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Firstly I want to credit some colleagues, because their valuable comments have helped me to formalise the documentation within this article. So I want to thank my colleagues/friends on The Real World of the Paranormal Facebook group – a select group who have been drawn together by the desire to weed out the paranormal drivel that so many readily believe – where there is little scientific justification to do so. The group’s mission says “dedicated to being a informed, scientific & objective view of the perceived paranormal world.” I particularly want to thank two people: Barrie H, the group was his inspiration and has been my lifesaver amongst the dross of paranormal postings; and Leon B, who is an investigator and tech specialist, whose no-nonsense approach to the paranormal has been both an education and a revelation!

So let’s start with the basics. A camera, whether an old film one or a digital one which uses light sensitive diodes, simply responds to the visible light spectrum. It doesn’t pick up UV or infrared or any other strange frequencies (unless it is designed to do so). So if there was a ‘white lady’ there, people would have seen her. The camera can see nothing that the human eye cannot, in fact, the reverse is likely. So any ‘strange’ images are produced by light reflections on the lens or by some kind of aberration in the camera’s electronics. End of story. Boring but logical explanation!

The following link shows 15 Famous Paranormal Photos explained by science courtesy of http://www.cracked.com/photoplasty_680_15-famous-paranormal-photos-explained-by-science_p2/ which includes the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, The Enfield Poltergeist “jumping girl” and the “spaceman” behind the little girl.  The above

orbs or fairies link at cracked.com touches on a topic which is related to the increase in paranormal phenomena being “captured” on picture or video but which I will deal with as a separate post sometime soon – namely ghost apps and Photoshopped images.

Now, back to a bit more science, this time, relating to the anomalies in pictures that people attribute to orbs, again courtesy of Leon B.

Investigator’s tip:
“Lens flare” is caused when a relatively bright light source, out of the frame, reflects or refracts off the surface of the lens. This often places a dim version of that light source (called an artifact) directly into frame. It can also be seen when the light source reflects off the lens and becomes trapped behind the lens filter, giving the same effect.

A second form of lens flare occurs when the light strikes the lens or filter from almcoloured orbsost a 90° angle, resulting in a hazy effect that covers part of the frame. This can affect the entire photo, causing a reduction in contrast or turning the entire photo an off color.

A third effect that is more common on digital cameras is the rainbow flare. This happens when light strikes the coated filter just right and creates a prism effect, causing a rainbow.

Lens flare can manifest itself as a clear, dim orb (with the same shape as the light source), a transparent orb (or series of orbs, depending upon the number of lenses are in your camera), a smooth mist on one side of the photo (occasionally showing rays of light emanating from the center), or a rainbow across the frame.

Your clients may argue with you on this, so provide some sample photos with the same effect to show them that there is a scientific explanation.

Leon helpfully provided this link which explains in greater detail (and scientific fact!) how “orbs” are found in photos:-
http://strangeoccurrencesparanormal.weebly.com/orbs-explained.html

The thing about photos is that, with the prevalence of digital technoAnatomy of an orblogy, SLR cameras and smart phones, now everyone can take convincing photos.

What concerns me is how easily people can jump to conclusions about what they think they saw. As an example, here’s a link that provides an interesting insight into “false orbs”
Ghost Orbs – or not?

A further really interesting website which you should investigate is What are Orbs and How to Avoid Them courtesy of Skepthink who categorically state that:

“Orbs are not paranormal or supernatural in nature, despite the best efforts for many believers to argue that their orbs are different. In fact, they are nothing more than airborne debris and particles being captured by the lens illuminated by the flash or light glare or lens flare. Capturing orbs is rather simple, avoiding them requires some basic camera knowledge.”

The preceding articles are particularly interesting because I consider that too many people misinterpret what they see!  Bear in mind how easily our eyes and brains are deceived by simple optical illusions like those you can see at Michael Bach’s Optical Illusions & Visual Phenomena and some not so simple but very clever ones Mighty Optical Illusions

Seed wings mistaken for fairies

Seed wings, photographed at dusk, can easily be mistaken!

As evidence of this, I provide the above picture of seed wings, commonly mistaken  for “fairies”.   Up close they’re very obviously seed wings but, take a photo of one at dusk or early morning, maybe with a slow shutter speed, and you’re going to get something that looks a little spooky!

Now a little history lesson, appropriately, about photographing fairies!

The Cottingley Fairies

The picture with "cut out" fairies.

The Cottinglye fairies could only have happened because of the fact that two girls, Frances Griffiths (9 years old) and Elsie Wright (16 years old), realised the possibility of using a camera to fake a picture showing fairies.

Elsie’s father, Arthur, was a keen amateur photographer and had his own darkroom. Arthur knew of his daughter’s artistic ability and that she had spent some time working in a photographer’s studio so he immediately dismissed the figures in the first photo as cardboard cutouts.

Elsie and the goblinHowever, two months later, the girls borrowed his camera again and, this time, returned with a photograph of Elsie sitting on the lawn holding out her hand to a 1-foot-tall gnome.

Exasperated by what he believed to be “nothing but a prank” and convinced that the girls must have tampered with his camera in some way, Arthur Wright refused to lend it to them again. His wife Polly, however, believed the photographs to be authentic.

Of course, at this time, photography was in its infancy and most people had little experience of cameras so the idea of faking a photo hadn’t yet been conceived (other than the two girls whose idea it was).

Elsie’s mother attended a meeting of the Theosophical Society in Bradford and, at the end of the meeting, Polly Wright showed the two fairy photographs taken by her daughter and niece to the speaker. As a result, the photographs were displayed at the Society’s annual conference in Harrogate, held a few months later.  There they came to the attention of a leading member of the Society, Edward Gardner.

Gardner sent the prints, along with the original glass-plate negatives, to Harold Snelling, a photography expert. Snelling’s opinion was that “the two negatives are entirely genuine, unfaked photographs … [with] no trace whatsoever of studio work involving card or paper models”.  He did not go so far as to say that the photographs showed fairies, stating only that “these are straight forward photographs of whatever was in front of the camera at the time”.  Gardner had the prints “clarified” by Snelling, and new negatives produced “more conducive to printing”,  for use in the illustrated lectures he gave around the UK.  Snelling also supplied the photographic prints which were available for sale at Gardner’s lectures.

Author and prominent Spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle learned of the photographs from the editor of the Spiritualists’ publication Light.  Gardner and Doyle sought a second expert opinion from the photographic company Kodak, who declined to issue a certificate of authenticity. The prints were also examined by another photographic company, Ilford, who reported unequivocally that there was “some evidence of faking”.

In 1983, the cousins admitted in an article published in the magazine The Unexplained that the photographs had been faked, although both maintained that they really had seen fairies. Elsie had copied illustrations of fairies from a popular children’s book of the time, Princess Mary’s Gift Book, published in 1914. They said they had then cut out the cardboard figures and supported them with hatpins, disposing of their props in the beck once the photograph had been taken.

In a 1985 interview on Yorkshire Television’s Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers, Elsie said that she and Frances were too embarrassed to admit the truth after fooling Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes: “Two village kids and a brilliant man like Conan Doyle – well, we could only keep quiet!”

In the same interview Frances said: “I never even thought of it as being a fraud – it was just Elsie and I having a bit of fun and I can’t understand to this day why they were taken in – they wanted to be taken in”.comarison between Cottingley fairies and illustrations from Princess Mary's Gift Book

I hope you have found this to be an interesting article. My next one will continue in a similar vein with regard to ghost apps and Photoshopped images.

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