Sunsets featuring lighthouses make some of the most dramatic and moving photographs of any seascapes. Sunsets can be brilliant and bring out colors in the clouds we often never see. Large numbers of people gather to watch sunsets in places that we observed this summer, like Sunset Beach in Cape May and Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown. But not very many people see the beauty of a summer sunrise.
While on vacation in Provincetown, it occurred to me that seeing the sun come up over the Long Point Lighthouse, at the very tip of The Cape in Provincetown, would be amazing. I asked my wife if she wanted to take a walk with me across the Breakwater to the lighthouse on Saturday morning. First she asked how long a walk it was. The map reflected a 3 mile walk across the breakwater then across the soft sand. She asked what time I’d be leaving, and I informed her that sunrise was at 5:37 AM, so we’d have to set out a little after 4:00 AM. She rolled her eyes and went to bed. I, however, prepared my photo gear and planned my adventure.
I arrived at the breakwater in the dark of night and soon realized that this jaunt was not going to be an easy one. The rocks were wet in places and the breakwater, constructed in 1911, is not even throughout the length. In some spots there are four to five foot drops between the rocks. Truly, crossing in the dark or wet weather can be dangerous. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the calming sound of the small waves splashing the rocks became soothing. The walk, indeed, was a brisk one, but I was determined to see the sunrise over the lighthouse. To my surprise, there was a man and his teenage son about a third of the way out on the rocks. I startled them as I approached, and asked how long they’d been out three. “Three AM,” the proud young man replied. Good, I thought, I’m not the only crazy person out here!
As night began to lose its grip and black turned to dark shades of gray, I reached the beach across the bay. Now the unmistakable first hues of pink began to illuminate a small part of the sky. After taking a quick sip of water, I jumped down onto the very soft sand and began the beach walk to the lighthouse. It was 5:10, and I had about 20 minutes to get where I wanted to be. Past the green marshes and the skeleton of a long-lost boat, my pace quickened as light replaced the darkness. The silhouette of the lighthouse became visible as I approached as did the oil house and the cross on the dune upon which a gull sat as a silent sentinel.
I made it to the tip of the cape to see the lightshow that heralded the arrival of the sun, and I began snapping pictures. The scene was backlit, from the beach, from the rise of the dunes, and then from the east. The warmth of the morning sun and the soft glow in which it bathed the lighthouse and the beach grass in was awesome. The austere silence, broken by just the lapping sounds of the surf washing over the sand and an occasional gull crying, enhanced the sensation.
When satisfied that I had taken every possible angle of the light highlighted by the morning sunshine, I took a few minutes to explore my surroundings. Not visible from the mainland across the bay was a fairly large marker that became part of a few of my compositions. The cross was marked, “Charles Darby, Gallant Soldier, Killed In Action, October 17, 1944.” A Google search revealed that the cross was erected by fellow beach comers and artists with whom Charles Darby had shared his love of Cape Cod. Serene and lovely, the Long Point Lighthouse tower has welcomed the sunrise since 1875. Kudos to the Cape Cod Chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation for their renovations, completed just this past April, for making this lighthouse both memorable and beautiful.
Perhaps the best thing about seeing a lighthouse at sunrise is that there is NO ONE else around. I love taking pictures of lights, but with people all about, they seem more like vacation snapshots. Deserted lights and beaches always evoke a different feel without people in the photograph. This is not much of a concern for a remote lighthouse such as Long Point, but not the case for a tourist novelty like the Edgartown Lighthouse in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. After leaving Provincetown, we spent a night in Edgartown. Naturally we watched the sunset over the lighthouse with the other visitors to the island. I vowed to return in the morning to catch first light over the Edgartown Lighthouse.
By contrast to my breakwater adventure, driving to this lighthouse almost felt like cheating. As I walked past the small harbor on the boardwalk, the sounds of the sea were my soundtrack, though Carly Simon songs played in my head. To my delight, a few morning clouds framed the rising sun. There, proudly, the tiny lighthouse cast a long shadow as the sun rose behind it. Again, I spent some time enjoying the solitude and having the light and the beach to myself.
At breakfast we mapped out the other island lights we would visit; West Chop, East Chop, and lunch at the Gay Head Lighthouse in Aquinnah. (The latter was breathtaking and the view cannot be captured by photographs.)
So, if you decide to photograph lighthouses at sunrise, who knows, we just might meet while enjoying and photographing the “Magic of Lighthouses at Dawn.”
This story appeared in the
December 2010 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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