Blog Post #1 - Morris Island Lighthouse

I am hoping to start a bi-monthly blog highlighting some of my favorite adventures in landscape photography. My intent here is to both preserve the memories for myself in addition to bringing light to the challenges faced in attempting to stand out in the growing crowd of very impressive photographers these days.

My first post will be about photographing the Morris Island Lighthouse. This lighthouse was first built in 1876 to mark the entrance to the harbor of Charleston. Originally on land, erosion of the surrounding beaches left the lighthouse stranded at sea where it now lies several hundred meters off the coast. Local photographers primarily must use zoom lenses to shoot the lighthouse if they want it to fill any significant portion of their frame. This means perspective is very comparable for nearly every shots of the lighthouse, save those taken by drone or helicopter.

Low tide, however, does present an opportunity. At low tide a sandbar forms between the beach and the lighthouse. This sandbar does not actually extend all the way to the lighthouse but comes within a couple hundred feet, which is significantly closer than from shore. I first noticed this sandbar while walking the beach and made a mental note to one day kayak out to it.

The shot itself took careful planning. Sunrise is better than sunset due to the angle of the sun. High tide completely covers the sand bar rendering shooting impossible outside of low tide. Brilliant sunrises are not an every day occurrence. Lastly, I also have a full time job to contend with. I needed all of these things to fall in line which took months of waiting.

When the perfect morning finally arrive I packed my camera bag and kayak the night before and awoke at 3AM to make the drive to the lighthouse. I am by no means an experienced kayaker which is one of the reasons I was nervous. The tides through this area are extremely powerful. In fact, only a few weeks before this two kayakers had gone missing in this exact area. Their bodies were found miles away washed up on shore. The fact that I would be doing this at 4 AM without any light made it more nerve wracking. This was absolutely something that I had to take seriously.

Stereotypical pose of myself enjoying sunrise

From the parking area I had a 0.6 mile hike to the beach which is not easy with a kayak and camera gear. Once launched the kayak ride itself was short, probably only one-quarter mile. The problem is that in the darkness I could only faintly make out the lighthouse. I could not make out the sand bar until I actually ran my kayak into it, despite using a headlamp. I had to trust my instinct that it would be there.

Once landed it was easy sailing. I had to pull my kayak up high enough to compensate for the tide which would slowly start rising and thus limit my time. I began my trek across the sandbar to get as close to the lighthouse as possible. It was a bit creepy in the darkness, only able to still faintly make out the lighthouse against the sky and hearing the sound of the ocean in all directions. I made it to the edge of the sand bar as the first light started a glow in the sky. After all the work to get there I was dreaming for a beautiful sunrise and was not disappointed! The distance allowed me to shoot at a much wider angle and actually incorporate some of the foreground into the shot while still keeping the lighthouse a dominant figure in the photograph. After enjoying the sandbar to myself and shooting the sunrise for a while I knew I had to make it back to the kayak as the tide was visibly rising. The current would also be more of a challenge coming back in as well. Ultimately everything went off without a hitch. I am unsure if I will go back out there as it involves quite a bit of work and planning but it was certainly worth the effort!

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