Lighthouses in the Islands

This last week I finally got a couple days off work to take an overnight family trip into the San Juan Islands in the Puget Sound.  I had never been here before, even though I was born in Washington State and moved back here from other states three times.  I’ve taken the ferry from Bremerton to Downtown Seattle several times and never had an issue getting on the first boat without a reservation.  Two full ferries left the Port Townsend dock before we got on the third one.  I learned very quickly how to make reservations using my smart phone for the other ferry rides we’d need on our trip!  In the meantime, we visited Point Wilson, which is a peninsula jutting out to the east of Fort Worden State Park.

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Point Wilson Lighthouse – 26mm, 1/90 @ f/13, +1 EV

Some lighthouses are basically a tower with a tool shed at the base.  This one more accurately resembled the term “house”.  The exposure was a challenge, because the white buildings in the center of the frame were throwing off the camera’s internal light meter. This resulted in overall under exposure, if I let the camera do all the thinking.

With a photo like this, you typically want everything in focus, so I used Aperture Priority mode and set to f/13, which allowed a fast enough shutter speed to avoid softness due to slight camera movement.  In bright sun, it’s very difficult to judge proper exposure simply by viewing the image on the camera’s back screen.  I checked the histogram, noted the under exposure after the first shot, bumped the exposure compensation up to +1 EV, and re-shot to get the image above, with the histogram more balanced.

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Point Wilson Lighthouse – 26mm, 1/60 @ f/16, +1 EV

In rare situations where I shoot a lot of photos in the same lighting conditions, I switch to full manual mode so I don’t have to worry about exposure values shifting with each shot.  But I typically move around a lot to get different angles, and the direction and amount of light can change drastically.  So I use Av Mode on my Canon dSLR (I control aperture values and ISO speed, and the camera controls the shutter speed according to meter readings).

When the meter under- or over-exposes the scene, then I use exposure compensation to… well, compensate.  It’s like telling the camera, “yes I know you think the scene is too bright, but I want you to add a stop of exposure anyway”.  As long as I’m not blowing out the white walls of the building (losing details), this works. Underexposed images might not have lost detail, but the colors will be dull, and you’re at a poor starting place for post processing.  Trying to get the image to look like what you saw in person will result in more noise and digital artifacts.

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Admiralty Head Lighthouse – 40mm, 1/180 @ f/11

Hmm… There are several naval bases in the islands in Puget Sound, and being that “the head” is Navy slang for the bathroom, I’ve got to wonder if this was a higher class outhouse for the admirals and higher ranking officers.  Joking of course!  The truth is that Fort Casey on Whidbey Island, is located on piece of land jutting out into the Sound from the island coastline, with a very steep incline after a narrow beach.  This type of landform is called a “headland” or just a “head”.

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Point Wilson Lighthouse – 26mm, 1/90 @ f/13, +1 EV

Here again, a camera meter exposes for mid-tones (18% grey), and so much white threw the meter off.  The sky is so dark and vibrant because I was using a B+W MRC F-Pro circular polarizer. I’ve also started removing my protective UV filter when using a polarizer for two reasons: 1. to avoid vignette or dark corners caused by the filter ring at the widest focal length, and 2. to remove an extra piece of glass that doesn’t need to be there.  I only use a clear UV filter to protect the front lens element from dust and scratches, and when the polarizer is doing the job, I don’t need it and want the best image quality possible.

Another observation: I used the same EF 17-40mm f/4L lens for all these photos, but as you can see, it’s a very usable range on a full-frame body for this type of photography. If I had more money, I’d use a 16-35mm f/4L or f/2.8L, but those range from $1,000 to $2,000. I used focal lengths from 20mm to 40mm.

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Admiralty Head Lighthouse – 20mm, 1/60 @ f/13, +1 EV

I’ve got to say, this is one of the nicest lighthouses I’ve seen.  There’s a full two story house connected to the tower.  It was built in 1903.  The thick walls were “meant to withstand earthquakes and the concussion of Fort Casey’s guns”.  In the late 1800’s and during the World Wars, the U.S. considered the Strait of Juan de Fuca (access from the Pacific Ocean to the Puget Sound) and the Sound itself to be vulnerable to invasion, which explains all the old forts and military bases.

My next post will feature photos from Deception Pass State Park, at the north end of Whidbey Island.

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