This is something that always seems to be of great debate.  There is a continous controversy, and many times I have been presented with photos asking for me to look at the ghost. I have even been given photos and told to that there was a smiley face in the middle of the orb.

Saying this in the kindest way possible, we as people feel the need to believe in things, and we seek out evidence to support our beliefs.  I find that many people feel the strong need to believe in spirits, and will seek to find evidence in any fashion than can. I call it the "true believer syndrome."  So when someone goes on a ghost hunt determined to find ghosts, he or she will take a picture and find evidence of spirits in orbs, fulfilling a psychological need.  Is this to say that true orbs don't exist? No.  In my opinion, true orbs are as rare as true apparitions, but it is possible for them to exist.

The other problem is this, even if we find evidence of a true orb, how do we conclude that this is a spirit? It could be caused by something natural.  Most of us don't look at the Northern lights and say, "its a bunch of ghosts!" as we know that science can explain it.

So, how can we look at the orb problem?  Below are some things to consider.

Orb Zone Theory


From Maurice Townsend. 2007.

The Orb Zone Theory (OZT) is essentially an extension of the 'circle of confusion' explanation for orbs given by camera manufacturers and serious photographers. In essence, an orb is a circle of confusion which is an out of focus highlight.


So, what is a circle of confusion? It is the smallest detail that a lens can resolve. When it is projected onto a film or sensor chip it appears as a tiny circular dot. These dots are deliberately made small enough so that people cannot see them as individual dots. Instead the picture appears as continuous shapes, rather than thousands of dots. It is a bit like the way a TV picture is made up of many lines that you can see if you look closely enough. Note, however, that circles of confusion are not the same as pixels!

When an object in a photo is out of focus, its circles of confusion expand to appear as circles The larger the circle, the fainter it is, because the light is more spread out. Eventually, when the circle becomes too large, it is no longer visible at all. This places a limit on the largest 'orb' you can see in a photo. This is why you never see orbs over about one tenth of a frame size*. If orbs were real objects 'out there', you would not expect them to have such a limit on their size in a photo.

A crucial question is - why did orbs suddenly appear when digital cameras arrived? The sensor chips in digital cameras are almost all physically smaller than the size of a 35mm film frame (most are less than half the size). This meant that wider-angle lenses were needed for digital cameras so they could show the same area of view in a frame as a 35mm film cameras (otherwise digital cameras would have shown a much smaller area of view). These wider-angled lenses had a much greater depth of field. Depth of field is the area in front of a camera where objects are in focus. If objects are too close to the lens (and sometimes when they are too far away) they will be out of focus and break up into circles of confusion. The increased depth of field in digital cameras meant that the closest distance where objects were in focus came much nearer to the camera. It also brought the area that was just out of focus much closer. Importantly, it brought these two zones much closer to the flash unit. In many digital cameras this created an Orb Zone. The orb zone is the area where the flash is strong enough to illuminate tiny particles, like dust, water droplets or small insects, that are just too close to the camera to be in focus. Such objects produce expanded circles of confusion or orbs! Since most bits of dust are tiny, they only have a single highlight and so produce individual orbs. Some larger objects, like small insects, may have several highlights and so produce multiple overlapping orbs.


Various factors affect the brightness, structure (internal shapes, such as concentric circles, if any), edge sharpness and evenness of shading. These are mostly down to the camera lens. Photographers talk about the bokeh of a lens when discussing this subject.

Has the Orb Zone Theory been tested?

For a scientific theory to be validated, it needs to produce predictions and these need to be tested. Ideally, these predictions should be of things not already observed. If a theory only 'explains' existing observations, but cannot predict any others, it could be no more than speculation. Several predictions of the Orb Zone Theory have been formally tested to scientific standards. These include:

  • that orb numbers vary according to the depth of field in a particular photo
  • that orb numbers are unaffected by the megapixels of a camera
  • that orb numbers are unaffected by whether photos are taken in haunted or non-haunted locations

In each of these tests, everything was done to hold other variables (that were likely to affect the outcome) constant. It was then possible to see if there was any statistically significant relationship either supporting or refuting the predictions.

The first test concerned the central basis of the theory - that it is the distance of the closest point at which objects are in focus is what determines how many orbs will be seen. Such a relationship is unlikely to be predicted in paranormal theories of orbs which aren't usually concerned with the mechanics of taking photos. The second test concerned an idea proposed by some people that higher megapixel cameras produce fewer orbs*. The third test concerned the widely-held idea that haunted places produce more orbs. Some people propose, for instance, that orbs are actually ghosts or are the precursors of ghostly manifestations.

When these predictions were tested in rigorous conditions, they were all confirmed.

In addition, the OZT has explained many 'odd' kinds of orbs that were seen by some as 'beyond the dust theory', and so possibly paranormal (see the next section). The OZT has successfully explained many types of orb from hundreds of photos taken with dozens of different camera models in many different places and in all sorts of different conditions. These unusual orbs have also been successfully reproduced using the principles of the OZT.

Another interesting test that ASSAP once proposed was Project Orbit. The idea was to see if two cameras could record the same orb. OZT predicts that because the zones are so close to the camera lens, the same orb will NOT appear in both shots, showing it is a bit of dust or other particle very close to the lens. For various reasons Orbit never happened but paranormal research group Parascience has done similar tests and confirmed what the OZT predicted. See here for details.

* Though the number of megapixels is irrelevant in the Orb Zone theory, the physical size of the sensor chip is not. More recent cameras tend to have larger sensors as well as more megapixels. This means their lenses have a smaller depth of field which reduces the likelihood of orbs.


What if orbs appeared more frequently in haunted locations or around particular people or events? Research has shown no evidence of more orbs in haunted locations than in non-haunted places. However, there have been claims that certain people or places 'attract' orbs or even that some people can 'will' them to appear. To test such claims requires more than just examining photos. All such claims of orbs around particular people or places could just be coincidence. It requires a carefully designed controlled trial, similar to the one that showed that haunted places are no more likely to have orbs than non-haunted places, to test the claim.

David Rountree

This is the best article on Orbs ever written.   





Where does the orb debate come From?  Here is an insert from Para.science.  I encourage you to follow the link and read the entire article.

During 1998, as part of a long-term investigation at Ellesmere Port's Boat Museum, we took a series of pictures using an 800,000 pixel digital camera that stored the pictures onto a removable floppy disc. The pictures were taken following an alarm from an Electromagnetic Field [EMF] meter. The pictures were taken in the dark using flash and later when viewing the images we noticed something unexpected and not seen before. A number of circular light anomalies could be seen close to the area where the EMF detector had sounded an alarm to indicate the presence of a higher than normal electromagnetic field.
In a sequence of three pictures taken over 10 seconds one of these light anomalies appeared to have travelled an estimated distance of more than 20ft - to say we were impressed would be about right! During the course of the night and previously, more than 200 digital stills had been taken at the same location, only a handful showed these balls of light and most of those were the ones taken in response to the EMF alarm.

The pictures were enhanced and analysed using specialised software developed and written for us, the software permitted us to undertake meaningful image analysis. The results showed that the light anomalies were not the result of any camera or imaging faults. The fact that the EMF alarm had sounded at the same time convinced us that we were perhaps seeing something that may turn out to be paranormal but more work would certainly be needed. The pictures and a full description of the events were sent to Sony UK for their comments and they confirmed that the camera was not at fault - these 'Lightballs' as we christened them could not be easily explained.
A few weeks later, at a different location in an old school we came across a similar phenomenon -the EMF detector was placed close to where many witnesses had reported a ghostly figure. After several hours the audible alarm on the EMF meter sounded and number of digital pictures were once again taken in response. Again, we discovered 'Lightballs' on the digital pictures - this time using a Fuji 1 million pixel [mega pixel] camera. This time we also had a nightvision camcorder placed to observe the same area. Playing back the videotape revealed a moving ball of light that quickly moved into the frame as the EMF alarm could be heard sounding on the audio track. The 'Lightball' appeared to stop, then change direction rapidly before exiting the bottom of the frame.

Three separate items of equipment had apparently recorded the same event and at the same time. After careful scrutiny we felt we had compelling evidence for something very unusual taking place and beyond all our attempts at a reasonable explanation at that time.

We placed the evidence online whilst we continued to try and devise some experiments to understand what we were seeing. A group in the USA using nearly identical equipment contacted us, they also had pictures of these 'Lightballs' but no video footage at that time. It seemed a good idea for both groups to work together on trying to discover more about this phenomenon. They also found that sometimes high EMF levels were present coincident with the Lightballs and later on had a lot of success capturing the balls of light on Nightvision video. Over the next few months we shared regular email correspondence with them and we jointly set about devising various means of discovering more about these light anomalies. Some statistical studies were carried using the internet to speed up the information gathering process to try and determine just how likely a camera was to produce a 'Lightball' in a picture. Para.Science spent many hours studying the 'Lightballs' with it's analyser software measuring them, looking at the colour, the colour temperature, the density; in fact anything we could think of to try and learn anything we could about them.

We had up till now also been carrying out some basic research into possible links between EMF and the paranormal, this was building upon the work of lab based parapsychologists such as Dr. Michael Persinger and others who suggested from their own research that strong or varying EM Fields may be responsible for some or many of the paranormal experiences that people had.
Our original encounters with 'Lightballs' had suggested that they might be in some way connected with an EMF anomaly as our EMF detector had indicated an unusual EM Field strength at the same time as the balls of light were seen.

One of the things we did discover is that the 'Lightballs' seemed to be reflective; they gave off light with characteristics very similar to either the flash light on the camera or in the IR part of the spectrum - around 680nm that was used by the IR LED's to illuminate the scene in front of the camcorder. If the 'Lightballs' had emitted their own illumination we should have expected that it should be of a different colour or colour temperature to the light emitted by the camera. 

From this point the article then begans to speak of how others began using digital cameras and discovering orbs.   They began performing more tests themselves.  here were some results:

We found that Orbs appeared almost at random in every sort of location - most of which never had any association with the paranormal or had to our knowledge been reported as haunted. The vast majority of the Orbs did not even warrant a mention by the picture takers either going unnoticed or ignored.
Those with a Fuji or Kodak camera had the greatest chance of producing an Orb - almost 20% of the pictures taken with these makes showing an Orb.
If you owned a Canon or Nikon model you stood around a 1 in 20 chance of an Orb appearing in the final picture.
Later, this experiment was repeated with a larger sample and taking into consideration the exact model of the camera and the r results were again quite clear.

The cheaper the camera, irrespective of manufacturer, the more likely it was an Orb would be captured. Likewise, the physically smaller the camera, the more likely it would be to photograph an Orb; irrespective of its cost.

  here were

We also wrote to several of the camera manufacturers and also to the makers of the imaging CCD's. We discovered that the way the CCD sees the world is very different from the way we see it or a film camera sees it. We already knew about the IR sensitivity of the CCD and we also discovered that they are more sensitive to UV light too. All CCD's rely on software to actually construct the image from the millions of individual pixels and in consumer cameras this software needed to 'compress' the raw data in order to get enough pictures onto the storage media or memory This compression ratio and also the software compression algorithms varied not only from different makers but also even across the maker's own range of products.

A 3 megapixel CCD actually captures less than 10% of the total image information available within a scene when compared with a 35mm camera negative. The software has to 'fill in' these gaps in the image by making comparisons with the information from neighbouring pixels, thus a single pin point of light in a scene may be ignored completely or seen and then 'expanded' by the software as it compares and interpolates each pixel with it's neighbours - the single point source of light becoming a gradually larger and fainter circle of light - giving the characteristic circular Orb anomaly. The CCD also had a further trick to play - sometimes individual photodiodes may not respond correctly to the light falling on them sending a signal that is either 100% on or 100% off - again, the software would 'expand' these white specs into circular Orbs - Black Orbs, caused by the 100% 'off state' are also possible and are seen, but only rarely as they tend to blend into the background of the image more quickly.

As far as we were concerned that was the end of the Orb, although it was with growing frustration that we watched as others continued to call them Ghostly Manifestations - a fact that was compounded further by TV shows like Most Haunted on Living TV and groups set up in its wake who clung to the beliefs that Orbs were paranormal.
Our frustration drove us to try and change this misconception by publishing the results of our research in the hope of at least converting a few to the truth.

We decided to take another look at our research just to double check what we were about to say. We had an extensive database of Orbs - more than 20,000 images still stored on CD's and this information had also been written into our software image analyser programme, so that we could quickly compare new suspect images with the stored data to see if they were dust, water etc.

What we found when we reviewed all this work came as a bit of a shock - we discovered some Orbs that were dramatically different to the majority - both on quick glance and also to the analyser itself which only rated them around 20 or 30% 'the same' as the dust and water Orbs.
This was something that had been overlooked during the earlier experiments due to the sheer number of images that we looked at.
Furthermore, these 'unusual' Orbs seemed to only be seen in pictures taken in the most haunted parts of a haunted location - in fact that's only were we saw them and these Orbs were extremely rare too - about 1 in every 1,000 Orb pictures and less than 1 in every 100 Orbs photographed in haunted locations!


In Conclusion

So, perhaps after all, there really is a phenomenon that can be seen by the digital camera that may ultimately have a cause that cannot be explained and thus will be paranormal, if there is it is extremely rare - less than 0.01% of all the Orb pictures we've looked at over the years - we still only have less than a dozen examples on record and all in places where ghostly activity has been reported. If there is a genuine Paranormal Orb it was very nearly lost and buried forever under a mountain of look-alikes caused by microscopic dust and water vapour droplets.

One possible explanation may lie with a phenomenon that has been known about and reported for more than 150 years, The Ghost Light.

They are defined as a luminous phenomenon usually in the shape of balls or irregular patches of light. Reported around the World they defy explanation. They appear randomly at particular sites and may be active for years or become dormant then reactivate some years later. Ghost lights are widely reported throughout the World including Britain, Japan and the USA.

Characteristics of Ghost Lights:
They appear in haunted locations.
They are elusive and can only be seen from certain angles and distances.
They appear to react to noise and light.
They are most frequently seen with hauntings that involved a tragedy.

Does that sound familiar?

Whatever the ultimate truth turns out to be, Paranormal or just plain normal, Para.Science will continue to hunt for the truth, the search for the origins of the Orb have crossed over into other ongoing experiments that are looking into the links between Electromagnetic Field Radiation and the paranormal - it looks increasingly like all these once disparate strands of research and experimentation are slowly coming together - Perhaps one day they will coincide and we will have an answer to whether Orbs are real or just a load of balls!!!!!!!


Orbs Debunked by Troy Taylor


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