Thursday, June 5, 2014

Photographing a Lighthouse at Sunrise

Photographing a lighthouse at sunrise is a challenging but rewarding adventure.  I recently photographed Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie in Ohio.  I wanted to make sure I got just the right shot, so we went to the lighthouse the day before to check out the site.  The lighthouse was open at the time and there were lots of people around, so although it was not an especially good time to get photographs it was a good time for me to explore and consider what vantage point would be best for my sunrise shot.

The next morning I arrived at the lighthouse well before sunrise.  As it turned out I must have looked at the sunrise chart wrong and thought it was at 5 a.m. when it was really 6 a.m..  It was really dark when I arrived but I went ahead and set up my camera to take the photos.  The green light in the tower was blinking every few seconds and gave off an eerie glow in the night sky.  For my first photos I set my camera on the tripod and used the automatic scene setting for nighttime shots.  This set my camera at f3.5 with a speed of 1/5 sec.  Because it was so dark the aperture went to 3200 and gave the photo a rather grainy look as you can see below.  I really do like the effect with the green light on the lighthouse and the pink in the early morning sky.
It was still about a half an hour till sunrise and my camera was set up and ready for the sunrise.  I was able to enjoy the beautiful scene and watch the sky turn colors as the sun was just below the horizon.  What a magnificent sight.  I will never tire of watching the sun rise and marveling at how each one is just a bit different.  As sunrise got closer I took my camera off the automatic setting.  The sunrise photo was taken with the camera at f6.3 at 1/100 sec.  My ISO was set at 100.

As the sun rose above the horizon, I watched as everything took on a different look.  Just as the sun tipped over the horizon an airplane went through the sky leaving behind a contrail in the middle of my photo.  Some may feel the white line is distracting and at first I thought oh no!  As I look at my finished photo, I kind of like that white streak.    What do you think?



After sunrise I walked around the grounds looking at how the newly risen sun was coloring everything.  I love this shot with the fence glowing in the pink bask from early morning sun.  It seems like the whole scene is taking on a pinkish cast.  

It is really fascinating to  photograph a scene at different times of the day.





Checklist for Photographing Sunrises


  • If possible, check out your location the day before.
  • The night before recheck your equipment and make sure everything is charged and working.
  • Practice camera settings in daylight so you aren't fumbling in the dark.  You  might want to bring a small flashlight with you.
  • Don't forget your tripod...it is critical for good sunrise photos
  • Arrive before sunrise so you have plenty of time to set up and get some of those beautiful presunrise photos.  Some of the best colors are often 30 minutes before sunrise.
  • Relax and enjoy the beauty of the moment!
Here is a page I wrote on my adventures of photographing the Marblehead lighthouse.

5 comments:

  1. You've captured the beauty of nature as well as the lighthouse! Nothing beats a sunrise over the water.

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  2. Love that pink glow. You really captured the essence. Beautifully, and so very thoughtfully, photographed. Would love to go lighthousing with you. Great tips and examples.

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  3. You always give the best photography tips and suggestions Mary Beth! I was actually thinking while I was reading that I would definitely trip over something in the dark, break myself and my camera. A flashlight would be a must for me! I loved the photo of the lighthouse with the green light. I see the graininess you were referring to, but I think the shot is gorgeous regardless.

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  4. Great tutorial. Makes me want to visit the Great Lakes and cool down a bit.

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  5. Great tips as always, Mary Beth! I do love the green glow from the lighthouse too, with the pink/orange in the sky. Even grainy -- it looks wonderful!

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