California Lighthouse Photo Workshop
In April 2023, Lerro Photography sponsored a five-day lighthouse photo workshop on the coast of Northern California. This photo workshop featured several special Fresnel lens lightings, exclusive access, and a two-night stay in a lighthouse keeper’s house.
Our first lighthouse was Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, about three hours north of San Francisco in Mendocino County. I booked to have all of us stay two nights in the keeper’s house so we could photograph the lighthouse at night and be close to another lighthouse we planned to photograph. It was raining when we arrived at Point Cabrillo, so we settled in and ate an early dinner. Just as we finished eating, the sun came out, and a double rainbow appeared above the lighthouse, so we ran out and started taking photos. It was a spectacular sight, and the photos turned out beautifully.
Our night photo featured the 3rd order Fresnel lens in a stationary position. Usually, the lens is an active aid to navigation, but a belt in the rotation motor recently broke, and a tiny temporary light has been working in its place. With permission from the Coast Guard, a museum staff member was allowed to turn on the Fresnel lens for us without rotation. With a lot of moisture in the air, the static beams of light stood out in the night sky.
Day two started with us photographing Point Cabrillo Lighthouse as several storm clouds passed. In the afternoon, we made our way down to Point Arena Lighthouse. The Point Arena Lighthouse continues to be an active aid to navigation, using a small modern LED optic located on the outside railing of the lighthouse. The original first-order Fresnel lens was removed from the tower years ago. For our photo workshop, we were permitted by the US Coast Guard to place our own optic at the top of the tower while covering up the official LED optic. The custom optic consisted of four LED lights with Fresnel lenses that I usually use for our railroad night photo sessions. I made a metal bracket that allowed me to mount and turn the lights while set up on a tripod.
We turned the custom light on at sunset and shot the lighthouse from several vantage points. As it got darker outside, I went up to the top of the tower to adjust the angle of the lights to get the best beams of light possible. A light mist was in the air, which helped enhance the rays of light. Once we finished shooting, we drove back to Point Cabrillo to sleep for a few hours.
On the third day, we started with sunrise shots at Point Arena Light. After breakfast, we made our way down to Point Reyes Lighthouse. We stopped in Point Reyes and photographed the iconic abandoned shipwreck behind the local general store.
Point Reyes Light Station is an active aid to navigation and uses a modern optic mounted on top of the oil house. We worked with the National Park Service and the US Coast Guard for our photo workshop to uncover and light up the first-order Fresnel Lens. The First Order Fresnel, lens, and lantern room, are usually covered by curtains so the sun doesn’t damage them.
After descending the 300 steps to the lighthouse, we placed a battery-powered LED light in the 1storder lens. It took a few minutes to get the light bulb precisely in the center of the focal plane. It’s amazing how just an inch or two can make a huge difference in how the lens prisms intensify the light, but that is part of the scientific miracle that was these big glass Fresnel lenses in the 19th century. As the sun set and the sky got darker, the true beauty of the First Order lens showed. We spend several hours photographing the lighthouse from different vantage points.
On the fourth day, we spent the afternoon and evening photographing the Point Bonita Lighthouse at the Golden Gate and San Francisco Harbor entrance. Unlike the other lighthouses we photographed this week, the Point Bonita lighthouse still uses its Fresnel lens as the active aid to navigation. To gain access to the lighthouse, two US National Park rangers escorted us down the hiking trail and through the tunnel to the site. For several hours, the photographers enjoyed and photographed the dramatic scene of the lighthouse on the cliff with the small suspension bridge. We stayed there until about 9:30 pm.
On day 5, some of us got up early, and we photographed cable cars in downtown San Francisco. After breakfast, we got on the road and photographed several lighthouses south of the city. These included Point Montara, the Santa Cruz Lighthouses, Pigeon Point Light, and Point Pinos Light.
We hope to return to California in the next year or two to photograph more of the California Lighthouses.