Aside from the 100 % non paranormal phenomena known as Orbs, the vast majority of other photographic “evidence” comprises of so called spirit lights, mists, and apparent vortexes. Like much of the evidence in the paranormal it is evidence by association, also known as circumstantial evidence. This wouldn’t stand up in a court of law let alone any scientific analysis which is the claimed objective of people that normally post these photographs. 


If a picture of mist was taken anywhere else aside from a location that was supposed to be haunted it wouldn’t be referred to as ectoplasm. Why is it that this so called ectoplasm in almost all cases only appears when the photograph is taken outside, and at night? If it is ectoplasm and a manifestation of a spirit then it should also appear inside in equal proportion. Ghost hunters regularly conduct indoor investigations but it is extremely rare that they capture unexplained mist, unless it is cigarette smoke. There are some other explanations for ectoplasm appearing inside a location, but these are also non paranormal. One of them is known as “white out”. This is when a photograph is taken using a flash near a white wall, or other large expanse with a white reflective surface. What can happen is that the meter will over expose the picture and cause the white of the wall to bleed across to another part of the picture giving it a transparent appearance, much like mist. Another situation in which over exposure can cause a mist like effect is when a picture is taken containing alight source against a black background, for example a ceiling light with a dark hallway behind it. This can give the light in the picture a halo effect, even if the source is off camera. “Mist” can also occur as a result of motion blur. If a picture contains a white light source, and the source or the camera moves when the picture was taken in low light, with a slow shutter speed, the light will have a blurred effect to it, much like a mist.   

The main reason that ectoplasm appears at night is because ectoplasm is mist, not a “spirit of the dead”, and it normally forms at night, and outdoors. Mist occurs when the air gets too cold to hold its moisture content, this cooling effect causes condensation, and in turn this becomes visible when it comes in contact with a colder surface such as the ground. Because the inside of a building is normally insulated from the cold, and moisture, mist doesn’t usually occur. Mist will appear more prominent when photographed against a dark background, which is another reason why it appears more frequently in pictures taken at night, which is predominately when ghost hunters choose to investigate. If a photograph was taken against a light background although the mist may still be present it may not show at all. If you took one picture against a dark background and then another right afterwards against a light one, it may give the impression that the mist had mysteriously vanished, but in reality it just couldn’t be seen. Air that emanates from your body (breath) follows the same process of becoming mist as the outside air does. It contains moisture which when expelled is too heavy for a cold atmosphere to support. But moisture can settle when it comes in contact with other objects aside from the ground, including those that are man-made. This can include the camera lens, C.C.D. or the plastic flash guard which will all be in close proximity to someone’s breath when they take a picture. Its accumulation may not be noticed at the time the camera is used, particularly in regard to the C.C.D which is sealed within the camera body. But the effects can all show up later in photographs still giving the appearance of mist. 

Taking one picture that shows “ectoplasm” and then taking another soon after which doesn’t, is no indicator that the mist is unexplained. If the camera warms up even for a few minutes this may be long enough for the moisture that settled on it and caused the mist, to evaporate. This could be as a result of something as simple as briefly putting the camera in your pocket for a few moments, or holding it in your hand. Either way the outcome would be that the problem causing the mist would disappear. Another frequent cause of mist is snow which is both cold and contains large amounts of moisture. But unbelievably there are many photographs of mist presented as being unexplainable, but clearly visSpirit Lights And Paranormal Vortexes Are Often Caused By Lack Of Photographic Knowledgeible in the background is fresh snow. The majority of paranormal investigators use low to mid-range compact digital cameras as opposed to S.L.R (Singles Lens Reflex) models. S.L.R cameras have a separate external flashgun which is positioned above and away from the lens, but one of the inherent problems with a compact camera is the lens is next to the flash. When there isn’t a significant distance between the lens and the flash the light bounces off anything in close proximity to it, which includes dust, moisture, and mist and although this may not be visible to the eye, particularly in the dark, as a result it can show up later in a photograph. It is often impossible to tell the actual distance of an object including mist, from the camera lens, because the focal lengths can compresses prospective. So instead of mist hovering unexplainably above a gravestone it could be moisture in front of the lens or even directly on it. Focal lengths can also create a false perspective of size. Moisture being directly on the lens or C.C.D, may appear to be several feet in length in relation to a distant object, but in reality it may be only a few inches across because its origin is actually next to, or directly on the source.  

Mist is water and water reflects light, so in the dark it can remain invisible to the eye until light is directed at it. This can come in the form of a camera flash but another source could be from a flashlight that illuminates the mist at the time the picture is taken.  The source of this light doesn’t have to be visible, only the light itself, so seen later it may not be obvious what its origin was. Mist can also reflect the color of an object that is close to the flash when the picture is taken, so if you are next to a green wall, you may get green mist.   

Spirit Lights

Other types of photograph commonly presented as being paranormal are what are referred to as spirit lights. Spirit lights are primarily caused by motion blur due to the slower shutter speeds of cameras when a picture is taken at night, without a tripod. Even with a flash, the shutter of the camera still remains open for a fraction of a second after it triggers. This means that any light source caught in the frame will have a blur to it, which gives the impression that the light was moving. These spirit lights could also be moving which would cause a trail to be even longer. Both digital and video cameras can emit their own light source that if inadvertently photographed by another camera could be considered unexplained. However, in reality it may just be the infra beam of the auto focus system that has been captured. Each time a camera takes a picture the focal length is calculated by projecting an infra red beam onto the object that it is being directed at. This is generally not noticeable during the day, but at night with a slow shutter speed, it can actually register on a photograph. The flash on a compact camera only has a very limited range normally no more then around 15-20 feet in total darkness with no adjacent reflective surfaces to extend its range. If a direct light source or even a light source off camera, is captured beyond that distance, with or without a tripod it will still have motion blur. This is because it is out of range of the camera flash which would have frozen the source. 

Normally the flash synchronizes the shutter at 1/60 of a second; anything below this can cause light trails. If you take a picture at night, and the camera moves even a fraction of an inch, the motion blur of distant light can appear to be greatly exaggerated. Because it is dark, it is difficult to tell the size and distance of the trail in relation to an object. So a fraction of an inch camera movement can translate to what appears to be several feet. This also works in reverse, if the camera is stationary and the light source moves. Lens flare can occur at night as well as the day. Aside from the sun, a flash light, or even the moon, can produce the same effect. The camera lens is made up of several elements not just a single piece of glass. Lens flare is produced by indirect light reflected back and forth along these elements before it reaches the C.C.D. The result can be strange lights, and over exposure causing a white mist like effect. The multiple elements can also act as a prism, which in turn can produce lights of varying colors through refraction. 

L.E.D’s are another light source that can be incorrectly attributed to being paranormal or a spirit light. They will normally be colored, often green, red, orange or blue and they have a number of origins. These can include the timer on a coffee maker, the power button on an appliance, the clock on a D.V.D player, the thermostat on a heating system, and the record button on a video camera. They are usually smaller and far less noticeable then other light sources but they are equally as capable as been photographed as streaks of light if the camera moves when the picture is being taken. Because the L.E.D’s are often in the form of numbers rather then a single pinpoint of light, this can create the impression that they are multiple streaks but in reality they are just the illuminated outlines of the numbers.  Another problem with a flash gun is “flash bounce”. This occurs when the flash directly or indirectly bounces off a reflective surface. This can be glass, a mirror, a wall painted with gloss paint, a highly polished wood floor, or any other reflective object. This phenomenon is somewhat random, and recreation may not be possible, as there are several factors that come into play. These include camera focal length, flash strength, and precise angel at which the photograph was taken. The effects of flash bounce itself are variable but one of the most common examples will be a strip of vertical light up to several feet high with curved or irregular edges. It can appear very much like a transparent figure upon whatever surface it has been reflected upon. A picture taken with a flash can also reflect the color of an object that is close to it. If by mistake you put your finger next to the lens, you could get a pink tinge on the photograph because of the the flash bouncing off the finger.  

If these “unexplained” spirit lights are colored, most commonly purple or blue, people seem to believe that this makes it more likely to be paranormal. There are several explanations for colored purple or blue lights, and none of them are related to spirits. A primary cause is a cameras magnesium fluoride lens coatings. Although a lens is clear, the refractive index can cause a color to manifest as a result of light reflection. Each color is a different wavelength and the lens coating can’t correspond to each one individually. This means that the coating is an average of all these colors, which will eliminate most of the reflection, but not all. These colors can be seen in a photograph when they materialize as lens flare. This can occur not just during the day as a result of the sun, but also at night because of the moon or artificial lighting. A high contrast in backgrounds can cause what is known as purple fringing. This is when the micro-lens on a digital camera doesn’t focus the different wavelengths of light on the same focal point. This can register as a slight purple blur around high contrast areas throughout a photograph.  Another cause of purple lights is as a result of chromatic aberration, this occurs on specific contrasting areas of a picture, and in particular around its edges. Light passing through a camera lens is a combination of 3 colors, green, red and blue that can be utilized to produce all colors. But if the red and blue are not aligned at the same focal point correctly, they can create purple. Other color variants can also be produced by different misalignment’s. 

Another issue that can cause “unexplained” lights or “mysterious” objects to appear on a photograph is the auto focus system of a camera. What can happen is that if there is a normal object in the foreground within a few inches of the lens but the auto focus is centered on a object in the distance then the object in front of the lens will be thrown completely out of focus. This can not only cause it to blur, it can appear to expand in size and become unrecognizable. This will be particularly apparent when a narrow depth of field is involved where the area that is in focus is limited. This is more likely to occur in low light or with a lower digital film speed which will not allow a wider depth of field. 


There is a supposed paranormal phenomenon that is referred to as a vortex, which is another commonly photographed anomaly. However the most common cause of these is camera straps, strands of hair, and people inadvertently placing their fingers across part of the lens. Because these objects are photographed at such close range they may not be immediately recognizable upon examination of the picture. Most people could recognize a finger if they held it in front of them, and if they were looking at it at the end of their hand. But if it was in a photograph in an environment and angle that they didn’t normally associate with it, they may not be as quick to identify what it was, particularly in view of the fact that the picture may not be examined until some time after it was taken.  

Camera straps, strands of hair, and even fingers have varying degrees of transparency when illuminated. Because of this they may appear to glow when they have been photographed close to a flash. Again because people don’t normally associate these objects with having a glow to them, they may not immediately recognize their appearance in a photograph. Also one of the conditions that are often associated with paranormal phenomena apart from transparency is objects that glow.  Regardless of the cause of so called ectoplasm, spirit lights and vortexes, without there being a credible link to anything of a paranormal origin then they really can’t be considered evidence. The problem with the “one percent of photographs that can’t be explained” is that on many occasions they are only unexplained due to the lack of photographic knowledge by the claimant. Lack of knowledge and actually having genuinely unexplained photographic evidence are two different things. 


Tony Hart-Wilden


These 21 Ghoulish Photos Fooled Everyone – Viral Nova

Fake Ghost Photos –  Psychics UK

The Truth About Orbs – Ghost Study 

Debunked As Fake – Paranormal Association 

False And Fake Ghost Picture – Angels And Ghosts 

Orbs, The Ghost In The Camera – Skeptoid