the Cape Lookout Lighthouse

On a recent vacation to the coast of North Carolina I had a chance to visit the Lighthouse at Cape Lookout (located on the Cape Lookout National Sea Shore). I’ve been sharing some pictures from my trip on my social media sites like Google+ and Facebook but I thought I’d compile some of my favorite shots from my trip into a single page along with a few facts and some history I learned while I was there.

Cape Lookout National Seashore was created in March 1966 and preserves a 56-mile long section of the Southern Outer Banks, of North Carolina. The park runs from the Ocracoke Inlet on the northeast to Beaufort Inlet on the southeast with three undeveloped barrier islands making up the seashore (North Core Banks, South Core Banks and Shackleford Banks). My journey to the Cape Lookout National Seashore began on Harkers Island. This was my first view of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse:

If it looks far away that’s because it is a long way away. The above shot was taken with my longest lens (a 200mm) so it looked even farther away with the naked eye. My journey to the Lighthouse would be by ferry. Here’s a look at the 49 passenger catamaran from Calico Jack’s that I’d be taking to the island.

Calico Jacks advertises itself as the closest ferry to the Cape Lookout National Seashore and says that it’s about a ten minute ride. We boarded our ferry along with a pretty big group of campers and we shoved off of Harkers Island. We were followed most the way by Pelicans and seagulls.

One of the coolest parts of the ferry ride was getting to see some of the wild horses of the Shakleford Banks.

Known as Banker Horses the wild horses are actually feral and protected by the National Park Service. A feral horse is a free-roaming horse of domesticated ancestry. Often called “wild” horses, feral horses are descended from domestic horses that strayed, escaped, or were deliberately released into the wild and remained to survive and reproduce there. It is believed that the Bankers arrived on the barrier islands during the 16th century. One popular theory is that the ancestors of the Banker Horses swam ashore from Spanish galleons that wrecked on the hidden shoals. Here’s a look at some of the Banker Horses I was lucky enough to see on my ride:

Next time I visit North Carolina I plan to spend a day photographing the Banker Horses.

Arriving at the National Seashore

As we got closer and closer to our destination the size of the Cape Lookout lighthouse became more impressive. From the ferry I took some pictures of the lighthouse that included plenty of water. To keep my gear dry I used an Op/Tech USA Rain Sleeve (about $6.50 for two from B&H Photo here). I always keep rain sleeves with me and this was a perfect opportunity to get some shots while everyone else was worried about their cameras getting wet from the spray caused by the moving ferry.

Here’s what the lighthouse looked like as we arrived at the dock:

After disembarking from my ferry it was time to get my “standard” lighthouse shots. I’ve always gotten the normal shots out of the way as quickly as possible. Why do I do this? Because when I tell people that I visited a lighthouse they expect to see a certain shot of the lighthouse. So I get those shots done and proceed to get the shots I’m interested in getting. Too many artistic shots will fatigue viewers so I sprinkle them in with the regular looking shots. Here’s an eight shot stitched panorama of the lighthouse that includes plenty of water and a few boats.

This stitched panorama may not look like a very big deal when it’s reduced in size to fit on a blog page but the final image ended up being 12,153 pixels wide by 5,784 pixels tall and that translates into a print size of 50 inches wide by 24 inches tall (printed at 240 ppi). That’s a big panorama.

With the standard shots done it was time to find some unique shots. Here’s a series of shots of the lighthouse I took from various places to get some different looks.

My trip to the lighthouse included a trip to the top but this blog entry has grown long enough. I’ll bring this blog post to an end and save those pictures (and some more facts about the lighthouse) for another blog entry.

For the photographers who are wondering, I didn’t use a tripod and my camera settings were pretty standard (camera was in Aperture priority mode, ISO was 200-400 and my aperture was anywhere from f4-f22 depending on how much background I wanted in focus). Later in the day I used my Manfrotto Magic arm at the top of the lighthouse (to keep the camera steady in the high winds) and I took a few bracketed shots inside the lighthouse to create some HDR images.

After my trip to the lighthouse I spent some time turning day into night with Photoshop to create some unique lighthouse images (including a light beam  coming from the lighthouse). In a future blog post I’ll talk about how I used Photoshop CS6 to created night shots like this:

2 thoughts on “the Cape Lookout Lighthouse

  1. Wonderful blog post, love the information share as well as some beautiful captures of your visit. Would love to go here someday and will have to now add it to my bucket list… as my husband and I both love venturing to and visiting Light Houses. The wild horses is another cool bonus to this location as that’s another passion of mine way before photography was ever thought of!

    Thanks for sharing your trip and pics! One of my faves is the day turned into night shot using CS6… Will have to make sure to check out the “how you did that” blog post! 🙂


  2. I’ve had your business card for about a year now, and finally checking out the photos. I was one of the rangers at the lighthouse. Nice shots!

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