Firefly Photography in the Mountains

Posted by Scott Holstein on December 17, 2019 in Landscape Photography

This past summer while in the mountains of West Virginia, I stumbled upon an amazing scene one evening. I had taken a drive in the country not too far from the famous resort, The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs. I was in an area with lots of fields butting up to the Monongahela National Forest where we often go deer viewing before sunset. However, this time, as dusk approached, a different critter appeared in numbers. As the fields darkened, thousands of fireflies began twinkling, from down low in the grass to up in the tops of the trees. It was as though I had gone on a drive to view Christmas lights in the middle of the summer. As the lightning bugs were so numerous, their lights were not occasional, but constant – here, there, everywhere.

Firefly photography in the mountains of West Virginia.

Firefly photography in the mountains of West Virginia at sunset near White Sulphur Springs. This exposure was about three minutes long.

Of course, I had to attempt some firefly photography. Photographing fireflies turned out to be a challenge, as our eyes can easily register their light, but it is harder to capture it in-camera. I used a large aperture, which minimizes my depth of field, but lets in as much light as possible. I paired this with a cable release to lock open my shutter for long periods of time, with some exposures lasting several minutes. The long exposure also lets in more light and it meant that moving lighting bugs will leave “light trails” through the images and that multiple blinks from each bug may be recorded in one frame.

Fireflies in the mountains at sunset.

Numerous fireflies in the mountains at sunset near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. This exposure was about four minutes long.

The first evening I discovered and photographed the firefly light show, it had just rained and the sky was still cloudy. I returned on another evening when the sky was clear and did some more landscape photography that incorporated the last bits of color remaining in the sky from the sunset, which the long exposures reveal.

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If you enjoyed my firefly photography, be sure to check out more of my landscape photography.


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