Fireflies in the Garden

October 04, 2020  •  4 Comments

Fireflies in the Garden 
by Robert Frost

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can't sustain the part.

I can't think of more appropriate words to describe the experience of watching fireflies on a clear, early summer night. As we transition to autumn now, reading these words is a welcome reminder of warm summer nights watching fireflies and photographing the night sky. Here are a couple of photos that attempt to capture what I've seen a few times and echo Robert Frost's words. Fireflies gather in great numbers around meadows and forest edges, their flashes of light sending coded messages to potential mates. It's hard to capture this in a single photo, which may record a few short flashes. But blending numerous images together adds multiple flashes on top of one another, making for a more dramatic result.

The first photo is a composite of about 60 frames of 15 seconds each with a 20mm lens, taken in Yellowwood State Forest in Brown County, Indiana. In all but one frame the sky was removed with a mask to keep the motion of the sky from streaking out the stars and Milky Way. The images of the foreground then blended together to show the very many flashes of the fireflies. You may also notice a meteor from one of the sky frames at upper right, almost lost compared to the much brighter nearby fireflies.

The second photo combines 50 frames, 15 seconds each, spanning a total time of about a half hour in rural Greene County, Indiana, also taken with a wide-angle 20mm lens so we see a wide area of sky. The stars are streaked because the camera was stationary. It's interesting to see how their large numbers of fireflies seem to make the trees glow as they gather around the edges.