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Add a Lighthouse to Your Landscape Photography

Rising from the landscape in boldly painted patterns, Lighthouses have long been a favorite subject for photographers. In addition to their unique aesthetic appeal, many have a storied history dating back hundreds of years.  Today, with over 700 active "lights" in thirty-eight states, you likely have one close to your home.  If not, consider it a great excuse for a photography road trip. This site includes photographs, directions, histories, and GPS coordinates:


In the examples below I detail several techniques on how these Lighthouse images were created.  Note how in nearly every photo, time of day and aperture were important considerations.  Shooting at sunset or sunrise will immediately improve your scenic shots.  To ensure sharp focus from near to far, use a small aperture like f16 or f22, and a tripod.  Take a look at some of my favorites, then head out and photograph some historic sights in your area.  Please share the results with us over on Facebook.   

Montauk Point Lighthouse, New York.  Shot with Fuji Velvia slide film shortly after sunrise.  A wide angle lens shows the sweeping curve of the shore, and a small aperture was used to create great depth of field from near to far.  Interesting facts: Commissioned by President George Washinton and completed in 1796.  It was the first Lighthouse built in New York, and is the fourth oldest in the United States today. Due to erosion, the Light stands less than 100 feet from the bluffs edge. 


Fire Island Lighthouse, Robert Moses State Park, New York. Shot with a Canon 10D at sunset.  Time of day is an important consideration when photographing landscapes, including Lighthouses.  The colors in the sky complement the structure and provide a dramatic backdrop.  A small aperture of f22 helps to render the sun as a starburst effect, stretching the beams into the foreground.  Interesting Facts:  At 168 feet, it is the tallest Lighthouse in New York, and is visible from 24 miles away.  It was completed in 1858 and stands near the site of its 1826 predecessor.


Robbins Reef Lighthouse at sunset.  Photographed with a 400mm lens from the Staten Island Ferry. This lighthouse is quite far from land and required a super telephoto to capture the detail.  Again, time of day was an important consideration as the setting sun adds a beautiful hint of color to the sky.  Interesting facts: Built in 1883, the Lighthouse stands just two miles north of the Statue of Liberty.  It's technically located in the waters of New Jersey, not New York.   


The Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washigton Bridge in New York.  Shot with a Lensbaby fisheye lens at sunset.  The super wide perspective is not something that I ordinarily use, but in this case, it helped to accentuate the feeling of standing under the bridge while looking towards the colorful Lighthouse.  With the camera on a tripod, I waited for the biker on the right to enter the frame to add a sense of scale to the scene.  Interesting facts: The official name is "Jeffrey's Hook Light".  It was made famous by the 1942 children's book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.


Hortons Point Lighthouse, Southold, New York.  Shot with a 17-40mm lens at dusk and tripod mounted for stability. Here, a small aperture was used to create the starbursts from the artifical lights on the house.  The warm window light counters the cool blue sky and invites the viewer into the scene. Interesting Facts: The light station was originally completed in 1857 for $7,500.  It's listed on the State & National Registers of Historic Places.


The West Quoddy Head Light, Lubec Maine. The stunning seaside location and playful striped Lighthouse was a great start, but in order to balance the photo, I wanted to add an interesting forground.  As a compositional tool, this can work to balance or anchor a scene.  To show the wildflowers a wide angle zoom lens was used from a low vantage point.   Interesting Facts: Built in 1858, the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse is the easternmost point in the United States. 


Machias Seal Island Lighthouse, Canada/US.  Photographed with a 70-200mm lens, handheld in a small shaky boat.  Ideally speaking, I would have rather been on a tripod, but it simply wasn't possible in a small craft with other passengers.  For more tips on how to achieve sharp photos when a tripod isn't possible, check our article here.   Interesting Facts: This Lighthouse rests on a speck of land in the Bay of Fundy off the coast of Maine. The Island is contested territory, claimed by both the U.S. and Canada (and Britain before that) for centuries — since the Treaty of Paris settled the Revolutionary War.


Also, if you are currently an NYIP Student in the Complete Course in Professional Photography, please refer to your lessons on "Nature & Landscape Photography", and "Travel Photography" for even more pointers.


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Reader Comments (1)

Thanks for this wonderful blog. Great blog.
July 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commentervirtual tours
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