Photography of the Unknown: Practicle Information.




The most common type of visual activity to be presented as evidence for paranormal activity and often used by ameteur groups to "prove" a haunting, are Orbs. Let's begin with what people believe orbs to be, then we will move on in the case against them.


Orbs: What Are They Believed To Be?

Orbs are believed by a large number of people, both new groups, experienced and people who are capturing them, to be spirits caught on film. Or, another popular belief is that an orb, is a ball of energy, spirit energy thats free floating, in the environment. Even remarks such as ‘The First Stages of a Spirit Manifestation’ have been used. It is common knowledge that energy is most stable in the form of a sphere, which is the limited physics background of the belief, and I do stress limited. I have also heard of orbs being spirit guides, demons, astral creatures and oddly enough " evolved spirits". Now that we know what the most common beliefs are in regards to orbs, let us procede onto the truth. What orbs REALLY are. Orbs have been scientifically debunked as a modern inception with no pre-recorded example prior to the availability of CCD lens (digital camera) technology and it's inferior ability to focus, "supernatural orbs" make up the predominant presense of 'ghost photos' on the Internet. There are two main types of orbs reported, both of which are caused by particulate matter in the air. The first type is Naturalistic Solid-Type orbs, and the second type is Liquid-Based orbs. We shall explore the two and see what the differences are. First off, cameras...


What Type of Cameras Most Often Capture Orbs? Digital vs Film:

Naturalistic orbs are most commonly gained using digital cameras and built-in flash. While photographers with archives of photos report having occasionally seen "orbs" in their photos gained with film cameras no evidence has been presented that this is not a modern light artifact error arising in CCD lenses, and the recent rise in reports of orb photos may be directly related to the common availability of digital cameras and associated rise in the number of pictures taken. It should be noted also that the size of the camera is another consideration in the recent proliferation of orb photos. As film cameras, and then digital cameras, have steadily shrunk in size, reports of "orbs" increased accordingly. As cameras became smaller, the distance between the lens and the built-in flash also shrank, decreasing the angle of reflection back into the lens causing less focus on small light artifacts and thus an orblike appearance.


The Main Causes of Orbs:

There are a number of naturalistic causes for orbs in photography and videography.


*Solid orbs - Dry particulate matter such as dust, pollen, insects, etc.

*Liquid orbs - Droplets of liquid, usually water, e.g. rain.

*Foreign material on the camera lens

*Foreign material within the camera lens

*Foreign material within the camera body


Common things Orb supporters state to prove their case of "paranormal" orbs:

" But there was no dust when I took the picture! Must be a ghost!!"   Well....


There are also orbs showing up without any "environmental" explanation i.e. no visible dust, no rain, no moisture, no snowing, no light reflections, etc. However it should be noted that dust particles and moisture and most particles that are small, are present in our environment at all times undetectable to the naked eye.

Sorry to dissapoint.


" ...but the orb appeared in this photo, but not this one taken right after, therefore, it must be a ghost... It moved!"


No, it is NOT a ghost. Orbs are particulate matter in the air, hence they are subject to the laws of aerodynamics and air currents. In other words, they do move, but not of their own violition. They move with air currents and can disappear from shot to shot or frame to frame, with no problem at all. Also, the angle at which an orb is photographed can also play a factor, on whether or not the flash or the light (from any source) is hitting the piece of matter in the right way as to make it visible.


"But my orbs have faces in them!"       ... No, they don't.


You are simply seeing a natural activity of the human mind called "matrixing", which is the human mind's tendency to find familiar images in complex shapes, patterns or colours. In other words finding a face in the shapes and shadows of a collection of objects. An example is laying on the grass and looking at the clouds. You look at the clouds and your mind makes familiar shapes out of them...a train, a dragon, a hamburger. Most orbs have complex patterns and lines, as well as colors in their "nucleus" which gives fuel for the fires of matrixing.


OK now then. Solid Orbs and Liquid Orbs - How a solid orb is created:

A solid orb, or dust orb, is created because a reflective solid airborne particle, such as a dust particle, is situated near the camera lens and outside the depth of field, (In optics, particularly film and photography, the depth of field (DOF) is the distance in front of and beyond the subject that appears to be in focus) in other words out of focus. The pinpoint of light reflected from the dust particle that would be seen if it were at the hyperfocal distance, (which is the closest distance at which a lens can be focused while keeping objects at infinity acceptably sharp; that is, the focus distance with the maximum depth of field) the distance from the film or charge-coupled device (CCD) to the object being photographed wherby the object is in focus as accurately as possible, grows into a circle of confusion with increasing distance from it. The appearance of the circle of confusion is modified by aberrations such as chromatic aberration (chromatic aberration is caused by a lens having a different refractive index for different wavelengths of light aka the dispersion of the lens. The term "purple fringing" is commonly used in photography due to the most common type of corona being coloured purplish blue ) or coma. Chromatic aberration is also the cause of so called "light emission" by orbs and the supposed" corona" of an orb. They are also often caused by water or water spots remaining on the negatives during photo processing. Often simply cleaning the negative and reprinting the film will eliminate the orbs.


Misidentified as Orbs:

In some rare cases Natural Electrical Phenomena (NEP) can sometimes be misidentified as orbs such plasma discharge or even Eath Light Phenomena (ELP). Now... As you will probably be aware. There is always the exception. There have been a handful of paranormal investigations throughout the world that provide photographic evidence of unusual light phenomena which is yet to be explained.  The photograph below was taken by paranormal investigators and depicts numerous balls of light situated near the floor and up against a wall. You can clearly make out that these balls of light seem to be self illuminated thus causing a light reflection on the carpet below.  If the information pertaining to this photopgraph is real, then we may be dealing with a true light phenomena associated with paranormal disturbances and should not be referred to as an ORB...


Hairs, Straps and other items in front of the camera lens:

Hairs in front of the camera lens or camera straps can create some interesting photographs especially when illuminated by the camera flash. Camera straps can create whispy white coloured spirals and lines which have been mistaken for paranormal anomalies. They are often given names such as 'Energy Spirrals' and 'Vortex' and are presumed to be doorways in which paranormal phenomena or spirits pass back and fourth. Hairs placed in front of the camera lens creates white or yellow coloured streaks or paterns. It is easy for hair to get in front of the camera lens due to the camera being placed near the eye which could cause hair to stray in front of the lens when the camera is so close to the head of the photographer. Therefore less photographs are taken showing hair when using a digital camera with a view screen as these are often held away from the photographer. As you can imagine, hair in the exposures were more common using slr cameras. Digital exposures with hair in the exposure do still take place and create the same conditions as if taken with a slr camera.


Other items caught in front of the camera lens are fingers, insects, rain, snow etc. Some insects which may or may not be seen at the time can be photographed and illuminated by the camera flash creating little balls of light which can be seen to be moving around. These can sometimes create little streaks of light and glowing dots of light like fire flies depending on what camera used. Catching a tip of a finger in front of the lens can produce what looks to be a white, yellow, orange coloured glow to the edge of the exposure. This can happen easily if the photographer in not use to using the particular camera. This can also happen accidentally making the photographer unaware at the time thus making the photographer think it may be paranormal in origin when viewed at a later date. Snow, rain and other items also cause globular conditions. This is when there are many balls of light caught in the exposure. Mist and vapour can leave moisture on the lens causing the same affect and if the photographer is unaware of this he or she may think they have taken a photograph of something unusual. Objects caught in front of the camera lens can often be seen to be blurred or out of focus. This indicates that the focus of the camera is monitoring the background as oppose to the forground. Forground images are often blurred or fuzzy edged indicating that whatever it was, it was close to the lens.


Mist, vapour and smoke can also cause unusual photographs, especially when illuminated by the camera flash. In some cases, during cold evenings (or days) vapour from the mouth of the photographer can be caught in front of the camera lens during the exposure. Again, such photographs are more commonly taken using slr cameras due to the camera being close to the face of the photographer. This also happens when smoke is arouned. It could simply be that the photographer was smoking at the time. These white whispy smokey paterns can look like think fogging and smokey shapes. Environmental conditions also need to be taken into consideration as fog and mist can also be photographed as it passes in front of the camera lens.



Using todays technology, it is very easy to create a reasonably good paranormal photograph by using computer software such as Photoshop and others. It is almost impossible to authenticate photographs nowerdays due to technology being used to fake photos is as good as or in some cases better than the technology used to analyse the photos. Apart from using expensive methods there are easier ways to create hoaxes such as creating double exposures. This can be done by placing two images together. Using slr cameras, the photographer can take a photograph of something, making sure the background is a dark colour and then take a second exposure without allowing the camera film to move on, thus applying two exposures to the one photograph. Some double exposures do happen in older or faulty cameras accidentally causing the photographer to think something paranormal has been caught on film. The first form of fake double exposures were created many years back via use of plate photography. Such photographs were referred to as spirit photography and were all most definately fake.


Timed exposures are also used to fake paranormal photographs. Many cameras can be set to timed exposures thus creating blurred imaged of movement. If the photographer has got someone sitting very still for a certain time and someone else moving around, then the exposure will show two individuals; one in focus and clearly defined and the other as a blurry image of a figure. This method tired with an interesting story such as, (there was one one person in the photograph when taken) can make people believe the photograph depicts some type of apparition caught on film. Other methods of faking photographs are scratching the back of polaroid film cartridges before placing into the camera and taking a photograph. This method creates whispy white lines where the unseen scratch marks were. There are also those fake photographs that depict figures in the background which are thought to be apparitions. These photographs are usually fine and have no defects thus leading the investigator to believe whatever figure was in the background was realy there. It could be as simple as the photographer is not being trueful with you and a planned hoax exposure was taken.



In some cases the photographer takes a number of photographs forgetting who is in the forground or background only to reveal an exposure showing someone stood or sat in the background or forground that they cannot remember being there at the time. Such photographs preduce statements such as (it must have been a ghost as they were not there when I took the photo). It is easy to forget what exactly was in the forground or background of photographs due to the photographer only concentrating on the main image and as time passes makes it harder to remember who else may have been around at the time of the exposure. Sometimes photographs are taken showing faces or figures in things that were not visible at the time. This is often referred to as Pareidolia. Pareidolia is a phenomenon in which people perceive meaning in abstract stimuli. One of the most classic examples of pareidolia is probably cloud-watching; many of us have spent some time gazing at clouds and picking out fanciful shapes. In addition to being visible, pareidolia can also be auditory in nature. Pareidolia is a form of apophenia, a tendency to create patterns where none exist.


A number of theories to explain pareidolia have been posited by psychologists and people who study human development. Often, pareidolia takes the form of recognizing a human face in an abstract object like a cinnamon bun or a rock, and some people have suggested that humans may be hardwired to recognize other humans, so they are especially attuned to face-like features. More likely, humans have learned to be very careful about potential predators, and the brain may overreact to something which looks like a potential threat in order to stay safe. Whatever the cause, this psychological phenomenon manifests in all sorts of interesting ways. The Man in the Moon, for example, is another well-known instance of pareidolia, with many cultures around the world having some sort of myth which references a person living in the moon. Mysterious messages in static and the appearance of religious figures on fruit are also examples of pareidolia. Sometimes artists take advantage of pareidolia to embed hidden images in their work; Georgia O'Keeffe's flower paintings, for example, are often perceived as paintings of something else.


Mundane explanations for pareidolia are not always appreciated, especially in cases where people believe that they are seeing a figure of religious significance. Attacks on the validity of the sighting can be perceived as attacks on religion itself, with skeptics implying that there is in fact no hidden message in an unusually-shaped fruit or the peeling paint on a wall. People who experience religious pareidolia are often struggling with life difficulties which lead them to fervently desire a closer connection with God, and this can lead them to reject skeptical inquiry. Many people experience pareidolia at some point in their lives, whether wandering around a forest at night, listening to music, climbing a mountain, or vacationing on the beach. Sometimes pareidolia seems to manifest in response to an emotional state, such as fear or worry, and at other times, it appears to be entirely random. Differences in how people perceive things can also explain why some people see shapes in abstract images when others don't, and why some people hear things which are inaudible to others. The most common form of pareidolia is images made from hair, trees, clouds, glass windows, walls, doors and foods. There are thousands of examples.


Lens flares can also be thought to be paranormal. A lens flare can be numerous colours and consists from shapes to columns of light. Light leakage into cameras using film can also cause similar conditions such as bleaching of the negative. Photographers should also make sure that the cameras lighting conditions are correctly set and make sure that there are no unusual stray reflections which could cause flares or counterflares being caught in the exposure. These flares can be seen as light formings on the exposure.


UFO photographs:

UFO photographs have always been difficult to authenticate as they can be nothing more than a model or frizbee thrown into the sky and photographed. This method was first carried out during the 1940s and 50s when car hud caps were used. However in more modern times people use model aircraft, balloons and other items to throw up into the sky and snap a photograph. Brightly lit objects photographed in the sky could be almost anything, sometimes being street lights, the moon, stars, distant lights, a civilian or military aircraft, chinese lanterns, birds, balloons etc etc, the list goes on. On a number of occasions the photograph has been taken from indoors looking through a glass window which can sometimes reflect a light source in them from behind the photographer. Other hoaxes can consist of sticking a carboard or paper shape onto a window and photographing it, however the forground item stuck on the glass window are often out of focus, fuzzy or blurred. Even models of UFOs have been made and danggled in front of the camera lens.


Other photographs:

Photography of strange creatures or animals still continue to date which include bigfoot, sea or lake monsters, the chupacabra, big cats etc etc. It is easy to fake such photographs using stuffed animals and having someone dress up in a monkey costume. Always look for fastenings like buttons and zips caught in the exposure as well as shoulder pads. It is even necessary to learn of how they may move in hope of  concluding a photograh. Look for scale referrences, odd reflections and pareidolia.



Do not be disheartened by the exstensive list above. There is a need to investigate and analyse such photographs. There are still some photographs that remain unknown. This area is worthy of continued study.


Compiled By Steve Mera and Tony Milhorn.

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Photographing the Unknown


Practicle Information

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