The traveling duo Stoked for Saturday visited New Zealand’s famed Waitomo Glowworm Caves and captured video of the indigenous glowworms, whose bioluminescence creates this amazing experience. Getting this stunning imagery required multiple visits, detailed planning, and perseverance. We spoke with Stoked for Saturday’s Jordan Poste, who shared how it all came together.
What inspired you to make this video? How did you initially learn about the glowworm caves in New Zealand?
My first experience with glowworms was shortly after we arrived in the country and a local took us to a secret spot by the river with some glowworms scattered against an embankment. I wasn’t actually inspired to make a glowworm video until I was already partway done. We were on holiday and thought we would visit a glowworm cave in Northland when I decided to shoot a time-lapse just for fun. My first attempt was a disaster with light contamination, battery problems, poor composition, and slider movement choice. It was mainly the fact that I had done such a poor job the first time that drove me to return again. On my redemption trip, I captured some amazing clips that got me hooked on glowworm photography. That’s when I set my sights on making a full video about glowworms.
Tell us about your process of making this video. There was a lot of experimentation and planning. What did you need to make the video and stills you envisioned?
Having a full-frame camera with good low-light performance was a good start, but to really make the glowworms feel alive and mimic the experience inside a cave, the key component was adding camera movement. It took some time before I found the best angles to make the viewer feel like they were walking through the cave. Due to the long exposures required, there wasn’t much opportunity for test shots. I had to commit to a shot and hope it worked as I envisioned it.
Poste uses a headlamp to illuminate spectacular glowworm threads.
How did you feel when you finally captured the footage you had in mind?
One part relieved and one part annoyed at how much time I had wasted figuring it out. Once I had things dialed in, I became a bit of an obsessive maniac moving from shot to shot trying to capture as much footage as I could in a single night. Knowing that I would typically only be able to capture 30 to 35 seconds of footage per night, there was a lot of pressure to get things done.
How did you create the final video using the time-lapse still photographs?
Each photograph was approximately a 30-second exposure and I used a total of 80 seconds of glowworm time-lapse video at 24 photographs (frames) per second. That means I had to take almost 2,000 photographs of glowworms to create the video. That doesn’t include the additional thousand glowworm photographs that didn't make the final cut.
If someone wants to photograph glowworms themselves, what tips do you have?
Photographing glowworms takes patience and some trial and error. It has many of the same challenges as astrophotography with a few extras like constantly dripping ceilings, rivers, and the risk of even the smallest light source ruining your shot. Let’s also not forget the eels.
Tell us about the eels.
Eels are in almost every freshwater river in New Zealand and they can grow to be very large. It also doesn’t help that they will bite you if you give them a good opportunity. The first shot I set up was in a shallow river that I had to sit beside in order to stay close to the camera. In fact, my feet were dangling in the river. I couldn’t move much because turning my headlamp on would have ruined the shot and climbing the bank in the dark was impossible. So when I first heard the splashing of an eel coming up the river toward me, all I could do was lift my feet and listen while it swam under my toes splashing my legs as it went by. That was only the first encounter of several along the way; it still creeps me out a little.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
What should travelers and photographers keep in mind when visiting these caves?
Glowworms don’t like bright lights, so it’s never a good idea to shine your headlamp on them for an extended period of time. The glowworms will actually dim their glow in the presence of light, and there is a risk of injuring them under sustained bright light.
Where is the next destination on your travel photography dream list?
I have unfinished mountaineering business in New Zealand, which includes getting some drone photographs from on top of summits like Mitre Peak. Outside of that, my hit list includes Nepal, Patagonia, Greenland, and Iceland.
See more of Stoked for Saturday's adventures on their website.