Orbs are luminous anomalies recorded at some haunted sites. Orbs usually are not visible to the naked eye but can be seen through infrared monitors and can be recorded on photographic film, digital cameras, and video and camcorders. Orbs are the subject of an intense controversy and ongoing debate within Paranormal Investigation. Most paranormal investigators attribute the majority of them to natural causes, but orbs have taken hold in the popular mind as unquestioned evidence of Ghosts and spirits.

Orbs are not a new phenomenon—light anomalies have been present since the advent of photography (see Spirit Photography). However, the proliferation of digital cameras and camcorders in the early 1990s ushered in the “Orb Age” in paranormal research. Suddenly, orbs were everywhere.

Characteristics of Orbs

Orbs are not the same as Ghost Lights, which can be similar in shape and behaviour, but are much brighter and are visible to the naked eye. Most orbs are round or diffuse. They vary in size from a golf ball to a basketball. Some are rectangular, diamond-shaped, or like streaks of light. Orbs range in colour from pale white to yellow to pale blue to red. They may glow and twinkle. Some appear to be transparent or semi-transparent, while others are dense. Some seem to have nuclei within them. Some are in motion and appear to have tails.

Orbs are not sufficiently strong enough to set off infrared motion detection meters. When moving, they seem to defy gravity and change directions, sometimes quickly. Some seem to react to the presence of people.

Locations of Orbs

Orbs can be photographed anywhere. They show up best in photographs of dark places and photos taken at night. Even though orbs can appear in ordinary settings, many people get excited about them when they appear in photographs taken in haunted places and at mysterious sites. Orbs have been associated with extraterrestrial contact and sightings, crop circle formations, interdimensional portals, and Fairy haunts.

Explanations of Orbs

Orbs are popularly believed to be related to ghosts or evidence of the soul of a person or animal. Orbs floating around people have been taken as signs of spirit presences attached to or associated with those people. Orbs have become a popular catchall “evidence” for anything paranormal. People have projected human colour associations onto them: white, yellow, and blue lights are good spirits, such as angels and benevolent ghosts; red lights are Demons and malevolent presences. Some people even take the baby route—blue lights are male and pink lights are female.

Most paranormal investigators agree that the overwhelming majority of orbs—some say even 99.9 percent— are due to natural causes that are misinterpreted. Early digital cameras were viewed with particular concern, for pixilation problems—the filling in of missing pixels by the camera—caused orbs. Higher resolution digital cameras are less prone to pixilation flaws, but are not above cause for concern.

Other common causes are light reflections and refractions; dust particles; fibrous material in the air such as pollen, water droplets, and humidity; insects; foreign material on or within the camera lens; pieces of hair hanging down in front of the lens; loose camera lens covers on strings; and fingers in the way. Minute objects such as dust or insects that are close to the camera lens may be undetected by the person taking photos, but show up in the image as orbs. They are merely out of focus and outside the depth of field. Orbs that are rectangular or even octagonal in shape have taken on the shape of the lens of the camera.

Daytime orbs are most likely lens flares and slow shutter speeds. Colours are determined by light reflection and absorption of the object itself and of atmospheric conditions.

According to photography expert and paranormal investigator Robbin Van Pelt, the construction of newer cameras may be one reason why orbs show up more often than in the past. Small cameras have flash units much closer to the lens—two to three inches compared to five inches or more in older cameras. Newer cameras can send a flash beam out about 30 feet, compared to 10 feet in the past. The edge of the flash beam passes much closer to the lens, thus decreasing the angle of reflection back into the lens. The result is greater chance of luminous anomalies.

Paranormal investigators are highly skeptical of orb photographs unless they can know the specific conditions under which a photograph was taken and the type of camera and film used. As with alleged spirit photographs, many people become angry and defensive when told their orbs are not paranormal.

As for the minute number of unexplained orbs, many researchers believe that they are a yet unidentified energy form, perhaps even an intelligent life form. High technology may simply have made them noticeable in much the same way that the microscope reveals tiny life forms undetectable to the human eye.


  • Spirit Photography.


  • Kaczmarek, Dale. A Field Guide to Spirit Photography. Alton, Ill.: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2002.
  • Taylor, Troy. The Ghost Hunter’s Guidebook: The Essential Guide to Investigating Ghosts & Hauntings. Alton, Ill.: Whitechapel Press, 1999.
  • Van Pelt, Robbin. “Orbs: Naturalistic, Paranormal, or Manmade.” Available online. URL: https://www.ghostvillage. com/resources/2006/features_11092006.shtml. Downloaded December 27,2006.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007