Night, Science and Magic

What is This Man Doing?

We last spoke of Florida-based photographer John Moran in September of last year in a post one how he used a little gear and a lot of brains to shoot a beautifully lit photo of the Comet Hale Bopp.

John was a mentor of mine while I was in school at the University of Florida, and he has since left the PJ biz to photograph the natural beauty of Florida. Well, he's back, with an amazing shot that only a lighting wonk like yourself can truly appreciate.

Sorry to be so stark in my description of you, but if you are reading this site...

So, let's look at his setup:

• Stobe on a boom, for water sparkles: Check.
• Gazillion candlepower continuous light, for scene painting: Check.
• Custom-made black box to emulate the blinking of an amorous female firefly... Wait, what?

Before I send you to John's page on the making of this photo to see what he got, a few things to consider.

First, John's perspective is that of a naturalist photographer, chronicling the raw beauty of Florida's diverse ecosystem. So you are not gonna get a "how-to" on making an extraordinarily technical photo. You'll get a glimpse of one man's passionate approach to photographing a river. Which is cool.

That said, behind the the granola-eating, treehugger exterior lies a thinking photographer who will stop at nothing to deploy whatever light is needed to make a photo. And he told me that even with the lighting he used, there was a fair amount of layer blending in Photoshop needed to compress this scene into the range of a photograph.

And finally, he purposefully chose not to publish the photo displayed on the top of this page on his own site. He did not want a behind-the-scenes setup shot to break the spell of a magical photograph.

But he knew I would get a kick out of it. And I thought you would, too.

Scroll down to the bottom of this page to see what he got.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you just call me a lighting wank David?!

August 15, 2007 12:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a beautiful photo. I guess he's not afraid of alligators!

August 15, 2007 1:12 AM  
Blogger neumero4te said...

I had the "River of Dreams" photo as my desktop for a LONG time after you mentioned John with the comet shot. I really liked the photo but I'm a little disappointed the fireflies are fake.

August 15, 2007 1:29 AM  
Blogger Tim Gray said...

Wow. That is nuts.

August 15, 2007 2:44 AM  
Blogger Nikographer said...

And now I feel just a little bit less crazy....

August 15, 2007 8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At first read I thought the fireflies were fake but on a second read he just used the fake firefly to attract the male fireflies...

August 15, 2007 10:15 AM  
Blogger MortonPhotographic said...

So how do the fireflys work? I assume after he exposes for the scene, he turns off the lights and swivels the camera to the left and pans across the blinking green light to expose for the fireflys in what is otherwise darkness?

August 15, 2007 11:05 AM  
Blogger MortonPhotographic said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 15, 2007 11:06 AM  
Blogger David said...

It is a time exposure, combined with flash and spotlight. And the machine is attracting the fireflies, who leave their marks on the image as they blink and fly.

August 15, 2007 11:16 AM  
Anonymous Darien said...

That is just too cool. I love it when people mix strobism with nature/landscape photography. That is something that I need to think about more. The fact that he attracts real fireflies instead of faking them is the icing on the cake for me. This shows what lengths he will go to for a 'naturalistic' shot.

I love it. Thanks for sharing this. Great inspiration. Strobes are for more than just people and products!!

August 15, 2007 12:23 PM  
Anonymous A-non-y-mous said...

I appreciate the technical aspect of his set up and shoot, but am I the only one underwhelmed by the end result? I just find it . . . not good.

August 15, 2007 12:38 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

I think it is fantastic. But I would love to see your work, "A-non-y-mous," if you think this is not good. Your work must be truly amazing.

Can you please direct us to it?

Oh, wait, you didn't even sign your name.

Eric W.

August 15, 2007 1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool pic, but I have a bit of an issue with having to "bait" wildlife for documentary projects, even if the wildlife are lowly insects.

August 15, 2007 2:08 PM  
Blogger J. Beckley said...

It's been a long time since I've saved an image to my desktop. I've always just stuck to the Apple OSX wallpapers, but I had to put this on there...this is too cool! I personally do not care that he used photoshop or attracted fireflies by bait, at least he started with a lot of patience and effort to produce this. Hell, I know some people who could create this whole thing in photoshop alone, which wouldn't be worthy of a post here on strobist. Kudos to John Moran!

August 15, 2007 5:58 PM  
Anonymous A-non-y-mous said...


Just because someone doesn't like something doesn't mean they can necessarily do better, or are better than the person creating the work.

Not everything from Picasso or Degas are good. Valuable yes, but good no. Every art historian would agree.

There are people that can't boil water, yet don't like everything served up to them regardless of the cost.

There are some that can't hold a guitar, yet don't like Clapton or Jimmy.

I don't like the photo. Period. Is that a crime? I was just curious if others felt the same way. I have noticed that often photos here and on the Flickr site get "extra points" for the set up, when really it is the end result that matters.

And by the way, "Eric W." is just as anonymous as "A-non-y-mous". I could call myself Eric if it would make you feel better.

Eric W.

August 16, 2007 6:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is a gorgeous shot. However, I don't like how it's represented on the photographer's website. Coming from a PJ background, I find it somewhat unethical to entice readers into believing that fireflies were actually there. I realize this isn't an editorial shot, but still....
It is a gorgeous shot though, and well-executed.


August 16, 2007 11:43 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

I'd gone tubing on the Ichetucknee many times as a teenager, that was in the late 80's. I've since heard that the pollution problems have ended tubing trips. I admire your friend working to help save the river and spring so future generations may enjoy it like I did.

To keep it on-topic... cool shot! :)

August 17, 2007 6:21 PM  
Anonymous Christine Hudnall said...

Thank you!!

I have been waiting for you to post this follow-up after asking John about the shot on the phone week before last, he said he would ask you about posting it.

Yeah! :)

August 20, 2007 4:03 PM  
Anonymous Christine Hudnall said...

"Anonymous said...

I think this is a gorgeous shot. However, I don't like how it's represented on the photographer's website. Coming from a PJ background, I find it somewhat unethical to entice readers into believing that fireflies were actually there." **Snipped for brevity**

Hi Alex, just wanted to clarify...
those are real fireflies. The only thing that wasn't real was the lure to get them there, which was done by a machine. :)

August 20, 2007 4:12 PM  
Blogger Eric Vichich said...

DH, just wanted to direct you to this shot and I didn't know the best way to bring it to your attention. APE linked to these awards today and I found this shot amazing. It says he used three speedlights and a flashlight. Just thought you might enjoy it.

January 08, 2008 10:36 AM  

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