How not to get burned shooting Fireflies.

Ok, so Fireflies don’t give off any heat, but getting great images of them is still not easy. Much easier now, though, than when I tried with film years ago. The most interesting fireflies (lightning bugs) are the Synchronous variety found most numerous in the Great Smoky Mountains. Last part of May into June, these luminous insects arise and light their fire for the world to see.

How do you start photographing the faint light at night? Well, here are a few tips.

  1. Get there early (before sunset) and compose your scene. That way you can make sure your focus is good and there aren’t any distractions. If you find a scene after dark, a flashlight helps you find your elements (besides the fire flies) and focus.
  2. Don’t pack it up to early when the fireflies haven’t shown up. They seem to come out 30 minutes or even later after sunset.
  3. Use a high ISO. I find that shooting between 2000- 5000 ISO works well and picks up even faint, distant lightning bugs. I try not to shoot over 30 second exposures, because the noise builds up.
  4. Use a wide-angle lens. Unless you want to do macro, anything from a 50mm and wider will do.
  5. F stop 5.6 or larger (more wide open). If you are using a wide-angle lens, then the DOF (Depth of Field) will still be pretty good except really close to the lens. Using a wide open lens lets you use lower ISO and that means less noise.
  6. Take multiple shots over time. I usually shoot 15-30 second exposures for 30-100 exposures using an intervelometer (in camera for most Nikons, electronic release for Canon). Then I can build up the image I want using Layers in Photoshop and Blend Mode of Lighten.
  7. Light paint some trees or other subjects to add to your blended image. I use a Surefire LX2 Lumamax which is 200 Lumens on high. You can even get a red and a blue filter to fit on front. I also carry a 2 Million Candle Power spot light and a set of filters. This works when your subject is further away.
  8. Glow Stick- This is great to wrap on your tripod leg to help you keep track of it in the dark without having to shine a light around (even using a red light on a head lamp can light contaminate your scene). I use Pre Wrap like athletes use to tape it on the tripod (any athletic sporting goods store, ask for Prewrap).
  9. Red head lamp- helps maneuver around and check settings between shots and doesn’t destroy your night vision.
  10. Filters for your LED flashlight for light painting – I use colored plastic dividers I get at Staples but some people use Rosco Filters and Kevin Adams has designed a plastic filter holder that looks like it works great.
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