Hayley is a Ghost

Orb phenomena

An orb, in the paranormal sense, is the name given to a seemingly spontaneously appearing ball of light in a photograph – an orb can appear in one photograph and not be in a photo taken of the same area taken directly afterwards and can appear solid or faint.

There are numerous theories attributed to the round balls of light caught in photographs worldwide, some of these theories make a lot more sense than others though. Some people claim that the orbs are the first sign of spirit manifestation and that they are ghosts/spirits manifesting energy in the earliest stage on the path of becoming a full apparition.

A ghost hunter "reaches" towards an orb. This is probably just a coincidence but was reported as being relevant evidence of a spirit presence.

Some people claim that the theory that orbs are ghosts must be true due to their appearance in photographs on demand. Ghost hunters often report that as they ask for a spirit to show itself an orb will appear on a photograph they take. Often people will take a photo( like the one to the right), that shows them seemingly touching, holding or reaching towards an orb which they claim shows a spirit was present with them or was reacting to them.

However, common sense goes against this theory because for every photograph taken of a person with an orb appearing ‘on request’ or near them, there will be lots of photos with no orbs in them even though a request has been made – this appearance of orbs on demand is more likely to have been caused by sheer coincidence. The belief based on these coincidences is just confirmation bias as the photos with a miss (no orbs in them on demand) will be forgotten or deemed irrelevant, and those photos with a hit (an orb in it on demand) will be deemed relevant. This is called ‘The file drawer effect’.

Click for larger version

There are also people who hold the belief that the colour of an orb holds a meaning about the spirit that is causing the orb. Colour in orb anomalies is actually simply caused by light refraction or chromatic aberration in the camera lens which causes colours in the photo to appear feathered, distorted and out of focus.

What is the truth about orbs? Well, it’s quite simple.

Orbs are photographic artefacts – specifically bits of airborne dust, water droplets, insects etc. caught in the flash of a camera. They appear out of focus because they are so close to the lens of the camera in an area called ‘The orb zone’ which is between the camera lens and the ‘point of focus’ in a photograph (namely the object you are taking a photo of, such as a person.)

When the flash of a camera goes off it will reflect off of the airborne artefacts in ‘the orb zone’ and the position between the lens and the ‘point of focus’ will cause the light reflection to appear as a circle of confusion.

An orb is what a professional photographer would call a circle of confusion, an out of focus highlight in the photo. When you take a photograph that has out of focus objects in it you will notice that the out of focus objects don’t just go fuzzy – they turn into small overlapping circles of light and the larger the circle, the fainter it is, because the light is more spread out until eventually the circles will become so large and faint that they disappear all together.

This could explain why some orbs appear larger and fainter than others rather than the idea that the spirit orb is further away from the camera. To confuse an artefact in front of a camera lens for a spirit manifestation is an easy mistake to make if you do not research into the subject and rely upon pseudo-scientific theories.

A study was done by ‘Paranormal Site Investigators’ who are based in Swindon into the orb phenomena. You can read about their sutdy and orbs in more detail by clicking here.


16 Responses to "Orb phenomena"

what about the ones that appear to be colored sparks (usually orange-ish yellow)?

They’re most likely caused by refraction in the lens, or a flaw with the lens as mentioned in the post 🙂

The orb phenomena has certainly split the paranoraml community right down the middle. I believe that myself and my colleague at The Plymouth UFO Research Group (no website yet, despite us being one of the oldest UFO groups in the UK!) were doing the first ever photographic paranormal orb experiments, way back in 1991. Our research concluded in 1994, and our report was edited down and printed in various international paranormal magazines of the time.

Our conclusions were that the majority of orbs were exactly as you Hayley have described in your article here…..however…..there was a small number of photographs which we believed to be of genuine paranormal significance. On an aside, I have read with interest the complete lack of professionalism from the group a paranormal group on your recent blog post. I am astonished that a paranormal group has behaved in this way on a blog article, and just hope and pray this isn’t a sign of times to come for more up and coming paranormal groups to behave in this manner.

I disagree with your conclusions about orbs. I do not see how you can say some are natural and some are not; how can you tell the difference? I find the PIS & ASSAP study to be much more solid: http://www.theorbzone.com

It is for those very reasons you have mentioned that we decided we had to stop the research in 1994. How dare could we say to someone that this photograph is just ‘out-of-focus’ water moisture, yet this photograph we believe to be a genuine paranormal orb. We just couldn’t, and so with that in mind, we had to stop our research, and put it down to personal experience that we were playing with the Cosmic Joker.

Thanks for the link to the website, although we did publicise in several journals, and indeed appeared on TV, regarding the orb phenomena in 1992, but the link talks about the history of the phenomena from a book in 1980 (which is a very good book), and then onto the mid-1990s. It appears of course anybody doing research these days is basing it purely on what they can find on the internet, which means an awful lot of research/data, is being missed, if that research material was done before the internet.

Hi Martyn,

I’d really love to see some articles from peer-reviewed journals from pre-1994. This would expose a bit a chink in all orb write-ups (although not in the argument) as the literature reviews of none of the articles I’ve seen contain such references.

As you note stuff on ‘orbs’ before then is virtually impossible to find. The 1980 book is not referenced online, but was the sad single result of a lot of manual looking for references to the orb phenomenon from the pre-digital and pre-Internet age.

I’m quite excited by the prospect of firm, pre-digital evidence – especially peer-reviewed – and await your response.


Hi Dave

Unfortunately, the research work we carried out was not peer-reviewed, however, of the few orb photographs we believed to be of genuine paranormal significance, were the exact same photos that a local professional photographer singled out as being very unusual (we gave him a whole load of photos containing orbs, and he sifted through them, and the majority of them he dismissed, as we did, as just being water moisture, we did not tell him beforehand which ones we believed to be paranormal).

But surely you have some official documentary evidence to back up your claims, Martyn?

Yes, we have the reports, all typed up on paper only (not on disk). I went looking for them up in my dads loft, thought they were in one of the boxes up there, but no, which means I have them packed away in a box in a storage unit, as I’ve currently got lots of things in temporary storage whilst I’m finding a home for me, which seems to be taking forever!

That’s all very well but what are the black orbs? They cannot be reflected light? They are rarer but I have seen them.

Also what about orbs that we can see without a camera, what are they?

I think that an a priori sceptic like you dismissing ALL orbs as artefacts is very short-sighted as one day the case positive may slip through your hands because of bias.

Be well

Hello Kris,

I have never seen a black orb so wouldn’t really be able to comment on what the cause could be, if you were to share an example of one of these black orbs then I would be interested. As for orbs that people see with their eyes – I would suggest that what they’re actually seeing is a product of their eye rather than something paranormal. It is a well known fact that the retina can cause these sorts of visions. In fact, seeing lights can be an indication that there may be an issue with the eye that needs examining by a medical professional.

In summary, calling me short-sighted for ‘dismissing ALL orb artefacts’ is an incorrect assumption about my opinions about orbs. As it currently stands there is nothing more than people making leaps of logic to back up the claim that orbs are paranormal. I simply require some proof that they are paranormal or ghostly in origin before I accept that idea, it’s an open minded approach to the subject.

Be well yourself.

My initial curiosity in to paranormal investigation started with an interest in orbs. Over the years, I have been able to determine a few (easily scientifically repeatable) things. The closer the flash or light source is to the lens, the more orbs you will encounter. The less recessed the lens is on the camera, the more orbs you will encounter. If the flash illuminates the air immediately in front of the lens, you will encounter more orbs. On a camera with a proper lens hood, and a flash several inches from the lens, I have never captured an orb. Modern “tiny” cameras are very convenient, but the close proximity of the flash to the lens can cause reflectivity issues.

I get “black orbs” in every damn photograph I take. They are always in the same position regardless of the subject. I think this probably means my camera needs a proper cleaning! I keep meaning to take it into the shop…

I have a question Hayley: I am a sceptic (atheist, humanist!) myself but have friends who believe strongly in paranormal phenomena. One friend lost her baby son a couple of years ago, and I keep finding myself having to bite my tongue when she talks about orbs and ghost hunts and the like. I don’t want to argue with her because I’d essentially be arguing against her belief that her son lives on, and that seems dreadfully disrespectful, but I can’t help feeling that she’s being taken for a ride by various companies which specialise in the paranormal. I should probably keep my nose out of it and have done up until now, but if the situation ever arose, how would you approach discussions with people who have very personal and rather tragic reasons for believing in these sort of things?

Being told you are wrong, even in a lovely and friendly way, wont make you consider yourself as wrong. Your friend needs to be inspired to ask the questions for herself. Maybe show her some of the QualiaSoup videos on Youtube? They’re pretty good at making people question themselves.

Just found this thread. I started my own research back in 1993 while with Contact UK, in response to the photos/results from PUFORG at the time.
I have continued research since that time, but have never swayed from the conclusion that orbs were/are particulates illuminated by the camera flash and/or flash assist and/or IR focus beam. Disable the flash and IR emitters on a camera, then let’s analyze and discuss the resulting orb photos.
I have written my research and analysis up in articles and posted a few times times on paranormal forums, but it is inevitably dismissed as debunking.

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Hayley is a ghost

Hayley Stevens is an advocate for science-based research into seemingly paranormal experiences and occurrences. With a background in the pseudo-scientific research into ghosts, Hayley offers a unique insight into the strange world of ghost hunting through her experience.

She describes herself as 'a ghost hunter who doesn't hunt for ghosts' and this is her personal blog where she writes about ghosts, people, and other interesting things. Read more here.

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