How To Photograph Fireflies

Lighting is one of the hardest things to get right with photography, especially when working with natural lighting.

We’ve all been there – we’ve taken a photograph of the moon or a sunset but the end result looks completely different and totally underwhelming. 

How To Photograph Fireflies

The same experience often happens when photographing fireflies. Fireflies are gorgeous and can create some amazing scenes, but capturing the same effect with your camera can be difficult. 

Check out the guide below to learn how to photograph fireflies so you can capture the beautiful natural scenes you see with your camera. 

Step 1: Learn About Fireflies

Before you grab your camera and start rushing through the door to get your photographs, you first need to do the longest and most difficult part of nature photography – research. 

If you want to photograph fireflies, then you need to understand the following: 

  • Where you can find fireflies? 
  • What time of the day is the best time to photograph fireflies? 
  • All about fireflies’ behaviors.

Fireflies are found in both temperate and tropical areas on every continent, usually in parks, meadows, and woodlands. They only glow during the night and during the spring and summer months.

This is because this is the breeding season for fireflies – so there’s only a short window when you have the opportunity to capture their gorgeous glow on camera. 

More in-depth research relevant to your location will help you find your fireflies in no time. On top of that, you can also learn more about all the things you need to do to avoid impacting the environment and wildlife negatively. 

For example, fireflies lay their eggs in the grass – and while stomping around the grounds to take firefly photographs, you may crush their eggs.

So, photographers should stick to paths to avoid having a harmful impact on the fireflies and their well-being. 

Step 2: Use A Tripod

Let’s talk about tripods for a second. 

Tripods are super handy pieces of equipment for photographers. They keep your camera nice and steady while you take multiple photos. This can reduce motion blur and allow you to capture clearer, higher-quality images. 

Because fireflies zoom around so much, a tripod can really help you out. You don’t always need to use one but if you already have a tripod at hand, we definitely recommend you set one up to capture steadier, less blurry firefly photographs. 

Step 3: Choose A Low Arpeture 

How To Photograph Fireflies

Fireflies are active during the night and the males will emit a eerie green-yellow glow to attract females. This means that you will be working with some limited lighting while capturing the fireflies with your camera. 

The rule of thumb with your camera’s aperture is that the lower the number, the more light that is allowed into the camera. 

By choosing a low aperture, your camera will be able to pick up more details background of the frame. This includes trees and other foliage, buildings, landscapes, etc.

This way, you won’t end up with a dark photograph with a few speckles of low light here and there – you will have a visible nature photograph lit by fireflies! 

A good aperture to start with is f/1.4 as it’s one of the lowest apertures out there. This means that lots of light can enter the camera to produce more clear photographs. 

Step 4: Go With A High ISO

The ISO of your camera has a big influence on its sensitivity to light. In conjunction with a low aperture, you should try setting your camera up with a high ISO (typically ISO 1600).

This is to avoid the fireflies from appearing underexposed in your photographs. 

However, you need to be wary of other sources of light in the frame. Strong moonlight, streetlights, and more can light up the scene for you. In this case, try decreasing the ISO to a lower setting to avoid overexposure. 

Step 5: High Vs Low Shutter Speed

When photographing with low lighting, a low and long shutter speed is highly recommended. This is because more light is allowed to enter the camera so you get clearer photographs.

Most photographers recommend shooting with a shutter speed of 30 seconds during the night. 

However, with fireflies, there’s an issue – fireflies can fly pretty fast. This means that the fireflies can appear like light streaks, like shooting stars, in the frame. This is pretty effective and the goal for some photographers – but not all. 

If you want the fireflies to appear still (more like glowing dots rather than glowing streaks of light), then you will need a faster shutter speed. This will make your photographers darker but hopefully, the wide aperture and high ISO setting can help balance that out. 

Ultimately, you will need to test and try the shutter speed settings on your camera to get the effect you want in your photographs. 

Step 6: Noise Reduction Filters 

Because you are using a high ISO setting, it’s likely that the noise in your photographs will increase too. If you want a clearer photograph, try using a noise reduction filter on your camera. 

Some digital cameras come with built-in noise reduction systems. This allows you to choose the setting and automatically reduce the noise in your photographs before they are even taken.

If your camera does not have a noise reduction system then you can purchase a filter and place it either in front of the camera or attach it directly to the lens. 

Alternatively, you can reduce the ISO setting on your camera. This will decrease the exposure of the background in your shots but also reduce the noise. 

Final Thoughts

The trick to photographing fireflies is to know your camera. You need to find the right balance between increasing the exposure of the frame and reducing noise and blur.

This can be achieved with different settings and filters but ultimately, the best thing you can do is to test your camera and make adjustments as you go along. 

Try out the settings mentioned above, adjust them as you see fit, and good luck! Hopefully, you will end up with a beautiful set of firefly photographs for your portfolio!

Laura McNeill
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