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Burden of Proof- Orbs

November 2012

By Mitch Silverstein

My colleagues and I choose to challenge theories and beliefs about the paranormal to find facts.  It is difficult to sit idle after years of investigation and research and accept people’s delusions of evidence.  We do not accept what is learned by watching entertainment TV, whose techniques and conditions set them up for success.  We truly apply the scientific process and critical thinking in our methods.  We do not simply make this claim because we own a meter and use it to detect something different than its intended design.  We analyze and test, experiment and conclude, all the while remaining open minded yet skeptical, not cynical.

There are many claims of paranormal events; most can be explained one way or another as not being paranormal in origin.  Sometimes it is just photographic experience, knowing how a camera works and sometimes a method can prove otherwise.

The debate about orbs continues.  I think the part of the community that believes in orbs has been delinquent in proving their case.  Simply believing an orb is a spirit may be based on faith, but faith will not advance the community and make sense of what people find on their ghost hunts or real investigations, especially when they claim their methods are based in science.  The burden of proof lies with the ones making the claim.

Orbs are dust, moisture, bugs, or any small item or particle that is captured in a flash picture that is too close to the lens of the camera to be within the depth of field of focus.  It is an over-illuminated speck, out of focus because the camera is focusing on the scene that is at least several feet away and to infinity.  Typically it’s from a point-and-shoot camera with the flash located close to the lens.  (See Circle of Confusion)

We have three methods that show and prove orbs are an anomaly of the photographic process.

1- Stereo Photography- Take two simultaneous pictures with the lenses about as far apart as your two eyes.  100% of the time when you catch a specific orb it's only in one picture, not the other.  This is because it's within a couple of inches of one lens and it's tiny, so small it doesn’t really interfere with the photo, if it were big and that close to the lens it would block the image.  It does not, it's fuzzy and transparent because it’s small and out of focus and close to one lens.  I have hundreds of photos and this holds true in all.  When viewed in 3D, the orb appears to be at the plane of the camera, very close to the viewers eye (Figures 1, 2 and 3).

Figure 1. Left image Figure 2. Right image Figure 3. Anaglyph composite
Click on image for larger version. To view anaglyph image use red/cyan 3D glasses with red over left eye

2- Lens Mask Test- An orb is round because the optics of a camera are spherical or round.  Actually, we have seen photos where an orb looks octagonal.  This is because the aperture diaphragm within the lens was not fully open and since the out of focus orb is formed within the lens it takes on this shape.  Typically, a camera aperture is fully open in the dark when flash mode is on to allow maximum amount of light to enter which avoids the octagonal shape and the light path remains round.  To prove an orb is an artifact within the lens we made a mask from black paper and cut a small diagonal slit in the middle.  We secured it, centered over the lens, and took photos in a dusty room with and without the mask.  We caught many round orbs in the control photos and we caught generally diagonal rectangular orbs in the masked photo.  No items within the room took this shape since this is now proven to be an artifact within the lens (Figures 4, 5 and 6).

Figure 4. Mask cut from paper Figure 5. Control (no mask) Figure 6. Masked photo

Click on image for larger version. Note: Some rectangular orbs show a rounded side because the mask was slightly off center, however, this also shows that the rectangular lens artifact is just a variation of a standard (round) lens artifact and not a manipulation of photograph.

3- The Manufacturer of the Camera- Chances are, if you look in your digital camera manual, there will be a mention of white spots that occur in some photographs.  Look in the troubleshooting section.  A dozen or so Sony manuals I checked all have a comment claiming the hazy white spots to be an artifact of dust and the camera flash.  I suppose we can consider the manufacturers and designers of these cameras EXPERTS.  Actually we can call them experts and they are well aware that this anomaly occurs because of camera design. A search on Sony forums in Asia, where the cameras are made, yielded the following Q&A:
Please click on the picture to enlarge.

Although we present this information informally, there were controls and the scientific method applied throughout.  We show proof that orbs are artifacts of photography.  The camera manufacturers already know this, critical thinkers in the community already know this, and testing shows this.  If you believe orbs are spirits then the burden of proof is yours.  The ball is now in your court.  Show us the proof or do not post it as evidence.  Even if one picture out of a thousand has something difficult to explain, it does not constitute evidence.  Scientifically, it does not count.  Maybe a good first step would be to remove the terminology “scientific method” from your descriptions and replace it with “spiritual method” or “unfounded method.”

Show us proof.  We are listening…

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