Monday, August 9, 2010

Photographic Analysis: Orbs - Lens Flare

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Written by Randy Madera

Flare has been the bane of photographers since the first days of photography. Reflection of light can create many circular flares. However, it isn't light reflecting off an object, it is the reflection of light within the lens itself.

If light enters a lens at certain angles (these angles are dependant on the type of lens being used), it can bounce between the various elements of the lens instead of passing cleanly through them, causing bright spots we know as flare. The more complex the lens (for example, a zoom lens is more complex than a fixed focal length, or "prime" lens), the more lens elements it has. Some lenses can have eight or more elements within them. The more elements a lens has, the more potential it has for light to bounce around between the elements, causing flare. If the lens is well-manufactured, it will be less prone to flare than a cheaper, more poorly-manufactured lens. Expensive lenses are often made with low-dispersion glass and various types of coatings to reduce flare and other aberrations of light. This is why professional photographers are willing to pay high (even exorbitant) prices for high-quality lenses. The small-diameter lenses used in consumer and prosumer-grade cameras (both film and digital) are particularly vulnerable to flare despite having fewer elements than a professional lens. Because they have a smaller diameter, they can't deal with light from certain angles as well as a large-diameter professional lens can.

Flare can appear as one or two spots, and they may not appear to be emanating from any particular source because the source may be outside the picture frame. Also, different lens elements add their own color to different flare spots within the same picture (usually blues, reds, oranges, yellows and greens). This is due to the composition of individual lens elements and/or impurities in them.

Flare often appears as semi-transparent, but can also appear as fairly solid. If the camera moves as the photo is being taken, a solid spot of flare can appear to have a blurred trail behind it like "someone just threw a ping-pong ball across the screen." Whether flare appears solid or semi-transparent again depends on the type of lens and camera angle. Even the slightest shift in camera angle can make a flare disappear and reappear. That's why "orbs" can appear in one shot and disappear in the next, even when the photographer doesn't think he changed camera angles.

Dust can also appear to be orbs in photos with even a small amount of backlighting. The backlighting illuminates the dust, making it noticeable in the frame. Although dust particles are not round, they are always extremely out of focus, making them appear round. The "roundness" comes from the round aperture of the diaphragm, which controls the amount of light striking the focal plane from the lens. Interestingly, some video cameras have diamond-shaped or other odd-shaped diaphragms and can give dust or flare a diamond or odd-shaped appearance. I have seen many videos of purported UFOs with a flattened diamond shape that are obviously diaphragm images. Auto-focusing lenses are notorious for producing these images as they "hunt" back and forth trying to lock focus on a distant object. The flattened diamond shape really makes the object (often the sun, a star, or an aircraft) appear to have a "flying saucer" shape, although the points of the diamond never change their orientation (that's the tipoff).

As far as orbs being "collections of energy," I doubt that film or digital cameras can record energy other than visible light. If they can, then energy should appear in a lot of everyday photos since we're surrounded by energy (electrical, solar, etc.). Unless modified, cameras can only record visible light. Visible light is actually a narrow band of energy on the electromagnetic spectrum. That spectrum includes infrared, ultraviolet, radio waves, microwaves, x-rays, gamma rays and other cosmic rays. You have cameras that can detect infrared (heat) energy, but these are modified to record that type of energy. The same applies to radio-telescopes, x-ray radiography, and other devices that are specially-built to detect those types of energy. But regular cameras, like our eyes, can only detect the small band of energy in the visible light spectrum.

I hope this has added a little more to the knowledge of photographically-induced orbs. Bottom line is, I haven't seen anything yet on your show that I haven't seen in the hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) of photos I've examined in my 32-year career. That does not mean, however, that we will never capture something of paranormal significance. Every photo contains a vast amount of data that can be analyzed. The trick is to know how to analyze the photo and recognize something "unusual."

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