In 2012 I delivered a talk about ghost research at a CFI UK conference at Conway Hall. Unknown to me, a man towards the rear of the hall became visibly angered during my talk and during the Q&A session he stood up and accused me of mischaracterising ghost researchers. Why? Because a small portion of my speech touched upon orb phenomena which many ghost hunters class as the first stage of spirit manifestation. Ghosts, it is often said, then manifest in other forms before becoming an apparition. However, my critic was having none of it and to paraphrase him, “ghost hunters do not believe that. Only those on the very fringes present orbs as evidence.”
This, however, is simply not true as numerous ghost hunting websites will provide orbs as ghost evidence, or will attempt to distinguish between non-paranormal orbs and orbs with a paranormal origin. In the last year or so I have noticed a small rise in the number of people sending me orb photos or videos that either they have taken or, in the case of other researchers, that people have sent to them for an answer which they have forwarded onto me. This is anecdotal, of course. Other researchers I’ve spoken to haven’t noticed an increase in orb evidence being sent to them but reported that they do still get such photos sent their way. So what we can take away from this is that people are still presenting orbs as ghost evidence.
More recently, a story was reported on the Gloucestershire Live website under the title: Watch carefully: Can you see the ghosts haunting one of Gloucestershire’s oldest buildings? The answer to the question in the headline is “no,” but I wanted to write about it anyway because it provides an interesting example of how ghost hunters still cling to the idea that orbs are somehow evidence of the existence of ghosts.
In the video above you can hear members of the Gloucestershire Paranormal Investigative Studies group claiming that the orbs they are seeing are distinguishable from dust. One member says, ‘there is no way that is dust or anything like that because you’re seeing it all the time.’ The problem with this reasoning is that it suggests dust and other airborne particles are not present all of the time but they most certainly are.
If you take a torch (or flashlight if you’re in the US,) and point it upwards in a dark room you will see the amount of dust in the air. You will see it move around and become more visible when it is in the light source. It’s not rocket science. What is a complex science is creating dust-free environments (or cleanrooms, as they’re known,) which specialist industries spend millions trying to accomplish for research and manufacturing purposes, and they still struggle. So I guarantee you that a house, office, shop, theatre – or in this case, an antique centre is not dust free. Not even for short periods of time.
There is another issue with the video claimed to shows paranormal orbs. All that we can watch is footage filmed on a secondary device and we do not have access to the footage from the cameras that the investigators are watching. This may be because the CCTV system is not theirs and belongs to the building (it seems likely,), but when ghost hunters present a secondary piece of footage like this it cannot really be considered as evidence because the quality of what is being seen on the CCTV screens is reduced by the fact that it is being filmed by an second camera. A camera which should be on a tripod, by the way – you can read my guide to taking photos during ghost investigations here, and a lot it applies to filming, too.
At one point the cameraperson zooms in on the CCTV screen as though that’s going to help us. You see, the footage they are filming is comprised of thousands of pixels which are formed to show us the object being filmed, but in this case, the object being filmed is a screen showing thousands of pixels formed to show us what is being filmed by the first camera. Then this is zoomed in on! The quality goes right out of the window and is worthless. This is often done by people trying to hide the fact they’ve faked something. I don’t think that’s the case here, but I’m always wary when dealing with this sort of set up.
The third problem with this footage is the fact that the cameras that form the CCTV system can be seen clearly switching over to IR Nightvision mode as the rooms they are positioned in grow dark. This means that a nondescript piece of dust floating on a breeze suddenly looks like a pure white light moving at speed across the screen, as seen in the video at around 20 seconds in. The same happens when insects fly in front of a camera on Nightvision mode, or even when they crawl across the lens. Their close proximity to the lens means that they are out-of-focus and blurry, and the IR overexposes them and turns them bright white and what you see is a blurry bright white object moving around. It certainly isn’t evidence of paranormal entities.
Other photos as seen below are provided for the newspaper and presented as more evidence of ghost orbs but this simply shows a lack of understanding for the anomalies and also demonstrates a lack of research or pure ignorance on the part of the ghost hunters.
These anomalies are simply out-of-focus airborne particles which are illuminated by the camera flash. You don’t see every spec of dust illuminated in this manner – just those close enough to the lens to be out-of-focus and illuminated. Ghost hunters who still present orbs as evidence really need to ask themselves one question; is it so odd to photograph out-of-focus particles in the air when taking photos with a flash in an old, dusty, draughty building? (The answer is ‘no’, in case you’re wondering.)