Catching Fireflies on Camera

A photographer immerses himself in one of nature's most dazzling light shows.

One warm, wet July evening, amateur photographer Tsuneaki Hiramatsu picked his way through a forested shrine in the northwest region of Japan’s Okayama Prefecture. A sudden thunderclap startled him, but he pressed on. It would soon be the magic hour. 

As the sky lost its luster and silence descended upon the forest, fireflies began to emerge, one by one, eventually enveloping Hiramatsu in light. “It was as if I’d stepped into a different world,” he writes in an email translated from Japanese. “Emotion began to swell in me from the bottom of my heart, and I felt as if all the collective memories of humanity had been awakened in me.” Camera in hand, Hiramatsu snapped hundreds of long-exposure digital photographs while the flickering insects danced around him. Later on, after uploading his files onto a computer, he used a layering tool in Photoshop to combine individual images into the enchanting composite you see here.

Hiramatsu has been photographing fireflies—of which there are thousands of species—for nearly a decade. The golden orbs above represent a species known in Japanese as himebotaru, or “princess fireflies,” and are a familiar, albeit ephemeral, presence at the shrine where Hiramatsu shot them. His work with these insects, as well as with another species called genjibotaru, has sparked global interest from print and digital media and was used to promote an exhibit on bioluminescence that originally appeared at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. (To see more images, go to Hiramatsu’s blog at

Hiramatsu’s day job is in customer support for an Internet company. “I take photographs to refresh myself on my days off,” he writes—and the fairy-tale world of fireflies is a perfect escape.



Photographer: Tsuneaki Hiramatsu

What: Hotaria parvula

When: July 9, 2010

Where: Tenno Hachiman Shrine, Niimi City, Okayama-ken, Japan

Camera: Nikon D300

Lens: AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D


This story originally ran in the May-June 2013 issue as “Fairy Tales Come True.”