Behind The Shot: “Christmas Lights on Nubble Lighthouse” by Adam Woodworth – York, Maine

Composite photograph of several long nighttime exposures of Nubble Lighthouse against the Atlantic Coast in York, Maine

Christmas Lights on Nubble Lighthouse by Adam Woodworth

This photo was taken the day after Christmas in 2013. A snowstorm was moving across parts of New England and my day started out by heading north with the hopes of going to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. But the heavier snow up that way and bad traffic on the highway made me turn around and head back to the New Hampshire seacoast to stop at a couple spots, and then I wound my way over to one of my favorite places, Nubble Light in York, Maine. I grew up next door in Kittery, Maine, and I spent many evenings here as a kid with ice cream running around on the rocks. Now I'm happy to go back to this iconic lighthouse with my camera and run around on the rocks.

Nubble Light is an incredibly difficult place to shoot at night because the parking lot faces the island, and coming-and-going-cars light-up the island. Lots of people love to sit in their cars with their headlights-on the whole time while they look at the lighthouse. I've even seen some people in a Hummer flash their high beams at the island for fun because it lit up the crashing waves. This all means that getting a good exposure is difficult at night unless it's very late on a cold night. This place is popular at all hours, though, so it's luck of the draw. It was very busy when I was there for this shot since it was early in the evening and there were a few other photographers there. Normally I'd probably get down on the rocks closer to the water but I didn't want to get in the frames of the other photographers.

On top of the headlight problem, the Christmas Lights, which are pretty and a big draw for visitors, create another exposure difficulty on a moonless night as they blow out the island easily. So you have to bracket exposures and blend them in Photoshop if you want to retain any detail in the sky or foreground.

The long exposure for the sky in this image captures many more stars than you would ever be able to see with your naked eye. The abundance of stars makes it a little difficult to see constellations, however, but if you look closely you can find Orion near the top of the frame to the right of the lighthouse.

All exposures that make up this single composited image were taken on my Nikon D800E with the Nikon 14-24mm/f2.8 lens, set at 14mm. The sky exposure is ISO 1600 @ f/2.8 for 20 seconds. The foreground and most of the island and water is from an exposure of ISO 800 @ f/5.6 for 4 minutes. Some of the island is from another exposure of ISO 1600 @ f/8.0 for 4 minutes. The lighthouse and other buildings on the island, and the glow on the water, are from an exposure of ISO 800 @ f/8.0 for 30 seconds. All photos were hand blended in Photoshop to create this final image. I provided no extra light in this image. The foreground is lit up entirely by the Christmas lights on the island. The red light flare in the sky is from the red lens of the lighthouse itself.

I'm very excited to announce that I have just released an astrophotography editing video tutorial! My "Landscape Astrophotography Editing Workflow" video features over 2 hours of detailed information regarding my personal workflow for editing landscape astrophotography images, including:

* Camera settings and workflow review
* Raw image preparation in Lightroom (also applies if you're using Adobe Camera Raw)
* Star stacking for pinpoint stars and lower noise with Photoshop or Starry Landscape Stacker
* Exposure blending in Photoshop
* Noise reduction with Nik Dfine
* Creative editing basics in Photoshop

To learn more about the video and to purchase it please visit: www.adamwoodworth.com/video-tutorials - Adam Woodworth

This image is available as a print here. See more of Woodworth’s work at his website, www.AdamWoodworth.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Google+ and 500px.

Equipment and settings: Nikon D800e, Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED wide angle zoom lens - Composite of four exposures - Sky exposure: 20 seconds @ f/2.8 - ISO 1600 - Foreground and water: 4 minutes @ f/5.6 - ISO 800 - Lighthouse: 30 seconds @ f/8 - ISO 800 - Additional details: 4 minutes @ F/8.0 - ISO 1600

By Dave Willis

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