Orb (optics)

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Orbs caused by dust

In photography, an orb is a typically circular artifact on an image, created as a result of the camera's flash illuminating motes of dust, water droplets, or other particles floating in the air. Orbs are especially common with modern compact and ultra-compact digital cameras.[1][2]

A hypothetical underwater instance with two conditions in which orbs are (A) likely or (B) unlikely, depending on whether the aspect of particles facing the lens are directly illuminated by the flash, as shown. Elements not shown to scale.

Caused by backscatter, orbs are also sometimes called orb backscatter or near-camera reflection.[3] Some orbs appear with trails indicating motion.[4]

Photo of street lamp at night with orbs caused by raindrops on the lens


Orbs caused by rain

Orbs are captured during low-light instances where the camera's flash is used. Cases include night or underwater photography, or where a bright light source is near the camera.[3] Light appears much brighter very near the source due to the inverse-square law, which says light intensity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source.[5] The orb artifact can result from retroreflection of light off solid particles, such as dust or pollen, or liquid particles, especially rain. They can also be caused by foreign material within the camera lens.[1][4] The image artifacts usually appear as either white or semi-transparent circles, though may also occur with whole or partial color spectra, purple fringing or other chromatic aberration. With rain droplets, an image may capture light passing through the droplet creating a small rainbow effect.[6]

Fujifilm describes the artifacts as a common photographic problem:

There is always a certain amount of dust floating around in the air. You may have noticed this at the movies when you look up at the light coming from the movie projector and notice the bright sparks floating around in the beam. In the same way, there are always dust particles floating around nearby when you take pictures with your camera. When you use the flash, the light from the flash reflects off the dust particles and is sometimes captured in your shot. Of course, dust particles very close to the camera are blurred since they are not in focus, but because they reflect the light more strongly than the more distant main subject of the shot, that reflected light can sometimes be captured by the camera and recorded on the resulting image as round white spots. So these dots are the blurred images of dust particles.[1]

In underwater conditions, particles such as sand or small sea life close to the lens, invisible to the diver, reflect light from the flash causing the orb artifact in the image. A strobe flash, which distances the flash from the lens, eliminates the artifacts.[7] The effect is also seen on infrared video cameras, where superbright infrared LEDs illuminate microscopic particles very close to the lens. The artifacts are especially common with compact or ultra-compact cameras, where the short distance between the lens and the built-in flash decreases the angle of light reflection to the lens, directly illuminating the aspect of the particles facing the lens and increasing the camera's ability to capture the light reflected off normally sub-visible particles.[1]

Paranormal claims[edit]

Some paranormal investigators have referred to orbs appearing in photographs from allegedly paranormal sources.[8][9] Others[who?] have claimed that orbs are an unknown sort of being, based partly on perceived intent in the orbs' movements. Such perceptions have been interpreted[according to whom?] as examples of agenticity.[10]

Many paranormal investigators[who?] have agreed that orbs result from natural phenomena such as insects, dust, pollen, or water vapor.[8][11][12][13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Flash reflections from floating dust particles". Fujifilm.com. Fuji Film. Archived from the original on July 27, 2005. Retrieved 19 June 2017. 
  2. ^ Cynthia Baron. Adobe Photoshop Forensics: Sleuths, Truths, and Fauxtography. Cengage Learning; 2008. ISBN 1-59863-643-X. p. 310.
  3. ^ a b Edward M. Robinson. Crime Scene Photography. Academic Press; 12 June 2016. ISBN 978-0-12-802768-4. p. 558.
  4. ^ a b Grimm, Tom; Grimm, Michelle. The Basic Book of Photography. Plume 1997, original from Pennsylvania State University. p. 509. Retrieved 19 June 2017. An additional problem called backscatter occurs when flash light striking these suspended particles reflects back to the camera lens and records on the film as fuzzy white spots. Of course, backscatter can also be reduced by getting the camera as close to your subjects as possible, because the shorter that distance, the fewer the number of floating particles in front of the lens. 
  5. ^ Richard Ferncase. Basic Lighting Worktext for Film and Video. CRC Press; 22 April 1992. ISBN 978-1-136-04418-2. p. 66.
  6. ^ J. David Pye. Polarised Light in Science and Nature. CRC Press; 6 May 2015. ISBN 978-1-4200-3368-7. p. 81.
  7. ^ Nick Robertson-Brown. Underwater Photography: Art and Techniques. Crowood; 31 January 2014. ISBN 978-1-84797-658-1. p. 105.
  8. ^ a b Wagner, Stephen (29 January 2017). "Why Orbs in Pictures Are Not Proof of the Paranormal". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 27 June 2017. 
  9. ^ Heinemann, Klaus; Ledwith, Miceal (2007). The Orb Project. Beyond Words Publishing. p. 23. ISBN 9781416575535. Retrieved 27 June 2017. 
  10. ^ Radford, Benjamin (2017). "Orbs as Plasma Life". Skeptical Inquirer. 41 (5): 28–29. (Subscription required (help)). 
  11. ^ Carroll, Robert Todd (3 December 2007). "Orbs". The Skeptic's Dictionary. Retrieved 27 June 2017. 
  12. ^ Joe Nickell. Camera Clues: A Handbook for Photographic Investigation. University Press of Kentucky; 12 September 2010. ISBN 0-8131-2691-6. p. 159.
  13. ^ Dunning, Brian (February 24, 2007). "Skeptoid #29: Orbs: The Ghost in the Camera". Skeptoid. Retrieved June 15, 2017.