Orbs 101 – Do YOU Believe in Orbs?

Posted on August 27, 2010

On a ghost hunt, our creative imagination can potentially run interference with our investigation. When it comes to ghosts and hauntings, the human mind (and the human imagination) can run away with itself and take others with it in the process.

About once or twice a month, I will get an email from someone that contains a picture with “orbs.” Those mysterious blobs and spheres of light seem to turn up everywhere, especially during ghost hunting. Some of these pictures have one or two orbs, while others have “orb storms.” I try not to discourage anyone seriously interested in the paranormal, but sometimes we all tend to get a little carried away with ourselves when it comes to ghosts, myself included. But what are orbs really? There are a lot of theories and the subject is a matter of hot debate in paranormal circles, but no one really knows for sure what causes them to manifest in some pictures and not in others.

The picture below was taken by Willy of me investigating the upstairs hallway and rooms in the Fralinger’s building at Cape May. At one time, the building was called the Capital Bar & Hotel and the building is haunted. In every other shot taken in this sequence, prior to and after this “Batman-angled” shot, there were no orbs. In this shot there are a multitude of little white spots swimming around me in the air. They are to the right of my face, above me and in front of the door behind me. What do you think they are?

“Orbs” are what paranormal investigators and ghost enthusiasts call those semi-translucent spheres of light that appear in photographs, both on film and especially on digital pictures. While some orbs take on a life of their own, looking more like an amoeba floating in the air or sometimes even a face, most orbs are just free floating refractions of light caused by explainable phenomena.

If you are doing a ghost investigation and trying to capture evidence of the Other Side, your camera should be a tool of last resort. Cameras are good for documenting physical spaces and recording specific areas of a place reputed to have ghost activity. Video cameras are good to keep an eye on an investigation for both ghostly movement of physical objects as well as human perpetrated hoaxes.  Other than this, about the only spirits you will be able to capture with a camera are the type that can be found in a bottle. Orbs, for the most part, are not paranormal at all. From what I have been able to ascertain about orbs over the years, here is my theory on what makes orbs fly.

I feel the most common causes of orbs are light refracting off a shiny surface. Airborne water droplets or dust particles and sometimes even cigarette smoke can also cause light to refract back to the lens. If you shoot with a flash, the light from the flash hits one of these physical surfaces and refracts back to the camera. Sometimes even dust particles on the lens itself will create “orbs” in your picture.

Look again at the picture above of me and the orbs in the hallway. It was daylight out and the light is coming in over the doorway behind me. The door has a somewhat shiny surface and we did use a flash.  Any of these things “may” have caused these orbs to appear. On the other hand, maybe they truly are some form of energy. As I said, orbs are very controversial.

The picture below is of The Whilldin-Miller House in West Cape May. It was taken on a rainy summer night using a digital camera with flash. Notice the explosion of orbs to the right. The light from the flash is refracting off the raindrops. This is one that is easily explainable because we knew for a fact it was raining when we took the shot.

Some of the most common “orbinators” are:

Shiny, reflective enamel paint on moldings, doors or windows. This is the #1 source of orbs in interior home shots.

Glass surfaces like windows, doors and glass coverings on wall pictures.

Mirrors are a given. If there was a mirror in your picture view you have found the source of your “ghost.”

Sand or dust kicked up in the air at night when shooting with a flash. This is a big source of “cemetery orbs.” Get a group of ghost hunters kicking up dirt in a graveyard, take a few night shots with a flash and you will have a gaggle of “ghosts.”

I have seen bad film developing work wonders in the “ghost” department as well. Wonderful “energy lines” and “auras” are nothing more then a chemical malfunction or an exposure issue with film.

Bugs flying in front of a camera lens at close range or crawling on a lens will create a moving “ghost” or orb that looks especially real on video surveillance cameras. I have seen some great internet videos of “ghosts” wandering around at night caught on surveillance cameras. Well, I guess it would be logical to assume there are ghosts of bugs as well.

This is not to say every orb is explainable. Every now and then, I will come across a photograph that will baffle my common sense. Logic tells me the orbs in a picture are refractions of light, but the face staring back at me from the picture tells me otherwise! Some orbs may take on the appearance of a human face and just how human it appears will make the ghost investigator start to wonder just what has been captured on film.

The “lady in blue” appeared over my shoulder as I was talking about her haunting The Inn of Cape May at a lecture I did for MAC a few years ago. If you look at the picture (right) you can see the face of an older woman. Her cheek bones, her jaw and even her eyes, nose an a kerchief appear to be in the shot. Witnesses have reported seeing a woman in a blue dress, who appears out of nowhere in the hotel and then vanishes. It is thought the “lady in blue” is a former house keeper of the hotel or even one of the original owner’s wives.

Two different people took pictures of me that afternoon and both pictures had a big blue blob that clearly resembles a woman’s face. Now there were reflective surfaces behind me, but I cannot explain how they would form a face. What do you think?

If you stare at the lady in blue for a moment, some people even say she moves. Of course this is just an optical illusion… or is it? See what I mean? The human imagination tends not to want to “give up the ghost.”

Legions of ghost hunters still use orbs as evidence of the paranormal. If all of the orb pictures looked like the one of the “lady in blue,” I would be much more convinced that perhaps cameras can capture some form of apparition energy.  However, like all things paranormal, we are given just enough evidence to wet our appetite, but never enough to satisfy our curiosity. That’s what makes ghost hunting so much fun.

Most orb pictures really bother me. That’s why I titled this blog “those mysterious and annoying little balls of light in our ghost pictures.” I see so many ghost investigators get so hung up with orb pictures that they probably don’t even sense the ghost walking right past them shaking its head in disbelief.

So forget the cameras and stick with tape recorders. EVPs are much more evidential, I think, when it comes to ghosts and hauntings. I am not a complete skeptic when it comes to orbs, but I have a narrow window of tolerance for the subject. Can psychic energy or ghostly energy create light distortions that can be photographed? Maybe. But that’s as far as I will commit at this point in my career.

So remember, when you are hanging out in the local graveyard, watch where you tread or you may be stirring up dust and orbs, instead of ghosts.

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