Your Definitive Guide to Debunking Orbs: Lens Flares
The VAST majority of the photos that I’ve seen are not of a paranormal nature and are quite easily debunked by a single phenomena: lens flares. Not only are they explainable, they’re also extremely easy to replicate as I will be showing you here in this blog post.
Debunking Orbs: What’s a Lens Flare?
Lens flares are simply light that is being reflected through the multiple glass pieces within your camera lens when there is an outside light source (aside from your camera’s own flash) in the photo such as the sun, the moon, a lamp, fire, a flashlight, or even your own camera’s flash being reflected in a mirror. A modern camera lens is actually an assemblage of multiple lenses called elements and housed in a barrel, like so:
A lens flare is created when light reflects off of one or more than one of these many lenses. The more light you have your camera set to allow in, the more pronounced the flares will be. If you shoot with a lens hood, you may be able to prevent the glare entirely.
Here are two of my engagement photos. One of them was shot specifically to use lens flares for a creative effect. In the other, the settings were changed to allow less light.
The result – lens flares:
No lens flares:
Once you start to notice lens flares, you can literally see them EVERYWHERE and debunking the kinds of “orbs” becomes pretty easy. The photo below is a screen cap from a car commercial in which you will see several lens flares resulting from the sun in the top left corner of the screen.
They also appear frequently in commercials, TV shows and movies these days – much to the annoyance of some fans. JJ Abrams, for example, is notorious for his usage of lens flares in his movies. So notorious, in fact, someone created an entire YouTube video explaining how lens flares are created, all in the context of JJ Abrams movies.
Yes, lens flares can even occur in space. This is a photo snapped and posted to Twitter (from space) by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly from the International Space Station of the sun setting over Earth’s horizon.
Lens flares can occur in any type of camera. The photo below was taken with my iPhone.
These photos were also taken with my iPhone. I used an arrow to point out some of the less obvious flares that you might not notice such as the corona (the big circle around the light source –– in this case, the sun) and the infamous “green orb” that so many people capture on their own photos and ask about later, as they tend to not notice it as they are taking the photo.
In the top right photo, you don’t notice the green orb because the angle of the camera has it “far away” so it’s very small, whereas the photo below it, it is “up close” so it appears much larger. The flares will be exaggerated and change shape depending on the angle you are holding the camera.
As mentioned above, these can actually be caught on film as well, and I’ve seen people on the internet mistake them for real orbs or UFOs. In the video below, I show you how the “green orb” moves around with your camera.
Debunking Orbs in the Day Time
For these photos, I used my DSLR, which allows me a lot more camera settings (and contains a lot more lenses) than my iPhone, so you can get an entirely different look from the lens flares.
In the photo on the bottom right, I showed you how even light being reflected off of a reflective surface can still create a lens flare. That’s the sun reflecting off of my neighbor’s back window and into my camera. This can also occur with mirrors or any other shiny surface.
Another bit that can show up in photos with a bright light source is light reflecting off of dust or insects in the air that you don’t notice until you’ve snapped the photo. The arrows below are pointing this out. I could actually see these floating around with my naked eye, but the camera exaggerates it quite a bit.
Below are a few more videos I made to show you how this can occur with various degrees of light and different light sources. The first two are from candle flames, and the last one is from the full moon.
Debunking Orbs in the Dark
Obviously the bigger the light source, the greater the flare, so if you were to do this same thing with a bonfire, for example, you would have a much greater effect.
So, the next time you capture something on film that you’ve never seen before, ask yourself: Is there a sun/moon/lamp/mirror/window/candle/fire or any other possible light source in the frame or just outside it? If so, then you have most likely created a lens flare.
If you find yourself thinking, “But mine doesn’t look like these!” that’s ok. These are just a few of the myriad of examples of lens flares. Just do a quick google of “examples of lens flares” and weed through all the JJ Abrams jokes to find several additional examples. Once you’ve thoroughly exhausted the debunking process, then you can make your determination about whether or not you might have something that’s actually out of the ordinary. I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to debunking orbs, and perhaps learned a thing or two!
(Note: I did not cover dust, smoke, or insects caught during night-time photo shoots with flash photography, also known as backscatter, which give off a totally different look than a lens flare, but you can learn more about what those look like here.)
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Hi. Very interesting article. Thank you. I’m one of those newbie sky picture-takers. (I wouldn’t call myself a photographer by any stretch). Is it safe to say that if you move your cameras position and the lens flare moves then it’s your cameras flare, but if the light remains in the same place then it’s either an actual object or a lens flare produced from another source besides your camera? I just don’t get it, I guess. I am confused by a lens flare going behind a cloud or building or conversely, being in front of the light blocking object .. Do you know what I mean? Sorry if I’m not clear, don’t have the photo vocabulary to ask properly. Really appreciate your time and your nice site, many thanks
That’s correct – if it moves with your camera, it’s a lens flare. Even if the light is being reflected off of another object (such as a mirror or window), the lens flare will still move with your camera.
If the light remains in the same place, then it’s not a lens flare (necessarily). Sometimes light will reflect off of objects like airplanes which are so far away, all you can really see is a little sparkle in the sky.
The other possibility is the phenomena I depicted with dust and insects in the air – same thing happening that’s happening with the airplane, just on a smaller scale. A lot of cemetery “orbs” are actually bugs and dust.
There is spiritual stuff going on in the photos. “Lens flares” are most poignant around really clear skies and vortices. I have taken enough photos with my Sony A7rii to know how to set up for the spiritual colors that appear in one special days and in special places. They don’t appear on the camera’s automatic settings, only on manual. I love to impose the rainbows and colors on people’s faces, heads, heart centers. I don’t mean to debunk what you’re saying, as both of our claims are true. Just to acknowledge the other side of the truth about lens flares and spiritual orbs.
Hello Ash, What are your thoughts about a green light in motion (with a tail) and a distinct profile of a man’s face is beyond the light. It’s all there, right down to the darker colored hair. There’s a tree in the foreground that is partially covering the light source and the darkness of the mans hair. There is no light source anywhere close to this flash of green light, as it was a cloudy day. It also happened over a compost pile. The image my phone captured is unlike anything here in your pictures or anything else I have seen in the way of green orbs. Quite frankly, of all the pictures of green orbs I have seen… this is not an orb and cannot be explained away. I hesitate to post it, but perhaps can be talked into it.
I would have to see the photo in question to be able to give an opinion on it. If it was taken at night, outdoors, then there’s a high probability that it’s debris in the air – a phenomenon called backscatter: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backscatter_(photography) – or a flying insect. I didn’t cover those types of anomalies in this post – only lens flares, but there’s plenty of information online about it.
Wow, thank you for your detailed examples and explanation. But bummer. I was hoping they were angels of sorts. I had been wondering about this for a long time since I see these green dots and lights in many of my pictures and the same moving dot around videos when I film the sun and surrounding areas.