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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