ANN MASSEY takes a look at the phenomenon of Paranormal Orbs and asks, “are they just a load of balls?”
For years the so-called phenomenon of Paranormal Orbs has divided the paranormal community, from those who believe every translucent sphere is a spirit, to those who openly ridicule the anomaly and those who believe in its existence.
So what are they and why do so many people believe they are spiritual energy?
What Is A Paranormal Orb?
For almost two centuries, spherical, white or translucent images caught on camera have been cited by paranormal investigators, bereaved individuals and indeed, hoaxers as evidence of the afterlife.
Whether a printed photograph, a digital image or film or digital recording, these “orbs” continue to cause debate in the paranormal field and many are convinced it is proof of the existence of spirits in a particular location.
In order to look at the first “orbs’ recognised, we have to go back to the Spiritualism Movement of the 19th Century. The fascination for reaching the other side and communicating peaked to become a worldwide phenomenon. It is also when believers, skeptics and hoaxers first collided in a big way.
Spirit photography became a huge money spinner for those who specialised in the taking and development of photos. As well as seemingly recording images of deceased loved ones, the “orb” began to put in an appearance.
Purely accidentally, the first orbs appeared in photographs quite simply due to the long exposure required to produce a photograph. Once the glass plate method of development came into practice, double imagery became easy and with that, the placement of orbs or apparent images of spirits in human form to deliberately con the general public, desperate to make contact with lost loved ones.
For every William Mumler (spirit photographer) there was a noteworthy adversary such as Harry Price of the Society for Psychical Research who would provide evidence of fraud. For every celebrity skeptic like Harry Houdini, there was a celebrity believer and conspiracy theorist like Arthur Conan Doyle – the public didn’t know who to trust and erred on the side of hope, keeping the belief that orbs were indeed spirits going right into the 21st century.
For the most part at least, there is a scientific explanation for the phenomenon. The most common occurrence is dust or liquid particles during the taking of a photograph or video, particularly in low light conditions. Items near to the lens are not focused and the light source creates a diffused reflection through this unfocused image, causing something called “backscatter.”
Backscatter is the bouncing back of these particles through the lens aperture via the flash or light source, which translate as spots of light or “orbs” on the photo or within the video. These show up as white and often translucent spheres, giving that ethereal appearance.
The other more simple cause is the insect or dust particle too close to the camera lens, leaving it unfocused and seemingly out of scale to the rest of the image in view. In low light conditions and with a hazy outline, it appears orb-like, along with movement and directionality that are often misinterpreted.
So here’s the thing – paranormal investigations most often take place in the hours of darkness, where low light and poor resolution imagery is at its most prevalent. Many investigations take place in cited “haunted” locations which invariably are historic, some ruinous and of course, dusty!
What about water droplets on the lens? Well there is the obvious cause of course, rain, however another is what happens around something known as the Dew Point. Dew Point Temperature is the measurement at which humidity in the air becomes liquid. If your phone or camera temperature is lower than this point, the water droplets in the air hone in on the cooler surface and become “orbs” on your lens!
Prevention of False “Orbs”
There are a few things you can do to alleviate false anomalies on a paranormal investigation. The first is to be careful around light directionality. Direct your light source away from the direction of your photographic subject and ensure there is no backlight in play.
Where possible, turn off your flash and instead, increase your ISO setting which will increase your phone or camera’s light sensitivity and reduce the number of false “orbs”. Taking photos or video while keeping your equipment stable will also help.
With regards to the Dew Point, it is vital that your equipment is given time to acclimatise to a new location to prevent the build up of moisture on the lens. Also giving your lens a wipe regularly during the course of your investigation is key.
Of course as well as accidental misreading of orbs due to technical or natural events, there is that pesky fraud that was started in the 19th Century that is stronger than ever today.
With the ability to photoshop, creative apps and hands on, easy to use editing functions, faked ghost photography makes it impossible for any third party to stand behind an image and declare it paranormal. The world is flooded with carefully created fake images of spirits and orbs, with no one knowing which are digitally enhanced or made up or which are of a localised persuasion at the time the image was captured.
Even if you were present when the photo of the orb was taken, you would need to know the Dew Point, that the lens was clean, the levels of dust and the rate of insect activity to name just a few baselines. To stand behind an image without having all the necessary data would be tough.
With the explosion of paranormal based TV programming, increasing numbers of paranormal teams and public investigations, together with the fascination for the field across social media, spirit photography and the “orb” are here to stay in a big way.
For everyone who takes a scientific or skeptical approach, there is one who believes and for this reason, the matter will never truly be resolved and set in stone.
Are Orbs the Spirits of the Deceased?
It is no coincidence that with the onset of the photographic process came orbs. How many spiritual orbs or ghost lights have you seen on oil paintings or sketches from preceding centuries?
To quote Mulder, the issue is the intense necessity of “I Want To Believe”. Many folks see what they want to see and believe that despite evidence to the contrary, that apple is in fact, an orange.
An argument could be made for those more focussed and honed “orbs” with specific directionality in tandem with other paranormal anomalies and with an appearance of intelligent interaction, but how do you prove it is the existence of the paranormal? Or rather, I should say, how do you rationalise your belief against those disproving it?
So for some, the appearance of these hazy, translucent orbs of white light are entities, spirits from the beyond. For this paranormal investigator, however, these are just a load of light reflective balls!
Tell us your opinion about orbs in the comments below!