Ghost Orb Sightings – An Overview

Orb sightings occur every day.

Most “ghost orbs” appear in photographs or videos in haunted places. So few people see them floating in mid-air, some researcher speculate that they can only be seen by gifted, psychic people.

What are orbs?

orb-newburyport-illus“Orbs” usually refer to the round, usually translucent, round or ball-shaped images that we sometimes see in photographs.

They’re usually white, but sometimes appear in pastel colors.  Rarely, they manifest as deep, rich and intense colors.

If you look at them closely, a few orbs seem to have faces in them.  Some orbs seem to be made up of tiny facets.  Most orbs appear as milky circles or spheres.

People often call them “ghost orbs,” since they seem to indicate paranormal energy.

However, many orbs in photos can be explained naturally. You can see the pollen in the middle, or the insect. The shape is usually irregular.

It may take you awhile to be able to tell the difference between an orb formed by moisture, a reflection, an insect, etc., but — once you can tell the difference — you’re not likely to confuse them again.

Don’t accept the easy dismissal of all orbs as dust, moisture, etc.  See the photos in my 2013 article, What Is “Paranormal”?, if you think moisture or reflections always produce orbs.

I recommend trying to create fake orbs with your camera, before deciding what’s real and what isn’t.  You may be surprised.

Unexplained orbs… they’re the orb sightings that really interest ghost hunters and paranormal researchers.

Orb sightings and the spirit world

Many people speculate about orb sightings. Some explanations include:

  • Ghosts.
  • Angels.
  • Demons.
  • An energy field indicating a portal opening or closing. (This is still my favorite explanation.)
  • A friendly spirit, manifesting to say hello.
  • A glimpse of “the light” that people describe in near-death experiences.

How to see orbs

The best way to see orbs is to take lots of photos in haunted locations, or places where people have seen (or photographed) orbs in the past.

These may include:

  • Cemeteries
  • Battlegrounds
  • Theatres (or buildings that used to have stage performances)
  • Older hotels
  • Living history museums
  • Historic homes (especially pre-1890 and open to the public)

Take dozens of photos, if you can.  Study them closely for orbs.  Adjust the contrast or lightness of the photo, so you don’t miss anything.

Tips for orb photography

  • austin-orb-bookcoverDay or night, use your camera’s flash.  It is possible to photograph ghost orbs during the daytime (see the orb on my book cover for The Ghosts of Austin, Texas) , but a flash seems to improve results.
  • Always take two or three photos in a row, as quickly as possible and without changing position. See if the same orb or orbs are in all photos; if so, there may be a normal explanation.
  • Save all of your photos until you exactly what to look for: Different colors, sizes, levels of contrast.

Tips for orb sightings

If you’re one of the fortunate few who see orbs floating in mid-air, here are tips to help you see more of them.

  • Practice your orb-spotting skills. With a friend or two, visit known haunted locations.
  • Most people spot orbs around dusk or immediately after it.
  • When you see an orb, have friends take photos of the orb. If possible, also get photos of you with the orb to see if the locations are similar in most photos.
  • Measure the temperature and EMF levels around the orb, if you have the tools to do so.

Orb sightings are a controversial topic in ghost hunting.  However, if you’re fascinated by ghost orbs or find comfort in them, every orb sighting can be very important.

Ghost Orbs – The Overlooked Question

orb-tyngs1-contrast-75Ghost orbs are a controversial topic, even among believers.

Some orbs can be explained as refracted light from moisture, reflective surfaces, insects, pollen or dust.

But – and this is important – they’re not the big problem I used to claim they were.

So many ghost hunters took my early advice, I’m embarrassed when I hear someone dismiss a credible orb as “it’s just dust.

Usually, false “orb” shapes are irregular. In other cases, you can see the insect or dot of pollen in the center. It’s more solid-looking. Enlarge your photo and take a close look, to be sure.

When it’s a bug, the reflection is usually white. Pollen usually shows up as a solid (not translucent) yellow dot in the center of the orb.

Some of us believe that unexplained orbs —  described as photographic anomalies — indicate possible paranormal activity.

Critical skeptics fall back on the easy answer that every unexplained orb is just dust. Or insects. Or a reflection.

That’s a convenient excuse.

When I ask how much research they’ve done with their own cameras, trying to create fake orbs, they usually change the subject.

Or, they snap back, “I don’t have to. It’s obvious.”

But, overlooking that bravado, let’s say that those orbs are “just dust.”

There’s still an overlooked question.  In fact, it can be startling and obvious when you think about it.

Why do we see so many more orbs in photos taken at haunted places?

Why are there dozens of orbs in photos taken at a haunted cemetery, and hardly any orbs at a field just down the street from that cemetery?

If they’re both equally dusty, shouldn’t we see an equal number of orbs in the photos?

Let’s backtrack for a moment.


Most ghost hunters point to physical evidence such as doors that slam without explanation.  Or, they’ll talk about lights, radios and televisions that turn on “by themselves.”

Similarly, I’ve heard a broken piano play music at The Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana.

We’ve seen balls roll by themselves, pencils move across tables, and so on.

So, why is it so preposterous to think that a ghost might deliberately lift flecks of dust, to manifest as orbs in our photos?

Remember the movie, Ghost?  In one scene, Patrick Swayze — as a ghost — struggles to move physical objects.  Fortunately, another ghost shows him how it’s done.

But what about ghosts in cemeteries and other haunted locations?  Maybe no one has shown them how to move large and heavy objects.  Perhaps a particle of dust is all they can manage.

A ghost that gets our attention with a fleck of dust is no less real than a ghost that slaps someone, rolls a ball across the floor of a deserted hospital, or slams doors in an empty hall.


Many experienced ghost hunters dismiss orbs caused by obvious reflective objects, pollen, insects, and rain.

Those ghost hunters have viewed thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – of orb photos. They know what to look for:

  • An irregular shape, not a nearly perfect circle
  • A solid-looking dot or shape at the center of the orb
  • A solid dot of yellow in or near the center of a pollen orb
  • A solid white shape inside an insect orb
  • A solid white or grey dot inside a dust orb
  • A brilliant white orb, usually an irregular shape, if it’s rain or moisture
  • A repeating series of circular orbs, usually in a line, if it’s a lens flare from the sun, the moon, or a reflective surface.

But, let’s take this question one step further. Let’s say the orb is from dust.

The next question should be: Is the dust an anomaly?

If you’re seeing unexplained orbs in photos taken at one location, take photos at a nearby location with similar levels of dust,  pollen, and so on.  Equal orbs indicate natural causes.

However, if you see orbs in photos at a haunted cemetery but not in photos at the Little League field next door, the real issue isn’t whether it’s dust.  Instead, ask why the orbs only show up in the haunted cemetery.

The answer might be ghosts.

Basic Tools Every Ghost Hunter Must Have

Trifield meterGhost hunting tools can be useful in any haunted setting.

Some researchers confirm anomalies using cameras, EVP recorders, digital thermometers, compasses and EMF detectors, etc.

Others focus on psychic readings with Tarot cards or other divinatory tools.

Some people use dowsing rods and pendulums, which some claim are psychic tools, while other point to their scientific support.

But, the question remains:

What tools must every beginner have for ghost hunting?

Here’s my answer: Nothing!

You need no special tools, not even a camera. You also don’t need special training.


If you’re a beginner or simply curious about ghost hunting, you should be able to show up at a place that’s haunted and sense the ghosts.

The more often you go on ghost hunts, the more sensitive you’ll become to ghosts and the paranormal. It’s that simple.


On a successful ghost hunt, you may experience an eerie feeling, a chill, or hair lifting on the back of your arms.

What tools do you need to be a ghost hunter?  Nothing.Some people will hear things, which can range from noises that everyone hears – tapping, for example – or strange sounds that the individual hears psychically.

Others will receive strong impressions, or see something flicker, off to one side. Or, they may detect a perfume or an aroma.

Any of the five senses can be involved, or it may be just a ‘sixth sense’ encounter with the other side.

But, you should never feel that you must own or use a particular tool. If your budget won’t even stretch to include a disposable film camera, don’t worry about it. Just go and enjoy the ghost hunt.


For 90% of beginners, as well as many researchers with experience, ghost hunting is practically a spectator sport.

You’ll see what others are encountering, and you may (or may not) sense some ‘odd’ things, yourself. That’s all that basic ghost hunting is, really.

When you’re ready to add research tools – and you never have to – go slowly. Experiment.

Borrow others’ equipment for a few minutes on a ghost hunt, and see if it works for you.

Some people never seem to get anything interesting on film. Others produce zero results with EMF detectors.

No two researchers are the same. Don’t invest in equipment unless you’re sure that it’s useful for you.

Others won’t use any divinatory tools, even dowsing rods, because they feel ‘uncomfortable’, or the researchers’ religious beliefs prohibit those practices. Don’t worry that you’re missing out on anything if you avoid the Tarot, etc.

Here at Ghosts 101, I try to inform researchers about what works (and what’s not reliable) in our my research.

But, I try never to pressure ghost hunters into using particular tools–scientific or divinatory–for ghost hunting.


There are no tools and there is no training that you absolutely must have to be a successful ghost hunter.

Sure, courses can help shorten the trial-and-error phase.  Teachers can point out things that may not occur to you otherwise.

However, I want to make this very clear: You need no tools at all to be a successful ghost hunter.

Investigating? Try anything

Remember, we don’t know anything about ghosts. We’re guessing, based on the data we’ve collected scientifically, psychically, spiritually, from history and from folklore. Sure, we think we’re correct about most of it, but it’s vital to remain open-minded about all possibilities.

I’m not sure who first experimented with EMF meters and discovered EMF spikes at haunted sites. Likewise, cold spots were discovered by trial-and-error.

Orbs, other photographic anomalies, EVP… the list goes on & on. Though we talk about them in matter-of-fact terms today, researchers found them by saying, “What if?” and looking for patterns among anomalies.

We need to find more of these patterns and manifestations at haunted places. We’re still looking for answers. But, to find those answers, we need to ask more questions… and different ones.

So, try anything. In my article, EMF reality check, I talked about the possibility that some “ghosts” aren’t dead… not in their time period, which may be where they are when we sense or encounter them.

Maybe we’re connecting with them across a “wrinkle in time” (tesseract/wormhole), as Madeleine L’Engle described in her novel of the same name. It sounds far-fetched, but the more avenues we can explore, the better.

I’ve suggested this before, and I’ll continue to: Try anything you can think of.

Metal detectors, motion sensors, pH sensors, tools that measure air pressure, humidity, etc… try them all and look for more patterns.

Read and watch sci-fi and fantasy stories, and look for new ideas to test. (My “EMF reality check” article was inspired by a Torchwood episode, and the H. G. Wells novel, The Time Machine.)

At this point, it’s all trial-and-error research. Anything is possible! Don’t feel silly trying any measuring tool, no matter how unlikely.  Take notes.  Always take notes!
And, no matter what you find out, share that with others. The more data we can share, the faster we’re likely to make sense of hauntings.

Using a Compass to Measure EMF

This article about EMF and hiking compasses
has been updated from my 2003 original.

compassCan an inexpensive hiking compass detect EMF as well as a $50+ EMF meter?

Until around 1999, I dismissed the idea of using a compass during ghost investigations. Instead, I relied on other ghost hunting equipment.

However, a series of tests with a sturdy $10 Coleman compass surprised me, and a $5 compasses worked nearly as well as my regular EMF meters.

Now, in some settings, I actually prefer to use a hiking compass when I first explore a haunted site.

And, unlike hi-tech equipment with batteries that can fail in haunted settings, the compass always works.

Here’s my background: For years, I was a Girl Scout leader. So, I know that hiking compasses work like gravity. They’re almost 100% reliable with no surprises, as long as you aren’t near something magnetic, a large electrical engine, or major power lines.

Late in 1999 when I was documenting a ghost hunt, I brought my compass to Gilson Road Cemetery in Nashua, NH. I had only intended to use it to get my bearings when making notes about which geographical corners had appeared the most spectrally active.

When our ghost hunting team arrived, I placed the compass on top of Hannah Robbins’ headstone at the northern end of the cemetery. Her stone appeared to be aligned in a NNE direction, looking towards the carved side of her headstone.

This was what I expected to see, so I didn’t think about it again.

However, while I was comparing anomaly photos with actual grave locations and other landmarks, another ghost hunter and team member, Alan (the one we call “ghostbait”), checked other parts of the cemetery with the compass.

North seemed to move.

In the southern half of the cemetery, the compass showed north in one direction. As Alan walked towards the northern half of the cemetery, the needle swung about 30 degrees and stayed there.

We tested this repeatedly, and the results were consistent.

At the time, this was a very rural location, before a housing development moved in across the street. In 1999, there were no nearby generators or significant power lines.

EMF should only increase in proximity to electrical activity. It has been reported during spectral activity. We don’t know if ghosts cause EMF surges, but at haunted sites, we often find higher EMF readings.

Since Gilson Road Cemetery is profoundly haunted, it should not surprise me that my sturdy, non-nonsense compass reacted to energy there. But it did.

On return visits and ghost hunts, day or night, we’ve seen anomalous compass readings at Gilson Road Cemetery and most other “haunted” locations.

Since then, we’ve used a compass on several Hollow Hill investigations. Now, we highly recommend a compass in your basic ghost hunting kit, for fun if nothing else.

Guidelines for compass use in “haunted” locations, and during ghost hunts:

  • Use only compasses with free-swinging needles. If the needle tends to get stuck pointing in one direction, it’s not helpful.
  • Before you start walking, line up North so the red part (or point) of the needle is over the arrow painted on the compass.
  • Learn to use the compass in a not haunted site, first. Your backyard is a good place, if there are no electrical wires nearby (underground and overhead, too).
  • The first time you try this, walk in as straight a line as possible, directly towards North or towards South.
  • Expect the needle to bob and bounce as you walk. This is normal. However, when you pause, it should always return to North.
  • Keep the compass as flat as possible. If you hold it an an angle, your reading may not be accurate or the needle may become stuck.
  • If North seems to move, pause. Check how you’re holding the compass. North NEVER changes direction!
  • Debunk odd readings if you can. Look for interference from magnetic deposits (a metal detector can help) and from electrical sources, including power lines. They will “attract” the compass’ needle.
  • This is worth repeating: North NEVER changes its location. Even a slight 10-degree shift is an anomaly, if you’ve eliminated all other influences. Profoundly haunted sites can show unexplained needle-swings of up to 90 degrees.
  • If you think you have an anomaly, retrace your steps. See if the compass anomaly repeats. Usually, it will… but only for awhile.
  • Check again on another day. Unfortunately for documentation purposes, a genuine haunting is unlikely to repeat the compass anomalies in the same places, day after day. (One that does repeat is more likely electrical or magnetic interference with the compass’ action.)