Monday, October 29, 2012

The Trouble With Orbs

Anybody who's watched Ghost Hunters should be well aware of Jason and Grant's stance on orbs, mysterious lights that appear in photographs and which some investigators believe are proof of paranormal activity. The Ghost Hunters are skeptical about these phenomena, and for good reason. There are many natural explanations for orb phenomena and only when all of those are eliminated can such a light be described as paranormal. Camera issues tend to be the top explanation for orbs, followed by dust or lint in the air that can reflect light. As an example, take a look at the photograph above. You can click on it to enlarge. The picture was taken by Amy Voight, a photographer for the Toledo Blade, at the Mansion View Inn during a night-long paranormal investigation of the purportedly haunted site. The photograph was the only piece of evidence collected during the investigation that showed anything unusual.

Amy set up a tripod and set her camera for a minute-long exposure so it could soak in all available light. And that's when our night proved most interesting. There was nothing on the staircase, yet after the first shot the image on the camera's digital screen showed a blob of white light in the middle of the staircase.

Amy shot the staircase again and the unexplainable bright blur was still there. I marched up the stairs and stood just to the right of where the illuminated glob was, as we'd seen on her camera screen. There was nothing on the stairs. No light reflection from a nearby light fixture or from outside the facing window. It was simply dark carpeting on the stairs. I put my foot down where the glow was and Amy took another photo which shows the light fading away. In the two subsequent photos with me standing in the same spot on the stairs, the light is gone. These photos were all taken roughly a minute apart.

After that I went down the stairs and stood behind the camera as Amy took a few more long exposures. The light manifested itself again, though it had moved slightly to the right where I had just been standing. And in the next photo it was gone. The ball of light — whether a trick of light or not — never returned in our several return photo shoots of the stairs. Try as we might, we could never duplicate the curious image.

I would love to be able to hold this photograph up as an example of a genuine paranormal effect. Unfortunately, it is not. The article notes that the effect "might" be lens flare on the camera, but there's no "might" about it. This particular orb is almost certainly lens flare, and I can even see where the reflection is coming from. Take a look at the highlighted areas below. Again, you can click to enlarge.

Looking at oval 1, you can see based on the shadow of the railing against the wall that either the light in the room is very bright or some additional lights were employed for shooting. In oval 2, you can see what look like two certificates or diplomas hanging on the far wall. Note how the light is reflected by the glass - it's hitting between the two frames, so the resulting reflection has roughly squared off corners and is broken into two sections by the frames and the small strip of wall. There is also some roundness to it, most likely because the light bulb shining at the wall is round. Based on 1 and 2, imagine where the light must be - off to the left of the frame. Draw an imaginary line from that point, and then a line of reflection at about the same angle off to the right.

Following that line, where do you wind up? At 3, exactly where the reflection appears. Furthermore, the reflection itself shows roughly squared off but rounded corners with a dark band across the center, exactly the light that is being reflected off the two glass frames on the far left. While it sounds like they did try to reproduce the image, I'm not sure why this proved difficult. Perhaps they experimented with moving the light they were shooting with and putting it back, only they did not place it in the exact same position. An effect like this requires a very tight alignment. However, it should be obvious why the light faded when the reporter walked up the stairs. Standing in about the right place would have partially obscured the line of reflection, causing a dimmer image.

On the one hand, I hate it when I see piece of paranormal evidence that's this easy to debunk. I expect those collecting evidence to do a better job of checking for possible normal explanations. On the other hand, a lack of critical thinking does no good in terms of demonstrating paranormal effects. Skepticism - real skepticism, not the professional sort - is vitally important in terms of getting to the bottom of the unusual experiences people report. I would also note that based on previous reports, the site could very well be haunted - but the complete lack of personal experiences along with this easily explained photo tells me that whatever may have gone on at the Inn in the past, it just wasn't happening that night.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble

No comments: