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Trying to shoot lightning bugs

edited July 2016 Posted in » Nikon D3200 Forum
Hi, ok so I'm trying to capture my little boy catching and holding lightning bugs at night. What do I set me camera settings to, to capture it? I have a Nikon D7200.


  • The D7200 has very good high ISO performance, which ought to help. I would start by trying a relatively high ISO such as 1800, and a normal exposure using A mode. If it's dark, auto focus will be poor though again the D7200 is said to have one of the best AF systems there is, so you will likely want a little extra depth of field to compensate for error. If you can get the AF to work, you can open up the aperture a little more, and get a higher shutter speed instead. You'll have to experiment to see if AF will lock on to anything at all. If not, then you'll need to switch to manual focus and estimate.

    How high you need to put the ISO to get a decent hand held shot and blur-free lightning bugs may vary. I'd try it at several ISO levels, or leave auto ISO on to see what level the camera chooses.

    Chances are that the exposure will end up too bright, and you'll need either to compensate in the camera, or to compensate in post processing. If the picture looks reasonable except for overexposure (no blown highlights), then compensating in post will work well and reduce the noise a little too.

    This type of picture will always be a challenge, as not only is the light bad, but the lightning bugs flash on and off, and some may be off when the shutter clicks.
  • edited July 2016
    Rather than append, I'll add another post here. A little experimentation with the D3200 suggests that if it's very dark, it will probably be just about impossible to get much result, even with high ISO, and a kit lens, unless you make a long enough exposure on a tripod. The D3200 is not nearly as good as the D7200 at high ISO, but at ISO 3200 and a long exposure in the dark it's way past acceptably noisy. It's a mess. When it's really dark, overexposure does not occur, because there's just nothing there to light up.

    If you have some ambient light, you may be able to get a good effect still. You might try a dim porch light, or light from a window, etc. or moonlight. When fireflies flash in the dark, they do show up even when nothing else does, and they should still be bright enough to make a detectable spot even when the rest of the subject is dimly lit. You might also be able to do better with a faster lens, but it's going to be difficult at best, and you'll almost certainly need a tripod for long exposures.
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