Chuck's Paranormal Adventures
Dust Orbs and Other False Positives
A long time ago, when I first started getting interested in following the ghost hunting shows and the paranormal, I remember a show that first introduced to me the orb phenomena. I forget the name of the show, but they were showing these round circles (orbs) hovering in the air. In all places, cemeteries, churches, haunted houses, regular houses. It got to the point you could look at any picture, in particular taken with a digital camera, and see an orb in the air. It was like spirits were everywhere!
Then one day, a few years later, I was listening to a late night radio program called "Coast to Coast", which features all types of paranormal subjects. One of the guests was a ghost hunter who was debunking the "orb" theory that all the orbs seen in photographs were spirits. He said that a good deal of these orbs were either dust or some airborne moisture (rain, sleet, snow flakes). That of course set off a debate in the paranormal world about these orbs and what they really were. Skeptics now pointed out that everything was dust, hard core believers claimed they were spirits.
I decided to test the theory one day by taking 2 pictures with my digital camera. I snapped a picture of my living room as it normally is. Had no orbs in the picture. Then I took a pillow from the coach and punched it a few times to get the dust off. Then I took another picture. All of a sudden, the room is filled with orbs! Either it was dust or a couple hundred spirits decided to fly into my living room at that exact moment. I chose to err on the side of caution and say it was dust near the camera that reflected off the flash of the camera.
Here is the before picture.
Note that you can see no "orbs" or anything in the air.
This picture is a few seconds after I banged the pillows together to get the dust loose.
Now you can see dozens of "orbs" all over. Evidence of ghosts that just happened to wait for me to bang some pillows together and take a picture? Sadly, not in this case.
Most often when you see faint, transparent orbs in the air, most likely they are dust that just happened to be floating past your camera when the picture was taken.
Now does that mean that all orbs are dust or contamination? No I don't believe that either. I have taken images of energy orbs with and without contrails that cannot possibly be explained away by saying its dust. They also could not be explained away as camera defect or moisture in the air. However for every one picture that I have taken that could possibly be something possibly paranormal, I have taken hundreds that have dust orbs in them.
Here is a photo of another type of flying object that some people have been quick to label as pixies or angels or some other type of supernatural, paranormal being.
There is nothing supernatural about this little fellow. It's a bug. The flash from the camera reflects off the bug, creating a whitish, paranormal looking type of creature in flight. The flap of the wing in motion is the dead giveaway.
The following is an example of a false positive.
This was taken at a local cemetery. I saw something strange so I zoomed in and saw this. It looks like a man with a white shirt, grayish pants, a long left arm with perhaps a wrist watch on it. Maybe a small black hat on the head. Was this in fact, a ghost watching me from the distance? Not this time.
I've since lost the original photo, but the image of the man came from zooming in on a group of townhouses that had some more trees in front of him. The white shirt on the man is actually a chimney stack, the rest is leaves, branches and the coloring from the vinyl siding on the townhouses. All combining with a grainy zoom in to produce this false positive.
This picture was taken with IR camera. Upon the review, this strangely looks like a girls face holding what looks like a teddy bear or a dog. The girls head appears to be in the center, the dogs head just down to the right of her like she is holding it. Is this the spirit image of a little girl and her dog?
In this instance. It is not. This picture is caused by weathering and shading that gives it that appearance. How do I know this? Because I had taken a set of photographs of the same area for comparison with a regular digital camera and got this.
Now you can see what looks like the image of a dog, but the girl is gone. The weathering gave the appearance of a dog and the shading of the hand on the tombstone showed up like a little girl in the IR picture. That's why its always a good idea to take at least 2 pictures back to back when investigating. You can compare pictures, if something is the same in each photo, you can then pretty much rule out paranormal in 99.9% of the cases. Like in this photo below.
In this photo, you can see a gray transparent line in a diagonal motion. If I had only taken one photo, I could have believed that perhaps I got something paranormal going on. However, because I did take a follow up photo a few seconds later, I caught this identical gray line in it. This told me it was not paranormal, but lens flare caused by my position to the sun when I took the photo. Hence, a natural explanation.
Here is another example of how the camera can play tricks on you. I took a friend of mine to an undisclosed location where we captured some EVP and also had an incident where my friend had trouble firing his camera while trying to take pictures in the attic. So knowing we had activity at hand made me think something was odd when I took this set of 2 pictures of one of the rooms in the house.
In this first one, you can see the lit up doorway from the flash of my camera, but the room is still dark inside.
You can see the shadow from the wood strips reflecting on the wall, but its like something stopped the flash from entering the room. Then in the follow up picture, the flash works just fine!
Since there was activity occurring here, was the first picture the result of a mischievous spirit preventing the flash from entering the room or was a shadow person standing in the door way, absorbing the light from the flash?
Before proclaiming this to be something paranormal, I did a call out on Facebook, asking if anybody who had a good knowledge of photography could explain if this was something paranormal or was it some type of effect caused by the camera.
Wulf from Paranormal Parazone was able to explain what happened here.
"I've found that taking multiple photos at the same locations can produce different effects if the camera moves even slightly during snap shooting. It can produce "catchlights" (light reflections from other sources, even subtle ones); this can also determine the angle of light. Preliminarily, it's possible that something beyond the doorway was blocking the light and a slight shift in position would be able to penetrate through. At the right angle (we often don't think about this when taking off the cuff photos) light can "bounce backwards" off solid objects."
About the photos, Wulf further explained, "judging from the length of the shadows into the room, I can approximate the angle at which the photo was taken and it appears to be "catchlight", bouncing back from the door frame. If the angle was about 1cm further to the left the illumination would have been more pronounced in the room.
So some advice: When taking photos from doorways, try not to snapshot the door jambs, especially white ones, which reflect light more easily. (In the heat of the moment it's easy to forget; I have a few times!) And I should add that, as a general rule, from certain angles near doorways, "catchlight" is more likely to occur when the far end of the room is at 6-7 feet or above because of the tendency to try and maximize the view of the room."
So by me shooting the edge of the door frame, which had white paint on it, this caused the "catchlight" effect. In the 2nd photo, I shot the picture just a few inches to the left. No doorframe with white paint, no "catchlight" effect.
My thanks to Wulf from Paranormal Parazone for this explanation and showing another example of how something that looks paranormal has a natural explanation to it!
While we all want to catch some type of proof of the paranormal on film (camera still or camcorder video), its very important to be aware of the natural types of causes that make a picture look paranormal. Catching a ghost on camera is something very hard to do, a false positive is a whole lot easier. Always try to find a natural explanation first and if you can't come up with anything conclusive, you might have a paranormal photo on hand!