I’ve shot this lighthouse on the coast of Maine numerous times at night, and on this particular night I was teaching a workshop and standing out of the way so the students could move around as they needed. I setup and just shot for fun, continuing to play with and test out the Nikon D5 at different exposure settings at night and helping the students as needed. I didn’t think I’d come away with something interesting that I hadn’t captured before here, but a small patch of clouds passed overhead and ending up making for a nice atmospheric touch to the scene.
The light rays coming out of the lighthouse are real, the light (as in many lighthouses) is so directional and bright that you can see this wagon-wheel type effect with your naked eye looking up at the lighthouse when it blinks.
And to answer a question I get asked all the time, the lighthouse is not blowing out the scene completely because it is a blinking light, blinking twice every 8 or 9 seconds. A constant on light would have been much more difficult to work with.
Normally I use the “star stacking” technique of shooting a bunch of exposures at a short enough shutter speed to capture pinpoint stars, usually 10 seconds x 10 exposures, and then stack & blend them in Starry Landscape Stacker (available for Mac) to get both pinpoint stars and low noise, but in this case I ended up using a single 20 second exposure because I liked the look of the clouds in the 20 second exposure vs the effective 100 seconds that 10 x 10 gave me, where the clouds streaked out very smoothly and lost their texture.
Nikon D5, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens @ 14mm. One shot for the sky at ISO 3200, f/2.8, 20 seconds, and one shot for the lighthouse at ISO 1600, f/5.6, 4 minutes. Following my usual workflow, the images were prepped in Lightroom, and then blended and finished with creative edits in Photoshop.