Proof of a haunting? What are these 'orbs' from Canon SD P&S

Discussion in 'Mirrorless Digital Cameras' started by bob_estremera, Oct 31, 2011.

  1. OK, here is the perfect Halloween post. Photos are attached.
    My wife loves a good haunting story and users her little Canon SD something P&S to try to capture 'orbs'.
    She took these photos, with flash on, in a hotel room in a New Orleans B&B, known to be haunted.
    So here they are. But what are these little orbs, really?
    I took the same shots with my 450D and none of these little orbs showed up on my images. Also, she could shoot one shot after the other and some would show the orbs and some would not.
    Anybody ever have these things appear on your digital photos?
  2. These are bits of flash-lit dust, drifting by as the flash on her camera lights them up. They are out of focus enougth to make them appear as they do, but her P&S camera's small sensor and small lens aperture creates enough depth of field to still cause them to be seen (where your camera's shallower DoF likely makes them invisible). The sharpening routine in the software on her camera, used as it renders the JPG that it spits out, is also further refining the apparent borders of her OoF dust blobs.

    It's a special curse on the world that the cameras most used by people unfamiliar with why these artifacts would show up are also the ones most used to take pictures in locations where hotel owners have a vested interest in pushing ghost stories. Oh well. Dust doesn't have any mystical properties, I'm afraid, unless it's ragweed pollen, in which case it's obviously Evil.
  3. Ah, the simplest explanation . . .
  4. Helpful Halloween tip of the day: Everyone knows a person is most likely to die with his/her head on a pillow. Therefore, that is the place most ghosts can be found. To do the very best ghost photography, take a pillow off of a bed and beat it to scare the ghosts out of hiding. Then take your picture. This can also be done by beating chair/sofa cushions, mattresses, and any other familiar places where people would settle and die. The most distressed ghosts often fall to the floor before dying, so you can beat those ghosts out of hiding by picking up any throw rugs and beating them too. While many of these floor ghosts are the result of massive coronaries, many of them were murdered and therefore give you the most interesting/disturbed orbs.
    Remember that ghosts, just like living people, are scared by big SLR/DSLR type cameras. You'll catch the most ghosts on camera by using an inconspicuous little P&S -- and possibly even a camera phone (but one that has flash). Think of this as paranormal street photography. ;-)
  5. I keep meaning to write up a page about this sort of thing because it really confuses and surprises non-photographers.
    Anyone want to grab that ball and run with it?
  6. I don't know, Josh, I think Sarah's got it pretty well covered. :)
  7. Apologies, Bob. I took your question as a half-joke and replied accordingly.
    I've encountered similar images while shooting in snow storms which makes Matt's explanation plausible, but given the appearance of the orbs, they look more like dust on the camera lens similar to what small water droplets on a lens might produce.
  8. Michael, I don't think it's dust on the camera lens. The dust has to be very slightly in front of the lens -- just far enough to be illuminated in the flash, but near enough to appear large.
    Bob, I don't think I've ever taken any orb pictures, or at least I'm not aware of having done so. That's because I almost never use direct flash, and when I do, it's sitting well away from the lens. The problem occurs when the flash is only a few cm away from the lens. My only cameras that fit that description are my Droid cell phone (whose camera I almost never use) and my Canon G11, on which I never use the built-in flash.
    Josh, the topic is covered quite well in many other places. Here's a link to the Wikipedia article about it:
    Of course articles such as this are in fierce competition with entire websites dedicated to paranormal explanations, e.g.
    Personally, I'm a bit reluctant to spill informed explanations to folks without knowing what their expectations are (and I somewhat regret joking about the subject above). If someone were to show me an orb picture, excited that they had captured a spirit, I'd probably smile and say, "Wow, that's a pretty cool photo!" If instead they come to me for an explanation, then I give them one. To me, this borders on religion, and I think it's bad karma to trounce on anyone's religious beliefs (irony intended). Often people harbor these sorts of beliefs because of a deep-seated need. Who am I to deny them that comfort or satisfaction? Indeed, the orb in question could ostensibly be that of a beloved family member. It's hard to know.
    My often rather wise cousin, who has dealt with countless HIV hospice situations, once told me that people are ready for the answers when they ask the questions, but not until then. I try to remember this before opening my mouth, but I regret I'm not always successful.
  9. If we use "it already exists somewhere" as a reason not to put something on we might as well close the doors now. My thinking is that we're a photography site and it is a common (and commonly misunderstood) photographic issue. Thus, we should have a page that correctly answers the question.
    That having been said, my point wouldn't be to mock or deride anyone for think they were angels or ghosts or whatever. But more to explain what the issue is and what causes it. Someone searching on google (or asking in a forum like Bob did) is much more akin to your theoritical "what is this" question than it is someone saying "I have a photo of an angel!". People who believe they have seen a ghost or a angel aren't likely to be searching for what the real explanation is, because they already have the real answer.
  10. Well, that's true, Josh. Good points, all. That said, someone hitting Google to find out what the apparition means is equally likely to find a sobering explanation that the orb wasn't really Grandma. It would be important to keep hope alive, so to speak.
    OK, Josh, I'll do it for you. However, I don't have time at this moment. I stuck here in front of a computer screen, and the issue really needs to be handled empirically (e.g. the aforementioned pillow method). ;-)
  11. Sarah,
    Just drop me a line when you feel ready and we can go from there.
  12. Will do...
  13. "Also, she could shoot one shot after the other and some would show the orbs and somewould not."
    That would be the clue that tells us it's not dust on the lens, otherwise it'd be repeatable. I should have read the OP more carefully.
  14. If it's a flash/dust issue, this effect can be easily replicated, especially in places not considered haunted--it may even work outdoors. I invite others to submit photos to this effect.
    Otherwise, ....
    Happy Halloween
  15. Nothing more than dust close to the flash and lens. It appears out of focus because it's so close....and it appear bright because it's so close to the flash.
    Nothing ghostly here....move on....
  16. Well, this certainly has been fun.
    Happy Halloween,
  17. On some of the dark winter nights here in Ohio, the number of orbs roaming the countryside can be frightening!
  18. Michael, you might be right about dust on the lens. Last night as I waited for Trick-or-Treaters, I tried shaking some spirits out of a throw pillow and photographing them against the dark background. I found it quite difficult to get good orbs. All of my orbs were too small -- more like random cr*p in the air. I took quite a number of shots, including with my Droid, and none of the volumes of dust specs got close enough to the lens to make a good orb.
    In my attempt to take a good orb picture, I did a controlled shot of a microscopic spider, right in front of the lens. The spider lit up extremely brightly, but was lumpy in the picture and not as large as I would have hoped. Of course it disappeared as I moved the spider close enough to the lens that it was shaded from the flash.
    Then I thought about some of the orb photos I had viewed on the website I linked. Many of them were heavy in lens flare. It occurred to me that many people are not careful about how they hold a camera (e.g. the classic finger in the picture). So if the light from the flash bounces off of a hand and brightly illuminates the front of the lens, the dust would show up. I judiciously sprinkled a few specs of dust on my Droid lens, and using this bad holding technique, I photographed a faint orb that took up half the frame. Then I exorcised the orb from my lens with a wipe of my thumb to confirm.
    I want to experiment more with my G11, but the battery finally died. Unfortunately I have misplaced my battery charger in my haste to evacuate from Hurricane Irene. I'm completely baffled as to where it would have gone.
    Anyway, I am now thinking that orbs are the result of dust on the lens, combined with bad holding techniques. The reasons they appear in some photographs and not others are that (1) the larger dust specs that might account from the orbs might blow/fall off the lens easily, and (2) the light-bouncing-off-the-hand issue might only occur in random shots.
    More experimentation to come, once I find my battery charger!
  19. [[Anyway, I am now thinking that orbs are the result of dust on the lens, combined with bad holding techniques]]
    So are you claiming that Frank's photo is a result of bad hand-holding and a dusty lens?
  20. Rob, I think Sarah was describing the process of her investigation which is still a work in progress.
    Sarah, I'm thinking about this too although haven't had a chance to do anything hands-on. I have a number of P/S cameras to experiment with and will post if I do make any progress.
  21. OK, first let me prefix my response by stating that I am a confirmed Atheist, so I dont believe in Gods, Angels, Demons, the Devil etc and put I my faith in Science instead.
    BUT...several years ago when such Orbs showed in my photos on a regular basis it was a time I was researching my family tree and openly reciting the names of my dead ancestors. I noticed that the Orbs in question looked nothing like dust or water droplets illuminated by the flash. They were not opaque, like dust, snow or water drops, they were translucent. Some had trails behind them showing that they were moving rapidly when the pics were taken, even though the room they were taken in had closed double glazed windows and no desernable openings that could cause draughts. The most obvious difference between the said Orbs and dust/snow/water droplets is that most of the Orbs showed human facial features, even down to the white of their eyes and nostrils! I kid you not! And this is not simple Anthropomorphism as the Orbs with the most obvious facial features were cropped, blown up, and various software based contrast enhancing methods were employed to clearly bring out the "faces" in each Orb. What I saw convinced me that perhaps life did actually go on after death.
    Science actually has an answer that neatly explains the phenomenon...Its called The Law Of Conservation Of Energy, which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only converted from one form to another. We all know the human body is a complex bio-electrical apparatus...When someone dies all that latent electrical energy has to go somewhere, as it cannot be destroyed, and so its possible that it gets converted into the most compact form it can take...A spherical Orb. Now, if you believe in the existance of a soul or spirit, that leaves the body on Death, and I'm not going to just dismiss the possibility out of hand, then the Orbs in question must be the nearest thing to it. Millions of photographers have captured these orbs, all around the world, so its not exactly a rare occurance and the concensus of the majority has been to call them "Spirit Orbs".
    To finally kill the dust/water/snow drops hypothesis, many Spirits Orbs actually exhibit intelligence!...They often respond to your verbal requests to move here or there within a room and will show up in the subsequent photo exactly where you asked them to be! And I believe we are all able to respond to them too, but on a subconsious level. For instance, you've lost your keys and a sort of internal voice suggest where you should look for them...Thats one of your dead ancestors helping you out!
    So, think granny is dead and gone?...Think again!
    Here is a link to some of my blown up and enhanced Spirit Orb faces:
  22. and put I my faith in Science instead.​
    Alf - I don't want to step on your toes, but that statement is a contradiction in itself. Only explanations and predictions that can be tested - and potentially found to be false - can be scientific. As soon as you 'believe' or 'put faith' in them, you've thrown science overboard.
  23. That is true Frank, but thats not the end of the story...I was living with my ex wife at the time and she became totally freaked out by me capturing the said Spirit Orbs in my pics, and pointing out the faces to her in the blown up versions on my PC monitor. Did'nt really bother me but she insisted I call someone in to get rid of them. Ghostbusters.Inc does'nt actually exist of course but I found that there were plenty of amateur psychic investigators to be found via a websearch. I eventually contacted a group calling themselves "The Children Of The City", or C.O.T.C for short. The City in question being their home town, Bristol. I live near Heathrow so I was'nt expecting them to travel to my house without some sort of payment changing hands. But they emailed me back to say they wanted to come and investigate the Orb problem in my house, and they would do it for free! Eventually, three of them turned up, two men and a slightly portly woman. They brought in a camcorder, which they mounted on a tripod in one corner of the living room and set it to record straight away. I took out my digital camera and the woman investigator got hers out too, we simultaneously shot a pic towards the other side of the room. The exact same Orb was visible in both shots! One man stayed with the camcorder whilst the other went around the house with a hand-held digital IR thermometer and a sensitive hand-held magnetometer. The results were pretty inconclusive until he went into my Attic, where I had an office and where I had experienced unaturally cold chills and a strange figure on my webcam which looked like someone wearing medieval garb. He exitedly announced that he had discovered an electro magnetic hotspot! I rushed up into the Attic to see what he had found...The hotspot was about 6 foot up from the floor of the Attic near one of the wooden roof beams and his meter could detect it from several feet away...And as there was no obvious metal nearby except perhaps a few deeply embedded iron nails this was never satisfactorily explained. The woman asked to left alone in the Attic so she could try and capture possible EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) with her sensitive hand-held digital sound recorder. Now this is where the most amazing part of their visit occured...The camcorder was constantly recording throughout in the living room. At one point my daugher walked in front and faced it from the other side of the room and whilst we watched her in the camercorders flip out LCD screen we all saw a clear rainbow aura appear over her head! This would have been captured by the camcorder but despite my requests they have never sent me a copy of footage of the event they promissed me.
    The upshot was that after they left, things did get better...I still captured the occasional Orb but never as many as before, the cold draughts ceased and the missus was a lot happier, so whatever they did, they did help. So perhaps now you can understand why I have formed such beliefs, which are based on evidence I cannot refute, that I witnessed with my own eyes and that was also witnessed simultaneously by other witnesses.
  24. No rob, I suspect the orbs in the snow picture are not dust, but I of course cannot be certain.
    Thanks, Michael. I don't mind having a bit of help! ;-) I have an old Olympus 1.3 MP camera around here somewhere that takes AA batteries. It might be easier to locate than the charger for the G11. Oddly, I lost even the charger for my 40D/5D batteries, but thankfully I had a couple of spares in a drawer elsewhere in the house. Anyway, please let me know what you find in your experiments, and I'll keep looking for my P&S gear.
    I think there might be a couple of things to look for in the orb pics. First is that if they from dust stuck to the lens, they might tend to be of similar size at the same aperture, perhaps except in extremely dusty environments, where there might be an assortment of sizes. In the latter case, I suspect there might be an overrepresented collection at the largest size that might correspond to dust on the lens. I hope some of these orb photos on the Internet come with EXIF information attached.
    The second thing to look for (and I think this will be the more telling) is that orbs from near-field dust will appear wholely in front of other objects in the picture and never half-concealed by a wall, for instance. I strongly suspect we will not find any half-concealed orbs, but again, I could be wrong.
    Alf, unlike you, I'm an agnostic (vs. an atheist). Whether leaning more towards atheism or more towards some form of spirituality, I can only be an agnostic as an honest scientist. I many have my suspicions, which are probably evident in these posts of mine, but I like to think my mind is never closed, and I am capable of radically reversing my views in the face of hard evidence (as I've done many times before).
    In fact I once did a metadata analysis of Genesis for an intro anatomy/physiology course I was teaching. (The students in that class came to me with a very strong prejudice against anything I might have to say about evolution, and I wanted them to have an open mind. To twist around a saying, what's good for the gander is good for their goose professor.)
    My colleagues were relieved when I demonstrated that the events portrayed in Genesis were not in proper sequence as loosely agreed by the scientific community (e.g. through carbon dating). They were annoyed, however, when I acknowledged to the class that (1) some god could have set up a historical record this way to fool nonbelievers like me, and (2) the pope (JPII) stated that Genesis isn't supposed to be an accurate historical record, so much as to describe the role of mankind on Earth. So I took a tiny "victory" for the scientific community and essentially ended in a shoulder shrug that (I hope) demonstrated to my students that we should ALWAYS harbor at least some skepticism about any given issue. I have no idea whether they took this lesson to heart when we launched into evolution.
    Anyway, that's the spirit in which I think we should approach these orbs.
  25. Alf, as an additional note, I don't doubt the sincerity of your beliefs, and I am of course unable to confirm or refute any of what you've observed. However, I can tell you that our brains are wired to make connections that often don't exist. I'm guilty of that myself, and in fact I've determined it is very easy to lose money in the stock market through technical trading in the absence of scientific rigor! In fact a good friend -- another scientist -- made a similar determination!
  26. I find this discussing amazing. I'm just waiting for it to move to pixies, fairies, etc.
    Many will be amazed to know that these magical orbs increase in visibility with flash usage....and decrease immensely in clean rooms with very little dust. Yes, OOF dust is the culprit. Nothing magical or mystical. Now can we please stop with the other nonsense.
  27. Alf - I just wanted to make you aware of the One Million Dollar Challenge of the James Randi Educational Foundation. In a nutshell, you or the "The Children Of The City" would get a million dollars from this foundation is you could prove the existence of "spirit orbs", or their increase or reduction in numbers, or the existence of "clear rainbow auras" or "electro magnetic hotspots" or "electronic voice phenomena" or any other such thing that can not be explained by mainstream science. If I had those capabilities, it would appear like easy money and an opportunity too good to miss. I wish you best of luck with your application.
    Sarah - I was born and raised a Lutheran Protestant in Germany. In my village most people go to church on Sunday morning - they still do - and I read the bible twice in my teens. Yes, the whole thing, cover to cover. For me to call myself an atheist was a bit of a process. It wasn't until I heard Richard Dawkins talk about Russel's Teapot that I finally threw the treasured agnostic label overboard. Of course as a scientist, you can never have absolute certainty. In a way, the essence of science is the embracing of uncertainty and ambiguity. But scientific uncertainty stems from the existence of evidence that is contradictory - or seemingly contradictory. It is not rational for a total lack of evidence to cause doubts about something that can not be proven. Of course it is much more polite to call yourself an agnostic than an atheist, and I respect your good manners :)
  28. Sarah, are you saying that most of your students were/are creationists? If so, I am utterly amazed!
    Here in the UK, Creationism is seen as a belief almost unique to ignorant, brainwashed, religious zealots and therefore that it has no place in a modern civilised society, and especially not in a classroom environment.
    The only people who share such delusions this side of the pond are fundimentalist Muslims, who happily are only a tiny minority of the total Muslim population of the UK. Not supprisingly, given Darwins heritage, Evolution is almost universally accepted as the norm here.
    Dave, your comments on flash use coinciding with Orbs in pics are understandable, but not unexpected...Believe it or not, I did notice the coincedence too! However, instead of claiming, like you, that it is simply nonsense and dismissing it out of hand, I did attempt to find a logical explanation at the time. I theorized that the Orbs were possibly fluoresent and were therefore emitting visible light in response to the UV light emitted from the flash. This would explain why they are virtually never seen in pics taken without flash.
    Besides, if they are all simply dust in front of the lens then perhaps you could try and explain the very obvious human facial characterics exibited by the Orbs that I blew up and enhanced?:
  29. Alf, what can I say? I won't push any offensive stereotypes here, but yes, at that particular college in that particular town, most were creationists. Religious fundamentalism is a big thing here in the US. As this was a topic of particular interest to those students, and as the support course was pitched for non-majors (in a business school), I felt it was worth 30 min of discussion time. The topic never came up in the more serious courses I taught at my own university.
    I don't think the faces mean anything. People see things in Rorschach ink blots and clouds in the sky. Our visual systems are designed to make sense out of nonsense, and they readily pick out patterns. There is a well known "face" on the surface of Mars that was once believed to have been built by Martians as a great work of art or as some sort of message to observers such as from Earth that life exists on Mars. However, we now understand that the face is not really a face 3-dimensionally, but rather a trick of how certain geological formations cast shadows on the Martian terrain. If you could show me a perfect likeness of your grandmother's face in an orb hovering over your father's or mother's shoulder, then I'd be more interested, but all I see is questionable smiley faces (and an OK depiction of a cat).
  30. Alf, if you see faces in those, you've got a bigger imagination then I thought possible. By the way, it has nothing to do with UV or fluoresent light. It can easily occur with sunlight or another bright light source coming from the sides of an images reflecting off the dust.
    I dismissed it because this isn't the dark ages....we don't need to resort to spirits to explain a well known and well understood optical phenomena. And quite frankly, I'm surprised that some people would even resort to such silly, mystical explanations. What next? Internal lens reflections being explained as fairies. CA being explained as evil spirits? This is 2011....not 1311.
  31. Fair enough Dave, but as they say, seeing is believing, and I've seen enough to convince me there is a strange phenomenon going on that cant currently be explained by science so I'll leave it at that.
    Sarah, I'd hot foot it out out of that town ASAP!...Sounds like one of those towns inhabited by inbred rednecks that you find in most low budget horror movies! :)
  32. Alf, I agree....seeing is believing. In a clean room with no dust, you don't get orbs. So, it's either caused by dust, or the spirits seem to hate clean rooms.
  33. Alf, I'm already (happy to be) out of that city! ;-) Be careful about drawing redneck stereotypes, though. You're really talking about a huge swath of the American population -- and the populations of many other countries as well. This is as much a cultural issue as educational, and a significant chunk of our cultural origins derive from the religious extremists who fled England in search of religious freedom in the New World. I find many religious fundamentalists are quite well educated. The glaring deficit in their education would generally be in the area of evolution, but I find that is true of almost everyone from both sides of the pond, including those who claim to believe in evolution (and misunderstand the various evolutionary theories).
  34. As it so happens, there is a link between evolution and our brain's tendency to see facial features even in the most unlikely pattern. Imagine being a hunter-gatherer in the grasslands of Africa. Who do you think will survive and have offspring - the one who runs at any sign of a facial features (be it of a human enemy or a lion) in the grass, or the one who shrugs his shoulders and goes about his merry way. Even if you run a million times for nothing, it is still better than one time not to run when there was indeed a face in the grass. On an evolutionary timescale that is not so long ago, and that's why people recognize faces in photos of astronomical objects as well as dust specs. Take enough photos of more or less random patterns, and soon enough some will look like faces. There is your scientific explanation. If you find it lacking, and can convince the JREF, a million dollars await you!
  35. Alf: the variations/features you're seeing, and which your observational bias has seen as faces, are just sharpening and
    compression artifacts. These can be produced taking pictures of round white pieces of paper, too.
  36. Really? I'll need more proof...How about you try that and show me the results so I can compare them with mine?
  37. Alf, one word for you: pareidolia. Google it.

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