Ghost Photos – False Anomaly Tests

I used to say that most “ghost orbs” were dust, insects, humidity, or something else

Then, a long-time friend challenged me. He insisted that all orbs were ghost photos.

After that – for over six years – I tried to create fake convincing “ghost photos.” I wanted to prove I was right.

So, I tried to recreate circumstances I’d blamed for photos with orbs, apparent vortices, and so on.

I took all of these pictures in low-light conditions. I always used the flash on my camera to highlight the deceptive object or issue. I wanted to create false anomalies.

Hair in “Ghost Photos”

Ghost photos - false anomaly testsThe first group of photos are things that could look paranormal if you didn’t know what was in the picture. Half of the photos show a single piece of hair or a few strands of it. That could happen if a photographer has long hair (as I do) and doesn’t pin it back.

The other photos in this first group show camera straps.

I used to think pictures of camera straps always showed both ends of the strap exiting the frame of the photo.

Not true.

Now I know camera straps can look weird. And, it can “vanish” from one side of the image.

Sometimes, both ends of the camera strap seem to disappear, so, the “vortex” seems suspended in front of the photographer.

Also, my camera strap is almost black. The reason it looks white is because the camera’s flash is very bright, and it highlights the camera strap.

About 90% of the “vortex” pictures I’ve seen were probably camera straps, or something like them. If you use a camera strap (recommended, especially in dark settings), be sure to loop it around your wrist or — if it’s a very long strap — over your arm or shoulder.

(I lost my original photos when this site moved to new hosting. I’m still looking for those photos among my backups.  Until then, the following thumbnail illustrations show the kinds of pictures I’ve featured.)

Photos of hair and camera straps

The Fake Orbs Problem

The second group of photos shows how difficult it is to create convincing, fake “ghost orbs.”

The first few pictures are flash photos taken on a densely foggy morning. Even the one with the white lines (a spiderweb) doesn’t show convincing-looking orbs.

Next, you’ll see smoke photos. Unless your camera is sensitive to smoke, you’d need to be surrounded by smokers for smoke to be a significant issue.  Regular cigarette smoke barely showed up. When we tested clove cigarettes (a different density of smoke), that was slightly more convincing.

Incense looked anomalous in my photos. However, unless your team is using a sage smudge, or the client burns lots of incense at home, I’m not certain we need to worry about smoke.

I could not get chimney smoke to show up in photos. Unless the weather is “just so,” hot air — and wood smoke — rise into the atmosphere. Smoke is not likely to descend and remain thick enough to be an issue.  However, smoke from a nearby campfire could be an issue.

The remaining photos show random samples of test photos, trying to create lens flares and fake orbs. Insects, house lights, and even sparkly, reflective jewelry produced nothing noteworthy.

 

Attempts to create false orbs and anomalies

After years of study, using film and digital cameras, I finally had to admit that I’d been mistaken about false, ghostly anomalies.

True Confessions about Ghost Photos

For nearly 10 years, I was a hardcore skeptic about orbs in ghost photos. And, I said so, in my articles.

So, I need to make a few points very clear.

  • Orbs are much harder to fake than I’d expected. Moisture, reflective surfaces, and even house lights rarely create convincing orbs. Most lens flares are too obvious to confuse with unexplained orbs, and lens flares are far more difficult to create in typical ghost hunting circumstances.
  • Camera straps can cause “vortex” images, even if one or two ends of the strap seem to vanish in the photo. Keep your camera strap wound around your wrist or arm.
  • Hair can cause weird looking lines and swirls, some of them dotted with an orb at the end. They can look like vortex images, too. Wear a scarf if you’re taking ghost photos.
  • Cigarette smoke is very difficult to capture in a photo. We tried traditional cigarettes (it’s nearly invisible) and clove cigarettes (before the ban). Cloves gave better results, but still aren’t enough to worry about.
  • Smoke from the right incense can appear ghostly. However, unless you’re using sage smudges at a site, I don’t think that’s an issue. Cone incense and incense on charcoal dispersed too quickly to photograph. Stick incense produced the best results, but someone had to wave it right in front of the lens, even on a still night.
  • Fog causes faint, repeating orbs. In hundreds of foggy photos, I saw nothing I’d confuse with a ghostly orb.
  • Jewelry, house lights, and spider webs don’t seem to create confusing images in photos.

Don’t take my word for it.

Run tests with your own phones and cameras. That’s important. Know how they respond to these kinds of issues. No two cameras have the same sensitivities.

Then, you’ll know if you’ve taken an actual ghost photo… or something else.

Are Orbs ‘Paranormal’?

cameraNow and then, the word “paranormal” seems to take on a life of its own.  In a recent discussion about orbs, a couple of people insisted that orbs aren’t paranormal.

Well, I can’t argue with a skeptical critic.  He or she has already made up his or her mind.  The skeptical critic is usually a bottomless well of explanations, no matter how extreme or preposterous.  (But, to be fair: Anyone absolutely, positively determined to interpret everything as ghostly… he or she can be equally defensive.)

I think skeptical critics feel a little more secure in their uncertainties, if they think they have a nice, normal reason for everything.  (Since they simply want to argue with people like me, I’m not sure why they’re involved in ghost hunting.)

However, I’m not convinced that yesterday’s critics meant what they said.  I think they meant that orbs aren’t ghosts.

THE DEFINITION OF PARANORMAL

“Paranormal” does not mean “ghostly.”

Para-, the prefix, comes from the Greek.  It means beside (not part of) or beyond.  So, “paranormal” is something beyond what’s normal.

The Free Dictionary defines paranormal as, “Beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation.”

Dictionary.com says it’s “of or pertaining to the claimed occurrence of an event or perception without scientific explanation.”

Merriam-Webster says paranormal means, “not scientifically explainable.”

Most definitions refer to supernatural phenomena as an example, but the basic definition comes down to:

  • Para = Beyond or outside.
  • Normal = Standard, not deviating from the norm, or average.
NOLA - Pirates Alley, on a foggy, rainy night
New Orleans on a foggy night, after rain, with lots of lights & reflections. No orbs.

So, avoid using “paranormal” when you mean “ghostly.”

A photo of an orb can be paranormal. So can a photo of a flower, a cat, or your shoe.  It all depends on what’s normal, and what can’t be explained within the range of normal.

NORMAL AND PARANORMAL ORBS

An orb I can identify as pollen artifact is normal.  

An orb that I can’t reproduce by normal means (setting up the lighting, dust, moisture, etc., in a certain way) is paranormal.

  • It’s not necessarily a ghost.
  • It’s not necessarily energy.
  • It’s not necessarily an angel, your great-granny, or the Tooth Fairy.

It’s just an orb that — at the present time — can’t be explained, and can’t be reproduced using similar photographic staging.

I may apply other descriptions to that orb, but they relate to the experience at the time the photo was taken. I’m looking for other phenomena, what investigators were sensing at the time, EVP, EMF spikes, sensory phenomena, and so on.

The orb photo itself… it doesn’t prove anything.  All by itself, it’s supporting evidence, at best.

Here’s my story:

For years, I was guilty of insisting that most orbs are dust, pollen, moisture, reflections, insects, and so on.  And, fed up with saying that to people who just wouldn’t believe me, I decided to prove it.

I planned to create some great, convincing-looking, fake orb photos.  Frankly, I didn’t think it would be very difficult.

I set up my cameras — multiple film and digital cameras — and used things like:

  • Ragweed (pollen).
  • My Swiffer (dust).
  • Flour (denser dust).
  • Very fine, powdery sand and dirt from unpaved roads (more dust).
  • Spray bottles (moisture).
  • Mirrors, shiny glass, and chandeliers (reflections).
  • Stop signs, traffic cones, other street signs (reflections).

I trekked to swampy areas with wall-to-wall mosquitoes.  I walked down dirt roads at night, and waited for a car or truck to drive by, stirring up the dust.

I visited damp locations on humid and foggy nights.  I even went to New Orleans shortly after Katrina, when everything was pretty soggy.

NOLA-reflect-cone
Flash photo of shiny glass, lights and a traffic cone in New Orleans’ French Quarter… on a damp evening. No orbs.

Sure, I got photos that included orbs. The problem was, they didn’t look like the orbs I photograph at haunted locations.  They weren’t convincing orbs.

A beginner might be fooled by them… but not me.  Not after all these years in ghost hunting, after tens of thousands of photos.

But, after spending years insisting (with no proof) that most orbs were the product of the environment, I wasn’t going to eat crow quite yet.

In fact, I spent six years trying to stage photos that would produce orbs identical to the orbs photographed at haunted and spiritual sites.

The one and only thing that produced convincing orbs — orbs that looked like “ghost orbs” — was breathing (or talking with a lot of exhaling) while taking the photos.  And even then, I couldn’t get real-looking orbs in more than half my photos.  Most of them still looked fake.

Toulouse Street, New Orleans.
A street corner in New Orleans at night. Bright lights. No orbs.

Some researchers claim that all orbs — even those with logical explanations that you can see — are evidence of spirits.

I’m not one of those researchers.  Sure, maybe a ghost floated that particular fleck of pollen in front of my camera exactly when I was taking the picture. Maybe he did that just to get my attention.  I can accept that as a possibility.

However, I’m not going to state, categorically, that any orb represents a ghost.

It’s just something paranormal… and it seems to happen most often at “haunted” sites.  That’s all I can state with confidence.

That and the fact that believable orbs are amazingly difficult to fake.

Having been a skeptical critic of “ghost orbs” for many years, I’m regretting that — as the author of some of the earliest ghost hunting articles online — I led people to believe that most orbs can be explained by dust, pollen, reflections, and so on.

Sure, I can still spot an orb that doesn’t look right.  I know that, either inside the frame of the photo or just outside it, there’s a likely explanation.  If the photographer revisits the site, he or she will usually see what caused the lens flare or refraction.

But, there’s a different quality to the orbs we usually can’t explain.  And, to replicate those… well, except for breathing while taking a flash photo — and even that isn’t a “sure thing” — I can’t seem to create convincing-looking orbs with staging.

Fake-looking orbs are easy.  Real-looking ones… no.

But, my point in this article isn’t just about orbs.  It’s about how people misuse the word “paranormal.”

If you mean “ghostly,” say so. 

If you just mean something that — at this time — can’t be explained by anything normal in that setting, at that time… that’s paranormal.

There is a difference, and it’s an important one when we’re discussing research techniques and results.

Ghost Photography 101 – An Overview

Ghost Photography 101 - overviewGhost photography is a fascinating subject.  Ghost photos are also among the easiest ways for paranormal investigators and ghost hunters to find evidence of hauntings.

In the following articles, you’ll learn more about how to take ghost pictures, and what to watch out for.

Most of these are excerpts from the first edition of my book, Ghost Photography 101.  (That first edition is now out-of-print.)

Ghost Photography Articles

In these articles, you’ll see photos — mostly in color — from the book.  Some are real anomalies, others are explained as false anomalies… things to watch out for when you’re taking pictures at haunted sites.

These articles and photos aren’t intended as the last word in ghost photography.  They’re a starting point for each investigator.

Try similar experiments with your own cameras, to see what real and fake results look like.  Then, you’ll feel far more confident about your ghost photos.