Copyright 2005, Loyd Auerbach
So many people want information, education and even entertainment when it comes to the Paranormal. Unfortunately, so much is bad info, and it’s all text!
One of the more common emails and letters I receive has to do with photographs of anomalous shapes and lights on film and digital media. People want (sometimes demand) that I and my colleagues review photos and explain what the images are – naturally they want us to identify the images as “ghosts.” In almost all such cases, people present did not see, hear or otherwise experience anything paranormal – which means they did not know the photo had anything “unusual” on it until later. In many of the cases, they were not even in a location with any current (or even past) witnesses saying the place was haunted.
Once I get past any judgment that the anomaly is caused by some photographic error I do know about (and there are many), my conclusion and response to the sender becomes: “Sorry, but there’s nothing I can say about what caused this. It was most likely caused by some reflection or other photo-related issue, given that there’s no connection to any experience, past or present, of a ghost or haunting.”
An unusual photo (or a magnetometer reading) or video by itself is not an indication of a ghost or haunting. One needs the very thing we use to define and study these phenomena: the experience of a human witness to even categorize a location as “haunted” or having an “apparition.”
If you were to be able to eliminate all potential photographic flaws and flukes, it’s just as likely (or, to my mind, more likely) that the expectations of the paranormal photographer have affected the film or digital media. In other words, psychokinesis (mind over matter) by the photographer is as likely as an un-witnessed ghost. Keep in mind that for the ghost to have appeared on film/digital media in the first place he or she had to directly affect the film/media with his/her mind. If the ghost was simply reflecting light (as other things that are photographed), someone would have seen him or her! A ghost affecting film/digital media uses psychokinetic ability. Living people have this ability. If a ghost is not witnessed to be present, but living people are, the more likely culprits to be sources of the images are living people.
An apparition is some form of consciousness that does not reflect light; if it did, everyone present would see it and all cameras would capture it. But if it does not reflect light, then how could the ghost be photographed or videotaped? Perhaps the ghost, in some cases, is able to psychokinetically affect the film or videotape. In effect, the apparition wills something to appear on tape/film/digital media, just as in some ghost cases, apparitions are sometimes able to move objects — with their minds, of course, since they have no physical body. Let me explain further.
If a photo or videotape of a “ghost” is taken in a location where no one is seeing or sensing the ghost at the time, there’s nothing to connect the anomaly on the film or tape with an actual ghost. One must automatically give greater weight to other possible explanations for the anomaly on the film/digital media/tape.
If the photo or videotape is taken in a place that has at least had past ghost sightings, there’s some greater weight that can be given to the possibility that the film/digital media/tape relates to a ghost. If there’s no history of apparitional encounters, it’s hard to give any weight to the ghost hypothesis.
Secondly, if we allow for ghosts to affect film and tape via psychokinesis, why can’t we allow for the possibility that the photographer/cameraperson is actually the one affecting the film/digital media/tape? After all, we have direct observable evidence that living people can do this, but little direct experience with ghosts doing so — the ghosts don’t confirm or deny that they’re doing it.
As past work in Parapsychology has shown that living people can affect film, videotape and computers, why is this so tough to consider as a possibility? In most recent photo and video cases, there is that lack of human experience of a ghost or spirit at the time of the photo/video being shot. Therefore, it may be more likely that a living mind is responsible. At least we know the living person is there.
My feeling is that most of the footage and photos I have seen over the past several years fall into a few categories.
There are those photos/videotapes taken that show some anomalies that are the result of photographic problems such as lens flares, reflections, unnoticed lighted/reflective objects in the environment, and the like. Digital cameras seem prone to these reflection-created orbs and other shapes. Reflective surfaces don’t have to be in range of the view, only in range of the flash.
Digital cameras also often come with an infrared function to help with focus and flash settings. Even if the flash is off or blocked, if the infrared pulses it is reflected back at the camera. Many digital cameras can and do translate this reflected infrared light into a blue or white colored image.
There are those photos/videos that might be of natural, though unusual, phenomena such as earth lights and ball lightning.
There are those that may be the result of psychic projection by the photographer or other living person in the environment. Either the expectations of the photographer causes something odd to appear on film/tape or the photographic anomaly is just another way for the subconscious to blow off steam (of stress), as with poltergeist effects.
There are those that might actually relate to the same environmental anomaly that appears to allow us living folks to pick up on the history of a location. Place memory, or haunting phenomena, is often linked mainly to human perceptions, but if a magnetometer can pick up unusual physical readings why not a camera?
Then there are those that might actually be a result of an unseen apparition “playing” with the camera.
Finally, there’s always the chance of photographic and video manipulation. Unfortunately, the same growth in technology that has led to widespread availability of digital still and video cameras has also led to the availability of computer programs that allow for enhancement, morphing, and other manipulation of photographic and video images.
Each must be looked at carefully. While one cannot ever rule out the possibility of a “spirit,” unless there’s some connection to current (preferable) or past (acceptable) human experience with said “spirit,” the other explanations are more likely.
On the psi front, without that ghostly experience, we can’t even downplay the possibility that the photographer was responsible with his/her own PK.
So, when I am often heard to say that “photographic evidence by itself is worthless,” what I mean is that without a human witness to define the phenomenon as a “ghost” we have too many other possibilities, including the psychic one, to ever say a piece of film or video shows a ghost.
That is, until an apparition appears and volunteers to be part of a photo and video test program.
ORBS AND MORE ORBS
Much has been made about the so-called spirit orbs that have appeared in thousands of photos taken by amateur ghost-hunters (and many folks not out to find ghosts on camera).
In some instances, they may be an indication that something unusual or anomalous (some kind of energy, most likely) is in the environment — in such a case the orbs would be like an energy “reading” of some kind.
In addition as stated above, human experience of a ghost or haunting is essential to indicate that there is something paranormal happening. Otherwise, the orb is just a blob on the picture. No technology has been found to detect ghosts for certain (or even close), since no technology has been designed to do so (because we don’t know what to even try to detect).
So, while some orbs and other light effects on film and digital media might be related to some effect caused by a discarnate entity or by some energetic interaction with the “paranormal” aspect of the local environment, there are more likely and logical causes that are extremely difficult – if not impossible in most cases — to rule out.
The overriding concern about orb photos is camera error. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the last several years regarding orbs and similar images appearing on camera
For digital cameras there are two major culprits for Orb type images. For 35mm, the first error-source is usually responsible.
1. Reflections: flashes being as bright as they are these days, any reflective surface in the range of the flash (not just in the frame of the photo) could be responsible for the flashbacks.
That the surfaces are often outside the frame of the photo causes much confusion in folks reviewing their pictures after they’re taken, especially if they are no longer in the same environment. Memory being what it is, unless there’s a second photo of the same location showing the reflective surface, most don’t recall what was there.
Also — and very important — my pro-photographer friend Dave Manganelli (actually a professional videographer working with a pro photographer), has found that surfaces we don’t think of as “reflective” can definitely be so. It’s not just the overtly shiny stuff that can bounce flashes back.
For example, leaves (especially slightly moist ones), stone surfaces, even unfinished wood can cause an orb to appear when a photo is taken with a flash. Not just with digital cameras, by the way. I have a stack of 35mm photos with orbs and other similar shapes caused by flash-reflections often from what we would consider non-reflective surfaces.
Dave sent me a great digital picture set taken in a “haunted” attic with lots of rough wood. One picture, taken with a flash, shows an orb, the second taken without the flash does not. Some experimentation showed that the unvarnished wood beams in the attic still had enough reflective power – given the intensity of the flash – to bounce back and cause an orb.
Dust particles or water in the air can be responsible for flashback-orbs as well. However, contrary to so many sources on the internet, these are hardly the only sources for flash-created orbs.
If the camera has an infra-red focus-finder (helps the camera to focus in low light), usually found on digital cameras, one must watch out for the flashback of the infrared. In some cameras, the hardware can interpret and “color correct” the infrared reflection to a white or blue-white and sometimes red-orange image that can appear on the image. Some auto-focus 35mm cameras have this capability as well (per both Dave Manganelli and another photog friend of mine). These don’t end up as orbs, but as
sometimes formless blobs of light.
2. With digital cameras, there is the quirky problem of CCD-chip drop-outs. Digital cameras record information digitally (duh), composing images of pixels as a computer does. There can be drop-outs of individual and small clusters of pixels (meaning a few tiny squares got no image-data and remained blank).
When the image-data is converted from the digital information back to a picture, these drop-outs are often rounded out and become “orbs.” Generally, these are relatively bright (fairly solid-looking, opaque) orbs, rather than some of the transparent/translucent orbs we get from reflections.
A few months ago, I had a conversation with a freelance photographer who does work for Newsweek and other magazines. He uses a very high-end (and extremely expensive) single reflex lens digital camera. He knew nothing about spirit photos, but when I mentioned “orbs,” he winced and went into the CCD chip problem, which occurs even with his oh-so-costly camera from time to time. “I fix it with Photo-Shop,” he added.
AND ANOTHER THING:
With film cameras, one must also consider light-leakage and the age of the film.
Months ago, I had some film developed that included several pictures from a vacation my wife and I had taken. At the front of the roll were a couple of pictures of psychic medium Annette Martin during an apparent communication with a discarnate entity at an Oakland , California building.
The third photo was the most interesting. Seemingly floating above her head was a bright streak of light. The timing of the photo was amazing, as the first two photos had no such streak and it was when Annette was apparently communicating with the entity that the third photo was taken.
I have seen similar photos before, mostly from folks sending their pictures unsolicited for my opinion.
I reviewed the remainder of the pictures. Most of them had some kind of light streak, about the same location in the frame.
This was due either to light leaking in to the camera body, to the film being many months old (the film had been in the camera for about a year before all the pictures were taken), or both.
The first thing I tell people when they get light streaks on a picture is to review all the photos on the same roll, as it’s likely several will have the same problem.
BUT WHAT COULD IT BE….
I have a good friend married to a VP (and ex-professional photographer) at a major photography company that takes portrait photos of high school and college students for yearbooks. The company has a small division in Chico , California , that spends much of its time looking at errors (such as light streaks, orbs, etc) on film and now digital pictures. They also spend time trying to recreate the conditions of the picture-taking, to see what might have caused defects they don’t immediately recognize.
There are just too many problems with film and especially digital pictures, too many other causes (other than paranormal) for the same orbs and such.
I absolutely agree that just because one can simulate something it does not invalidate an actual phenomenon. If simulation led to dismissal of the experience or phenomenon, we would all have to seriously question our perceptions of all reality given what Hollywood (and magicians) can achieve. Of course, that would be a good thing … since injury and death can be simulated, clearly people don’t get injured or die, right? Wait, that’s not
Magicians can create the same illusion or effect using different methods. So can special effects artists (is it a model or computer graphics?). That there can be many causes for a simulation does not invalidate the thing being simulated.
But various normal explanations can exist to produce the same orb, including, potentially, psychic means. Makes it tough to narrow it down, doesn’t it?
If a discarnate entity is causing some image to appear on film or a digital camera, it would have to be affecting the camera directly. The increase in intensity of a flash does not make entities visible to the naked eye, and cameras generally mimic the naked eye with the spectrum of light they receive to produce images. That people are not seeing the orbs, vortices, and other shapes would point to a different kind of impact on the image-producing process.
That would be PK, psychokinesis — mind over matter. A discarnate is essentially consciousness, and by definition consciousness impacting physical processes or objects is PK.
Of course, this means that the expectation of the photographer might also produce the image.
As mentioned above, PK by the living (especially by stressed out individuals in poltergeist cases) is more commonly observed than PK by the dead (in apparition cases). In poltergeist cases (the living) the phenomena can be all over the map, from flying objects to screwy electronics to impact on cameras and video equipment. In apparition cases, rarely are the physical events destructive, and rarely are they are frequent as in poltergeist cases. I guess the dead just aren’t as stressed out as the living.
ORBS AS SPIRITS
There’s a leap in logic relating to orbs. The word itself is quite old, and refers to a spherical shape (usually an object). A crystal ball is an orb. The sun is referred to as an orb. And the comic book character Metamorpho (origin in the 1960s) is affected by the Orb of Ra.
The word has been applied to spherical shapes when it comes to photos and film of strange lights for decades. I recall hearing folks refer to earth-lights (ball lightning) as “orbs of light” in the 80s, and I’ve been told there was a film shot in a haunted place with a small orb of light floating through the room (British film, as I recall). It’s only recently that the word “orb” has somehow become synonymous with “spirit.”
Somehow, because these round shapes were coming up frequently in the 90s as flashes on cameras became more powerful (and especially with the advent of digital cameras), folks made the assumption that the anomalous orb-shaped lights on the pictures must be spirits. Perhaps this was because it was amateur ghost hunters who really noticed these anomalous shapes on their pictures taken when out there looking for ghosts.
The logic would be: 1) I am looking for ghosts, 2) I am in a cemetery or other spooky place (and possibly a reportedly haunted place) looking for ghosts, 3) I don’t see anything, 4) my pictures generally have nothing unusual, 5) ghosts hardly appear to people, 6) some few photos have orb-shaped lights on them that were invisible to the naked eye, 6) ghosts are invisible to the naked eye, SO 7) the orbs must be ghosts.
Actually, that’s not really a logical flow – it’s flawed logic. It’s most likely the orb-shapes are from camera/environment related causes. In locations where no human has had an experience of a ghost (or was not having one during the photo session), there is no meaningful connection between the orbs on film/digital media and the concept of spirits. The orbs could just as likely be some invisible-to-the-naked eye life form we don’t know about.
AND THE CAPPER…
Finally, there’s one more point to be made about the leap-in-logic conclusion that folks have made in declaring that orbs in photos somehow must be spirits: a number of UFO enthusiasts claim that orbs are the result of the presence of extraterrestrials, other dimensional beings or UFO-craft. Their orbs look amazingly like the “spirit orbs” ghost hunters have pictures of.
As with spirit orb pictures, on some occasions, the orbs show up in photos where phenomena has been reported in the past and on much rarer occasions where it’s happening as the photos are taken.
So, if we do come to the conclusion that orbs are related to paranormal anomalies rather than photo/camera issues, how do we separate whether the orbs in a particular situation might be related to UFOs or ghosts? The only answer to that is: what is/are the human(s) experiencing at the time the photo is taken?
UFOs and alien encounters can be experienced in places that are reportedly haunted and vice versa. We have only the contemporaneous human experience to help us consider which might be involved.
But in reality, look to the camera and the environment first, before screaming “ORB!!”
Why, if these are ostensibly ghosts, are they so flat? In other words, the orbs clearly look two dimensional, not discernable from orbs created by reflections. Also, why don’t the orbs seem to be at least partially blocked by people, furniture, etc. If the spirit were “peeking out” from behind something, we should get a partial orb, the rest of it behind the object or person.
SUBMITTING PHOTOS TO LOYD AUERBACH / The Office of Paranormal Investigations:
In generally, please don’t send photos expecting an explanation of something paranormal. I could only consider what it’s not, rather than declare what it is.
Please note that I will no longer provide any commentary on unsolicited photos (or even solicited ones) without the following details. I will simply refer you back to the explanations above.
1) With what kind of camera was the photo taken?
2) If film, does the negative also show the same image?
3) If film, do any of the other photos on the roll show the same or similar images?
4) If film, how old was the film? How long was it in the camera before being
5) Taken with or without a flash?
6) If digital, are there any photos taken at the same time of the same
location without the anomalous image?
7) What sources of light were present?
8) What was the weather like?
9) What time of day was the photo taken?
10) Does the location have any reputation for being haunted? If so, what?
11) Have there been any recent witnesses to haunting-type events at the
location? If so, explain?
12) At the time the photo was taken, did anyone have what they would consider
a psychic or paranormal (or even unusual) experience? If so, what was it? Did anyone experience anything before or after the picture was taken?
13) Was there any indication at the time the picture was taken that “something”
was going to happen? Was going to show up on film/digital media?
14) Why do you think the image on the photo is unusual? Why do you think it might be a ghost?
Why all the questions?
Because there’s no way to simply glance at a photo and say “yup, that’s a ghost.”