Vanishing Fireflies: The Making of a Cover

AKA: Dresses, Preschoolers and Fireflies … Oh My!


When you’re a photographer with a kid, pictures can go one of two ways. The first being that your child is so used to having photos taken, they act like a tiny model and keep trying to help. The second being they have had their picture made so often, that they run when the camera comes out.

Luckily, I have the former … most days. So when I asked my 4-year-old daughter if she wanted to wear one of her favorite dresses, stay up WAY past bedtime and catch fireflies, she was totally on board.

Night # 1

On went the dress and out came the Mason jar. The camera and lighting were ready; all we needed was a few fireflies.
So the three of us headed out. I named my husband, Mike, as Assistant Firefly Catcher. Our daughter, Savana, was obviously in charge because she would yell and point out every firefly that blinked while he ran around trying to grab them out of the air.
**Disclaimer** No fireflies were harmed during the making of this photo.
Mike and I had a “back in our day” moment when we realized just how few fireflies were available for catching, compared to when we were kids. So in the end we had about four fireflies in the jar. Of course, once they were in the jar, they wouldn’t blink for anything.

But Savana was a trooper and an extremely patient 4-year-old, and Mike was my helpful lighting assistant.
We tried multiple angles with Savana looking in the jar, different lighting exposures and even a few landscape long exposures (a full minute) of just the yard. With the yard exposures I was hoping to capture their little lights blinking in the distance, but there were just too few to make a difference. And we had a small window of time to work with them. Too early in the evening, it was still too bright so we couldn’t see them to catch them; too late and they were already gone, no blinking to be seen.
The next day I brought in the photos and discussed the options with the team in Creative Services. I received a lot of helpful guidance and decided to give it another go with better ideas in mind to really highlight our little blinking friends.

Night #2

Savana and I headed back out and again only caught about three fireflies. This time we added some field grass to the jar to give them a little playground while we worked. The first night, I was lighting Savana’s face but failing to light the fireflies well enough for photos. This time I had her sit on the ground and turned on a small battery-powered video light, which went under the fabric of her dress to slightly diffuse it, and she rested her jar on top of the light.
I started with some close-ups of our main subjects, and they were more than helpful this time around. The fireflies were much more active in the jar that night, crawling everywhere and even giving us a couple of blinks, although the longer the light was on, the less they blinked.
When I was just about done, I wanted to try a few with the light on Savana’s face as well. We unscrewed the lid, and she looked down into the jar.

Once the lid was gone, I had beautiful soft light on her face and the natural wonder that a 4-year-old brings to the table.
Once I had the shots down to the best ones, I headed into Photoshop to really make the fireflies stand out. There was one main firefly in perfect position and all he needed was a little oomph added to make him stand out. Other than that, this shot is pretty much straight from the camera. A little skill and a lot of luck went into this particular photo. Fireflies don’t take direction well.
This assignment was so much fun and a great way for me to try to think outside of the box, made even better by having the opportunity to include my family. It was such a wonderful learning experience for both my daughter and me and, as always, I’m definitely looking forward to the next challenge.


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