Friday, 21 February 2014

Daylight orbs

Daylight orbDespite the compelling evidence that orbs are strongly illuminated out-of-focus bits of dust, water droplets, insects etc (see here and here, for instance), there are still people who think some are paranormal. They usually point to examples like daylight orbs. You cannot, for instance, blame a flash for a daylight orb. Except that you can! In many cases, daylight orbs actually do use flash, as the EXIF data with the photo makes clear. Such 'fill-in' flash may be used by today's highly automated cameras without the photographer even noticing.

But there are many orbs produced in daylight that do not require the presence of a flash. For instance, sunlit insects often show up as orbs (see here and here, for instance). But orbs can even be photographed on dull days. Take the example here (photo right). You can see an obvious branch in the foreground and a bright orb to its left. But there is another, less bright, orb to the right that is more interesting. It is about halfway up the photo, above and apparently touching or just behind the main branch, below a yellow hanging linear object.

Daylight orb 2Now here is exactly the same scene in a photo (right) taken 3s later. The difference is that the focus has shifted from the branch, which is now a blur in the background, to the orb just mentioned. The orb is actually a droplet of water hanging from a catkin (yes it was raining again!). So here is an example of an orb on dull day! All you really need for an orb is an out of focus object.

An interesting question that arises is this: why does the orb (and its catkin) appear to be in the background in the first photo when it is clearly really in the foreground? I think its because the background is out of focus. So, because our brains are not used to seeing both foreground and background objects out of focus, we tend to 'see' both as background objects. It might explain how some orbs appear to be a long way from the camera when, in fact, the vast majority are very close to it.

Day orb 3To test this theory, I had a look through other photos I took at the same time. Sure enough, I found one where the catkin is out of focus but clearly in front of the a branch (photo right). And now the catkin looks, as it should do, obviously in front of the branch. Incidentally, I think the illusion that the catkin is behind, in the first photo, is helped by its proximity to the branch.

Interestingly, our visual interpretation of photos is, of course, a learned skill. When we use our naked eyes, everything we see tends to be in focus. That's because our eyes focus automatically as we shift view. Still cameras don't do that so our brains learn how to interpret what they see in still photos. This unconsciously affects what we see in them. Our brains use all sort of processing 'short cuts' to speed up how we interpret what we see. Misperception is example of this. So, sometimes, we misinterpret a photo simply because of all the similar examples we've seen in the past.

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