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How to: Sea Fireflies


I’m sure many of you have seen some of of our firefly shots in the past but over the past couple of years we’ve also been playing around with Bioluminescent sea firefly shots. Photographed in a similar way to the fireflies you find in the forest shots but with a completely different feel.

The images are created using Vargula Hilgendorfii, more commonly known as sea fireflies or locally as “umihotaru,” and luckily for us the area in which we live is famous for them. They are very small at about 3mm long but they glow extremely bright, perfect for this type of photo.


They generally live in the sand in shallow water so you often see them being washed up on the shore, but in order to get quantities like we use in our photos you have to fish them out. So here’s how we do it . . .

So what we usually do is buy several big glass jars from a hardware store, the kind people in Japan often use for making homemade sake, drill a few holes in the lid, cover them with any kind of heavy duty tape(duct or gaffer) and affix a piece of rope to the handle. That’s the hard work done.

Sea FF in Jars

Next come’s the bait, on an old wise fisherman told us that they love mackerel, and that you should cut it up into small pieces and put them into the bins, now while this has worked for us a few times what we found best was bacon. We put a few whole pieces into each jar, secure the lids and set them into the water a several meters out and wait. Also important is to spread your jars out, and not just drop them all in one area so as to maximize your catch. This is where the rope comes in handy, run the top back to the beach and tie it to a stick/ rock so you don’t lose track of your jars and prevent them from getting washed out with the tide.

I’m sure you’ll be tempted to pull them out to keep checking on them (we definitely did that the first few times) but don’t. Let them sit for 40 minutes to an hour before pulling them out. The jars are made of glass so please be careful when putting them in and taking them out of the water as one sharp rock can break the glass. The sea fireflies are found on sandy beaches which means people swim there during the day so it is necessary to retrieve any broken glass. This is the reason for covering the jars in tape. If the jars do break we can easily recover all of the broken glass.


Once you’ve fished them out, spread the out on the sand and start shooting. They generally glow for 20-30 minutes so you have plenty of time to shoot but when they do start to fade pouring water on them seems to make then glow brightly again. While you are shooting these you can set the jars back in the water to catch then next batch.

And that’s all there is to it. It’s as simple as that. So go out and try it yourselves, we’d love to see what you come up with.

But please remember to not leave any trash or broken glass on these beautiful beaches. We love nature and we want to preserve it, please shoot responsibly.

To see our full set of these images please check out the gallery of images.

If you have any questions please contact us, via our website or our Facebook page.

Jon & Trevor


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