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Duncan McAllister (metriq@sympatico.ca) writes:

Photography, Orbs, Ghosts and Other Ethereal Mysteries

I'm a big fan of the show, and have been listening for several years now. I'm always examining your ghost gallery, and of recent, the orb samples, and can't quite get my head around them. As an avid photography enthusiast for the past 30 years, and an amateur camera repairist, I've seen a lot of optical aberrations that are remarkably indistinguishable from orbs, ghosts, spirits and the like.

At the risk of being considered a "de-bunker", and I do love a good mystery, please have a look at my images below, and you may draw your own conclusions. I was testing a fairly powerful Metz flash unit with my Nikon 990 digital camera from my back balcony, and took a night shot over the lane. As you can see, there are numerous 'orbs' in the foreground. I truly attribute these orbs to airborne particulates such as insects, city dirt, chestnut tree matter (it was the end of summer, and I was situated under a chestnut tree), or fluff. Obviously there was stuff flying around in the night air that was lit up by the flash in front of the camera lens, and out of focus. Digital noise? Dirt on the lens filter maybe? Or Orbs? Why is it that digital cameras seem to do this more often?

My other pictures show large white orbs floating in front of the flash off my Canon S100 digital camera. It was coincidental that these orbs appeared around the same time that a massive blizzard blew into town! I've included a picture of my "ghost camera". This is an old 30's style, Kodak folding camera that I bought at a flea market at a remote farmhouse way in the northern wilderness of Ontario. I call it my ghost camera, because every picture I take with it is haunted. These shots are contact prints that I developed in my darkroom from the original 6x7 negatives. As you can see, each frame is alive with apparitions flying about the image.

This is actually caused by light flares within the camera. I disassembled the lens to clean it, and when re-assembling, accidentally scratched the back of the anodized lens bushing, thereby exposing some of the metal that would otherwise be coated with a dull black finish to reduce flare. The resulting distortions are reflections from the scratch, bouncing around the inside of the camera gate whenever a picture is taken. (At least this is what I think causes it. I would prefer to believe that it is haunted, though.)

These flares are more common with 120 and 220 medium-format films, and are caused by the film not registering properly (not laying flat), and reflections bouncing off the buckling film. They can also be caused by pin-hole light leaks in the camera or bellows.

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I've also been reading about the optical effects of scratches and defects on camera lenses. I bought some old Nikon lenses that were fairly badly scratched on the front elements. Depending on the severity of the scratch, it may not affect the performance of the lens that much, but is quite noticeable when pointed directly at the sun. The same is true with dust trapped on optical elements within the lens. If the sun is facing the camera, and the angle of the lens is just right, these scratches, or "chips" in the lens will cause bright "flares" or orb-like images in the picture, but only at that precise angle with the sun. Any other time, the lens works fine without any noticeable distortion.

Also, I develop all my own negatives and prints, and have spent a lot of time in the darkroom. Even in modern, professional labs, and especially with older photos and negatives, apparitions can appear. If the chemicals are exhausted (over-used), or contaminated, or the film isn't fixed or washed properly, or there are impurities (metals, chemicals, oil, etc.) in the water supply, the films and prints can become stained. Exhausted developer can cause uneven development through the sprocket holes of 35mm. film resembling "curtains". These stains can look convincingly spectral and only a trained eye can differentiate from spirits long-departed.

So there you have it. Some of my "scientific" explanations of orbs and ghosts and other such phenomenon that I have seen in many photos.

Duncan McAllister, METRIQ Inc., Toronto, Canada

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