Ghost Orbs

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The Great Ghost Orb Debate - Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Hate the Blob

So just what the hell are orbs anyway? Photographic flaws? Psychic energy? Spiritual byproduct? Ghost farts?





Take a look at the two photos above. The first is a control shot, the second has an unknown white form in the lower right hand corner. These were taken in a cemetery in Washington state by Ross Allison, the current president of AGHOST based in Seattle. I was personally present at the time and can testify that the photos were as shown above and have not been altered in any way except that I cropped them for easier analysis. I can further state that while it was overcast, there was no rain, fog, or smoke present and he took these shots seconds apart. Unfortunately, flash was used in both photos, and the one on the right apparently caught a small amount of MOISTURE.

DUST caught in the flash looks more like the "orbs" in the photos below:



In the photo on the left, notice that the orb just above the investigator's head is far dimmer and has a haziness as opposed to the one above. Also, it is obvious (and necessary) that a flash was used. In my opinion, this is a reflection off of a dust particle. Ditto for the photo on the right.

In many "psuedo-orb" photos, you can look at the edges and see that the outer rim is more defined and stronger looking, while the core is fainter, making it look like a cell under a microscope. True orbs are bright and consistent in brightness throughout. I know a lot of you have coveted galleries showing off similar phenomena, and I don't mean to offend or put down your hard work or expertise, but I cannot go along with everyone on what they may think is an orb or a ghost.

Since I have started writing this column, my attitude towards orbs has shifted a lot more towards the negative for a number of reasons. Despite the amount of literature on the web and elsewhere detailing criteria for determining what is an atmospheric orb and what may be truly paranormal in origin, people are still thinking their shots of dust in the flash are the spirits of the dead. To add to my annoyance, some have accused me of having "orb envy" and shooting down pictures that someone else took just because I haven't gotten very much on film.

Nothing could be further from the truth  - take a look at the photo in the center. I took this shot of the haunted Jefferson Hotel with a flash. Look at all of the "orbs" floating around. Do I consider myself to be the Great White Ghost Hunter because I got these on film? Is this the remnant energy of tortured souls?

My answer is a resounding "NO" to both of the above. The anomalies in the photo are once again dust particles in the flash - I guarantee it. I admit the one orb in the lower center is a bit brighter than the rest, but the sheer number of white circles indicates a high concentration of particulate matter in the vicinity, so I have to discount them all. In other words, the conditions under which this was taken is too questionable. If you see a photo with more than a few orbs (like dozens or hundreds) then it is completely atmospheric.

I have too much experience as a technician, photographer and an investigator to blithely agree that every white blur is paranormal in origin and in my overall opinion, video speaks a lot louder than still pictures. The orbs you see in motion on film are sometimes the real thing. Video shows patterns far better and is tougher to fake, nor is it subject to errors caused by flash. But many orbs seen in video are insects caught in the infrared lamp, or even dust caught in the bright halo of the IR light; the pattern of movement often gives it away.

As for others getting paranormal evidence on film, I would LOVE to see someone get a full body apparition on record. It is probably one of the best possible pieces of evidence that the place is really haunted and would ensure that an investigations at that location are worthwhile.

Here are the questions about orbs I keep hearing again and again:


1) If they are dust particles, how come I don't see them with the naked eye?

You can if you look carefully enough.

I often can see them if I hold my eye away from the viewfinder when taking a picture. If you look at the area immediately in front of the flash when it goes off in the dark, it is easier to pick them out. Some people use those portable 1 million candle spotlights you can get at Target for $30 or so. (a powerful strobe works better, but can attract unwanted attention)

Don't believe me? Take a look at the photo below. When I sent this to my Asst. Director, she asked me: "What the hell did you bring home? Is it a ghost weenie?" Some might refer to this as a "vortex" shot.

I call it a piece of my own hair that I held up in front of the camera.

Which segues into another question - why don't orbs show up all the time if it's just dust in the air? Aren't there always contaminants in the air? 

The answer is that dust contamination varies according to certain environmental factors such as wind, pollen, dust concentration on the ground and how much it's been stirred up by the investigators. Outdoors will tend to show a lot more than indoors because there is a more reliable source for plain old dirt.

Finally, the foreign particle needs to be at a very specific range in front of the lens, a narrow sweet spot if you will, in order to show up. The photograph of the hair above required several takes before I got a satisfactory image. See the Ghost Gadgets article link below for an excellent diagram explaining this concept in greater detail.


2) How come they look large and far away? 

Because they are so close to the lens when the shutter opens. Hold your finger up in front of your eye one inch away (don't poke yourself). It looks out of focus, transparent and bigger, doesn't it? Same thing with a dust orb - at a distance of 2 - 4 inches that's what they look like from the perspective of the camera in the sudden blinding glare of your flash unit.


3) But they only show up when I'm in a haunted location!

I see orbs in everyday photos on the Internet all the time. The reason it seems that way to you is because you are LOOKING for them if you are on a ghost hunt, so you are more predisposed to notice them right off. Second, when you are hunting for ghosts, you are most likely using the camera in the dark with a flash, which is an uncommon usage in general. Think about it - most people take photos of family, for work or on vacation when lighting conditions are good or only need fill flash - not when the ONLY light source is flash as in a cemetery after dark. Multiple light sources will also tend to drown out any false orbs. 

Furthermore, the dark of the night provides more contrast for WHITE particles to show up against. In the day, this would be harder to pick out.

Still need more proof? Here's another experiment - at night in a dark room, stamp on the carpet to kick up dust and then take a flash picture near floor level. See what comes out.

Another thing you can do is take a photo of an orb and use a photo editor (like IrfanView) to push the gamma or brightness up until the picture is washed out looking - at this point you may suddenly notice a plethora of "orbs" that you didn't see before. If this is the case (like in the Jefferson Hotel picture above) then you are looking at contamination. Be sure do this to a copy of the picture so that original stays intact.

Furthermore, we are starting to see instances where orbs show up even without a flash and we know the location isn't haunted by the conventional definition. This seems to be caused by bright nearby light sources and/or reflection, but we are currently investigating this phenomena.


4) Why are they different colors?

Because of chromatic distortion. We perceive different colors because they are varying wavelengths of light. If a particle happens to be of a certain makeup or shape, it will tend to absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect others, thus giving the perception of a certain color. Pollen often looks yellow, for instance.


5) Are you saying my home/workplace/favorite gay bar isn't haunted?

No, not at all. Just because you don't have photographic proof doesn't mean that the location isn't haunted. Bear in mind that out of the billions of photographs that have been taken, only a mere handful have shown truly meaningful form and definition.


6) Are you saying I'm not special or I don't have the talent it takes to be an investigator?

Of course not - and I encourage you not to use the photographs you take as the sole criteria for determining if a place is haunted OR for your value as a ghost hunter. There are many other areas that are likelier to show supernatural presence and your value is determined by what you learn and how much you help people.

This is the number one reason why I am starting to dislike analyzing orb photos of any kind as I see this scenario again and again. People are hopeful that they caught a ghost on film and send in the picture to ask for my opinion. Then (the part I hate most) I often have to tactfully point out that there is a natural explanation. In sheer gratitude they either raise hell and/or never contact me again.

In most circles, this is the very definition of a thankless job and I am beginning to not want it at all. If you choose to believe that what you caught on film is a spirit, then please keep it to yourself - that way it will stay intact. But I am still dismayed at how much people get their ego involved in the pictures they take. I have known several amateurs who have left ghost groups because they couldn't handle the honest analysis given by those who have long years of experience.

To be very blunt, if you can't accept constructive input in this field, then you simply won't go far as a serious investigator. 


7) Well, what do you consider to be an authentic orb photo?

I ask for at least one or preferably more of the following criteria to be true:

A) No flash used at all (though we are now starting to see shots of dust showing up even without a flash)

B) The orb was visible with the naked eye before taking the shot (self-luminous)

C) Caught on video (and it's not an insect or piece of lint)

D) Other strong correlating phenomena to be present such as a cold spot, anomalous EMF reading or other instrument/eyewitness event


In conclusion, I find the whole idea of orbs as spirits to be more than a little insulting. It insinuates that when I die, I will show up as this pathetic little blob on someone's camera to be displayed to the whole Internet like an 8 pound catfish mounted on the wall.


8) Why are orbs showing up with digital cameras more than with 35mm?

The reason why digital cameras pick them up a little more often is due to a few things. One of which is that digital cameras are built with the flash closer to the lens than in traditional 35mm - this narrows the angle of convergence to a very short range and so picks up dust right in front of the lens more readily. This was illustrated when a ghost hunter friend of mine switched from his compact 35mm to a full sized Sony F717.

Immediately, the number of orb photos dropped to nearly nothing. You need a separation of at least 2.5 inches between the flash and the lens to cut down on the reflections of floating particulates in front of the lens.

Another reason is because so many more people are into ghost hunting with digital cameras and are willing to take dozens of potential "throwaway" shots in the dark, whereas years ago you would have spent $50 in film and development to shoot a few rolls. More raw shots means more orb photos numerically.

Finally, film and digital CCD's do not have the exact same spectral sensitivity across the range of light as the human eye - as a film teacher of mine cautioned me: "The camera sees things that the eye cannot." Whether those things are explainable or paranormal often depends on our understanding of the physical universe.


9) I still don't believe you - you are an idiot and don't know what you are talking about.  It is a ghost! I just know it!

Ha ha! It's times like these that I'm glad I upped my medication.


If you think my voice is alone in the wilderness, here is a bevy of other established researchers who will tell you the same thing:


International Ghost Hunters Society   (they no longer accept orb photos if that tells you anything)

American Ghost Society              



Ghost Gadgets                                 EXCELLENT ARTICLE WITH DIAGRAMS

                                                          PHOTO COMPARISONS

                                                           DEVICE TO ELIMINATE FALSE ORBS


Below is an extract from Fujifilm’s official website

“There is always a certain amount of dust floating around in the air. You may have noticed this at the movies when you look up at the light coming from the movie projector and notice the bright sparks floating around in the beam. In the same way, there are always dust particles floating around nearby when you take pictures with your camera. When you use the flash, the light from the flash reflects off the dust particles and is sometimes captured in your shot.

Of course, dust particles very close to the camera are blurred since they are not in focus, but because they reflect the light more strongly than the more distant main subject of the shot, that reflected light can sometimes be captured by the camera and recorded on the resulting image as round white spots. So these dots are the blurred images of dust particles.

You can reproduce this problem relatively easily by taking a picture right after you put away goods that create a lot of dust, such as feather bedding. In actual photography, this problem frequently arises in shots taken at construction sites, etc. It may also occur when it is raining or snowing. Compact cameras in which the flash and the lens are close together are particularly susceptible to this problem.”

This explanation is preceded by a photograph showing a typical ‘grey blob’ type Orb.




(You can view both the article and the photographs by clicking on

Other camera manufacturer comments:  (Nikon)    (first part is from Canon's website)


If at this point you feel like more of an expert than the combined opinions of several well established groups and the technical feedback of camera manufacturer engineers, then in my estimation, you are truly a stubborn moron with your head up your ass. You are NOT smarter or better qualified to judge this phenomena then people who have degrees and specialization in optical physics. Try quoting Snell's Law or defining what the Brewster angle is. In short, shut up, get an engineering education and leave us the hell alone. Here is a link for those annoying asslamps who seem to require assisted living:


10) Your negative attitude will drive all of the ghosts away.

This is one of the latest arguments to circulate in ghost hunting and I find it to be flawed on many levels. For one, numerous skeptics and unbelievers have encountered unusual phenomena, so that doesn't hold water with me. They may explain it away cognitively, but that only drives the BELIEF out of their mind - it doesn't drive the ghost away.

Second, in my experience negative and tragic events tend to attract and ESCALATE activity, not the other way around. Fear and anger are very powerful emotions and there are entities and patterns that can feed on such sentiments as fuel. I am not encouraging groups to deliberately whip themselves up with heavy metal music or anything like that before a hunt, but I am pointing out historically what the correlation has been.

What I DO encourage, is having a calm, open mind. Assuming that a blob of white "Is a ghost, it just has to be" is just as closed minded as saying there is no such thing as ghosts. If SPI and I are truly that "negative" about ghosts, then why would I spend years and thousands of dollars developing an organization, website and services oriented around the concept that there is more betwixt heaven and earth than can be dreamt of in our philosophies?


"It seems that many groups still consider dust orb photos to be paranormal because they don't want to take the time to collect REAL anomalous data. What keeps these groups holding on to the dust orb as phenomena is the instant gratification they get by collecting hundreds of so-called 'spirit orbs' in a single night of investigating. "

-Quote from the Ghost Gadgets article




The picture of the teddy bear above was taken with a Polaroid Instant Camera. Is this a ghost? Even though these cameras are vaunted for authenticity, I can tell this was a film load error caused by not removing out the black cardboard shield before taking pictures. Notice how the white blurs have a chromatic (rainbow) edge? Definitely operator error.



Advanced Ghost Gear for Paranormal Investigation by SPI


The new eBook from SPI

"The Advanced Ghost Hunter Book of Gear"  part of "The Shadow's Edge" series of paranormal publications.


"I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –  

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –  
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My Mind was going numb –  

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here – 

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –  
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then – "
"I felt a Funeral, in my Brain" - Emily Dickenson