Amit Kam­ble ven­tures off the beaten track to cap­ture glow-worms, shar­ing his top tips on how to pho­to­graph a bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cent cave worm at its best

New Zealand D-Photo - - HOW TO | AMIT KAMBLE -


‘Glow-worm’ is a com­mon term used to re­fer to var­i­ous groups of in­sect lar­vae of the fun­gus gnat, which emit bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cence in a blue-green colour, with the best-known mem­ber of the genus be­ing the New Zealand glow-worm, Arach­no­campa lu­mi­nosa.

Th­ese live side by side on damp shel­tered sur­faces, such as the roofs of caves, or banks in our na­tive for­est and bush, and can be found in lo­ca­tions all over the coun­try. The lar­vae are preda­tory, and use their glow­ing lights to lure small fly­ing in­sects into a snare of sticky threads. Though they may sound vi­cious, they’re the pret­ti­est things you’ll ever see.


As a young kid, I was al­ways fas­ci­nated with twin­kling stars and used to stay up at night on most week­ends, gaz­ing at the night sky and try­ing to match the stars to those I saw on the chart. I moved to New Zealand seven years ago, and fell in love with its night sky. Since then, I’ve kept my­self busy shoot­ing the night sky, and con­stantly keep search­ing for new places to shoot.

I live in Tau­ranga and, when shoot­ing as­tropho­tog­ra­phy, usu­ally drive a few kilo­me­tres to get away from light pol­lu­tion. One day, fel­low pho­tog­ra­pher Jack Bur­den and I de­cided to ex­plore one of the well-known places in Tau­ranga — McLaren Falls Park — which is not too far from the city. The plan was to find a nice dark place to shoot a night time-lapse, but, as the sun went down, the clouds rolled in, which meant we had to pack up and drive back.

As we were pack­ing our bags, we re­mem­bered about the glow-worms that some­one had men­tioned to us a while ago. Un­til this trip, I’d never seen or shot glow-worms, so I was pretty ex­cited. We started walk­ing and search­ing for them: we were pretty dis­ap­pointed in the first few me­tres, as we could hardly see any, and the groups we saw were pretty tiny. But, as we kept walk­ing, all the dis­ap­point­ment dis­ap­peared as we came across the most crowded part.

It was like be­ing in space, sur­rounded by stars: we had 360-de­gree views of the glow-worms twin­kling. It’s no won­der Ma¯ori call them titi­wai, mean­ing lights re­flected in wa­ter.


When it comes to low light, with­out a doubt, a tri­pod and an in­ter­val­ome­ter (see p. 67) are a must. If you don’t own an in­ter­val­ome­ter, don’t panic — most Nikon and Sony cam­eras come with a built-in in­ter­val­ome­ter, but, if you shoot with a Canon, you can pur­chase one as an ac­ces­sory or get the free firmware add-on, Magic Lan­tern.

You’ll need a fast lens — the faster the bet­ter. I have a Samyang 24mm f/1.4 lens, and, us­ing this, I can bring the ex­po­sure time down to avoid any move­ment. I’d say any­thing up to f/3.5 would be an ideal lens, and, ob­vi­ously, you’ll need a cam­era (duh). Don’t for­get the bat­ter­ies, card, or the tri­pod

shoe, ei­ther (yes, I’ve for­got­ten th­ese on my shoots be­fore).


On my first at­tempt, I quickly pulled out my cam­era and, stick­ing to the set­tings I’d nor­mally use for shoot­ing stars, fired it off. Twenty sec­onds later, I dis­cov­ered what was prob­a­bly the most sur­pris­ing re­sult I could have ex­pected: in­stead of beau­ti­ful glow-worms, all I could see was a blank screen. For a minute, I thought I had had my lens cap on (which I’ve also done so many times be­fore) or had the ISO too low, but ev­ery­thing looked fine. Yet there was noth­ing on the screen.

Af­ter a lot of at­tempts, I re­al­ized the so­lu­tion to shoot the tiny glow-worms was to crank up the ISO, ex­tend the ex­po­sure, or uti­lize a com­bi­na­tion of both. As th­ese tiny worms don’t stay at the same place for a long time, go­ing crazy with the ex­po­sure time is not re­ally a so­lu­tion. Crank­ing the ISO all the way up to 10,000 is not ideal, ei­ther — the im­ages on a crop-sen­sor cam­era, or on any cam­era at that ISO, will be prac­ti­cally un­us­able. The so­lu­tion of us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of both, works much bet­ter. I found ex­po­sure time any­where from two to five min­utes for a full­frame cam­era at ISO 6400 to ISO 10,000 is ideal, and, for a crop-sen­sor cam­era, five to 10 min­utes and ISO 3200 to ISO 6400 work well. Th­ese set­tings are for a lens shoot­ing at f/2.8 — if shoot­ing faster than that, you can re­duce the ISO by a stop. Punch th­ese num­bers in and you’ll be sure to have an im­age with bright, beau­ti­ful bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cence.


Well, I have a so­lu­tion for that too. While I gen­er­ally use Magic Lan­tern as an in­ter­val­ome­ter, there was a day when I for­got the card I had in­stalled it on. My work-around was to use the long­est ex­po­sure that the cam­era can do — 30 sec­onds. Put the cam­era on a two-sec­ond de­lay timer, and take sev­eral pho­tos. The method I am de­scrib­ing here is ‘stack­ing’ (30s, f/2.8, ISO 3200). You can take im­ages that to­tal up to an ex­po­sure of five min­utes, and use Pho­to­shop or sim­i­lar soft­ware to stack them. You can use this tech­nique with a com­bi­na­tion of the just­men­tioned to get a bet­ter sig­nal-to-noise ra­tio or, in sim­pler terms, to re­duce the vis­i­ble grain in your im­age.


This is where per­sonal taste mat­ters. Ev­ery­one likes to take a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to processing low-light pho­tos. I try to get as many de­tails as pos­si­ble when shoot­ing low-light pho­tos, and shoot­ing

glow-worms is sim­i­lar. See­ing tiny lit­tle blue dots in the im­age is ex­cel­lent, but what adds to the im­age is be­ing able to see their sur­round­ings.

Start work­ing with ex­po­sure. Th­ese im­ages are dark, so in­creas­ing the ex­po­sure by a stop or two is ideal, and fol­low it by chang­ing the white bal­ance to a cooler tem­per­a­ture to get that beau­ti­ful blue glow. Also, make sure the glow-worms are not over-ex­posed by re­duc­ing the high­lights. Once you are happy with how the im­age looks, ex­port it to Pho­to­shop and use Google’s Nik Col­lec­tion (Dfine) for noise re­duc­tion. Low-light pho­tos have strong colour and im­age noise, so this is the most im­por­tant part of the processing.

Fol­low th­ese sug­ges­tions, and you’ll be sure to achieve some amaz­ing-look­ing glow-worm shots.

CANON EOS 6D, SAMYANG 24MM F/1.4 ED AS UMC LENS, 24MM, 60S, F/1.4, ISO 6400 CANON EOS 6D, SAMYANG 24MM F/1.4 ED AS UMC LENS, 24MM, 30S, F/2.8, ISO 6400 CANON EOS 6D, SAMYANG 24MM F/1.4 ED AS UMC LENS, 24MM, 300S, F/1.4, ISO 6400

CANON EOS 6D, SAMYANG 24MM F/1.4 ED AS UMC LENS, 24MM, 120S, F/1.4, ISO 6400 CANON EOS 6D, SAMYANG 24MM F/1.4 ED AS UMC LENS, 24MM, 300S, F/1.4, ISO 6400

/amitkam­ble­pho­tog­ra­phy /Amit Kam­ble Pho­tog­ra­phy

Kaw­iti Caves, Waiomio Val­ley Abbey Caves, Whangarei Waipu Caves, Waipu Hot Wa­ter Beach, Coro­man­del McLaren Falls, Tau­ranga Lake Kara­piro, Cam­bridge Lake Ro­toiti, Ro­torua Wait­omo Caves, Wait­omo Kakahi, Whanganui Oku­pata Caves, Ton­gariro Lime­stone Creek,...

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