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Hatteras Light and Milky Way

I really feel that not all lighthouses are created equally in terms of photography. So much of this depends upon the surrounding landscape and what you can do creatively to compose a unique shot of the lighthouse. Some stand in what amounts to be more or less open fields, others are perched upon the precipices of cliffs, and some are completely enshrouded in trees with little more than their tops sticking up above the canopy.

The Hatteras Lighthouse, which this is a photograph of, used to be the most photogenic lighthouse south of Massachusetts. Built upon one of the most dynamic barrier islands in the world, in just about 60 years from completion, the ocean had already risen high enough here to close the quarter mile gap between the lighthouse and the sea level of the 1870s. By 1933, waves lapped at the base of the tower.

From 1933 to 1999, the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service fought hell and high water to stabilize the beach in front of the lighthouse and hold back the inevitability of the rising ocean.  This time period from the perspective of a photographer was the glory days of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. It was at this time when the light stood out on the beach, waves crashing near its base and some of the most beautiful photographs of the Outer Banks landscape could be made.

In 1999 however, it was decided to move the lighthouse back to its original 1,500 from the beach distance. This was without a doubt one of the most monumental achievements of that decade. Over the course of nearly a month, the lighthouse was literally picked up and driven back to its new location. News outlets from all over the world invaded the little town of Buxton to document the event.

In its current location, this lighthouse just doesn’t carry the opportunities for grand and dramatic landscape photographs any longer. Though the light can still be photographed from the beach and other locations, these all pale in comparison to its original location on a point that thrust out into the tumultuous seas of the Outer Banks.

Sitting in an open clearing with amongst the maritime forest now, my preferred approach to photographing this light is now at night. And why not? This is, technically speaking with the lighthouse had its most use. The nighttime allows you to capture the brilliance and magnificence of a lighthouse in all the ways that it was originally meant to be seen. It tells a story. It helps to capture the “essence” of the lighthouse.

This past week I conducted my Mastering Creative Outdoor Photography out on the Outer Banks. Naturally a little night photography factored heavily into the equation as we worked the different lighthosues along these barrier islands.

D800 | Nikon 16-35 | f/8 | 30 seconds | ISO 3000 (ish)

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