Anomalous orbic "spirit" Photographs? A conventional optical explanation

Gary E. Schwartz, Katherine Creath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


With the development of reliable and inexpensive digital cameras, numerous individual have reported capturing anomalous round-shaped (orbic) objects in photographs. These seemingly anomalous orbic images (AIOs) have sometimes been interpreted as reflecting "spirits," "angels," "light-beings," "aliens," and/or "UFOs." We decided to determine whether we could (1) replicate capturing AOIs, and (2) investigate their possible mechanism(s). Approximately one thousand photographs were taken with five different digital cameras over multiple sessions under conditions that would purportedly increase the chance of observing AOIs. This included two "spiritual energy healers" performing various diagnostic and treatment procedures in a semi-dark room. More than two hundred photographs contained AOls. Careful examination of the photographs revealed a plausible conventional optical mechanism that could explain most of the AOIs observed. The most common mechanisms involved are (1) stray reflections (often from the flash) from various shiny objects in the environment (mirrors, glass windows, doorknobs, furniture, metal art work) that are then doubly re-reflected off of lens surfaces and (2) diffraction from the flash reflecting off of dust and dirt particles near but not on the lens. Spiritual or other-worldly interpretations of "orbs" in photographs should only be considered under conditions in which all sources of stray reflection and diffraction have been eliminated from the environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-358
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Scientific Exploration
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2005


  • Anomalous orbic images
  • Digital cameras
  • Ghost images
  • Parapsychology
  • Spirit photography
  • Stray reflections

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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