Light paintings made with bioluminescent plankton

Photos courtesy of Eric Paré

Photographer Eric Paré has been making long-exposure light paintings with powerful flashlights for several years now, but this recent photoshoot goes above and beyond by harnessing the power of bioluminescent phytoplankton.

The otherworldly images were created along the beach of Isla Holbox — an island located several miles north of Cancun, Mexico — as part of the International Public Art Festival (IPAF) in April. Organizers for the festivals asked Paré to see what he could create by applying his light painting techniques to an environment filled with these fascinating glow-in-the-dark microorganisms.

As this BBC article explains, the phytoplankton has "evolved to glow in order to startle or distract fish and other potential predators. Some scientists call it the 'burglar alarm effect.' By lighting up, the plankton draw even larger predators that, in turn, eat the animal threatening them. The phosphorescence only occurs when the microorganisms, which exist worldwide, are agitated – such as when the water crashes onto the shore, someone steps on the wet sand or a paddle hits the waves."

To capture the photo above, Paré had his subject, Kim Henry, stand completely still during a 30-second-long exposure while the rest of his team ran circles around her to agitate the plankton. He repeated this process for other shots with varying model configurations, like the one below:

Light paintings made with bioluminescent plankton and multiple models

While the resulting images certainly exude a sense of peace and calm, Paré ran into several challenges along the way.

"My tripod was half way sunk in the ocean, and with the waves, it was shaking a little bit, so the more I increased the exposure time, the more I added blur by both having the camera and the subjects moving," Paré tells MNN. "The mild wind was also adding more blur in the hair. On top of that, we had no moon at all (which is required to get more bioluminescence), so I had to push the ISO to its limit."

Despite these challenges, the images obviously turned out well. They have even inspired Paré to think about more possibilities for his future work! As he explains, "For me it was so cool to create shapes of light by using something that is alive rather than relying on my usual flashlights! I guess the next thing will be to experiment with fireflies!"

To see more of Paré's light paintings, visit his website or follow him on Facebook or Instagram!

Light paintings made with bioluminescent plankton

Light paintings made with bioluminescent plankton

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.