Tuesday, June 22, 2010

'Capturing' Fireflies

It's rare to find something that just can't be photographed. Fireflies fall into that category. They're invisible in still photos, unless you're lucky enough to click the shutter just as one of them lights up, and even then you just get a green speck. Their movements are unpredictable, and they only light up while they're flying, so I'm not sure how you could zero in on one with any kind of zoom or macro lens. And on video, well, they look like this.

It's kind of cool that nature can still defy the digital age, isn't it?

The New York Times recently ran an interesting essay that discussed the relationship between photographers and their environment -- it questioned the impulse many people have to record images of their surroundings, perhaps depriving themselves of a fuller experience. I thought of this essay while I made this video. Fireflies are better experienced live, no doubt about it.

I shot this in the field behind our apartment, which swarms with fireflies at dusk in the summer. The sounds of passing cars are coming from nearby Cranbury Road. One thing I've noticed about fireflies -- they seem to only light up while they're ascending. You never see their little sparks moving downward.


  1. Nope. All you need is a tripod, a high ISO and a long shutter speed. Your camera is fancy enough, go and try it!

  2. But even then, you just wind up with something like this:


    Not quite as spectacular as the real thing. :)

  3. Thanks for the link to the NYT article, which I'm looking forward to reading. I've always felt that carrying a camera forces me to look at things more closely, but I can certainly understand the argument to the contrary. I think a problem arises if you think a photograph (or video) can replace or even replicate the real thing. In my experience, looking back on a photo I've taken reminds me of the experience of taking it: the photo is a window into something else. But if you weren't there & only have the photo, the photo isn't the "same" as being there.

  4. I remember the late Nebraska summer nights, standing in our yard, trying to catch fireflies. Why I can't remember.

  5. Lorianne, that's a good point -- photos are never just like seeing something live. And I agree that carrying the camera makes us more observant in some ways. I guess there are two sides to this coin as well!

  6. They are definitely better experienced first hand, but I love it that you made the vid. Did you see mine? Made it earlier this week.

    You and I engage in our surroundings through photography. For us it is not about escape or putting a lens between us and the world. Do you agree?

  7. For many years I refused to carry a camera because I didn't want to detract from the experience. As a result my memories of those times are diminishing. The photos (and videos) serve as reminders of things that might otherwise just slip away.

  8. thanks for the link.

    some folk are observant with or without a camera; some folk are oblivious with or without a camera.

    for me my camera is something of a security object - if it isn't near (even if I have no intention of using it) i have a bit of anxiety.

    can we have more than two sides to a coin? i think on this topic it's the coin is a many sided polygon!