by Karen Frazier

A moving bug glowing from IR
Earlier, we discussed orbs and why I don't feel I can ever call an orb in a photo paranormal evidence. Now, I'd like to go over some other very common causes of photographic artifacts that are often mistaken for paranormal phenomena. It's important to take all of these into account in order to critically evaluate photographs you think might be paranormal.


People often misidentify a mist in a photograph as paranormal. Actually, mists are quite common in photographs and can arise from a number of sources.

  • Condensation from exhalation: If you exhale (or even breathe at all) when you take photograph in conditions cool enough to make your breath condense, it often winds up in photographs as a mist. This happens much more often than many realize. Conditions don't even need to be too cold, particularly if the air is already saturated with moisture and tiny particles known as condensation nuclei are in the air. Condensation actually begins to form when there's a 5 degree Fahrenheit difference between the dew point and the drier air, so even in warmer temperatures condensation can occur. To minimize the possibility of creating a mist, inhale and then hold your breath when you snap a photo.
  • Tobacco smoke: Particles of smoke can linger in the air for quite a while after someone stops smoking. When you take a photograph, these particles can capture the light and appear as a mist. To minimize the possibility of this occurring, don't take pictures for 20-30 minutes after using an area to smoke, or don't smoke on investigations.
  • Kicked up dust and pollen particles: While these often appear as an orb, particles can also appear mist-like. To minimize the possibility of mischaracterizing this type of a mist, carefully record all conditions when you take your photograph.
  • Condensation rising from the ground: Typically you can see this with the naked eye, but you it may not be really noticeable until it gets caught in the flash. Pay careful attention and record any environmental conditions at the time of the photograph.
Glowing Objects 

Just like dust too close to your camera can combine with the flash to create an orb, other extreme close-ups can create glowing artifacts. Some to keep in mind:
  • Hair on the lens can create a glowing white rod or line. Keep your lens clean with a soft brush before photographing, and keep long hair tied back so it doesn't blow in front of your lens. 
  • Many people forget about the camera strap, which comes inside of the lens' field of focus and creates an anomalous artifact. Always keep the camera strap firmly around your wrist or neck, and make sure it's clear before you snap the photo.
  • Bugs and similar critters are all-too often the source of an anomaly on a photograph. This is especially true when they are too close in to the lens (and appear like an orb), or they are on the move (when they can appear as a rod, a series of overlapping orbs, or as a large glowing object that appears to have its own light source.) Unfortunately, there's no really good way to control bugs other than to record their presence at the location in your notes.
  • My absolute favorite way to totally bung up a photograph is by accidentally having my finger over part of the lens. This particular trick is a common one with cell phone cameras, because the lens is small and extremely easy to partially block with your finger.

My finger - I have many pictures similar to this on my iPhone

D'oh - here's another one
Light Anomalies

Streak from moving light
Slow exposure, use of a flash, a dark environment, and movement (either of the camera or an object) are the most common causes of light anomalies in photographs. Even if your camera exposure settings are on auto, this leaves the aperture open long enough to create a light anomaly. Many people attempt to eliminate this problem by placing the camera on a tripod and using a remote trigger, but even then light anomalies can occur if anything in the camera's field of view moves even slightly. Light trails can also occur if there's a light source off camera that moves slightly while the photograph is being snapped. 

Motion Blur

Lens flare 
Motion blur, even during daytime with no flash, can turn solid objects and people into spooky see-through apparitions. I have a really hyper small dog who often looks quite ghostly in photographs because he refuses to stand still, for instance. In these types of pictures, your camera's aperture is open just long enough that it catches the motion of the object you are photographing, making it appear blurred or even ghost-like. Motion blur can be present, even when other objects are in focus if the blurred object is even slightly in motion.

Motion blur 

Misidentified Objects

If you're taking pictures in the dark using either a flash or infrared (IR), it's really easy to misidentify objects. To avoid simple object misidentification, take a series of photographs in bright light first as your baseline, and then compare them to potentially anomalous pictures.

SSPR's Photo Analysis

Although logical explanations often exist for photographic anomalies, it doesn't follow that every anomaly can be so easily explained away. At SSPR, we are lucky enough to have a photography expert as a member of our team. With a BFA in photography, Patty is able to analyze and identify the source of many photographic artifacts. She would also be smart enough to never, ever photograph part of her finger.

If you've got a picture you'd like analyzed or need an investigation, contact us