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A Consideration of Orbs: Are They Real or a Hoax?

Ms. Carroll is an amateur photographer who enjoys sharing her photography and art with others.

A single blue orb caught in partly cloudy sky

A single blue orb caught in partly cloudy sky

What Is an Orb?

Are they spirits in the form of light or just flecks of dust on a camera lens? The debate about orbs has lingered since the advent of photography in the 1900s. Professional photographers give a technological rationale called backscatter for the random appearance of orbs in digital photography, while spiritists claim they are ghosts—even assigning characteristics based on the color of the orb. Spiritists challenge naysayers to take a photo with an orb in it if they're so easy to create, while professional photographers debunk paranormal activity in general.

There are instances of professional photographers using their camera's flash to create an orb, but there are many, many more instances where orbs appear in no-flash photography and, in fact, also appear in non-digital photography and videography. Orbs are rarely seen in the camera lens at the time a photograph is taken and only appear after a picture is developed or uploaded.

Despite their long history of appearances in photographs and videos worldwide, these spherical anomalies are no closer to a provable scientific explanation today. There are even debates concerning whether the size and shape of orbs can serve to authenticate them, claiming "real" orbs are oblong or irregular while "fake" orbs tend to be perfectly round. To complicate the topic of orbs, ghost lovers have created hoax photographic orbs, which only fuel subjective speculation.

To help us form an objective opinion about orbs, let's look at several cases of digitally captured orbs. It's worth pointing out that orbs have been seen in both day and nighttime skies with the naked eye. We classify them generally as UFOs, but if they are spherical forms of light, they can be classified more specifically as orbs. For that matter, planets could be considered celestial orbs. It is further worth pointing out that there are numerous reported cases of auras in photography though they are excluded from this exploration. Like orbs, auras do not appear until a photograph is developed or uploaded.

Case #1: Single Blue Orb

Please forgive me for beginning with my own orb, but I took several photographs of a partly cloudy sky one day while pulled off the highway on a road trip. At the time, I certainly had no idea this single blue orb was in my photographs; I was more interested in a vortex created by the clouds. The orb moved around from place to place in each photograph but was close to the sun in every picture taken—either north, south, east, or west of the sun. And there was only one orb in each photo.

I returned home from my road trip to upload the digital photos to my computer and study them closer. Internet research led me to a theory that blue orbs allegedly represent psychic energy and are somehow connected to heaven. They allegedly denote peace or calm, and it was theorized that they act as a guide in the location in which they exist. I had not used my flash this day, so backscatter was not likely. It could be argued that there was some moisture in the air since it was a partly cloudy day, and this moisture somehow represented itself as a single orb. And I suppose that a single particle of dust could have been moving around in front of my lens over the 10-15 minutes I took photos, though I felt that was highly unlikely. The orb was somewhere different in every photo I took.

What's particularly interesting about this photo is its timing. My mother had just passed away in recent weeks, and I was en route to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where a library containing a memorial in her name exists. Anyone who knew my mother could be sure of one thing, she went to heaven. She was a devout servant of the Lord, and it was speculated at her funeral that she was so devoted to God that she would sit close to the right hand of God in heaven. So not a ghost, but a spiritual sign? Or some unexplained issue with my digital camera? I'll never know! But the timing of the orb was something I felt could not be ignored.

Is this an orb partially tucked behind a cloud?

Is this an orb partially tucked behind a cloud?

Case #2: Compelling Video With Moving Orb

So, how do you explain an orb caught on video? In this case, a lady in Roanoke, Virginia, caught a very unusual 'orb' MOVING across the lens of her video surveillance camera. She even received an alert from her security company that movement had been detected on her property. She explained at the time that she lived across the street from a graveyard.

What is noteworthy about this potential orb is that the surveillance camera's owner noted that her young daughter had seen an orb after her aunt died. When her daughter saw this surveillance footage, she responded that it looked like the orb she had seen years earlier and which she believed was her aunt.

Like most orbs, the jury is still out on this case. The leading theory appears to be that the camera caught a spider moving across the lens and that's what set the motion-detected surveillance camera into action. It may be relevant to note that the camera was activated twice, and the orb appeared in differing shapes in different locales in the footage. You decide! Orbs caught on film should certainly provoke a greater curiosity in the mind of skeptics.

Case #3: Less Compelling Video of Orb Activity (With Cat)

Here is another example of an orb(s) caught on video. Not too far into this 2-3 minute video, you will see an orb or orbs cross the camera lens (although the cat's translucent orb eyes could be enough to scare most of us). The cat seems to be aware of the orb(s) presence, but unlike most cats I've seen, the feline doesn't chase them. So it calls into question whether the cat actually saw the orb(s) or just sensed their presence.

This orb(s) appeared to have some color. Internet research can be found to suggest that digital representations of orbs are usually transparent, white, or gray in appearance. That's the photographer's standpoint. The spiritist's standpoint would suggest these colors mean something. Green and blue aren't threatening colors which may explain why the cat isn't frightened. Black or brown orbs are allegedly threatening or evil.

My personal opinion of this video is that it's a hoax because the cat looks back toward the camera at the outset of the video as though someone were standing near the camera, causing the orbs. What do you think?

Real or a Hoax?

Case #4 Most Compelling Case of Spirit Orbs

In my view, this is the most compelling case for the existence of spirit orbs. A series of personal photographs were taken from an iPhone 8 (my phone) and an iPhone X (my partner's phone). Both sets of photos were taken on the same night within a twenty-minute span—with no flash. Both sets of photos were taken from different angles, at least 5-6' apart horizontally and vertically. And both sets of photos contained the exact same size and color blue orb positioned somewhere in close proximity to the moon in the same shots.

It appears that the movement of the camera itself did not affect the position of the orb; Instead, the orb stood still while the camera's movement affected where it appeared in the photo. That's pretty compelling to me! And remember, according to spiritists, blue orbs represent heaven. My mother's ashes were spread where my partner and I were standing while taking these two different series of photographs.

Blue orb captured with an iPhone 8

Blue orb captured with an iPhone 8

Blue orb captured with an iPhone X

Blue orb captured with an iPhone X

Orbs With and Without Supporting Evidence

Proving the authenticity of a photograph is critical to orb credibility. Kenneth Harmon makes an extraordinarily compelling case for orbs in his book, Ghost Under Foot: The Spirit of Mary Bell. Both digital and 35mm cameras took photographs at night and during the day. He made some attempts to cover any reflective surfaces, and they still appeared over a period of several consecutive nights and on video camera. The stories are plausible, but photographs are conspicuously absent from the book.

Conversely, go to Pinterest and search for "orbs in photos," and you will find that you've uncorked a genie's bottle of orb imagery. No doubt some are hoaxes, some are canned photography, but it is also remarkable how many appear to be authentic based on the photographer's commentary shared with the photo. Of particular note are photographs associated with the New Frontier Multidimensionality. Cedar Rivers did not shy away from providing orb photos and further developed a website where you can see many of these images.


Similarly, Klaus Heinemann, Ph.D., has much to share. He wrote a book entitled Orbs: Their Mission and Messages of Hope. In that book, he produces over 60 photographs (out of thousands), some in dual camera experiments where he used twin cameras to capture objects from two different angles. A single orb would appear in only one of the photographs. I cannot explain why the orb didn't appear in both lens, but one of Heinemann's photographs struck me as circumstantially compelling.

Though I cannot provide the photo here (see the "Orbs Photo" section of his book, photo 30), the photo showed three very young girls on a trail where mountain lions are known to lurk. The girls are surrounded by at least white three orbs giving the appearance these may be guardian angels. In a similar photo (photo 36), there are orbs appearing over each child on an ice skating rink. Even one of Heinemann's photographs taken with conventional point and shoot film with the lens cap in place on the objective lens had an orb and was depicted hovering above one of the subjects (photo 64).

Two other compelling photographs include one with an orb hovering over a book in a crowded bookshelf and that book had, by Heinemann's profession, a profound effect on his life (photo 55). Another photograph (photo 65), he contends, was taken in an ISO Class 7 cleaning room, and as he states, "a dust orb under these conditions would be highly improbable."

The skeptic might ask why these photographs aren't available for digital scrutiny by a professional and that's a fair question. But based on the images I've seen, back scatter appears to be highly irregular and lack control while photos with unexpected orbs tend to be isolated orbs with some predicated locale in the photograph.

Evidence for and Against Orbs

Dr. Heinemann was a research professor of material sciences at Stanford University and published his book as an outgrowth of traveling the globe researching orbs. In his mind, the most compelling evidence for the existence of an orb is that they "show up in certain strategic photos and strategic positions within a photo." He adds that laws of thermodynamics support energy representing itself as a sphere as a matter of non-solid projection. There are, however, many proclaimed orbs of shaft-like or other irregular shapes.

At the end of my research, I could not form any definitive conclusions about orbs. I did feel the scientific evidence was somewhat shallow as it could not explain the nuances associated with different light and conditions, nor could it explain orbs caught on video. I also thought the paranormal evidence was unprovable, but that's the nature of the supernatural, to begin with. I found a lot of discussion about orbs on websites devoted to supporting orbs, but not many photographs were offered up for proper scrutiny. The best case for orbs seemed to be videos along with the writings of Heinemann and Rivers.

What struck me as authentic were cases where the orb was somehow consistent with a personal attestation. This seemed to line up with Dr. Heinemann's assertion that when facts are coupled with an orb depicted in a video or photograph, they do seem to become 'real.'

An intuitive astrologer named Tanaaz says that we should rely on several factors in making a decision about the authenticity of orbs:

  1. Use your intuition to determine if a spirit's energy is present or not.
  2. The orb's density is more likely to be bright and dense if it's a spirit and contains an outer ring or several rings within the orb.
  3. Orbs can appear in several different colors within a single photo, whereas dust particles tend to be lighter, fuzzy, and single-colored.
  4. The use of flashes commonly depicts dust particles and is common in night photography; therefore, you could draw the conclusion that daytime orb photos could lean toward authenticity.

It appears that maybe orbs are like Santa or the velveteen rabbit. They're only real when we believe they are. Whatever the case, you are unlikely to become a believer of spirit orbs or ghosts until you've experienced one firsthand.

This may look like the sun, but it's an orb.

This may look like the sun, but it's an orb.

Sources & References

"What Do the Different Colors of Orbs Mean?,"

"Local Ghost Expert Analyzes Spooky Surveillance,"

"Spirit Orb Types and Theories,"

"What Are Orbs? Here’s The Real Deal Behind Those Ghostly Apparitions In Your Pictures, According To Professional Photographers,"