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How to Photograph Fireflies: 6 Tips & Tricks

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fireflies in a glass jar

Fireflies are one of the most sought-after insects all around the world. We all have tried to capture them in childhood to see and touch their glowing bodies. But it has never been easy, as they know how to escape every time.

Fireflies at night look absolutely gorgeous. If you’re a photographer, you can capture these magical scenes with your camera through some tricks and preparation. Entering the ground with zero preparation may not give you crisp, clear photos.

This guide lists some tips and steps you need to capture spell-binding photos of fireflies.

shutter camera divider Top 6 Tips to Ace the Firefly Photoshoot

Whether you’re a beginner or a professional photographer, you need to remember a few tricks to rock your firefly photoshoot. Here are the most useful six tips that will help you prepare for this adventure:

Image Credit: khlungcenter, shutterstock

1. Prepare Yourself Mentally and Physically

Shooting photos can be a nerve-wracking process. It takes hours and even days to capture the perfect shot. So, while gathering all the required gear and equipment, don’t forget to prepare yourself mentally.

Since fireflies are a hard catch, it’s almost impossible to capture their real essence in a few shots. These insects only fly a few times in different locations. Also, they can fly anytime, so you may capture only a few fireflies in a shot.

Never let the pressure of capturing the perfect overcome your skills. Instead, relax and take as many shots as possible from different angles.

Then, create composite images from the best photographs you captured. This way, you can achieve the ideal firefly photos.

Remember that photography should be fun, so prepare to enjoy the best time.

2. Do Research

Researching fireflies’ location, nature, and behavior beforehand can help you a lot. For instance, you can know where fireflies typically live, what season is the ideal for them to come out, and any other important information.

You can browse through the internet and check photography communities and naturalist forms. If you have time, you can also go to your nearest library and dig through some books.

The more information you’ll have, the better you can capture the fireflies.

Image Credit: Fer Gregory, Shutterstock

3. Take a Round Through Different Locations

Even if you’re all prepared for the firefly photoshoot, you still can’t capture these magical insects without knowing where they are. You need to find their hideouts by scouting through different areas.

The perfect place to spot fireflies is away from lights. Go to any such area (preferably a park), sit there for some time, and look for flashes.

Once you spot them, make notes of the habitat the fireflies were mainly drawn to, such as in a forest, near a marsh, or over water. Based on this information, distribute your photoshoot time to multiple locations where you noticed most fireflies.

4. Observe the Behavior of Fireflies

Image Credit: anko70, Shutterstock

The next trick is to observe the behavior of fireflies. Closely imagine where these flies mostly congregate.

Most people tend to focus on areas with lots of firefly flashes. But little do they know that places with fewer flashes are ideal for composite images. Typically, fireflies congregate under trees, around bushes, and in areas with shadows.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to pay attention to the changing behavior of fireflies at night. Many expert photographers said fireflies start flying in the darker areas in the evening but more to open spaces at night.

A few hours after the sunset, you may also notice a few fireflies on roads and open fields instead of shady places.

Spend an entire night in a park and see what time of the night can give you the best photos.

5. Choose the Ideal Shooting Times

Once you have learned their behavior, spend a few more nights in a garden and notice when fireflies are more visible. Note down the exact time of the evening and night, along with the approximate number of fireflies.

Collecting this information will give you the window of time within which you’d have to complete the photo shoot. It is the starting and ending time of your photography.

Since fireflies go into open areas after sunset, start your photography during this time. Begin as early as you can. This way, you’ll have more time to capture photographs from different angles.

One important thing to do now is to close your aperture and bring down your exposure compensation. Doing so will compensate for the additional ambient light.     

6. Collect Your Photography Equipment

Firefly closeup
Image Credit: Fer Gregory, Shutterstock
While assembling your gear, make sure you’re checking all these items:
  • Bring your favorite camera with a manual shutter speed setting.
  • Charged Batteries. Keep at least two for a backup.
  • SD Cards. Take as much storage space as you can.
  • It should be sturdy enough for long exposures.
  • Remote Shutter Trigger. It will help you capture the best firefly photographs.
  • A red flashlight allows you to adjust your camera without messing up your night vision. You may also need a standard white light to lighten up your foreground when it gets dark.
  • Mosquito Deterrent. It will protect you from bugs. Besides a deterrent, wear long sleeves, a hat, and full pants.
  • A Fellow Photographer. Having a photographer on your side will allow you to try new methods. Plus, you can also chit-chat with them when waiting for fireflies.

magnifying glass 1 divider The 3 Steps to Photograph Fireflies Perfectly:

The key to capturing the best firefly photos is taking shorter frames and combining them. It’s not a good idea to shoot prolonged exposures on your DSLR. Here is the step-by-step guide to photographing fireflies perfectly:

1. Test the Composition

Fireflies in a jar
Image Credit: Suzanne Tucker, Shutterstock

First, you must ensure your camera’s composition by taking a test shot.

Set your aperture to f/1.4 or faster if your camera has the option. Then, do a minute exposure at a high ISO to check the focus and frame. The ISO setting will depend on the light you have available at that moment.

Keep capturing photos until you are satisfied with the results.

2. Work on the Background

Now, you need to set your ‘base’ background. It is the most critical frame and must have the proper exposure.

It’s recommended to keep the exposure at around -1 stop. This exposure is dark enough for people to know that the photograph is from the night. Also, it will show the trails in the background.

If you have problems with this exposure, increase the shutter speed or the ISO to capture a good shot. An underexposed image has the worst camera noise, so take a slightly brighter photo and adjust it later.

Capture as many shots as you can until you get a decent image background to work with. The ideal condition to have ambient light is a cloudy sky with a half-moon. If you have no ambient light, use a flashlight and deal with the color cast in the post-production.

3. Shoot the Fireflies

Common Eastern Firefly
Image Credit: Erik Agar, Shutterstock

The last step is to capture the ‘stack,’ an image series that you layer on the base background image. Set your camera aperture to f/1.4 with 1600 ISO for 30 seconds.

Put your camera in Manual mode and Drive mood to Continuous shooting. Keep the shutter time’s setting adjustable to underexpose the background.

If you accidentally bump your camera after the base shot, you’ll have to restart from scratch. So, keep your cable release locked and wait. It is better to keep your camera running and shoot continuous frames.

It’s better to keep your time frame to a minimum of 3–5 minutes up to 90 minutes. Anytime longer than 90 minutes may get exhausting, and you may end up with not-so-good photos.

Repeat the above process until you get good photos. Make sure to get numerous compositions to make the most of your time. Also, keep multiple cameras in hand to capture firefly photos from different angles.

shutter camera divider 2 Final Thoughts

Fireflies are magical and mesmerizing creatures, but capturing them is pretty tricky. You must research thoroughly, learn their behavior, find locations, pick the ideal shooting times, and then prepare your photography equipment accordingly.

Follow the steps mentioned above to capture breath-taking photos of fireflies and make your time enjoyable.

Featured Image Credit: Fer Gregory, Shutterstock

About the Author Jeff Weishaupt

Jeff is a tech professional by day, writer, and amateur photographer by night. He's had the privilege of leading software teams for startups to the Fortune 100 over the past two decades. He currently works in the data privacy space. Jeff's amateur photography interests started in 2008 when he got his first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel. Since then, he's taken tens of thousands of photos. His favorite handheld camera these days is his Google Pixel 6 XL. He loves taking photos of nature and his kids. In 2016, he bought his first drone, the Mavic Pro. Taking photos from the air is an amazing perspective, and he loves to take his drone while traveling.