How I Got the Shot: Lighthouse Beams at Fire Island

Fire Island Lighthouse. Nikon D750, Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. Nine exposures at 1/2 second, f/2.4, ISO 6400.

The Location

Lighthouses are the great sentinels of the sea and their true souls shine at night.

The northeast U.S. has some of the most famous lighthouses in the country. They’re mostly in New England, but here in New York we have a couple of noteworthy examples too, including the amazing Fire Island Lighthouse at the western end of Fire Island National Seashore.

We shot here a few times last fall, including twice with attendees of our New York Night Photography Summit. I created the above image on one of those nights.

Well, perhaps I should say I created this image partly on one of those nights, and partly at my desk at home—because this technique involves a fair amount of post-processing, which is what this installment of How I Got (er … processed) the Shot is all about.

The Shoot

The Fire Island Lighthouse has a rotating beam. When a lighthouse has a rotating light it gives us more opportunities to depict the beams at different widths, depending upon the length of our exposure—i.e., a longer exposure will capture more of the beam as it moves, thereby making the beam appear wider in the image.

So the first thing to consider is shutter speeds. For the Fire Island Lighthouse I experimented with everything from 1/4 to 4 seconds. The 1/4 exposures resulted in very narrow beams of light; the 1/2 exposures were obviously wider, and also (naturally) resulted in fewer beams to stack in post, and both those trends continued as the shutter speeds got longer. Each exposure generates a different interpretation of the lighthouse, so I always suggest exploring your shutter speeds first so you can figure out what works best for you.

You can see in my test shots how the width of the rotating lighthouse beam changes with longer shutter speeds. In these examples, 1/8 resulted in the narrowest beam, 1 second in the widest.

Once I settled on 1/2 as my favorite shutter speed, that determined my aperture and ISO. Of course, shorter shutter speeds at night generally mean you need to push the envelope on the other aspects of the exposure triangle—shooting with a wide-open aperture (f/2.8 or wider) and a higher ISO (3200 to 6400). These combinations will generally allow you to capture bright beams of light as well as adequate detail in the lighthouse structure and the foreground.

Another image of the Fire Island Lighthouse from the same night. This one is composed of 1/4-second exposures, which resulted in the narrower beams of light. Nikon D750, Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. 20 stacked frames shot at 1/4, f/2.4, ISO 6400.

Once I was happy with my exposure—i.e., beams that are bright but not blown out—I set my camera to burst mode. To prevent camera shake, I used a cable release (the Vello Shutterboss II) to fire the shutter. I kept my finger on the remote’s trigger until the beams did a full rotation around the lighthouse. (If you need to take another longer shot for more detail in the foreground, you can do that as well.)

Once I captured the assets, I was able to blend them in Lightroom and Photoshop to get that multiple-beam effect.

The Processing

Processing all of those raw images together into the final version is not terribly complicated, but involves a few steps and some finessing. So we’ve put together this video to show how I brought the photograph to completion.

In the video I talk about everything from the planning to the execution to how to put it all together in post.

Wrapping Up

If you live near or are planning to visit a rotating-beam lighthouse for night photography, we highly recommend giving this a go. It’s a fun technique that can generate some very dynamic images.

When you do, please share your work! We’d love to see your photos in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

Note: Did you like that video, and think you’ll like more? Consider subscribing to the National Parks at Night YouTube channel to get notified about all our new videos when they come out.

Gabriel Biderman is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. He is a Brooklyn-based fine art and travel photographer, and author of Night Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots (Peachpit, 2014). During the daytime hours you'll often find Gabe at one of many photo events around the world working for B&H Photo’s road marketing team. See his portfolio and workshop lineup at


Up Next: National Parks at Night on YouTube

If you’re reading this, then you’re familiar with our blog and all the different kinds of information and instruction we try to offer every week of the year. It’s part of our mission—to spread knowledge of night photography and of the beautiful places in our national parks to practice it.

That mission doesn’t stop at this blog. We of course offer that same sort of information on our workshops, in our CreativeLive course and at our speaking engagements.

But there’s yet another place where we talk about these topics. On our YouTube channel!

We’ve so far produced and uploaded almost 30 videos. The topics include how-to guides for working in the field and in the digital darkroom, slide shows of our workshop students’ photography, information about the places we travel to, tips for journeying to dark landscapes, equipment reviews, night time-lapses and more.

Although we’ve been producing such content for nearly the entire time National Parks at Night has existed, we’re barely out of our video infancy. We have plans to grow in this area, to provide more and more educational and informational offerings in the months and years to come.

In the meantime, we invite you to check out below what we’re offering so far.

What do we do?

We made a short video explaining why we do what we do, why we love doing it in national parks, and what to expect on a workshop.


Deep dives into specific topics on night photography, before and after pressing the shutter release.

Student Slideshows

The final slideshows from all of our wonderful workshop students. What an amazing body of work.

In-Depth Gear Reviews

We can’t make photos at night without gear! So we make videos about things we find particularly useful or helpful.

Fun Vignettes

Night photography is about more than just learning. It’s also about fun!

Events & Lectures (playlist)

We do a lot of public speaking at shows, events and local camera clubs. Here is a fantastic playlist chock full of unique presentations crafted just for you.

Want to see playlists featuring a particular National Parks at Night instructor? The links below include videos from other channels on YouTube (such as B&H) where you’ll find even more free ways to learn from us. 

What else?

What’s on your YouTube watchlist? How-to videos? Your next dream park? Adorable cats? We work hard to bring you quality video content in addition to what we write here on the blog. So why not drop by our National Parks at Night YouTube channel and see what we have to offer? 

If you like what you see we’d really appreciate if you:

  • Subscribe
  • Like
  • Comment
  • Share

By doing the above, you’ll get first notice on new video content, and also give us more info about what you like or what questions you have. (Thanks!)

We love making videos. But what do you want to see that we haven’t made yet? Drop us a line here and let us know what interests you.

Thanks for watching! We’ll see you on YouTube, or at a park or event near you.

Matt Hill is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. See more about his photography, art, workshops and writing at Follow Matt on Twitter Instagram Facebook.


A Day of Night: Talking Stars and Light Painting at the B&H Event Space

A few days ago Matt Hill and I were hosted by the B&H Event Space, one of our very favorite places to present. The people who run the space are fantastic to work with—always warm, welcoming, helpful and professional in every degree imaginable. Moreover, the Event Space attracts an impressive array of audience members—from beginners to expert pastimers to consummate professionals—who come armed with infectious enthusiasm and a passionate curiosity to better their craft.

(Attendees also included a few of our former workshop participants; it’s always great to see and to catch up with them.)

Matt and I demonstrating why we love  Coast flashlights  above all other options. Photo courtesy of  B&H Photo .

Matt and I demonstrating why we love Coast flashlights above all other options. Photo courtesy of B&H Photo.

It was “A Day of Night at the Event Space,” comprising two presentations, which were livestreamed to a combined audience of over 25,000 viewers (thank you to everyone who tuned in!). Both talks included some of the topics we teach on our workshops, along with over 75 photographs that we’ve made during our adventures under the dark skies of America’s national parks.

We wanted to share what we talked about with you, the readers of our blog.

‘Shooting Stars: How to Photograph Night Skies’

Me talking about starry skies while surrounded by National Parks at Night logos. Photo courtesy of  Klaus-Peter Statz .

Me talking about starry skies while surrounded by National Parks at Night logos. Photo courtesy of Klaus-Peter Statz.

In the first presentation of the afternoon, I talked about how to get started photographing stars. Some of the topics covered were:

  • gear
  • white balance
  • exposure
  • the 400 Rule
  • composition
  • star trails
  • star stacking
  • lens condensation during long exposures
  • software options
  • and more

You can view the recorded version of the livestream here  (jump to 4:56 for the beginning of the presentation):

‘Illuminating the Night: Everything You Want to Know About Light Painting’

Matt and I demonstrating the right and wrong way to paint with light. Photo courtesy of  Klaus-Peter Statz .

Matt and I demonstrating the right and wrong way to paint with light. Photo courtesy of Klaus-Peter Statz.

In the second presentation, Matt and I teamed to talk about one of our favorite topics and one of the favorite techniques on our workshops: light painting! Topics covered were:

You can view the recorded version of the livestream here(jump to 1:20 for the beginning of the presentation):

Come see us!

We hope you enjoy watching these presentations, and that you can take away a nugget or two of knowledge that help as you venture into the night with your cameras.

Between the five of us here at National Parks at Night, we talk pretty regularly at the B&H Event Space, as well as at conferences, trade shows, camera clubs, podcasts, etc. If you’re interested in attending any of the events where we lecture, see our Speaking Engagements page for a schedule of where we’ll be next.

And if you want several days’ worth of this kind of information and instruction, be sure to sign up for any of our upcoming Workshops. ;-)

Chris Nicholson is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night, and author of Photographing National Parks (Sidelight Books, 2015). Learn more about national parks as photography destinations, subscribe to Chris' free e-newsletter, and more at


Level Up: Re-Editing Your Night Photography Images (Video)

I made a screencast for you, dear readers and passionate night photographers. I'm about to join Tim Cooper in Arches National Park next week for one of our final workshops for 2016, and I thought I'd reveal some of my creative process.

It's important to revisit processed photographs from time to time to apply new tastes and techniques. You'll grow faster by identifying old mistakes you made while making better versions of your favorite images, and you may also be able to improve old work because you now know more post-processing techniques or simply because you're better at them.

When you re-edit photos, you'll leave the experience strengthening your new abilities, with more confidence, and with a further developed aesthetic. Give it a shot. I guarantee you'll learn something about yourself, and maybe make a good image great.

My challenge to you: 

  1. Re-edit one of your favorite images.
  2. Write a blog post on your website.
  3. Post a link in the comments. We'd love to see what you do!

Here is the video. Grab a cup of coffee and lean into it. You'll watch along as I re-edit three images from Arches and talk through how I've leveled up since I first shot and edited them.

Example images

Below are the images from the video, much larger so you can see the before and after. Click to view.

Image 01 from the video, before and after.

Image 02 from the video, before and after.

Image 03 from the video, before and after.

VIDEO: Night Visions of National Parks at OPTIC 2016 Imaging Conference

We're delighted to share this recording of our live presentation at the OPTIC 2016 Imaging Conference, hosted and put together by B&H Photo and Lindblad Expeditions. Join all five instructors—Matt, Chris, Lance, Tim and Gabe—as we share successes and challenges achieving our own night visions in national parks.

See more about Matt's photography, art, workshops and writing at Follow Matt on Twitter Instagram Facebook.

Upcoming workshops from National Parks at Night