"Orbs" Debunked!

Presented by Troy Taylor, Author of the GHOST HUNTER'S GUIDEBOOK and President of the American Ghost Society

For many years, during all of my writing on ghosts and paranormal phenomena, I have maintained that nothing that I have written has ever been meant to be the “final word” on anything related to the paranormal. However, this section is actually meant to be the “final word” (or rather MY "final word") on the subject of “orbs”:

Enough with the "orbs" already! "Orbs" are not evidence of the paranormal. They are not ghosts and they are not even "unexplained"!

How can I say this when I maintain there are no “experts” on the paranormal? Because so-called “orbs” have nothing to do with the paranormal! Let me back up a moment and say then I’m not talking about anomalous lights and globes of energy that are seen with the naked eye, I’m talking about those pesky, transparent balls that seem to show up in photos and have been claimed for more than a decade to be “evidence” of ghosts.

Many of the "orb photographs" that turn up on Internet websites or in books seem to come from cemeteries but they actually have an annoying habit of showing up almost anywhere. They have become the most commonly reported types of "paranormal photos" claimed by “ghost hunters” in recent years.

I began debunking the vast majority of “orb” photographs in the middle 1990s, around the same time that I began the controversy over using low-end digital cameras for paranormal investigation. The majority of “orb” photos from that time could be blamed on low resolution, low pixel cameras --- but not all of them. Despite what has been seen and heard, there has never been any evidence whatsoever to suggest that these “orbs” are in any way related to ghosts.  Yes, they have often turned up in photos that are taken at haunted locations but, as my research started to show, they could turn up literally everywhere.

As mentioned, "orb" photos are the most commonly seen "ghost photos" today and you will probably see more photos on the Internet of these purportedly "mysterious" balls of light than of anything else. While I do believe that genuine photographs of paranormal "lights" exist, they are not as common as many people think. The reason for this is that it’s very hard to photograph something at the same time you are observing it. However, it’s been done a number of times over the years at spook light locations and even during investigations. In my book Ghosts on Film, which deals specifically about spirit photography and investigations, I present a number of cases from my files where other researchers and myself were able to photograph glowing lights at the time they occurred. Were they ghosts? I don’t know but I can say that I believe the lights were paranormal in origin --- unlike “orbs”.

Despite the fact that I (along with many other researchers) have been trying to tell people that “orbs” are easily explained as a natural phenomenon for nearly a decade, those that I like to call “orb-a-philes” have continued to post “orb photographs” on websites, print them in books, display them at conferences and excitedly show them to me on their digital camera screens. When I suggest a possible explanation for the “orbs”, downplaying the idea that they are ghosts, I usually get the reaction that I described in the introduction to this book --- anger, righteous indignation and a comment that I don’t know what I am talking about anyway.

So, rather than try and argue with every “orb-a-phile” that I come across, I’ll let this article do my arguing for me. I don't plan to write about "orbs" ever again and so please spare me the angry emails that claim that I have no idea what I am talking about. This is the final opinion that I have come up with on "orbs" and keep in mind that it is my opinion -- I'm not an expert because there aren't any paranormal "experts"-- but this is what I have come up with based on research that dates back over more than two decades. With that said, what follows are the reasons that  I do not believe that “orbs” have any place in the field of paranormal research:

A typical "orb photograph" is usually one that is taken in an allegedly haunted place and somewhere within the photo is a hovering, round ball. Some of these "orbs" appear to be giving off light, while others appear to be transparent.

It should also be noted that "orbs" were actually quite rare (if not nonexistent) before digital cameras became common. In the early days of low-cost, cheap digital cameras, some "ghost hunters" actually proposed that digital cameras are "superior for orb photography". And since they were producing more "orb" photos, this was technically true. But the digital imaging chip is very different than traditional film photography and was far inferior until recent times. Some of the earlier, low-end digital cameras were made with CMOS chips and they would create "noise" in low-light photographs that would be mistaken for "orbs". It seemed that when they were used in darkness, or near darkness, the resulting images were plagued with spots that appeared white, or light colored, and where the digital pixels had not all filled in. In this manner, the cameras were creating "orbs", and they had no paranormal source at all.

The most common “orb” photos are merely refractions of light on the camera lens. This occurs when the camera flash bounces back from something reflective in the range of the camera. When this happens, it creates a perfectly round ball of light that appears to be within the parameters of the photo but is actually just an image on the lens itself. Many people often mistake these "orbs" for genuine evidence of ghosts, although I have never really been quite clear as to why that is. Most “orb” photos occur when the camera flash is used. Some of the photographers will insist that their flash was not on, which means it was and they didn't know it. The automatic exposure control on most any standard 35 mm camera uses fill flash in all but the brightest light.

Even so, “orbs” don’t have to have a camera flash to be created. They can also be caused by bright lights in an area where the photo is being taken, by angles of light and by many types of artificial lighting.

But are lights and camera flashes the only thing that can cause “orbs” to appear? Far from it! Other objects that end up in front of the camera lens and are mistaken for paranormal images are dust, moisture, pollen, insects, snow, rain, hair, ash and scores of other semi-microscopic particles. In almost every case, the camera flash reflects on the surface of one of these particles and seems to “glow”, as one might expect a ghostly image to do.

I started experimenting with “orb” photos a number of years ago, using a variety of materials, like flour, salt, dust and cat dander, to simulate “orbs” with my camera. I was not really that surprised to learn how easy it was to duplicate what so many people thought were ghosts using these ordinary items. The one argument that always intrigued me from the “orb-a-philes”, though, was: why, if “orbs” were not paranormal, did they so frequently turn up in photos taken at haunted locations?

I decided to research “orb” photos from graveyards, which I had seen scores of over the years. Keep in mind that I have often been openly critical of ghost hunting in cemeteries anyway.  By that I mean, actually just going out to cemeteries and shooting photographs and hoping to capture something on film. While this is great for the hobbyist, I don't feel that it's serious research. Needless to say, I have been harshly criticized for this view. In spite of this, I have not changed my mind about the fact that random "ghost hunting" is not an investigation. And if this isn't reason enough to discourage this kind of activity; I soon had another reason for taking this view.

With three other researchers, I went out to a cemetery that we picked at random on a warm summer night and took several rolls of film. We had no readings, stories or reports to justify the decision, but just took photos anyway. After having them developed, we discovered a number of the photos were filled with semi-transparent "orbs".

On a hunch, we then went to a nearby football field that was roughly the same size as the cemetery we had already visited. We walked around for a few minutes and again shot a few rolls of film. I was unfortunately not surprised to find that these photos were also filled with “orbs”. Was the football field haunted? Of course not!

What we did was walk around both areas and stir up dust and pollen from the grass. When we took the photos, these particles in the air caught the reflection of the camera flash and appeared to be "orbs". We also discovered that such photos could be taken after walking or driving on a dusty road. The dust particles would reflect the light, just as moisture can do, and make it seem as though the air was filled was "orbs".

While the experiment really just reinforced a belief that I already had --- namely that “orbs” are not paranormal --- I do think that it was worthwhile if even one “orb-a-phile” might see the results and question some of the photos that he or she has been presenting as genuine.

After publishing this research, I was sure that this would be the end of people sending me photos of “orbs” and asking me to justify their belief that they had captured a ghost on film, but it wasn’t. In fact, people still send them to me on a regular basis and they usually follow it up with their arguments as to why they are sure their “orbs” are real.

THE LAST WORD ON “ORBS”?

So, should we discount all “orb” photos? No, I don’t think that we should. As stated earlier, I do believe that there are genuine, paranormal images that appear and which are sometimes captured on film. These visible lights are a semi-common phenomenon but whether or not they signal the presence of ghosts is still open to debate. Regardless, I believe they are something paranormal in nature and we should continue to study them, as we have done for some time.

It’s the “traditional orb photos” that have become the bane of paranormal research and I think that it’s time that we retired this irrelevant theory for good. This will be the last appearance that “orbs” make in any of my publications and hopefully, we’ll see them start to fade from the spotlight of paranormal research once and for all.

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© Copyright 2008 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.