Have You Ever Seen A Ghostly Orb In Your Photo? This Explains Why

October 23, 2018

When ghost-hunting shows were first popping up on cable TV in the early 2000s, we were taught to question those little orbs of light that appear in flash photography. Ghost hunters believed those orbs were spirits that had absorbed the flash’s energy and manifested on film. However, as technology improved, ghostly orbs were pretty much debunked. As professional photographers will tell you, orbs are actually just specs of dust floating in the air.

Bustle asked several professional photographers to lend their expertise to the old paranormal lover’s myth. Are orbs really manifestations of the dead? “So we sometimes see orbs of light because small dust particles get in front of the lens and catch light from the flash,” First Media photographer Genaro Magana told us. “It would be cool if it was something more, but it’s just out-of-focus dust.”

In reality, those orbs are simply microscopic dust particles that go undetected by the human eye, yet are large enough to reflect light. So, when the flash goes off, it bounces off these particles and we therefore see orbs in the shadowy parts of our photographs.


“It’s a weird accident, for sure,” Sam Resenholtz, a photographer from Boston, told Bustle. “Light has this quality of being way faster than we can process with our brains. That bit of dust that caught the light is gone faster than we could see it, but that’s all it is. Honestly, I wish I believed in ghosts.”

The technical term for capturing orbs in a photograph is “backscatter.” Backscatter can happen in flash photography and underwater photography, but the phenomenon in each instance is the same: the flash picks up on airborne/suspended particles invisible to the naked eye, causing orbs in the photo.

Backscatter can also occur in video as well. As the New Zealand Strange Occurrences Society website explains, most video cameras have LED illuminators close to the lens that can cause backscatter.

Of course, if you’d like to believe that the orb in that photograph you took of your dearly departed grandfather’s favorite chair is, in fact, your grandfather, then go ahead. But if you’re serious about catching ghosts, don’t rely on orbs to be your flawless evidence of their existence.