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Stunning Starscapes: Photographing Glowing Fireflies under a Sky Full of Stars

The shot below features a sky full of stars and light emitted by fireflies. In this article, I will introduce some hints for producing magical light trails by altering the exposure time. (Reported by: Shigemi Numazawa)

Photo A


Shooting Information

  • Camera: EOS-1D X Lens: EF24mm f/1.4L II USM

    Focus Length: 24mm Exposure Mode: Manual

    F-number: f/1.4

    Shutter Speed: 4 sec. x 859 frames (composite)

    ISO: 8000

    White Balance: Auto (while shooting), 4,100K (during post-processing)

    Setting: High ISO Speed Noise Reduction – Low, Long Exposure Noise Reduction - Off

    Conditions: Fixed to tripod


Tips for capturing a magnificent view

A: Pay attention to the proportions of forest and sky in your shot

B: Compose your shot upon choosing a dense swarm of fireflies

Carefully decide on the ratio of sky to land by taking note of how the fireflies are distributed.


Point: Adjust the exposure time to change the look of the firefly trails

One of the crucial points when photographing fireflies is the need to understand their ecology and determine the best period for the shoot. The ideal timing would be on a night when the weather is clear. Fireflies are known to be active from nightfall till about 9pm.

Captured in the photos in this article are two species of Japanese fireflies – the “Genji Firefly” with long glows and the “Heike Firefly” with short flashes. Fireflies appear as light points when they are spotted at night, each of which is formed by about 10 fireflies.

In Photo A, I obtained a composite image by repeating exposure at 4 seconds and captured 800 shots over the course of about 57 minutes. One of the appeals of firefly photography is that the light trails created by the fireflies can be adjusted according to the number of shots you combine, thus allowing you to enjoy a diverse variety of photographic expression.

EOS-1D X/ EF24mm f/ 1.4L II USM/ Manual exposure (f/1.6, 6 sec.)/ ISO 8000

This is a composite exposure image taken over a duration of about 5 minutes. Compared to Photo A, the star trails are very much shorter and the shape of the Milky Way can also be identified.


Tip: Capturing fireflies as they are

In the example below, I used the same camera and lens with the ISO speed and shutter speed set to ISO 20000 and 1/2 sec. respectively. I combined a few shots to reproduce the exact same scene that I encountered. Although the photo might not look spectacular, it exudes a lyrical ambience.

EOS-1D X/ EF24mm f/ 1.4L II USM/ FL: 24mm/ Manual exposure (f/1.6, 0.5 sec.)/ ISO 20000


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EF24mm f/1.4L II USM

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Shigemi Numazawa


Born in 1958 in Niigata, Numazawa specialises mainly in astrophotography and astronomical illustrations. He has been involved in numerous science-related TV programme projects by the NHK. He is also appointed as the photographer for the National Geographic Tour and a recipient of Good Life Award presented by the Ministry of Environment (Japan).



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