Photographer Anfernee Shih shares the secrets to capturing the magical creatures on an iPhone.

By Stacey Leasca
July 11, 2020
Anfernee Shih

Remember the feeling as a kid going out on a summer night to watch fireflies light up the sky? It gave us all a little thrill, a sense of awe, and a small connection to the natural world around us. It’s a feeling that permeates well into adulthood, and now it’s a feeling you can capture in photos thanks to the helpful advice of Apple and acclaimed Taiwanese nature photographer Anfernee Shih.

To assist backyard photographers everywhere Shih created an easy-to-follow tutorial on how to capture the adorable little night bugs. The best part is, all you need is a few simple tools. As Shih explained, many believe that capturing a firefly’s dim little light may be difficult, or require professional equipment, when “in fact, all you need is a tripod, an iPhone, and an app.”

Want to try it yourself? Check out Shih's step-by-step guide below.


Anfernee Shih

According to Shih, prolonged exposure times are needed to document the light trails of fireflies. This means it’s essential to have a “stable and reliable tripod.” As for which apps someone needs, Shih recommends using either ProCam 7  for photo shooting or Pixlr for post-editing.

Find the right environment:

Anfernee Shih
Anfernee Shih

First, you must identify the right environment for shooting fireflies. This, Shih says, requires a “humid, calm and moonless night.” For the perfect exposure, Shih says it’s usually best to use a larger aperture, slow shutter speed, and appropriate ISO setting. When shooting with an iPhone, try using only natural light sources such as the moonlight or even just street lights and headlights to help achieve good light.

Give yourself a little time:

According to Shih, “When photographing fireflies, the shooting process typically takes 2-3 minutes.” This is because you must force the phone into a longer exposure time by slowing down the shutter speed on a smartphone. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to practice shots to get it just right.

Find the right app settings:

To achieve the right shutter speed simply use the “Slow Shutter” effect on the ProCam 7 app. “Please note that this mode doesn’t really slow down the shutter, but rather creates a new image by stacking various images captured in continuous shooting,” Shih explains.

Other options for capturing fireflies includes using the app’s “Low Light” mode to increase brightness or the “Light Trails” mode, which captures the slight movement of the bugs.

Setup and capture:

Anfernee Shih

Once you pick your app and setting it’s time to set up your camera. “All you need to do is to set the tripod and press the shutter, remembering to hit finish when done,” Shih says. “I recommend B shutter. Once you’ve pressed the shutter, you only need to wait for the fireflies to accumulate on the screen, and then press stop when you are satisfied with the amount of fireflies captured.”

Then, all you need to do is open Pixlr or any other photo editing app to fine-tune your creation before sharing it with the world. Or, just frame it as a reminder to always keep that childhood sense of wonder forever.