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How To Manipulate a Firefly Photograph The Old-Fashioned Way, Through Focus

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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In the previous post, I listed a couple ways in which photographers digitally alter firefly photographs. How nefarious of them!

I admit, however,  the post was a wee bit facetious. Photoshop can be used to alter the appearance of an image, of course, but cameras themselves have enough variables that a photographer can exercise tremendous creative control before an image file even hits the computer.

Consider the following images, both composite long exposures taken in ambient light with a 50mm f/1.4 lens fully open on a Canon 6D. I took them a couple nights ago, pointed at the same dusk scene at Homer Lake in central Illinois. The principal difference between the images was the focusing distance.

1. Focused near, about 10 feet from the camera:

A close crop of the close-focused image. The small, sharp dots at lower left were near the camera and in focus; the rest were in the background.

2. Focused far, on the distant trees:

A close crop of the far-focused image.

All I did was adjust the focus ring, and the captured firefly orbs changed utterly in character. While I used photoshop to composite the long exposures and to make some minor levels adjustments, the biggest creative decision was analog.

As an aside, a fast lens with a large aperture and a narrow depth of field is essential for creating firefly images with these large glowing orbs. A cell phone camera with its endless depth of field, or even with the kit lens that comes with an SLR, won’t have the blur to deliver.



Alex Wild About the Author: Alex Wild is Curator of Entomology at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studies the evolutionary history of ants. In 2003 he founded a photography business as an aesthetic complement to his scientific work, and his natural history photographs appear in numerous museums, books and media outlets. Follow on Twitter @myrmecos.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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