Posted on June 22, 2017 Posted by John Scalzi 10 Comments
I’m getting a smidgen better at taking pictures of these little glowy dudes. The secret, which is not a secret at all, is long exposures on steady platforms, and low ISO settings so you don’t blow out the picture. This one, which is actually a detail of a larger photo, is a 20 second exposure at ISO 250 at late dusk (close to 10 pm here because it was literally the night before the solstice), so the sky was darker than it is here. I used the birdbath in the front yard as a platform.
I was focused on the fireflies but as you can see a little here, and rather better in the photo linked above, I caught some stars in there too, as well as twenty seconds of their movement across the sky, which was apparently just long enough to catch some streaking. I think this is pretty cool.
I’ll probably post one or two more firefly photos before the season is done. I think they’re pretty.
It’s fun that these days 250 is considered a low ISO. I mean, you’re not wrong, but when I started photography, 400 was as high as it got unless we pushed the film, and then it got grainy as frig. We were often shooting on ISO 64 (OK actually ASA 64)
Yeah, digital photography I think has changed the parameters, in part because these days you can shoot at pretty high ISO settings before things start getting really grainy. It’s overall nice for me because I prefer not to use flash if at all possible.
Check out neutral density filters too. They darken the lens so you can effectively run longer exposures without blowing out the image. It may not be helpful for short-lived light sources like lightning bugs or fireworks, but it can make some really cool long exposure stuff possible. They come in varying degrees of darkness. I think long exposure images are the one thing that traditional “still” cameras can do that is beyond the ability of cell phones and video. Combining a span of time into a single image is a unique superpower.
I know nothing about photography but fireflies remind me of summers of my youth in New Jersey. Growing up in California we don’t have fireflies and I used to just be completely happy to chase them around all humid night because I thought they were so neat =) Thanks for letting me see them again!
Fireflies are great, and I worry their numbers are declining; when I was a kid there’d be hundreds of them on a dark humid night. Now you may see a dozen or two.
One who must have been working overtime landed on my windshield yesterday at noon.
Regarding declining numbers of insects, an interesting recent article in Science magazine:
Vogel, Gretchen. “Where Have All The Insects Gone?”
Science [magazine], 12 May 2017, pg 576-579
which I find online at
albeit, in the online version, my browser wouldn’t display one interesting graphic.
This is a really great shot. The closeup on the house is lovely, but I really love the left side where the the bugs parallel the stars. I hope you post more!
I did a tiny bit of research, and it appears to be pretty much impossible to cultivate fireflies. The Japanese have tried and failed. Figure out a way to do it, and a kit you can sell, and you’ll probably get rich.
I love this idea and wish I lived in an area where I could try this as well. As a child we moved to Northern Virginia and I encountered real fireflies for the first time. My only frame of reference were the fireflies in Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and I said so, eliciting a non-approving stare from my father: “These are real, those were not.”
Years later I recounted this story to artist James Coleman as we were buying an artist’s proof of the painting I link to below. He loved it and promptly hand-painted a series of fireflies onto the canvas for us.
Light Through a Warm Mist, James Coleman: http://www.galleryone.com/fineart/COLLI5.html
I’ve always thought fireflies are one of the most marvelous creatures in our biosphere. Think of it, little flying creatures who sparkle up a landscape!!!
They could be the origin story of fairies. And so sad that people grow up without seeing them light up a whole hillside below your house on a summer’s eve. Thanks for the photo tips!!
Here we live in the deep woods of WV forested hills, and while there are fireflies among the trees, they are very different from field fireflies. They stay lit longer, and you can see them zigzag among the trees.