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Written by Merilwen Horseback
Taking photos of fireflies can be very challenging but is at the same time very exciting. This article introduces useful tips on how to take beautiful pictures of fireflies.
In the previous article, we have introduced three common types of fireflies that can be seen in Japan, as well as three places in Gifu and Saitama where you can see them in their natural habitat. Check out the story here: Magical Fireflies: 3 Places To See Them In Their Natural Habitat!
This time, we'll introduce some tips on how to take beautiful pictures of fireflies!
Well, we will not literally catch them to put them in a box or in a jar. Wild creatures are meant to be free as they wish. Instead, here we are talking about how to “catch” them with your camera and “keep” them as pictures.
Like taking photos of any faint lights in a dark place, photographing fireflies also requires a camera with delay timer function. Nowadays, there are even some models of point & shoot cameras that have this function, so owning a DSLR is not always a must. You can choose a camera that fits your requirements. However, the camera used as example in this article is Canon EOS 7D, a DSLR camera.
Prepare your gear:
① Tripod: as human hands cannot hold still a camera in a long-exposure shot, tripod is a must to avoid unnecessary blur.
② Camera with timer function (in this case Canon 7D) and a normal range lens (17-55mm)
③ Fish-eye lens (8mm)
④ Remote timer release (Rowa-Japan)
⑥ Anti-mosquito spray (essential during the rainy season!)
(Macro lens is also a nice option if you want to focus on one individual)
Set your camera in full manual mode, including manual focus. For landscape photo, set focus to infinity, and for macro, adjust your focus to the right field. It will be very difficult to do that in complete darkness, but be patient and you will make it.
Focal length 100mm, f/2.8, 15 seconds, ISO 1600
Determining the depth of field in a macro shot is very difficult because the bug doesn't always light up. And because you need to be quick before the bug moves, it’s recommended to use high ISO and short shutter speed.
I usually shoot in RAW to make it easier for post-production. Low ISO (around 200-400) is also recommended to avoid noise in your photos. At first, you can try f/2.8, 15 seconds, then adjust the parameters according to the situation.
One note regarding manners that a new nightlife photographer should bear in mind is that one of the main reasons for fireflies’ decline is light pollution. So if you find their habitat, remember to protect it by turning off any strong light sources you have. Because fireflies are nocturnal creatures, flashlights, car headlights, especially camera’s flash will terribly disturb their behaviors and biological mechanisms. Moreover, it will also disturb other photographers so be careful not to use strong light.
If you need light to see the way, cover your flashlight with red cellophane (gift wrap, nylon bag), the darker the better. The dim red light will not only decrease the bad effect on fireflies but also protect your eyes’ sensitive nerves and preserve your night vision.
It is not easy to capture a large number of fireflies in one shot, so there is a trick for post-production. By loading many photos into one single file as layers in Adobe Photoshop, and setting each layer’s blending mode to “lighter color”, you can bring all the bright dots of light to the top layer and the final image is stunning with fairy light multiplied many times.
Focal length 17mm, f/2.8, 45 seconds, 3 exposures
Taking photos of fireflies is very challenging, as you have to be accurate though you cannot see anything clearly. At the same time, however, it is extremely exciting to be able to capture the fascinating beauty of these lightning bugs and show them to the world. With some small tricks in the post-production stage, you can create your own fantasy world. Now gather your gear and let’s get going!