Folk Belief

Orbs in photos

Veronica, the director of the summer camp that I work at told me about the orbs in photos during a camp wide sleepover late at night.  She says that she learned about it from her eccentric aunt when she was about 15.  Veronica says that she generally shares this story in such situations, as they exemplify the phenomena better.  The story went as follows, and I ran it buy Veronica after recording it to make sure that it was as accurate as possible.

Veronica was taking what seemed like random pictures of and empty room.  I, along with some of the other staff members asked her what she was doing.  She replied: “Do you want me to tell you something that will change the way you look at photos forever?” Of course, out of curiosity I said yes.  She then showed us the pictures she had just taken of the seemingly empty room and pointed out these cloudy orbs that were floating around in the picture.  Each orb looked like a three dimensional sphere, were different in size, and some were different in color.  Also if one looked closely, they could se a distinctive pattern on each one, similar to a fingerprint.  She then went on to explain that these orbs are spirits from the past, and that they float around overlooking our world.  As a collective group they are neither evil or good, although she mentioned that some people have guiding spirits which are usually found around them in pictures.  She mentioned that these spirits tend to be in places of meaning, and also are more commonly found around people who are drunk.  When we went into the auditorium where the kids were sleeping, she took a picture and it was eerie how many orbs there were.  She then took a sequence of photos, and pointed out how the orbs are all moving in different directions, as can be seen by the different frames.

While I was skeptical at first, after going through my old pictures and realizing how many of them had orbs that I had never noticed I was more open to the proposition.  (At the end of this document, I have attached a photo of myself at the Franklin Delenor Roosevelt Monument in Washington, D.C.   There are many orbs in the picture, and one particularly noticeable one that is yellow.) Folklore of this type is nice to believe in as the idea of guiding angels and past spirits looking over you can bring comfort.  While by no means a die hard believer I orbs, Veronica was right when she said you will never look at photographs the same once the orbs are pointed out to you.  It is quite remarkable that most people never really notice these fairly obvious orbs in photos until they are pointed out to us.

After doing a quick search on the internet, it was clear that there is a plethora of folk theories regarding the mysterious orbs.  Most theories are similar to Veronica’s, and suggest that the orbs are some sort of spirits.  There are other theories, however, that claim that orbs are formed from energy being passed from humans to spirits, and that orbs are related to electromagnetic readings associated with the presence of ghosts or spirits.  There has been research done on how orbs are produced in photos, and according to the Skeptical Inquirer, a publication produced by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, which “encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view and disseminates factual information about the results of such inquiries to the scientific community and the public,” (CSI)

There is not one blanket cause for all orbs; many things can create the phenomena, ranging from insects to dust. In a series of experiments, I was able to create orb photos under a wide range of circumstances. The easiest way to create orbs is to take a flash photograph outdoors on a rainy night. The flash will reflect off of the individual droplets and appear as dozens of white, floating orbs. (The effect is most pronounced in a light rain, though even a little moisture in the air can create mysterious orbs.) (Radford)

In response to such findings, believers in orbs will say that orbs can be created by the above causes, but that there are also more rare “real orbs” that are spirits.  It is not very clear how one is to distinguish between “real” and “fake” orbs, other than suggestions of rapid movement and brightness and hue.

Regardless, the scientific explanation for orbs does seem to explain a large portion of the orbs in my photos.  For example, the photo that I have attached that has a lot of orbs in it is taken by a fountain, and it is very likely that the orbs can be attributed to water particles in the air.  Additionally, it was a very humid day.

Despite some scientific evidence, it is likely that the mystery of orbs will never be completely solved, as there is always room for speculation; and that the folklore surrounding this strange phenomenon will be present long into the future.

Works Cited

Benjamin Radford. “The (Non)Mysterious Orbs. ” The Skeptical Inquirer

1 Sep. 2007: 30, 46.  ProQuest.  27 Apr. 2008

CSI. “Skeptical Inquirer.” 27 Apr 2008.