'Ghosts' have been appearing in photographs almost since George Eastman introduced celluloid film for portable cameras during the 1880s. However, orbs were first noticed at about the time that the pocket camera with built-in flash hit the market5.
Orbs usually appear in digital still photography when a flash is used—they are rare in daylight and with film photography. Occasionally they have been observed moving in video footage. While most orbs appear spherical, other shapes have been reported such as diamonds, rectangles and smears.
When digital cameras became popular in the early '90s, ghost hunters and other paranormal investigators were able to quickly take dozens of pictures in a single location. The orb became popular as more than an anomalous spot.
Ghost hunters, eager to prove their locations were haunted, zealously brought photographic orbs to public attention, claiming that orbs or "ectos" were spirits made visible in their photos. In fact, orb photographs became so prolific that at least one paranormal association, the Toronto Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society (GHRS), stopped accepting them as proof of paranormal activity2.
Although it is comforting to believe that the spirits of our dearly departed live on in these small balls of light, both skeptics3, 5 and many ghost hunters1, 2, 4, 6, 8 agree that photographic orbs are most often, if not always, caused by natural elements such as dust, pollen, or water vapor. In fact, almost every source researched for this article that claims belief in the paranormal authenticity of photographic orbs had a money-making agenda such as selling a book, a subscription, a conference enrollment, or promoting a TV program.
Moreover, in a reply to an inquiry from customer Helena Cowell7, Fuji Films® wrote:
"Floating dust particles may cause white spots appearing at different positions on pictures taken by a digital camera using the flash. Dust in front of a subject reflects the flash light and the image of the dust is captured out of focus.
Dust, snow, rain, pollen, condensation, or any small airborne particles may cause the same problem.
The particle will appear light and big because it is out of focus; it may assume a shape similar to the aperture of the camera, usually round."
Scott Denning of the Southwest Ghost Hunters Association ponders, "Where is the control for orb photos?" as he remarks of those who claim to see orbs only in the pictures they take of 'haunted' locations. He asks how many pictures they take in "areas that aren't reputed to be haunted? 8"
Do orbs show up in your ghost hunting photographs? If they do, maybe Fuji Films has the real answer. When an 'orb' shows up in your photo—"Take another picture."
The photographs below are typical orb photos, except that they include more orbs than most and they were taken in a controlled way to simulate the orb effect. The first photo was taken in light rain:
The next photograph was taken after kicking dust into the air. The resulting circular objects are indistinguishable from other examples of orbs that are claimed to be supernatural:
While many people believe that orbs are paranormal entities such as ghosts or even aliens, skeptics maintain that these apparitions are completely explainable by photographic science. Even paranormal enthusiasts tend to be somewhat skeptical of the orbs phenomena.
2. Matthew Didier. “GHRS - Toronto and Ontario - The Orb is Dead....” Toronto Ghosts 6 Feb 2003. 15 Aug 2008 <http://www.torontoghosts.org/finalorb.htm>.
3. Robert Todd Carroll. “orbs.” The Skeptic's Dictionary 3 Dec 2007. 15 Aug 2008 <http://www.skepdic.com/orbs.html>.
4. Troy Taylor. “Orbs Debunked!.” Prairie Ghosts 2008. 15 Aug 2008 <http://www.prairieghosts.com/trouble.html>.
5. Joe Nickell. “Photoghosts: images of the spirit realm?.” Skeptical Inquirer 1 Jul 2008. 15 Aug 2008 <http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-180860913.html>.
6. Jill Schensul. “Spectors of Doom.” The Record(Bergen County, NJ) 18 Mar 2007. 15 Aug 2008 <http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-136616727.html>.
7. “The Official Word From Fujifilm.” homepage.ntlworld Nov 2003. 17 Aug 2008 <http://homepage.ntlworld.com/h.cowell/fuji.htm>.
8. Scott B. Denning. “The truth about "orb" phenomena.” Southwest Ghost Humters Association n.c . 15 Aug 2008 <http://www.sgha.net/orbs2.html>