Behind the Scenes: The Morning Light-House

Posted By Jason Barnette on June 28, 2016

This is a story of a sleep-deprived, morning-hatin' photographer who drove 210 miles in 7 hours for a single photo. This photo. But it was totally worth it.

It was another one of my (many) sleepless nights. It was already 2AM, I had been in bed for almost three hours, and sleep just wasn't coming. That is when I checked an app on my phone that is supposed to give me colorful sunrise and sunset forecasts akin to weather radar.

Charleston was burning red and orange. I decided since I wasn't sleeping anyways I might as well do something with my time. So an hour later I was dressed, packed, and pulling out of my driveway.

The drive down to Folly Beach, South Carolina was easy and quiet. Hardly another soul in sight. I arrived at the north end of Folly Beach about 45 minutes before sunrise. It was still dark and I needed a headlamp to see to walk along the dead end street to the beach access, and then about another mile along the beach.

Using another app on my phone I determined the exact position of the sunrise on the horizon and began setting up all my equipment. This was the daunting task simply because I was working on a sandy beach and trying my very (very) best not to get any sand in, on, or near my scratch-sensitive photography equipment.

The first thing I set up was the "primary" camera, a Nikon D300 with a Nikon 300mm f/4 lens. I used my hefty Slik tripod and Movo gimbal head to support the weight and keep the camera steady for the long exposures. After attaching a wireless shutter release to the camera I was ready to go.

I then began setting up my "secondary" camera, another Nikon D300, but this one paired with my Sigma 150mm f/2.8. While the primary camera would be shooting the lighthouse in a portrait orientation, the secondary camera would be shooting in a landscape orientation at the same time. After attaching a second wireless shutter release I now had both cameras ready to shoot.

My final step was to set up my new GoPro Hero 4 Silver. I used a gooseneck clamp to attach the GoPro to my Manfrotto tripod and then set it to capture a time lapse video, shooting a single photo every five seconds.

After all this I finally had a moment to catch my breath. This is often what happens when I heading off to a time-sensitive photo shoot (and almost all my photo shoots are time-sensitive to some degree). I always find myself in a rush to set up my equipment just because I want to be ready for anything. But after six years of doing this over and over again it has become second nature to me.

Finally the sun broke through the clouds on the horizon, lighting the sky and warming my face. It was time to start shooting. With a wireless remote in each hand I began clicking away, waiting for just the right moment for dramatic lighting. A cargo ship was moving across the horizon, just leaving Charleston Harbor. I wanted it in the frame and didn't want it in the frame at the same time, leaving me in utter frustration.

After nearly fifteen minutes of clicking the shutter, moving the cameras further up the beach to align with the sun, and changing my camera settings to keep up with the increasing light, the sun finally crested over the top of the lighthouse and I was done.

I think it was at this moment the sleepiness finally hit me. I was now facing everyone's least favorite task of cleaning up all my toys, along with the thought of driving all the way back home before I could finally hit the pillow.

Cleanup took less than ten minutes, but the walk back along the beach to the car took almost an hour this time as my body began to slow down. The drive home was nearly silent as I was too tired to even find a Pandora station to listen to on the radio. Traffic was much heavier as everyone headed off to work.

I pulled into my driveway at half past ten. I was exhausted, sleepy, but ultimately satisfied with what I already knew would be a great photo. Five minutes after walking into the house I was in the bed, finally catching up on the sleep that had alluded me all night.

I hope you enjoy the photo below. In fact, you might even enjoy it enough to click here and buy a print. For the fellow photographers out there, this photo was captured using my Nikon D300 and Sigma 150mm f/2.8 lens at 150mm, 400 ISO, f/16, at 1/250 of a second. I captured a bracketed series and merged parts of the image to create an HDR-style sky while keeping the lighthouse a dark silhouette as I saw it on the beach that morning.