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Lightning Bugs

July 11, 2009

Lightning bugs, also known as fireflies or June bugs, have got the be among the most difficult subjects I’ve ever tried to photograph. They have every possible photographic difficulty imaginable going for them.

  • They are tiny
  • Rarely cluster together in great concentrations
  • Only come out a few months of the year
  • Only come out a few hours a day
  • Look best when lit up but light up only intermittently and with unpredictable frequency
  • Are comparatively dim when they do light up

In my many attempts at photographing lightning bugs, I’ve only ever come away with one half-decent shot of them.


Not only is this not a great photo, but it took considerable post processing just to make it a passable one.

I will continue trying. Gradually, with each failed attempt, I learn more about how to photograph them successfully. At least I hope that is the case.

Although they tend to be gone by the time it gets truly dark out, my theory is that it’s best to try to photograph them on a night when there is little or no moon in the sky. Since these little guys are most active at dusk, just after the sun has set, I’m thinking it might also be helpful if the sky is heavily overcast. That would help darken the skies more quickly, but this is true only if you’re not in an urban setting where the clouds would reflect city light back down upon you. The US government has a useful web site for finding the phses of the moon ( It takes some interpretation but once you get to understand how to read it, it’s pretty straightforward.

The shot above was taken at ISO100 and f4 for 30 seconds. I was shooting in shutter priority to get that 30 second shutter speed.

The least satisfying thing about the shot above is the general environment in the background. This was not a shot I had set out to take. I was driving back from somewhere else and saw all the lightning bugs so I decided to be a predator of opportunity. Next time I’ll try to find a better setting and hope for at least as good a result.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 26, 2009 11:46 am

    I tried this recently as well with little luck. I’d be interested to see if you come up with something that works.

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