What Are Orbs on Photographs?

Before you claim you caught a ghostly orb on camera, consider more natural explanations.

Around the time that digital cameras became more common, a puzzling photographic phenomenon began to emerge. Tiny transparent balls of light appeared on these digital photographs, but were not visible at the time the photograph was taken. What causes these mysterious orbs depends entirely on whom you ask, as there are two basic schools of thought on the matter that range from natural causes to the paranormal.

1 Paranormal "Evidence"

A wave of photographic "evidence" of the paranormal included these ghostly transparent orbs, especially from photos taken at notoriously "haunted" locations like cemeteries. Since some orbs appear to give off a supernatural light not visible to the naked eye, some enchanted by the paranormal believed these hovering spheres to be spiritual energy or ghostly entities. For a species that ponders the existence of an afterlife, these perfectly round, bright and sometimes colorful orbs became evidence of a question humans have not yet been able to answer.

2 Natural Phenomenon

Since these ghostly orbs were much rarer when these same haunted locations were captured on 35mm film, a natural skepticism began to arise with the influx of these ghostly photographs. A common explanation for these orbs was a simple matter of dust, moisture or light reflection, which would make these orbs vary in degrees of brightness. These more natural explanations have been rejected by some who believe that the orbs represent something supernatural, who claim there was no dust or moisture in the air or light in the area to be reflected when the photo was taken.

3 Circles of Confusion

Another common explanation for orbs are simple bugs who have been captured on film. This, too, is rejected out of hand by those who maintain the orbs are spiritual in nature because of the perfectly round nature of the orb. According to the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP), which provides scientific education regarding anomalous phenomena, orbs that appear on photographs are actually "circles of confusion" no matter what the shape of the actual object. This is a photographic term that refers to an out of focus or blurry highlight in the photo, reflecting an object that was around or near the lens when the photograph was taken.

4 Conflicting Theories

Ghost hunting websites like Ghost Research no longer accept orb photos as evidence of the paranormal given the high probability that the image is indeed dismissed by scientific explanation. For ghost hunting purposes, Ghost Study suggests using a 35mm camera because of the rarity that these orbs appeared on actual film. However, there are those who maintain that at least some orbs are indeed ghostly, who have likewise tried to duplicate the conditions to establish the orbs present in the photo are indeed paranormal in effort to debunk the debunking.

Ginger Voight is a published author who has been honing her craft since 1981. She has published genre fiction such as the rubenesque romances "Love Plus One" and "Groupie." In 2008 Voight's six-word memoir was included in the "New York Times" bestselling book "Not Quite What I Was Planning." She studied business at the University of Phoenix.