A Billion Shades of (HDR) Blue – Photographing Lighthouses

“Photography is nothing ― it’s life that interests me. ” ~ HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON

“Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.”  ~ BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, 1728.

Where can you find the best HDR?

Inside you. In your open curiosity and your thirst for adventure…

Here is a short tale of two lighthouses surrounded by the blue banks of the Bahamas. Its message: with your spirit, you put the light in the lighthouse. Part of HDR is your spirit, and how you illuminate it to evoke feelings for your viewers.

First, some musings about HDR. When carefully crafted, HDR images are bright, focused and illuminate the feelings of the viewer again and again like an orbiting lighthouse beam. Images from devoted HDR makers can sweep into our emotions, making our hearts move faster to an emotive beat. In other words, an HDR image “don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.” What counts is the impression the HDR photographer leaves in the viewer’s body and minds eye, like Harry commanding “lumos” to light up the night. This mental impression gets painted, carved, attached and thrust outward from the mind and living memory of the photographer into the HDR image itself. Life itself calls out to us, not photography.

So it was for one photographer, perhaps, while footloose in the Bahamas, on two far- flung windy islands, with camera on tripod. Set up in places so remote the locals say “you make your own sunshine,” meaning you are on your own.

On each of two isolated islands, a lighthouse beckons. The first, on a small, rocky cay called Great Stirrup, is north of the second one, the  1876 Bird Rock Cay lighthouse ― each of them guides ships through shallow passages over an ocean with a billion shades of blue.

Imagine the first scene. The Great Stirrup Cay Lighthouse is a-buzz. In the heat, flies buzz around its doorway. Skirting the hazards ―  crackling electrical cables spilling out from the newly-installed batteries, and, yes, buzzing flower wasps―  it is a sweaty, 5-minute long climb 80 feet up to a claustrophobic lens room. From celeste to ultramarine, a spectrum of shades of blue from the surrounding ocean pour in the windows. Warm March sunlight heats the lens room at the top of the lighthouse. Several out buildings that housed a light keeper are overgrown now with sea grape and tamarisk. These surrounding buildings rest on rock that was once living coral under the water. The beams from the lighthouse sweep over the rock, island and rolling sea, at night, all day and at night, again and again…


Fade to Midnight Blue. . .another scene.


The scene changes to the windswept shores of the island Columbus named Isabella after his Queen. Less than a quarter mile off its northwest shore is the Bird Rock Cay Lighthouse. The fragrance of herbs from nearby Crooked Island fades as one gets closer to the tower complex, replaced by a subtle smell of rusting iron, the odor of helmet conch rotting in the sun, and the salty-kelp scent borne on a breeze that kisses your lips in March but splits them open, painfully, in strong December gales. All horizons are visible.

The shallow Bahama banks, surrounding Bird Rock Cay, roll in their own infinite blue smile, watching an HDR photographer approach the massive British built complex. Towering above the sea, the Crooked Island Light on Bird Rock Cay stands 180 foot tall, breaking the blues of the sky with its tapering alabaster tower.

At first the way is gentle, with broad concrete steps leading to the tower door. Then through the door, and a perilous climb: each iron stairs growing layers of rust thick enough to invoke prayer and bargaining. Pausing to slow the heart, and looking down, a pale blue tints can be seen pouring in through the stout doorway and into the wide room at the foot of the spiral rusting staircase. After this breathless ascent, the rewards of reaching the top room are visual. . . the scene glows with too many hues of blue for the mind to absorb.

Should the lighthouses guide me safe home, their memory will call me back,  again.

Jim Austin M.A. is a full time traveller, photography writer, and adventure photo workshop teacher. For the past 10 years he’s lived aboard a sailing catamaran, Salty Paws, shooting film, medium format and digital media while sailing from New Orleans to Nova Scotia. His photographs have shown in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, and numerous US galleries. Most recent eBooks include Pixels on Passage, Emotion in Motion and Americans on Parade. He has been writing on HDR since 2009.

See Jim’s work at: http://www.jimages.com/