Photographs of fireflies at work reveal their magical interactions with the environment.


Photographer Pete Mauney’s long exposures of fireflies are not only beautiful works of art, but they also show how the bugs act.

Mauney’s beautiful photos are made up of anywhere from 100 to 1500 30-megapixel RAW files, which are so large that they need to be processed on custom computers.

“If I process them in 16-bit, the files will usually be around 150GB or more,” he tells

Mauney goes out at night with a high-visibility vest and a flashlight to look for the glowing bugs.

He says, “I always pay close attention to dead ends because they are often still alive.”

He has four Canon 5D mark IIIIs, but he wants to switch to mirrorless cameras soon, so he usually has all four going at the same time.

“I’ll often leave them on the side of the road under camouflage netting for up to five hours while I’m somewhere else scouting or taking pictures of a very busy place,” he says.

Once he has his huge files, Mauney will fix cars that drove through his shot and “messed things up” “frame by frame.”

“It can take an hour to edit, put together, and do some basic color correction. Or a lot, lot more. “I try to knock them out when I’m proofing after a night of shooting,” he says.

“I have no idea what they’ll look like when I click the button at the end of everything and the picture appears by magic.”

If Mauney doesn’t process the photo right away, he might not get to see what it looks like for years.

Depending on how complicated the file is, the whole process of preparing and retouching it can take up to eight hours.

“Usually, I won’t go bigger than 40×60 inches, which is kind of crazy. “I like the range of about 20 to 24,” he says.

“Of course, the cameras are important. “The computer that runs them is just as important for this kind of work,” he adds.

“I build my computers so they can do this job, and they always cost a lot more than any car I’ve ever bought.”

Assisting Science

Dr. Orit Peleg is a biophysicist who is in charge of a research team that looks into how insects talk. He or she told NPR that Mauney’s photos are useful.

He tells the radio station, “Pete’s photos are really cool.” “They stand out because there is so much going on in the places where he works.”

For Peleg’s team at the BioFrontiers Institute of the University of Colorado, Boulder, Mauney has been observing fireflies and taking notes.

They sent him two GoPros that he can use when he’s already in the field. When placed back-to-back, they take 360-degree videos that will be put together to make 3D models.

Peleg’s group used this method to show that firefly swarms can sync up their flashes in a new way.

Their goal is to make the first dictionary that will match the flash patterns of different firefly species.

“The bioluminescent insects are a very, small portion of all the other insects we don’t see,” Mauney tells NPR.

“The photos show us what else is there, which is a lot. We don’t see a lot of things.”

You can see more of Mauney’s work on his website and Instagram.

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