% ion levels.
  • Tools used every time: 94% audio; 79% video; 77% EMF detector; 66% thermometer; 54% Infra-red/night vision; 35% spirit flashlight; 26% EVP box; 13% spirit application; 10% EM pumps; 8% dowsing rods; 7% seismometer; 1% Geiger counter; 1% magnetometer; and 1% RF detector. Considering the amount of peer reviewed published studies showing the various correlations between EMF, geomagnetism, radiation and ion levels and paranormal experiences, it would seem these areas would be focused on by more groups and researchers and more of the equipment that measures these things would be used. Unproven and questionable
  • Encountered a possessed person: 11% yes; 80% no.
  • What did the group do when they encountered a possessed person: 45% help from the catholic clergy; 36% performed a cleansing or deliverance; 18% prayer or blessing; ad 9% got help from others. Possession symptoms could certainly be indicative of various psychological and medical conditions. Therefore, involvement of psychologists, therapists and/or medical doctors is highly recommended.
  • Paranormal activity found: 39% rarely; 31% about half the time; 21% more than half the time; 4% every time; and 2% never. These groups must have great luck in finding locations with paranormal activity. After 20 years involved in paranormal research and investigation I would say only about 5% to 10% of the locations investigated had activity that could not be explained naturally.



Hill, Sharon. (2010). Being Scientifical: Popularity, Purpose and Promotion of Amateur Research and Investigation Groups in the U.S. A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University at Buffalo, State University of New York in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Education (EdM).

Pdf Report available at:

Here is the quoted abstract from the study.

“21st century television and the Internet are awash in content regarding amateur paranormal investigators and research groups. These groups proliferated after reality investigation programs appeared on television. Exactly how many groups are active in the U.S. at any time is not known. The Internet provides an ideal means for people with niche interests to find each other and organize activities. This study collected information from 1000 websites of amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs) to determine their location, area of inquiry, methodology and, particularly, to determine if they state that they use science as part of their mission, methods or goals. 57.3% of the ARIGs examined specifically noted or suggested use of science as part of the groups’ approach to investigation and research. Even when not explicit, ARIGs often used science-like language, symbols and methods to describe their groups’ views or activities. Yet, non-scientific and subjective methods were described as employed in conjunction with objective methods. Furthermore, what were considered scientific processes by ARIGs did not match with established methods and the ethos of the scientific research community or scientific processes of investigation. ARIGs failed to display fundamental understanding regarding objectivity, methodological naturalism, peer review, critical thought and theoretical plausibility. The processes of science appear to be mimicked to present a serious and credible reputation to the non-scientific public. These processes are also actively promoted in the media and directly to the local public as “scientific”. These results highlight the gap between the scientific community and the lay public regarding the understanding of what it means to do science and what criteria are necessary to establish reliable knowledge about the world.”

Observations and Comments:


  • This study was written with a skeptical approach.
  • It is important to realize that using ‘scientific equipment’ does not mean that real science is being done. Using the scientific method involves developing a hypothesis, designing an experiment, collecting the data, interpreting the data and modifying the hypothesis as needed.
  • Data collected during investigations needs to be published so others can review and evaluate it.
  • Certain methods and/or equipment are used because they give positive results. Those pieces of equipment that give negative results are not used. Investigation data generated from equipment that gives positive or negative results should collected and published. Negative results can be just as important as positive results. This will also reduce the amount of bias.
  • Some equipment and methods are used just because others use them. The type of equipment or methods used should be utilized in order to answer a specific question and/or to evaluate a specific condition that may or may not be contributing to the phenomena being investigated.


Published in PRG updates...

The Long Awaited SWPRG film, "Ghosts of Door County" has finally been released!!!  For those of you not familiar with the film, the SWPRG (PRG) traveled to Wisconsin's picturesque Door County peninsula to dig deep into the area's haunted past.

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In the end, what they find will challenge everything you've come to believe about the nature of these unearthly phenomena. Remember, legends have to come from someplace ...

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Published in PRG updates...

From Investigationg the Haunted: Ghost Hunting Taken to the Next Level. (2007). Lauer & Schumacher. Xlibris.

"If you say you are science based, then use science. Science is NOT just using fancy electronic equipment and walking around taking thousands of photos. The hardcore skeptics have a field day with this. Being scientific involves much more and can be rather boring and dull at times. When trying to gain new knowledge of something, the scientific method or scientific process is basic to the investigation. You use observations and reasoning to develop possible explanations for the observed phenomena. This is called a hypothesis. Once the hypothesis is formed, you test predictions that come from the hypothesis by doing a variety of experiments. The experiments should be repeatable. Now, once the hypothesis has been confirmed repeatedly by experimentation and research, then it becomes a theory and new predictions are based upon it.

All aspects of the scientific method are subject to review by other researchers. Here is a general guideline to follow:

  1. Define the question
  2. Get information
  3. Develop a hypothesis
  4. Research/experiment/observe
  5. Analyze the data
  6. Interpret the data and draw some conclusions (which may lead to a new hypothesis)
  7. Tell people about your results and let them analyze the data and try to replicate your results

Research and observation can involve looking into the history of a location or reviewing published literature for information (both natural and paranormal) and cases like those you are working on... Hopefully, one day, this will lead to the development of a paranormal theory that can be validated over and over again both by ghost researchers and mainstream science. Knowing your stuff and applying the appropriate scientific terminology and really using the scientific method will go a long way in making you appear legitimate."

Published in PRG updates...