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Photographing Fireflies

Sandy Tosi

June 2023

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Photo: Photinus, Photuris, and Pyractomena on the first day of summer. 

Photo credit: Sandy Tosi

For me, photography is a gateway to the natural world.  In the summer of 2022, I started exploring the world of fireflies with my camera.  Once I solved the challenge of recording tiny flashes in the dark, I began photographing fireflies in a variety of locations.  This was a great lesson in firefly habitats and diversity of species.

 

In Connecticut, there are three genera of fireflies that flash.  Generally speaking, the flash colors for each group are the following:

          Photinus make yellow or yellow-green flashes.

             Photinus comes from the Greek word for shining.

 

          Photuris make green flashes

             Photuris comes from the Greek word for luminous tail.

 

          Pyractomena make amber flashes.

             Pyractomena comes from the Greek word for fire.

 

In addition to a variety of colors, the insects also have different flash patterns.  So, if you observe the color and the flash pattern, you may be able to identify individual firefly species.

 

The flashes allow fireflies to attract and communicate with potential mates.  Females are sedentary, perching on the ground or vegetation.  When males flash their distinctive pattern, a female of the same species responds with her own flash.

 

My Method for Photographing Fireflies Using a DSLR

 

Choose a location.  Fireflies seem to like unmowed areas near water. Avoid areas that have artificial light, been sprayed with insecticide, or treated with fertilizer.  The fireflies do!

 

Set the camera up on a tripod before dark.  You’ll be able to see composition and focus.

 

Camera Settings:

Zoom lens set at 50 mm (usually), but experiment with different focal lengths

ISO 1600

f/4

30 second exposure

White Balance set on Daylight

Manual Focus

Image Stabilization OFF

Use in-camera intervalometer or a separate device to make time-lapse exposures. (I’ve used a Satechi intervalometer when using a camera that doesn’t have a built-in intervalometer.)

30-40 thirty second exposures with a ten second pause in between.  (When post-processing, you can select the best images from the series.)

 

Using a flashlight tends to scare the fireflies away.  If you do need to use a flashlight, have a blue filter on it. Fireflies are sensitive to the red light normally used to protect our night vision.


Firefly Resources

 

Books

 

Fireflies, Glow-worms, and Lightning Bugs by Lynn Frierson Faust

Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflies by Sara Lewis

The Fireflies Book by Brett Ortler


 

Websites

Fireflies in Connecticut:

Fireflies (UCONN)

The magic of fireflies is beginning in CT

 

Firefly Watch - A Citizen Science Program

Firefly Atlas - Firefly Species Checklist of the USA and Canada

Phenomenal Fireflies A conversation with Tennessee firefly expert, Lynn Faust.

Shedding Light on the Mysteries of Fireflies

Sara Lewis Firefly Specialist (TED)

Why Do You Still Have Lightning Bugs?  Ours Are All Gone.

 

Sandy Tosi is a Sierra Club member and an environmental educator and photographer.

 

For more information on saving habitats for fireflies in Connecticut, read Grasslands.

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