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Photographing Corfu Fireflies



In this guide, I will explain how to photograph the fireflies that can be seen during the months of April and May in Corfu. The tiny flashing fireflies can be seen in quite large numbers and people stand to look at the display as they dance through the olive groves slowly pulsing bright flashes of golden light. Capturing the scene with a camera isn't very easy, the beetles are very small, their flashes are brief and it's in the dark, not the ideal place for a photo session.

The Fireflies seen in Corfu are not flies but are actually a beetle called, unsurprisingly, a Firefly Beetle (Luciloa sp.). Luchiola is a genus of fireflies who's displays will self-synchronize until the entire local firefly population flashes to the same rhythm and is an amazing sight to see.




Equipment


  1. A Camera - I use a DSLR which allows me to make changes to every aspect of the exposures needed to photograph the fireflies.

  2. A Lens - I recommend using a lens between 50-100mm depending on where you are going to take your photos. Set the lens to its lowest f/number and leave it like that.

  3. A Remote Shutter Release - You will be taking multiple photographs of up to 30" exposures, so you need to be able to set your camera to doing this (depending on your camera functions, you might not need this).

  4. A Tripod - you will be taking some long exposures so a tripod is a must.

  5. A Torch - I use a head torch which has a red light so I maintain my night vision.


How to photograph fireflies


Get the background photo....

The first thing you need to decide, before setting your camera up, is exactly where you're going to take your photos from. This is to ensure you have a lovely background for the flashes of light from the fireflies to be set against and will decide whether you get a great photo, or not. Once you have chosen your shoot position (don't pick somewhere too dark), set the camera up on the tripod and adjust the focus to try and get as much of your background scene in focus as possible. Autofocus is unlikely to work in the darkness so set the camera to manual focus and adjust the lens accordingly. I don't recommend using a bright torch to highlight the scene for focussing as it might scare away the fireflies and you'll have to wait for them to come back.


When everything is set up, take a few photographs of the background scene which will be the basis of your final image. This photograph is the most important of all the shots you will take so it is important to get it exactly right, not too bright so the firefly lights are lost and not too dark so the background vanishes. Set the lens to it's lowest f/number; set the ISO to between 1000-1600 (depending on your camera); start with an exposure of 30 seconds and work backwards until you get the exposure you want for the background. It is a good idea to slightly overexpose the image so that you can darken it when you are editing the photos as this will reduce the noise on the image. I generally take 10-20 shots at various exposures so I can pick the best one later in post-processing.


When you have your good background shots, it's time to start collecting the firefly images which will make up your final photograph. DO NOT! move the camera or you will have to start all over again.


Get the firefly photographs....

If you look at the fireflies flashing in the area of your background shot you will see that there aren't many at any one time, the fireflies randomly fly through the area but there's not enough to give you the 'WOW!" photo you're hoping for. In order to achieve this, a 'stack' of firefly images is required which will be overlaid on your background and will give a dramatic final picture.


When photographing the firefly stack of images it is important to try to keep the background as dark as possible so that only the fireflies will appear on the image. Try to set the firefly photos so that the background is underexposed from the settings you used to take it originally. It's not absolutely critical but do try to eliminate any bright spots from the background that may appear on your test photos and try to ensure that the fireflies are properly exposed and as bright as possible in your test images.


To begin taking the stack of images which will sit over your background photo, you will need to set the camera to shoot images continuously to collect the fireflies flying around in your background area. The number of images to stack is a personal choice depending on what you want your final image to look like, too many and the background will be lost and the image will look unnatural. Personally, I like the final photo to look natural even if it is a collection of images taken over a period of time. I recommend setting your camera to take photos continuously for 30-45 minutes, which will give you plenty of images that you can choose for your final stack, but the duration tends to be dependant on the number of fireflies that are about.



Post Processing

Download all of the photos to your computer for processing in whatever software you want to use. I have used Photoshop for years and find it perfect for editing this type of photography but there are lots of other programs that will do the job just as well. An easy program for stacking the final images is StarStaX which is free, easy to use and produces good results.


The most important image to be edited is the background (this one is too dark) and you should spend some time getting it exactly right. The firefly images should be dark apart from the spots and streaks caused by their lights and it is worth editing these images, in bulk, to make the fireflies as bright as possible. Don't accept the first image that comes up, there will almost certainly be light trails or other objects that spoil the photograph, simply find the offending images and remove them from the stack before running the program again.


Good luck, I hope you get some great firefly photos.


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