Many people capture illuminated, circular spots in their photographs. These spots are commonly known as orbs. Some people explain orbs as light reflected off surrounding surfaces; some explain them as light reflected off dust particles; and some explain them as spirits or other entities normally invisible to the human eye.

Little research has been done on this phenomenon, but Dr. Gary E. Schwartz and Adjunct Research Professor of Optical Sciences Katherine Creath at the University of Arizona did publish a study on orbs in 2005. 

They said most orbs can be explained by the reflection of the camera’s flash off of objects on the scene, or off of dust. However, Schwartz and Creath acknowledged that some orbs seem to defy conventional optical explanation.

An orb captured in a BBC documentary, for example, moved slowly before disappearing. Schwartz and Creath write: “It is not possible to explain orbic objects such as these that move in dynamic and unpredictable paths as being caused by stray reflections. It is also not possible to explain many of them as being caused by dust particles in the air.”

When it comes to presenting evidence of the paranormal, pictures and videos of orbs seem to pop up everywhere. Many enthusiast ghost hunters get all excited when they see orbs in their pictures. They will argue with you that they are proof of the paranormal. Troy Taylor, author of Ghost Hunter’s Guidebook and president of the American Ghost Society, call these type of people “orb-a-philes“. These “orb-a-philes” will swear by orbs and will not take any rational explanations into account. They will post these photos and videos all over the internet and try to convince people that this is positive proof that ghosts exist.

However, orbs are one of the most easily explained phenomenons in paranormal investigations. There are so many factors that come into play when debunking orbs in pictures and video. For serious paranormal investigators and ghost hunters, they will take a variety of environmental factors into consideration. In fact, many renowned paranormal researchers have discounted orbs as being paranormal for a number of different reasons.

Does this mean all orbs in photography can’t be paranormal at all? Not necessarily. The science of paranormal research has been debated for decades and will probably continue to be debated for decades to come. However, when it comes to orbs don’t be so quick to play the paranormal card. First, rule out all possible explanations.

Equipment Check

It is always a good idea to perform a check of all equipment prior to an investigation. Be sure that camera lenses are free from smudging and dust. Also, make sure your fingers don’t touch the lens during the investigation. Our fingers have natural oils that will leave a smudge residue. Smudging and dust could cause orbs to appear in your pictures. Even if you capture an orb with a pristine clean camera, it doesn’t mean it is paranormal. Consider the following factors before submitting orb pictures as evidence.


The number one culprit orbs appearing in photographs and on video are dust and debris. According to Merriam Webster dust is fine particles of matter. This could include dead skin cells, dirt, pollen, animal dander, hair, decomposing insects, dust mites, waste from dust mites, lint, insulation from the building, and the list goes on.

So what makes dust appear in film as orbs? The simple answer is retro-reflection of light off the dust particle. Many paranormal investigators and ghost hunters typically do their investigations at night. Because of this there might be flashlights involved, flash from cameras, infrared (IR) lights, and natural lights from the environment just to name a few sources of light that can cause this retro-reflection of light on dust particles. It doesn’t take much light to reflect off of these dust particles and cameras are quick to pick it up. However, this doesn’t mean orbs in photos taken during the day are proof of paranormal. It all comes down to retro-reflection of light regardless of the time of day or night.

Many “orb-a-philes” may argue that there was no dust in the area. This is simply something that cannot be proven. Although our human eyes may not be able to see dust particles prior to the investigation it does not mean that dust particles are not present. Remember, dust can be a variety of different things. Even paranormal investigators or ghost hunters can bring dust particles in from the outside on their clothing without even realizing it. Even still, a human body sheds 30,000 to 40,000 dead skin cells every hour. Now multiply that by how many people are at the location and how long they stay for the investigation.

Dust orbs can appear translucent to solid depending upon the type of dust or how close it is to the camera. Although most cases dust orbs are not bright but this doesn’t mean they can’t be.


Insects are another common problem in photographing orbs. They often appear as solid bright orbs of light. Insects are naturally curious when it comes to light sources. Have you ever noticed when you turn on a porch light that insects are attracted to it within minutes. They are just as curious even with soft infrared light.

Some people may argue that there were no insects at the location. This is hard to guarantee. Many insects are very small and typically go unnoticed by most people. For example, gnats and fruit flies typically go unnoticed unless there are several.

In many cases of having video evidence orbs of light that move across the screen are often debunked as insects. Even a small gnat can appear large the closer it is to the camera. Many times when insects are in-flight it creates an orb that appears to have a tail streaming behind it.


When someone thinks of moisture they think of water or vapors they can see. However, our atmosphere is filled with moisture molecules that humans cannot see with their own eyes. Cameras are great at capturing moisture molecules sometimes.

One example is when a group of paranormal investigators were on an investigation at a private residence, they decided to go down to the creek where a woman’s body was dragged. Many of the paranormal investigators began taking random pictures during EVP sessions. Many of the photos came back with octagon-shaped orbs. This would be intriguing if the paranormal investigators weren’t standing on large rock in the creek. Standing in a water source and the light from the cameras created a beautiful display of orbs.

Not all moisture orbs are octagon. They can be a variety of shapes. They can also be a variety of colors as well. Have you ever seen a rainbow when watering your lawn or washing your car? Moisture and light create literally a rainbow of colors. Keep in mind though, that not all water molecule orbs have colors