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Orbs: Debunked!

UPDATED: 05/24/2013

For a shorter version, please visit this wonderful video that explains Orbs!



The most common type of visual activity to be presented as evidence for paranormal activity and often used by amateur groups to "prove" a haunting. Let's begin with what people believe orbs to be, then we will move on to what is actually happening.

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, aka, non-ghost hunters, to be spirits caught on film.


Or, another popular belief is that an orb, is a ball of energy, spirit energy that’s free floating, in the environment. 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 hear of orbs being spirit guides, demons, astral creatures and oddly enough " evolved spirits".


In reality, there is no proof or scientific back up for any of this. Now that we know what the most common beliefs are in regards to orbs, let us proceed 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 (this is especially true of cell phone cameras which cannot in any way compare to professional grade or even consumer grade stand alone cameras), "supernatural orbs" make up the predominant presence 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. Below we shall explore the two and see what the difference is. 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 thought not always.


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 both in standard off the shelf cameras and cell phone cameras 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 orb like appearance.


A flash does not need to be present. Any light source that reflects or refracts from particulate matter (dust, moisture, etc) in the air (even though we can’t see it’s there moving on air currents) and that enters the cameras lens (which it does otherwise you wouldn’t have a picture in the first place) can cause an orb artifact to appear.

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 Claims:

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


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, and are present in our environment at all times undetectable to the naked eye. This is actually connected to the next point.


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


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 on their own. They move with air currents and can disappear from shot to shot or frame to frame, with no problem at all due to the angle at which an orb is photographed which 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. Orbs do not fly in intelligent patterns. They simply follow the air currents. 99.9% of orbs that move in intelligent ways are insects, such as small gnats.


" But my orbs have faces in them!"


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 colors. 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. In psychology, this phenomenon is called paredolia. Without it, you could not recognize familiar objects such as a person’s face or a chair from the environment around you.

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 whereby the object is

in focus as accurately as possible, grows into a circle of confusion with increasing distance from it.


How A Liquid Orb Is Created:


A liquid orb is created because a drop of liquid, most often a rain drop, is situated near the camera lens and outside the depth of field, in other words out of focus. The pinpoint of light reflected from the drop of liquid that would be seen if it were at the hyper focal distance, the distance from the film or CCD to the object being photographed whereby 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 is colored 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.


 Orb Control Comparison Photos:


Below at the bottom of the article after the conclusion is a control set of photos of different orb types, examples of what I've went over above.


This first and second chart shows both solid and liquid type orbs. On the charts below the first one shows the variety of colors orbs can come in. The third chat shows orbs and light phenomenon caused by insects and bugs, another unsung cause of orbs and light anomalies.


These charts were compiled in a mass experiment by the Mid-Night Walker's Paranormal Research Society. The original experiment can be found here:  and I want to take the time to thank them for all their hard work and effort. It has paid off!




 So? Where does all this leave us? What is our stance on orbs?




They are not paranormal, at all. Orbs are simply a photographic artifact created by environmental and mechanical camera effects. .


SSPRS will no longer be accepting submissions of photos of orbs, of any kind, because we have made our stand, and will continue to stand by it that orbs are not paranormal in nature. If you have read this article, please do not attempt to send us any orbs because as explained above, orbs are NOT paranormal. There are no special orbs. Sorry! 


Rock on and happy hunting!

 SSPRS would like to thank the other teams in this field that are stepping up to the plate and debunking orbs and for all of their hard work in showing that this type of phenomenon is not paranormal but indeed rational. I would like to specifically thank Mark Stinson for his great article on MySpace about Orbs. I would also like to thank Grant Wilson for his explanation of matrixing, Wikipedia and online resources for explanations of cameras, camera lenses, photography and terminology. I would also like to extend a thank you to Mid-Night Walkers Paranormal Research Society. You all make this worthwhile! Thanks for all your help!




UPDATE: 01/24/2013

One of our website visitors sent us his findings on a recent research project on orbs and photography. Check out his results which help shed more light on specific camera settings that may help create orbs in DSLR photography!

"I experimented with a canon sx50HS in three different settings of Shutter speed 1/60 1/100 1/250 and with ISO settings for each Shutter speed ranging from 200 to 400 to 800 to 1600 to 3200 to 6400.

In all cases of Shutter Speed, the higher the ISO the more ORBS appeared in the picture.

Most digital cameras reach a higher than 400 ISO when used in low light conditions and are set to Automatic Picture Settings.  Usually in low light settings, the cameras will lower the shutter speed, however this will make blurry pictures, thus the camera adjustes de ISO higher, so it will be more sensitive to less light and that will allow to have a faster shutter speed, and assist in taking les blurry pics.

Thus when cameras in low light adjust the settings automatically, they will put ISO values quite high to decrease blurryness in the pics.  This will result in higher probabilities of generating orbs.

While conducting the experiments I noticed that when I took the pictures with the camera directed to the night sky, the flash allowed me to see, in plain sight, and not through the camera, the particles of dust suspended in the air for the fraction of a second the flash lasts. I had to be quick and on alert to see them, but they are visible.

Just as you would see them floating in the been of high power directed light in a dark room."

---- Juan Arroyo, Monterrey, Mexico. 

Below is a small sampling of the images that Juan was able to create in his experiment. There were quite a few more but due to hosting space, we only uploaded a select few but do retain the full set on file if you wish to see them.




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