Lighthouses at magic hour! How I and my trusty Canon 5D Mark II beat the tourists and got the shots

by Guest Contributor

posted Sunday, December 6, 2015 at 8:57 AM EDT


By IR reader Mike DiRenzo

This past summer my wife, Carol, and I traveled along the East Coast from Maine to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and in our travels we shot several iconic lighthouses. When shooting coastal scenes, as with any other landscape type of shooting, the golden hour (aka magic hour) is definitely the optimal time for capturing picturesque scenes. This translates into little sleep since during the summer the sun rises along the coast around 5:30 am and then sets around 8:30 pm. Therefore relaxation was not the goal for this photo trip. 

We traveled south along the Atlantic Coast in late May to the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This all brick lighthouse stands 210 feet tall and is the second tallest all brick lighthouse in the United States. Remarkably, to avoid having this lighthouse, with its barber pole stripes, topple into the ocean due to erosion of the coastline it was moved 2,800 feet inland  in 1999. This sunset was shot with a Canon 5D MKII with a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens 1/100 sec. F/8 ISO 200.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, North Carolina

Bodie Island Lighthouse is located about 40 miles north of Cape Hatteras on Route 12 about a mile north of the Oregon Inlet. This lighthouse is very easy to access and it can be seen from the highway. When we first arrived before sunset the parking lot was full and the grounds were teeming with tourist and photographers.  My advice is to save your photography for sunrise. I arrived back at the lighthouse about 4:45 am the next morning and had the entire park to myself for the whole time I was there. This enabled me to set-up across from the empty parking lot and get clear shots of the lighthouse as the sun was rising in the East. Shot with a Canon 5D MKII and a Canon 24-105 f/4 lens for 1/10 sec. F/11 at ISO 200.

Bodie Island Lighthouse, North Carolina

Way up the Atlantic coast we stopped in Portland, Maine and the ever popular Portland Head Lighthouse located in Fort Williams State Park which I believe is actually in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. This lighthouse, at the entrance to Portland Harbor, and the park surrounding it are heavily visited in the summer and daytime shot will always have people wandering in and out of the frame.  However, the park is open very early in the morning as it is a favorite place for locals to walk and jog in the morning. Therefore, access for sunrise is no problem.  Sunset is a different story.  he park rangers enforce the “We Close at Sunset” policy and are bound to chase you out of the park before the light is optimal at sunset; be strong my friends.  Shot with my Canon 5D MKII with a Canon 16-35 f/2.8 lens @20mm shutter .3 sec. F/11 ISO 200.

Portland Head Lighthouse, Maine

About 50 miles North of Portland near the Town of Bristol is the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. Pemaquid Point is a local Town Park and as such is heavily visited.  Afternoons along the rock cliffs many, many families spend their time exploring along the granite cliffs, and wander in and out of the field of view. Once again the best time to take unencumbered shots is a sunrise when there are few if any people around. One great feature if the long sloping granite cliffs is they trap seawater at high tide making it possible to get interesting reflection shots from several places along the perimeter. Shot here with my Canon 5D MKII and a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens at 24mm.  Shutter .3 seconds  f/11 at ISO 200.

Permaquid Point Lighthouse, Maine

No trip to Maine to shoot lighthouses is complete unless you stop in Acadia National Park to shoot the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. This great little lighthouse is situated on top of a multicolored granite cliff and in the Summer the sun sets directly behind the lighthouse often producing some exquisite sunset colors when the “right” clouds are present. This lighthouse is very popular and because it is within the National Park it attracts a lot of visitors and photographers at sunset.  Arriving there about two hours before sunset may afford you a chance of getting a spot for your tripod on THE ROCK down below. This one flat spot situated at the lowest vantage point facing the lighthouse has room for about six tripods at one time during low tide.  When the tide comes in this rock gets covered by water and is slick. Always wear long sleeves and long pants when planning to shot this lighthouse.  As the sun gets low in the sky the biting bugs come out enforce. You definitely want to bring along a can of bug repellant at sunset at this location.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse, Maine

All five shots are three shot HDR images converted in Photmatix HDR. The sequence for the composite shot was -2, 0, +2 Ev. The Bass Harbor shot also utilized a Schneider 2 stop soft graduate ND filter set at an angle to control the sky.

Naturally, a trip like this requires some time and traveling, but we enjoyed every minute and took some nice shots along the way. We also met many nice folks in our travels. Some that we plan on visiting again. 

You can catch some of the photos from my travels at my website.
I sure hope you stop in and say “Hello”!

[A big IR "Thank You!" to Mike for this awesome article!]

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Canon 7D with EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II
(25 seconds / f/2.8 / 16mm / ISO 250 / manual exposure)