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Monday, April 11, 2005

A Kvetch about Spirit Photography

The most common form of spirit photography posted on the internet today generally falls under the umbrella of what folks in the paranormal world like to call orb phenomena.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comIf you have even the slightest interest in ghost hunting or the supernatural you've probably seen scores of these little white orbs dotting images of supposedly haunted locales. Sometimes a single vibrant orb is captured, other times many fill the frame. The folks who take these photos usually argue that these little white blobs are evidence of paranormal activity.

These images are also some of the most boring instances of spirit photography I've ever seen. Seriously, have you ever sat through a slide show or a gallery on someone's website of these things? There's only so many white splotches I can look at without my mind wandering guiltily to the stains on my bedsheets.

When it comes to orbs, I'm just not impressed. And I'll tell you why.

Troy Taylor, author of the Ghost Hunter's Guidebook and President of the American Ghost Society has written an extremely interesting article detailing some of the major problems with orb photography. He lists several tried and tested ways for you to capture your very own orb on film. In fact, you don't even have to go to a cemetery or a local haunted house. You can take orb pictures in your very own back yard.

Most orb images are the result of three natural factors: 1) Light refracting on the camera lens, 2) dust, pollen, or kicked up dirt, or 3) light reflecting off moisture in the air.

ghost hunterBefore arguing against point number one, it is important to remember that light can reflect off of anything, not just shiny objects. Have you ever put a vibrant red couch against a bright white wall [author's note: I actually own a vibrant red couch, and yes I am a weirdo]? If you have you'd notice that the wall near the couch will give off a faint red hue. This is because light is literally bouncing off the couch and reflecting against the wall. Light bounces off everything. Hell, if it didn't we wouldn't be able to see anything. It's how your eyes work, and subsequently it's what makes photography possible.

If light is reflected towards a camera lens in the right manner it can refract causing perfectly round circles to appear on your image. The phenomena is also described as lens flare. If you wear glasses you're probably familiar with this. I've seen orbs appear many times on my own lenses while driving down a road beaming with setting sunlight.

Have you ever seen a photo flooded with orbs? That location must be teeming with paranormal activity, right? Unfortunately the more benign (and sadly less interesting) explanation is that the person taking the picture decided to go ghosthunting on a day when there was an extremely high pollen count (a common occurrence in New England) or on a night where the air was thick with humidity. If you decide to trot out to a haunted graveyard to snap some spooks on film then it's probably a good idea to check the pollen count or relative humidity before you go as it might aversely affect your images.

Image hosted by
Whoa! Look at that paranormal activity fly!

Please don't misunderstand: I'm not saying that all orb photos are ingenuine. What I'm saying is that for every real photo capturing strange objects on film there's scores of others that are false positives. In Troy Taylor's article he gives a few tips as to how you can tell if your orb is the "real deal" or some monster mosquitoes caught in your camera flash.

Is your orb faint, partly transparent, and pale white? Most likely you're the victim of dust particles or refracted light, as this is how those factors generally appear on film.

However if your orb is solid, blocks out the objects behind it, or is in motion, than it's a good chance that you've caught a glimpse of something paranormal. Some folks call it psychic energy, or ectoplasm. Other people claim that they are sentient multi-dimensional beings.

You say multidimensional sentient beings, I say white splotches. You say toe-may-toe I say toe-mat-oe.

Either way I just don't find these images all that interesting.
You want to see impressive?

I'll show you impressive.

Image hosted by

Now that be some tasty evidence.

The above photo is probably one of the most compelling examples of possible spirit photography ever captured on film.

joshua ward houseThe image is purported to be that of a malevolent witch that haunts the infamous Joshua Ward House in Salem, Massachusetts [located outside the Bridgewater Triangle, but still very much haunted]. What makes this picture so remarkable is the conditions in which it was taken. In the early eighties Carlson Realty had bought the beautiful brick mansion at 148 Washington Street with the intentions of using it as their main real estate office. At Christmas time, realtor Dale Lewinski began taking photos of each staff member for inclusion on their door wreath display. Each picture was taken using a Polaroid camera, and each one was shot using head and shoulders ID style framing. When it came time to take staff member Lorraine St. Peter's picture something strange happened.

The resulting Polaroid is what you see above. Notice there is no trace of St. Peter in the image at all. In fact the only object visible besides the apparition is the door that Lorraine was standing in front of, albeit out of focus. It is almost as if at the time of the film's exposure the ghost rudely stepped in and took Lorraine's place.

haunted happeningsPolaroids are also notoriously difficult to fake, as the developing process happens in camera and is nearly instantaneous. Of course there's always the odd chance that the folks at Carlson Realty were having a laugh at everyone's expense. It's entirely possibly that they dressed a woman up in dark garb, teased out her hair like a Jersey mall chick, and then proceeded to take an out of focus blurry photo. When this image was first published in Haunted Happenings by Robert Ellis Cahill he described St. Pierre as both genuinely frightened embarrassed by the picture. As he was the former Essex County Sheriff, I assume that Mr. Cahill is a good judge of character and that he was assured of both Lewinski's and St. Pierre's sincerity. A hoax is possible, but unlikely considering the wealth of other paranormal occurrences that take place within the Joshua Ward House (including phantom strangulation, poltergeist activity, and even an actual sighting of the woman from the Polaroid).

Gives you goosebumps doesn't it? You can tell this ghost is bad news just by the way she styles her hair, and her fashion choices. Why is it that villains never seem to own a comb and have a penchant for dark clothing?

My point here is that you have to pick and choose your battles. Arguing vehemently over white splotches is really going to get you nowhere in the eyes of a skeptic because there are so many variables that can cause orb phenomena to happen naturally. Unless there's some corroborative phenomena occurring while you were taking these pictures (ie noises, a recorded temperature drop) I think arguing over their validity seems like a waste of time, especially when there are so many other interesting and unexplainable photos (like the Joshua Ward House Witch) to argue for.

If you bought a digital camera to go ghost hunting, and you're perfectly fine snapping pictures of orbs and the like, then God bless ya, and I wish you the best of luck.

Personally I didn't drop three hundred bucks to take pictures of white blobs. I bought a camera to take pictures of ghosts.

Comments? Criticisms? Arguments? I'm open to them all. If you think I'm totally out of my gourd and have no idea what I'm talking about I'll be more than happy to engage you in friendly and polite discourse. If you have an interesting story or a compelling photograph to share feel free (as always) to drop me a line.

At 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well done sir.

you make a good point.

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At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my mom took that picture! its creepy.

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At 6:38 PM, Blogger Paranormalizer said...

Is that Joshua Ward House Ghost Dianna Ross?

Nice Blog.

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At 1:16 PM, Blogger sara said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1:19 PM, Blogger sara said...

hey i really like this blog mate but how come you havn't added anything for ages? anyway i have a ghost hunting blog which i'd love for you to check out. thanks anyway.
P.S. You should get back to writing cos this is a cool blog

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At 10:47 PM, Blogger Mary said...

I agree about orbs. Can be boring to look at. Check out the photos of real ghosts at
Thanks for your interesting post!