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ORBS – What are Orbs?

Are ORBS real spirits or can they be explained?

There are a number of effects that can be caused by cameras and naturally we need to first consider if there is a natural explanation for the strange effects shown on your photo that could explain ORBS in pictures. If we cannot rule out a natural cause for the ghostly effects and ordinary orb pictures then maybe there is a paranormal cause. People regularly capture orbs in haunted houses and others say they can identify the face of a loved one. What’s interesting is that faces usually appear in photos of birthdays or weddings.

ORBS - orb photographs with Craig & Jane


One of the most common effects we see on ‘ghost pictures’ is an orb. Many people believe that these are spirit lights and indeed I have seen these with the naked eye around people’s auras.

These of course must not be confused with optical effects such as retinal fatigue, which of course would not show up on a photograph.


You would expect that because a camera uses no film that the image would be perfect and without any flaws at all. In a digital camera you do not get light seepage that could cause glare effects. Where images are captured electronically, it’s harder to explain away orbs, weird streaks of light and transparent faces.

However digital cameras can also cause other strange effects- and particularly because of the way the lens on a digital camera focuses in a different way to that of a 35 mm film camera.

A film camera has a series of lenses to focus the light onto the film. A digital camera does the same but instead focuses the light onto a semiconductor device that records the image electronically which is then processed by the cameras chip into digital data. The sensor in a digital camera  (called a CCD or CMOS) is a collection of light-sensitive diodes called photo-sites. These are sensitive to light and the brighter the light that hits a single diode the bigger the charge sent to the cameras computer chip. If a photo-site receives a glare from a dust particle close to the lens then it can create an orb effect.

Digital cameras also focus in a different way to a 35 mm camera. If dust passes close to the lens it will try to bring it into focus. Therefore dust, pollen, and moisture in the air can all appear to be orbs. This is less likely to happen with a 35 mm camera due to the distance between the lens and the surface of the sensor being much larger, thus more time is allowed for the image to be produced.

Airborne particles near to the camera lens can thus show up as an orb in the resulting photo but not be seen by the photographer at the time the picture is taken. In particular, with the position of the flash unit on most modern cameras so close to the lens, airborne debris appears to ‘light up’ on the resulting image. These effects occur mainly on digital cameras and phone cameras but can also easily happen on film cameras as well.

It’s easy to test this. Go into a darkened room with a digital camera, shake the curtains, and take a few pictures. Take two if three pictures from different positions and with and without flash. Download the images into your PC and see what comes up. Instant orbs!


You may ask:

  • Was the photograph taken when dust was in the air?
  • Were there any reflective surfaces that could have caused a glare to the camera?  Nearby reflective surfaces could have “bounced” flash from the camera back onto the lens causing strange light effects?
  • Were there any other light sources nearby such as a torch, Christmas lights, a cigarette lighter or candle? Stray light coming to the camera can also cause strange effects?
  • Was the camera lens clean? Objects close to the lens such as a camera strap or even a mark or scratch to the lens can cause all sorts of unusual effect.
  • Were there any draughts or pockets of warm air present that could cause a shimmering? When you look at a road on a hot summer’s day the rising hot air can sometimes cause a shimmering. A similar effect can happen in your home – for example if a photo is taken in a hot kitchen or near a radiator.


An orb caused by a dust particle may refract light and split it into a colour just as a prism will split white light into a rainbow. The orb may also reflect colours from the surroundings.


The brain will try to make sense out of any random shape. Scientists have observed that a new born baby will respond to two dots placed on a piece of paper that its brain interprets as a face. At first the child’s brain recognises it’s mothers face simply as two dots and it is only over time that it learns to recognise its mothers real face. In the same way our own brains make faces out of simple shapes. If you look at cumulus cloud, an inkblot or glowing coals you are likely to see ghost faces in the patterns and textures.



There are a few anomalies that are harder to explain. These include the following:

  • A trail suggests the orb is in motion and it less likely to be caused by a dust particle.
  • Most orbs caused by dust etc. are circular. Oval orbs are harder to explain.
  • Dust orbs appear as flat but three-dimensional spherical orbs require further explanation.
  • If you can see it with the naked eye and then capture it on camera it is likely to be caused by real phenomena. They you have to rule out other possible causes- such as fireflies or ball lightening etc.
  • If you can see it with the naked eye but it does not come out on camera then it is likely to be an optical effect caused by retinal fatigue or cellular debris in the eye.
  • If two or more people can see it at the same but the light does not come out on camera there is likelihood that these are real spirit lights.


There is a great deal of nonsense spoken about this on the Internet, in magazines, on cable TV and in books. Spiritualists prefer to call real orbs ‘spirit lights’ and have known about this phenomenon for a long time. The general consensus is that orbs are concentrations of the energy from the aura – called prana or chi in the East. The teacher Yogannanda called prana, lifetrons.

When a medium becomes aware of a person’s aura sometimes these specks of spirit light become visible to the medium’s clairvoyant senses (see also our clairvoyant test) and are seen by him through his normal senses. They may manifest as bright spots or as fields of tiny specks of light. In physical séances energy will manifest in a way that is visible for everyone to see with this physical eyes and is accompanied by a feeling of great love and awe.

The spirit energy normally appears as lights but in advanced groups may manifest as a smoky luminous mist like substance called ectoplasm. This aspect of spirit energy can ‘solidify’ into hands, heads and in some cases the full human form of the spirit communicator. Orbs and spirit lights an early manifestation of this incredible energy.

Other Camera Effects

  • LONG EXPOSURE: If a camera is held still while using a slow shutter speed or long exposure moving objects will look transparent. A person caught on camera in this way will of course look like a ghostly figure.
  • REFLECTIONS IN THE DISTANCE: Sometimes a flash used outside will illuminate a distant bright object and make it appear that it is close.
  • DUST ON A NEGATIVE: Dust on a negative can result in a speckled effect of white light on the photo. Unlike orbs produced by digital cameras they do not appear to glow.
  • REFLECTIONS OF FLASH: A shiny or reflective surface can cause many light effects that are captured by the camera.
  • OBJECTS IN FRONT OF THE LENS: An object or camera strap obstructing the lens causes a dark area on the print. This will appear as white when using a flash indoors or under low light conditions. It has a fuzzy outline and is never in sharp focus. Camera straps in particular will appear as white ‘vortexes’ of white light, sometimes with serrated edges.
  • LAST PICTURE ON ROLL: The first and last picture on a roll of film can sometimes have a  red, yellow or orange glow on one of the edges. This is caused by light seepage when loading or unloading the film.
  • LENS FLARE: Taking photographs into the sun or bright lights can cause a flare and sometimes an image of the camera’s diaphragm, which appears as a hexagonal-shaped glow on the image.


At our psychic school we offer courses to help you develop your mediumship. Occasionally we offer ghost photography classes but check the schedule to see what’s on now. You can also learn about how to become a medium, learn numerology or tarot reading or learn to give psychic readings. We also have free medium demonstrations and examples of free psychic readings happening in our Chat Rooms. Our community is the place to be to discuss astrology and horoscopes, your star signs or ask questions about ghosts, readings and the paranormal.

More Ghost Photos

Article Name
What are orbs?
Explanation of orbs in photography and whether that have a supernatural cause. Many believe that orbs are ghosts and spirits manifesting but others believe that they are caused by particles of water or dust on the lens.

About Craig Hamilton-Parker
CRAIG HAMILTON-PARKER is a celebrated U.K. medium who has confounded skeptics by the uncanny accuracy of his readings. Craig and his wife Jane have had their own TV shows in the UK and USA including 'The Spirit of Princess Diana'. In 2003 the BBC made a 3 part documentary about their work. Craig is the author of 15 books.

{ 15 comments… add one }

  • Lynzie

    What about a picture that was clear and perfect and suddenly develops an orb?

    • Orbs are usually caused by dust or moisture. They are normally only seen on digital cameras because these have a short focal length that captures images close to the camera lens. Maybe you are describing an orb appearing on a developed print? In the past this was usually caused by a stray crystal in the developing fluid that sits on the photographic paper to cause a white ring. But do post your images on our orb forums and you’ll get more specific comments about your interesting orb pictures.

  • Lynne Baty

    My friend and I have captured what we believe to be orbs and we have captured thick mists. In one set you can see it as it forms. I have a TON of pictures. I would love to be able to email you these orb pictures and see what you think.

    • You cannot upload pictures of orbs on this page for analysis but you can either send them to my paranormal pictures column at Fate and Fortune magazine and I’ll take a look or post them on our community forums here. I would post just a couple of Orb pictures at first as most orbs are caused by moisture or dust on the camera lens and can be easily explained. We do however have one or two orb pictures that could be of supernatural origin.

  • Nichola Lloyd

    Hi Craig. I actually saw three orbs with my own eyes moving around a small area of my sister’s bedroom one night when I was staying over. It was quite late at night and dark. The balls moved upward and seemed to disappear through the ceiling! I managed to grab my phone and snap a few photos. I’d love your opinion on what you think these balls of light were. I could see a slight trail behind them as they moved upwards…. These orbs were not dust!

    • If you go to the contact page of this website there is a link to send your pictures of orbs and ghosts to my magazine column. The selected pictures are given a full analysis to determine what they are. Only the best are chosen and I usually reject pictures of orbs as they are so easily explained. Your ‘orbs’ were seen with the naked eye which makes for a more interesting image so please send it to my editor.

  • Greg

    Having seen an orb I can say that there is no doubt about their existence. I knew it was there, I felt it knew I was there and when I looked left to view it I was suddenly rushed by the orb and struck on the left side of my face. I felt the feeling of a rush of concentrated wind on the side of my face, even in my left ear. Then it was gone. It was a bright glowing color, just still in the air about five feet off the floor. When I looked it seemed as something was inside the orb, something that was aware of me being there with it. Only way I can describe it.

  • really different

    I see orbs and more in the last month than ever before in my life. I had to make sure that I wasn’t just seeing things so I asked an orb to show itself again – its so fast when they do… and it did. It really was …so beautiful: not like a light of this world. A beautiful almost aqua blue and it shown brighter and grew bigger only for a flash moment (even though ironically it was tiny small.) but that showed me they have intelligence. I want to know what to do how to help them or how to communicate to where I can hear them. Any advice would be great. Thank you and have a wonderful day. P.S. I was alone in a bathroom in the dead of night. I’ve seen it and many others especially in my boyfriend’s house. And when I seen it and it shown itself again as I asked if I was alone so it couldn’t have been reflecting off an aura.

  • carol

    The picture that is posted on this page. What would be causing that in the picture? Is that an orb?

    • It look like an orb but it is a complete fake. This picture I made as an illustration for an article I wrote about fake orbs for a magazine. In 99.9% of cases – perhaps all – orbs are an effect caused by dust or moisture on the camera lens or in very close range to the camera.

  • Tanya Canning

    Please can you help my family are constantly saying things like I need to get my head sorted out or I have lost the plot: I have got videos of orbs and videos and pictures of some really spooky stuff going on. I have been told that a video I recorded was a recording of a ghost or spirit but even with this proof I am still unable to convince my family and friends I am not nuts HELP!

  • Louise Sinkins

    Thank you for this information! I’m a believer but dust orbs where plaguing me, until I learnt how to use my camera properly!

  • michelle Kline

    I have a few pictures of orbs that I recently found out about when my grandson was born. He says he has been seeing a man in my bedroom and I looked back on pictures and there are faces in orb and other things too. I would love to send to you for you to see them.

    • On this site’s contact page there is a link to the site of my column in Fate and Fortune Magazine where you can send me your ghost pictures and orbs for analysis.

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