Candace & I visited the Bodie Island Lighthouse last week. A photograph I've always wanted to capture was a lighthouse at night under a sky full of stars. I was very excited when we arrived, it was a very clear and a very cold night. We had the whole place to ourselves. I spent about 30 minutes creating images before we called it a night and went back to our warm hotel room. I will be visiting the outer banks again soon and I hope to capture more images then. I'm going to plan my trip during the peak time to get the best view of the milky way. I'm very excited to go back! Here are my favorite 4 images and how I created them.
I've had a few people ask how I created the images so if your interested....well here you go!
1. I set up everything on a tripod. Camera and lens used were a 5D Mark III with a 17-40mm.
2. I attached my remote, you don't have to use one, you can just use your self timer. I also shot with my mirror up to eliminate any mechanical movement from within the camera.
3. Shooting in manual mode, I dropped my aperture down to f/4, that's the lowest that particular lens will go. If you can go lower, I would, you just have to experiment with a wider aperture. The wider the aperture the more light can enter to the sensor and the more stars you will be able to see. One thing to keep in mind if you are shooting lower than f/4 and are close to the lighthouse, make sure your focus is on what you want it to be on. Either the stars or the lighthouse.
3. After setting my aperture I set my camera to a high ISO, these were all created at 6400 ISO. I experimented with 2400 and 3200 but I wasn't getting the look i desired. Each camera is different so when you go out to photograph a lighthouse at night, and depending on your lens, just experiment.
4. After adjusting my aperture I set my shutter speed to 30 seconds. That would allow plenty of time for light to come in.
I had the moon, which was a half waning crescent, to my back which helped light the lighthouse. Its best to go when the moon is very low in the sky or when there is no moon in the sky. To be able to see the rays of light I found that shooting a slightly slower shutter speed helped. When I shot at 30 seconds that disappeared. I liked the images better that were shot around 13-15 seconds.
5. Lastly I looked through my viewfinder and manually focused on the top of the lighthouse when the lights came on. Very important to set to manual focus, if you don't you will very quickly realize you should have. If you have troubled seeing it through your viewfinder you can try focusing with live-view. I was able to see it pretty well, I did bring a flash light along to help with focus but I didn't use it. I would take one just in case.
Then release the shutter and in under a minute you will have a nice photograph.
Hope this helps anyone who is interested in photographing lighthouses at night. If you get some great shots I would love to see them!
Best of Luck!