Taking a Photo of a Lighthouse

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A photo I took of the Cape Nelson Lighthouse has been getting a bit of attention recently so I thought I’d share a behind the scenes of the process involved in taking the shot.

Here is the photo:

Lighthouse just after sunset

The photo was featured on Unsplash, is was a nominee for the Unsplash book and was most recently featured in an advertisement for a new BlackBerry phone (visible at 35 seconds). It has also been used in a number of local publications. You can download the photo for free here.

The Story Behind the Lighthouse Photo

The shot was taken at Cape Nelson, in the South West of Victoria, about six hours from where I live. A few of us were on a trip to explore and photograph the Victorian coastline west of Melbourne, stopping at each lighthouse along the way. The Cape Nelson Lighthouse was our first stop as it was the furthest from home; completing the hardest part of the drive at the start of the trip made the rest of the journey much easier.

The lighthouse was the first major stop, even before organising accomodation for the night in the nearby town of Portland. There were quite a few tourists exploring the area, and with good reason; everything about the location was spectacular. The ocean was vast and majestic while the cliffs were tall and jagged. The lighthouse towered above everything as the beacon it’s intended to be. After spending some time walking around taking photos of the lighthouse and surrounding area—watching the sky get moodier as clouds rolled in—it was time to head to Portland to sort out a bed for the night.

While eating dinner in Portland I was hoping that the clouds would clear in time for sunset so that I could get some photos of the lighthouse with the clear night sky as a backdrop. Luckily the weather was kind enough to oblige. A couple of us headed back out to the lighthouse in time to catch the sun setting over the ocean with tripods packed and ready for some long exposures once the stars were out. The sunset was a bit hard to capture due to where the sun was setting, and the fact that all the clouds had disappeared meant it wasn’t as interesting as it could have been photographically. But despite all of this, thanks to the location, it was one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve witnessed.

Once the sun had set I grabbed my tripod and started scoping out good locations to take photos of the lighthouse. I was a little restricted as the moon was out and there were dangerous cliffs all around, but luckily the position of the milky way aligned well with the available composition options. I wanted a fairly tight crop with excess space at the top of the shot, drawing attention to the light that was being emitted from the lighthouse and also to the stars behind it. Usually I’d align a subject with a horizontal/vertical third line, but with this photo I placed the lighthouse’s lantern room in the middle of the frame meaning you immediately focus on the lighthouse before noticing the stars behind it.

The shot was taken at f2.8 with a 17mm prime lens. A 10 second exposure ensured crystal clear stars while also capturing some of the movement in the lamp of the lighthouse. Post-processing involved slightly darkening some of the objects on the ground to help keep the focus on the lighthouse and also increasing the contrast between the stars and the sky. I was incredibly happy with the way the photo turned out. I wasn’t expecting to capture the light spreading from the lamp and I certainly wasn’t expecting the reception the photo has received! This photo, and the location, was one of the highlights of the trip. Next time you get the chance, get out and take some photos; who knows what you might capture.

Additional Photos from Cape Nelson

You can see more photos from the trip on my VSCO Journal and you can download free to use photos taken by me on photos.joshnh.com.

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