Let’s Talk About Orbs!

Niddry Street Vaults, February 2015

Every week, Glasgow Paranormal Investigations receives a high volume of photographs and video clips from our followers asking if they have caught paranormal activity on film. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for us to answer this conclusively from a single photograph or short video clip. There are so many other factors that can create anomalies on film that all we can do is give an educated guess based on our experience. Capturing paranormal activity on film is quite rare – we’ve been trying to do so for many years, with only a handful of ‘unexplained’ pieces of footage. However, while we usually offer suggestions which could debunk the anomaly, we will always be respectful of such material – there was something that prompted you to turn on the camera and without being there at the time we cannot say what that was. With that being said, a large percentage of the images submitted to us for review are concerning ‘Orbs’. The consensus among our team is that around 99.9% of all orbs are nothing more than dust, moisture or bugs. It is a very polarizing topic in the paranormal community, so we thought we would offer a little more detail into our thoughts on Orbs.

What is an Orb?

Orbs are round, translucent anomalies that often appear during flash photography or while recording video in low light conditions. They mostly appear white but can also be a range of other colours. Depending on what type of airborne article is causing the orb, it may have a fuzzy edge or a halo effect. Orbs are almost unheard of when using ‘old-fashioned’ film, the effect is a relatively modern one caused by digital photography. There is a highly technical explanation as to how digital cameras work and why they are most likely to produce orbs, but we won’t go into that here! If you are interested, it is relatively easy to find an explanation online.

It is unclear who first determined that orbs were evidence of the paranormal, or why, but it seems that after the initial excitement most paranormal investigators have come to agree that orbs have a logical explanation rooted in the science of photography. However, there are still many people who believe orbs are a paranormal event despite evidence to the contrary.

Why Do Orbs Appear in Images & Videos?

There are a number of different environmental factors that can contribute to the appearance of orbs in flash photography. These include, but are certainly not limited to: small insects, rain, snow, pollen, dust and other airborne particles. Orbs show up in everyday photographs all the time – not just those taken in haunted locations.

Dust Vs Spirit Manifestation: How to Tell the Difference

In the introduction to this post, we suggested that around 99.9% of orbs captured can be debunked. So, what about the remaining 0.1%? These are the anomalies that we would label as unexplained. The question is, how can we tell the difference between dust and a potential spirit manifestation? As with most areas of paranormal research, there really are no hard and fast rules to follow. However, based on our own personal experience over the years, for us to consider an orb as unexplained it would need to meet the following criteria:

  • Visible to the naked eye rather than only on camera
  • Rapidly changing shape, direction or speed (aside from the clearly identifiable flying insects)

Frequently Asked Orb Questions

When discussing orbs with guests on our investigations, or people who have submitted their pictures to us for review, we often come across the same questions on a regular basis. We’ve decided to answer some of these here.

Q – Are You Saying My House is Dirty?
A – When told that the orbs in their photo/video are likely just dust many people do get a little defensive and think we are saying they don’t keep their home clean! This is certainly not the case. No matter how often you dust and vacuum there will always be dust and other airborne particles present in the air. Humans are constantly shedding dead skin and hair. If you have pets, they will also produce large volumes of dander. Every time you move a cushion, curtain, or duvet cover you will disturb airborne particles – it’s unavoidable. It is also important that when we say ‘dust’ we are also including things like pollen or even moisture in the air.

Q – Why Are There Faces in my Orbs?

A – One of the things that often convinces people they have captured a spirit manifestation rather than an orb is that they are able to pick out faces, letters or other shapes in the middle of the anomaly. This can almost always be explained by pareidolia, a natural psychological reaction where the brain attempts to process data into a shape it recognizes. The best example we can give of pareidolia is how we are often able to pick out the shapes of animals and other objects in the clouds. We know there isn’t really an elephant in the sky, but our brain convinces us we can see the shape of one in the clouds. The same applies to orb images. If you look at the same zoomed in orb for any length of time, your brain will begin to pick out shapes.

Q – Why Are my Orbs Coloured?

A – Some people believe that if an orb is coloured then it is not only an indication of a spirit presence but also a guide to what type of spirit it is. For example, red is often considered an angry spirit. However, when colourful orbs appear on film, it is most often caused by moisture. The atmosphere is always filled with moisture that we cannot see with our naked eye, but cameras are particularly adept at capturing them and depending on the frequency of light it can create a stunning array of colours.

Our own research and experience in investigating the paranormal have led us to believe that the majority of orbs are caused by small foreign objects. However, we do not claim to be infallible and we would encourage you to be your own investigator. Ask questions. Consider the surroundings and the circumstances that culminated in your orb picture. Were you moving around and therefore likely to have disturbed debris in the air? Was there a source of light causing reflection (Phone cameras are notoriously bad for this)? Is there a reasonable cause for doubt that this is paranormal? Asking these sorts of questions will help you to form your own conclusions about orb photography.

In closing, we would like to add that there was probably a reason you reached for the camera. Perhaps you felt a presence, saw a shadow or heard a sound? These are things we are unable to ascertain from a still photo or 10-second video clip. The presence of orbs in your capture may not be evidence of the paranormal, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t encountered a spirit. Why not try other ways of communicating? In any situation, the best evidence of paranormal activity will always be personal experience. Ask the questions. Debunk as much as possible and what you will be left with is those unexplained moments we are all searching for!

*** Disclaimer *** Paranormal research is largely about making educated guesses. Modern science has yet to pinpoint conclusive proof to support or debunk paranormal activity. As such, anything we discuss here cannot be taken as an absolute fact. All we can do is offer our own opinion, based on our own experiences in the paranormal. We encourage you to always ask your own questions and to seek out your own evidence.