Every year I never know what to expect when I set out on photographing fireflies in Western PA. Even more so when trying to locate the synchronous colonies. If it’s one thing I can count on every year, it seems to be rain. Unpredictable and at times very intense storms seem to line up with my trip here year after year.
Day 1, June 23rd – There were 6 hours of driving out to get to the air B&B and then lugging up all the gear to settle in. I decided to stay in a different location this year to help explore different areas. I was tired from the drive and not sleeping so well the night before. Of course my foot decided to start hurting again and it seems to be something new I’ll be dealing with moving on. After looking at the forecast and seeing that 5 of the 7 days were predicted to have rain, I knew I had to go out. Sleep can wait.
I had arrived 2 hours prior to sunset to scope out possible compositions, if the fireflies decided to show up in those areas. There was so much brush along the forest road that was cleared out I was concerned that the natural habitat for the fireflies was too far removed, that they would be gone. I was wrong thankfully. I lost track of time as it grew darker, and until I saw the bright full moon rising in the east. I was so focused on finding a good spot to set up it caught me off guard. There was some slight haze and upper atmosphere clouds that were glowing around it. I had to hustle to grab my gear and get a shot before it rose too high above the tree tops. It was nice to have some real natural light to help guide me in an otherwise pitch black forest.
For about an hour the fireflies did their thing. Because the high brush was cleared out, it actually opened up views that were never there. Even the synchronous fireflies showed up. I’m not sure if it was the chilly air, the full moon or both, but about 11:00pm the show really started to fizzle out. I did get one nice composition with the full moon trickling its light into my shot.
Day 2 – It was tie to see if my previous nights homework of scouting was going to pay off. This time I accounted for the moon light to enter in the frame so I tried choosing areas that would have that glorious night light bursting through. But once again, I couldn’t find a high concentration of synchronous fireflies . There were small groups of them and it was in sporadic locations. I stuck with the 2 areas I chose and let the scene play out again.
With about 2 hours before the moon crested over the adjacent mountain, I had some solid time before light gushed through the trees. With each passing minute I had to make small adjustments on each camera in order to help bring out the firefly lights. I’m not an expert but there were at least 3 different types flickering through the frames. One of which were sync, they are the easiest to tell apart with their distinct pattern of flashing. Some would just light up randomly like the ones back in New Jersey that I’m used to. Others would light up dimly, flicker almost like a candle and stay lit while they flowed through the air.
Just after 11 PM, the moon pushed itself into the sky, throwing it’s bright reflected sunlight onto the forest. This was also when the fireflies seemed to really slow down the party. The guest of honor that showed up really started blasting light into the scene. Soon after the shot had ended, the forest was bathed in the cool light and the light dance was over.
On the way home, I had my first ever street stare down with a porcupine. I saw it wobbling along the road with not a single care in the world. Until I rudely interrupted its late night stroll. I rolled up slowly but it just turned and looked at me. There was a solid 30 seconds where we gauged the toughness of each other. I did NOT want to mess with this super cool looking creature. The gaze suddenly broke and of it went into the darkness of the forest. This just adds onto the list of things that being out on a photo adventure lets me experience.
day 3 – ( day 4 also had no shots *sad trombone plays*) scouting a new location, no shots. Hopes were high going in. It seemed to have great potential for really nice compositions. There was a small river with old hemlock and conifers bending over paths and over the river itself. About 20 minutes into the forest, it opened up to a small field with an old structure, it was looking like a perfect spot to setup. 9:00 pm came fast and it was officially sunset. And then I waited. And waited. A few flickers here and there and it gave me some hope. But there weren’t enough, and of course they weren’t all lighting up in my shot. So rude. I gave it until 10:00 and the activity really slowed down. No synchronous fireflies and I had a dark walk back. And then I must have made a wrong turn. Thankfully I had two flashlights and a trail map downloaded. I tried for about 5-10 minutes to find my way back myself. I now understand first hand how people can get lost so easily, especially when you can’t see your hand in front of your face without light. After looking at the map and seeing I was only 50 ft off the trail, I made the easy trek back to my car and made my way home.
That was until there was an extremely large branch that somehow fell in the road and completely blocked the way. I was only 20 minutes from reaching the Air B&B, and there aren’t too many options when it comes to roads. So it took just over an hour to get back. When it rains it pours eh?
For the last two shots, I consider this area to be among the best I’ve seen in the 4 years of doing this. In fact, I had planned on going back my last night but there were some really wicked thunderstorms rolling in and I had to call it off for the night. With no cell phone service, it’s the last thing you want to get caught off guard by while standing in a forest.
Synchronous fireflies dance up and along the hill side as the night covers the forest in a blanket. Tiny drops of rain were hitting the trees and forest floor around me and with each light thump it became the soundtrack to the light show. This was by far one of the most active nights, as they were all over.
I took a few short videos this year while out looking for fireflies. It wasn’t my main focus so there isn’t much. In the last clip, it’s pitch black, but you can make out the synchronized blinks. And after that, I took all of the shots and made them into a slide show so you could really see how many were out. I hope you enjoyed these. It’s a huge investment of time. Both on site scouting for possible locations, and the hours of editing per shot.