Orbs. You know, those things that appear in everyone’s “paranormal” photos? I can’t count how many times someone has heard that I study the paranormal and then with excitement, asked me to look at a picture of their “orb.” A fake smile would slowly and painfully spread over my face as I would regretfully say, “Sure…” with false enthusiasm. There’s also the many past emails I’ve received from people wanting me to look at all the orbs in their photos that they took one night in a dry, dusty cemetery. When I found myself politely writing back to gently advise them how dust in the air reacts with cameras and flashes going off, I would rarely get a response back and if I did, it was a desperate attempt to argue why the dust in their photo was “indeed” the spirits of the dead. And after much of that, I just gave up. If they wanted to believe Uncle Joe was that flash bounce, let them. People believe in much worse.
THE RISE OF THE PARANORMAL DUST ORB
The digital camera was in its infancy when I started to search for ghosts. The first ghost hunters I worked with were using 1.5 megapixel cameras. That’s not even the lowest standard in a cell phone these days. How many ghost hunters remember using the Sony Mavica? Complete with a floppy disk drive? That’s right. Disk drive. Floppy.
My first digital camera was a 2.1 megapixel Kodak and almost every picture had an orb in it. Did that mean my camera had a direct connection to the dead? Hardly. What many of us didn’t understand at the time was the science behind the machine. I don’t profess to be any kind of technology or camera expert, but after some time, even I started to wonder if the constant orbs showing up in my photos had something to do with the device in my hands and not dead people popping in to say “hell” everywhere I went. Orbs were even showing up in “non-ghost” hunting pictures, such as my grandma’s house, which I’m pretty sure isn’t haunted. With my 35mm film camera, I had captured around fifteen photos with an orb floating around — and that was out of hundreds of exposures and looking back, all of them can be explained except for maybe one that was particularly mysterious looking.
Something was definitely up with the digital camera thing and within a short time, an orb “epidemic” was hitting the Internet. Poorly designed and tacky paranormal team websites from all over the U.S. were updated constantly with new “orb” photos, mists, spiral vortex’s, ghostly faces and even fairies. That’s right. Fairies. They apparently love being in the cemetery at night.
You could even gain special access by paying to join websites like the International Ghost Hunters Society to view their extensive collection of bad photography passed off as paranormal evidence. The whole paranormal photo thing was becoming something out of a carnival scene.
Troy Taylor, head of the American Ghost Society and author of The Ghost Hunters Guidebook (the best ghost hunting book out there) was vehemently opposed to using digital cameras in ghost hunting from the start, except for when taking pictures of a surrounding area being investigated. He felt the camera wasn’t up to par with 35mm and people were mistaking many of the digital bloopers in their pictures for paranormal activity and he was right. Digital cameras, unlike 35mm, use an image sensor to gather light and convert it into electronic form. Earlier image sensors needed work. Lot’s of work. Troy changed his mind when cameras got to five megapixels and said they were okay because we were starting to see the orb disappearing with the higher megapixel cameras. His original article that caused a “stir” back in the day can be read here.
I was ecstatic the day my 2.1 megapixel camera died. There was no argument. I absolutely had to go spend top dollar on a new camera so I headed to the then popular, Best Buy. An unmotivated greeter said “hello,” and quickly looked away and a Kodak rep who looked like Santa helped me pick out a new camera. I became the happy owner of a new “five” (look out world) megapixel camera, something in between a point and shoot and a DSLR. And you know what? The orbs disappeared.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE BAD ORBS TO COME
When the paranormal television explosion happened in 2004 with the dawn of Ghost Hunters, everyone wanted to grab a camera and head out to their local cemeteries and haunted spots. Ghost hunting was no longer exclusive to just the weirdos out there, but had now become accessible to everyone, including those with questionable intelligence. There was no stopping the awful paranormal photography now. Legions of idiots continued to post poor photography all over the Internet at alarming speed. When Michigan’s Otherside.com was strictly a paranormal investigation team (Great Lakes Paranormal Research), people were sending us weekly photos of orbs next to their cat, above their kid’s head and floating next to a McDonald’s menu sign. Everyone wanted their orbs “validated.” It they could be validated, it was proof that we continued to exist in some form after we died, even if that form was just a circle. A boring, stupid circle. But of course, no one can validate that…not yet at least. So I always left them disappointed and maybe I enjoyed squashing their hope just a bit in my hope that I was helping spread some logic around a sadly perplexed and confused paranormal community.
THE HATERS AND THE LOVERS
There are two camps within the paranormal: those who love and believe in orbs and those who don’t. It’s probably obvious what side I’m on, but I’m not completely shut down to the theory. I have seen a few pictures that seem to defy the norm. Usually the photos of the big, single bright ball of light that doesn’t appear to be reflecting from anything are (sort of) intriguing. I’ve also seen some bizarre stuff on video that didn’t react like a piece of dust falling and a few things I’ve seen with my own eyes that I still can’t explain. Some psychics even talk about seeing spirit energy in orb form, so who the hell really knows in the end right? But the majority of those crap photos out there? Those have got to stop.
Help stop the spread of useless orbs by learning how to use your equipment, paying attention to your environment, weather conditions and read a few books on basic photography. If you have an interest in spirit photography, read Chris Bailey’s article on spirit photography for some geeky, good tips. Still believe in dust orbs? Here’s a great link to some technical reasons why orbs show up.
This article is based on my history and opinions participating in paranormal investigation over the years. If you have comments or a ridiculous orb story of your own, feel free to comment and share below.