Updated August 25, 2001
Copyright © 2001 by Paul Sandoval
There is nothing paranormal about so-called "orbs". I've been a photographer for many years and I do understand the technology. Orbs are not ghosts. They are perfectly normal photographic artifacts, as the examples below will show.This first picture is of John R. Benneth.
For background information regarding this photo, please see these Usenet articles by Winston Wu:Skeptics, 7 ghost orbs around John Benneth
Winston/Benneth's Ghost Hunt in Virginia City
The digital photograph is displayed here in exactly the form it was received via email. It is underexposed and moderately compressed, resulting in significant loss of detail. Apparently it is not the orginal photo file, but it will have to do for now. It was reportedly taken with a digital camera, which was not identified, but Winston Wu's descriptions are consistent with the Sony Mavica. Most digital cameras are fixed at the film speed equivalent of ISO100. It is difficult to be certain, but the darkness of the photograph and other features indicate that the photo was taken in one of two ways:
Other possible causes of the "orbs":
The next photograph displays similar artifacts. This was taken using a Kodak digital camera, model unknown. Flash was used, as evidenced by the strong illumination of the arm in the foreground. The photo is a direct conversion from the original KDC format and has been resized to 640x480 and moderately compressed. The photo was "flipped" horizontally to roughly match the Benneth photo situation. No other editing was done.
Once again, there is a strong point source in the photograph. Please note the similar orbs "in orbit" around the workers.
These effects are caused primarily by floating dust near the lens and are common in small cameras which have the flash located near the lens.
In this photograph, I deliberately sprinkled some baking flour in front of the camera at a distance of approxmiately 30 centimeters. I could not get a volunteer to stand in a cloud of mosquitoes in order to test insect reflectivity. ;)
This illustration shows what happens:
This photo demonstrates an "orb" and lens flare effects. The "orb" is caused by a piece of debris which is lodged behind the lens filter. The orange lights are caused by incident sunlight. The camera was deliberately held at an angle with the sun just beyond the frame in order to product this effect. The hexagonal shape is caused by the iris in the camera.
Another example. The sun is just above the upper-right corner of the frame.
Any time there is incident light striking the lens surface at a particular angle, "lens flare" can occur. Photographers learn to avoid these artifacts by taking care not to aim their cameras into bright light sources, and by learning to keep their lenses clean. Some probable causes of photographic artifacts are listed below. There are probably other possibilities, none of them paranormal.
Other examples on the web:
Demonstrating Dust Illumination
WARNING: the link below will load a very large image. We provide it here for those
who wish to compare it to the Benneth photo. The conditions were similar, and so are the orbs.
Please see this page: Alfredo's Ghosts for more information, without large images.
These problems have been discussed on rec.photo.digital:
Mavica Captures Ghosts?
White Spheres on Photos
Flash Problem w Canon-A5
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