Lonely Planet Writer

Photographers capture images of amazing bioluminescent sea fireflies in Japan

Two photographers have captured incredible pictures of bioluminescent sea fireflies shining brightly on a rocky shoreline in Okayama, Japan.

Sea Fireflies Japan
Sea fireflies lying over the rocks and sand in Okayama, Japan. Image by Tdub Photo

The pictures were taken at night by Trevor Williams and Jonathan Galione of Tdub Photo, a company that specialises in commercial and editorial photography in Japan. The unique collection of images shows Vargula Hilgendorfii, more commonly known as sea fireflies or “umihotaru”, lighting up an area of the Seto Inland Sea, the body of water that separates the Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu islands of Japan.

Sea Fireflies Japan
The crustaceans, known locally as “umihotaru” excrete a bioluminescent liquid that makes them shine a vibrant blue. Image by Tdub Photo
Sea Fireflies in Japan
The fireflies sit in the sand along the shore of the Seto Inland Sea. Image by Tdub Photo

The tiny crustaceans are only three millimetres long and live in the sand in shallow water. Although they can wash up on the shoreline, in order to photograph such a large collection at the same time the, pair had to get inventive.

Catching Sea Fireflies Japan
The set up that Jon and Trevor use to catch sea fireflies. Jars are baited with raw bacon and set in the sea for an hour. Image by Tdub Photo

“We bought several big glass jars from a hardware store, the kind Japanese people often use for making sake at home. We drilled a few holes in the lid before covering them with heavy duty tape and rope. Next, we added bait in the form of raw bacon, putting a few pieces into each jar and securing the lids before setting them into the water,” Jonathan explained.

Japanese sea fireflies umihotaru
The two photographers have been living and working in Japan for the past several years and love doing unique outdoor shoots. Image by Tdub Photo
sea fireflies Japan
Tdub’s website features a blog that outlines the techniques used for the particular shoot. Image by Tdub Photo

“It’s important to spread the jars out and not to just drop them all in one area. That way you can maximise your catch. This is where the rope comes in handy. By running the top back to the beach and tying it a rock or stick, you can ensure that you don’t lose track of your jars and prevent them from getting washed out with the tide,” Trevor said.

Sea Fireflies Japan
A beautiful view of the Japanese sky and sea with a rock in the foreground. Image by Tdub Photo

After that, Jon and Trevor let the jars sit for an hour before pulling them out to reveal a catch of hundreds of sea fireflies that were then let loose on the shore and photographed.

Sea Fireflies Japan
At only 3 millimetres long, the sea fireflies give off a huge amount of light for such tiny creatures. Image by Tdub Photo
The creatures are nocturnal, washing up on shore at nighttime to feed.
The creatures are nocturnal, washing up on shore at night to feed. Image by Tdub Photo

Jonathan and Trevor have been living and working in Japan for several years, shooting a wide range of subjects. “A big part of what we do is working as a team. Our subjects are often difficult to photograph alone but we enjoy getting the opportunity to shoot dynamic things that are not common in photography. It’s also very nice to be outdoors working with creative friends”, said Trevor.