Compound Eye

Compound Eye

The many facets of science photography

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


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.



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

Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Give a Gift &
Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription
as low as $14.99

Subscribe Now! >


Email this Article