Fig 1: Though this looks like a typical group of orbs, it is actually lens flare.
Fig 2: In this photo of lens flare you can see the light source (bottom left). Note the orbs overlapping it.
Fig 3: A light source just off the bottom of this frame is producing green fogging as well as circular 'orb' shapes - all are lens flare!
Fig 4: Lens flare forming a line of 'orbs' - a typical arrangement
Fig 7: Another example of lens flare. It can form rings like this, particularly if the light source is fairly central in the photo frame.
Lens flare can be seen in the viewer on your camera at the time of exposure, unlike orbs. You can thus avoid taking photos of which might later be confused with orbs.
Lens flare looks like orbs
There is another photographic phenomenon that can, at times, closely resemble orbs. It is lens flare. Look at the photo Fig 1, for instance. These circles of light look like typical orbs but they were caused be lens flare.
Lens flare is caused by reflections within the camera lens. Camera 'lenses' actually consist of several lens elements which is why they are cylindrical. Lens flare occurs when there is a bright light source in the frame or just outside it.
How to tell lens flare from orbs
Orbs caused by dust, insects etc. are very similar to flare 'orbs'. They even have exactly the same shape which is influenced by the aperture in the lens. So telling them apart can be difficult at times.
The best clue for flare is if the 'orbs' form a straight line (Fig 4) away from a light source. This is typical of flare though not of orbs. Flare 'orbs' can sometimes occur in other shapes (see Figs 1 & 2).
Next, if there is a bright light source in the photo, particularly if 'orbs' appear to be emerging fr0m it, then that is highly likely to be flare. You can see this in Fig 2. Notice the highly coloured 'orb'. Flare frequently contains highly coloured shapes while orbs are mostly white or grey.
A flare light source doesn't have to be in the frame and is frequently just outside. This is often obvious because of a bright 'fog' near the edge of the frame. Sometimes the fogging can extend across the frame and may even be coloured (see Fig 3).
In summary, look for:
- 'orbs', often coloured, in straight lines,
- a bright light source in the photo or just outside
- fogging, may be coloured
Flare does not require flash, just a light source. However, you can get flare with a flash photo if there is something highly reflective nearby that can act as a light source (reflecting back the flash).
Fig 5: Light sources can also produce tiny coloured lights (light source is bottom left)
There is a similar phenomenon to lens flare which only occurs with digital cameras. It consists of lots of tiny rainbow coloured lights (see Fig 5). It is actually a diffraction effect caused by the sensor itself (which is why it is confined to digital cameras).
cannot see this effect in the screen on your camera when taking a photo. The best way to avoid it is by keeping bright light sources out of your photos (which should also stop flare).
© Maurice Townsend 2007
Weird glowing shapes
Sometimes people take photos of strange glowing fantastical shapes which can include apparent 'orbs'. It usually happens at night outside when it is raining. The weird shapes can change radically from shot to shot, when taken in quick succession, or even disappear completely. There is often a light source in the photo, or sometimes just outside the frame, that is usually the same colour as the glowing 'object'.
Although these weird glowing shapes could be flare, they are more likely to be produced by water droplets on the camera lens.
Fig 6: Water on the lens shows up as a 'half orb' though lots of other shapes are possible
In Fig 6 you can see a 'half orb' produced by a droplet of water on a camera lens. There is a strong source of light pointing towards the camera lens at an angle, and so is not visible in the photo, producing the glowing shape effect. Notice how you can see the the other half of the 'orb' faintly.
How can you tell the difference between 'normal' orbs, flare and water on the lens? You can see flare and water on the lens through the viewer on your camera before you take your photo, unlike orbs. The difference between flare and water on the lens is that flare will move around the frame as you change the angle of the camera with respect to the light source. You can see this in your camera viewer. Water on the lens, by contrast, should stay where it is (though it may move slowly under gravity or dry off after a time). Thus, the strange glowing shapes should stay in the same part of the frame even though the subjects in the photo may change from shot to shot.
Sometimes, you similar weird shapes that don't glow, instead looking greyish, similar to orbs. These are also caused by water on the lens and show up by light reflected from objects in the shot.
Both types of weird shape are frequently accompanied by tailed orbs caused by rain.