Thursday, June 20, 2024

I think I took a photo of a ghost with my smartphone


Digital Trends


This story is part of Andy Boxall’s OuttaFocus series, covering smartphone cameras and photography.

I take thousands of photos each year, but to my knowledge, I’ve never taken a photo of a ghost before. That is, until now. I unwittingly captured a series of creepy images when out taking pictures with a new smartphone and they showed something so spooky, so unearthly, so bone-chillingly terrifying that I couldn’t believe my eyes.


  • How I captured it
  • Putting my skeptical hat back on
  • Trying to debunk my photo
  • Swamp gas? No, sorry, it’s lens flare
  • I did not believe in ghosts. Or rather, until this day, I had not done so

But what actually was this anomaly? I wanted answers, and I knew the truth was out there.

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How I captured it

Ghostly floating orb Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

I hadn’t intentionally gone ghost hunting. I took the photos when I was testing the Xiaomi 14 Ultra and its Photography Kit. It was mid-afternoon on a crisp March day, with some hazy sun trying to break through after a morning of wind and rain. A local church always provides a lovely backdrop for my review photos, so I headed there. Walking through the cemetery, I took three specific photos for a comparison: One without a filter, one with a polarizer filter, and one with a UV filter.

Ghostly floating orb Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

In total, during the walk, I took around 50 photos over the course of a few hours and didn’t look at them closely until I transferred them to my computer a few days later. I was sorting through them to find ones suitable for use in my article, and I saw something strange when I got to the photos of the church. What was that? There was a bright, shining orb of light hovering above one of the gravestones; it was present in all three photos, and horrifyingly, it appeared to be steadily moving toward the gravestone.

Ghostly floating orb Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

My interest was immediately piqued. Orbs of light captured on film or in photos have been a mainstay (albeit a controversial one) of paranormal investigation and evidence for years, and anyone who has even caught a single episode of Ghost Adventures or its ilk will be familiar with the concept. I sent them to my friend, who is a fan of such shows, and this was his simple reply: “That’s really spooky.”


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Putting my skeptical hat back on

The Xiaomi 14 Ultra and its Photography Kit Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The photos were unquestionably spooky, but what did they actually show? I put my wannabe Zak Bagans hat aside and put my skeptical journalist hat back on to think logically about the images. I’d used different filters on two photos and no filter at all on the other, so capturing dust on the lens seemed an unlikely explanation. It was during the day, so some kind of insect reflecting light didn’t seem possible either. It also seemed the orb was far from the lens, and the distance remained consistent, too.

My camera angle shifted a little after swapping filters and repositioning, but surely, this would have subsequently affected the appearance of any lens flare. I hadn’t used burst mode, and there was a pause between each photo as I fiddled about with the filters, which I thought would have combined to minimize any effect like this. Also, the orb stayed the same size and color, but wouldn’t the change of filter and my position alter it at least a little?

By this point, I’d obviously exhausted all the logical explanations, which left the paranormal as the only remaining explanation. I’d captured a wandering spirit in a graveyard outside a church (which is exactly the place you’d expect to find them), during the day, on a smartphone. It was an incredible moment, and I was at a juncture. Should my first call be to the tabloids, the church itself to see if it was an established phenomenon (hopefully with a cool name like “the green lady” or “the gravedigger”), or an expert in paranormal photography to validate my astonishing discovery?

Trying to debunk my photo

Kenny Biddle, chief investigator for the Committee for Skeptical Enquiry Kenny Biddle

I decided the best course of action was secret option number four: trying to debunk my photo. I contacted Kenny Biddle, chief investigator for the Committee for Skeptical Enquiry, sent him the original photos, and explained how my process surely meant that it couldn’t be something as trivial as lens flare. I eagerly awaited a video chat where he’d tell me the images were among the most baffling he’d ever seen.

“Probably close to 20, 25 years,” Biddle told me when I asked how long he had been investigating the paranormal. We were chatting over Google Meet, and he was seated in an office filled with books and his collection of more than 300 cameras, which I could only catch a small glimpse of. His background in photography has helped him recreate many famous ghost, UFO, and even Bigfoot images, often using the exact same equipment that took the original image. But why do it?



1 of 3

A photo of an orb floating over a gravestone in a churchyard.

Uncropped photo of a ghostly glowing orb Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A photo of an orb floating over a gravestone in a churchyard.

Uncropped photo of a ghostly glowing orb Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

A photo of an orb floating over a gravestone in a churchyard.

Uncropped photo of a ghostly glowing orb Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

“It’s so much fun to see not only the different photos and videos that people get, but the belief and thought process that goes along with them,” Biddle smiled. “Like, how did they arrive at the conclusion that this is something unnatural? I’m fascinated by that.”

In an interview with The Guardian, Biddle described himself as “like Velma from Scooby Doo, the brains of Mystery Incorporated. I’d love to find a ghost I couldn’t explain away.” It’s a great quote, but it didn’t bode well for my images, so was I alone in thinking they were strange?

“When people see a photo or video like this, you have one side that will say, ‘yes, that’s absolutely true.’ And then you have the other side going, ‘no, that’s fake,’” he continued. “For me, most of the experiences that I’ve been involved in, it’s generally a misinterpretation. People get excited, they think they have something weird and cannot explain it. It’s OK, because usually the general public has a limited knowledge of photography, video effects, and editing.”

Swamp gas? No, sorry, it’s lens flare

An image edited and debunked using a technique described by Kenny Biddle. Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

We soon got to talking about my ghostly orb photos.

“I’m looking at the pictures you sent me, and I get it; this is something weird that perhaps a ghost hunter would say, ‘hey, what is this? What is this light?’ But there’s a few common threads in these three pictures,” Biddle explained. “One is that you’re taking a photograph into the sun, and you called it. It’s lens flare. That’s exactly what it is. The other common thread is that you have lens flare, so you have the sun and its visible light. Even though you use two different filters, you’re still getting the same visible light.”

Oh. I better cancel my plans to build my own proton pack in preparation for my return visit to the churchyard. Surely, it took Biddle a while to work out what was going on in the photos?

“All I did was turn down the brightness and the contrast so that I could see exactly where the sun was because it took away the glare,” he said. “I could draw a line from the sun to the lens flare through the photo. It’s a little trick I tell people: try this, enhance it, draw a line. If it goes through the center of the photo, that’s confirmation it’s lens flare.”

“I get these kinds of photographs with a bright light where somebody doesn’t know what it is,” he told me before adding, “but, yeah, these are pretty good.”

I did not believe in ghosts. Or rather, until this day, I had not done so

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Did I really believe I’d taken a photo of a spirit that had manifested in the shape of a glowing orb that day in the churchyard? It’s time to come clean, as no, I did not. But they did make me stop and stare, send them to friends, and enjoy the feeling of capturing something so spooky quite by accident. They are exactly the kind of photos that may be considered unexplained, as Biddle also confirmed, particularly after I cropped them down to concentrate on the orb, which, let’s face it, you would do as well.

Why have I told the story? Because it perfectly captures everything I love about photography. It’s fun, I’ll always remember this set of images, and isn’t that what we all hope to get from our photos — especially unexpected ones like this? I’m sure we’ve all taken a chance photo and caught something special. It could be your child doing something funny, an animal doing something cute, or a classic unexpected photobomb. Or a ghost.

That’s what my orb photo is to me. Unexpected and fun, with just the right look and in exactly the right location for it to be memorable, creepy, and possibly unexplained. I’ll add it to my repertoire of personal ghost stories and just leave out the disappointing, entirely logical explanation from Biddle for full effect. Also, I’ll just go back to taking photos of the church as usual without expecting a ghost to show up now that my orb has been debunked. That is … if you choose to actually believe the explanation. *Insert screaming face emoji here.*

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