A Week at Lime Kiln Lighthouse

This is a diary of sorts from a week I spent shooting Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island last winter.


My goal for this shoot was to visit the same location multiple times and really get to know the site. More planning and a bit less shooting with the idea of finding more compelling compositions under various lighting. The first visit turned out to be a lovely, blustery pacific northwest winter day. And there was plenty of sun and clouds. I had planned for all these shots to be long exposures and the conditions were perfect, with a rough surf and dramatic clouds blowing across the sky towards the lighthouse. I caught the 7:10 ferry from Lopez Island to Friday Harbor and headed to Lime Kiln straight away as I wanted to catch the morning light. I am embarrassed to admit that this was my first visit to Lime Kiln State Park. And oh my, what a glorious place. Especially on a winter day with 20 to 30 kt winds.

The image I envisioned was a rough onshore gale with the lighthouse standing guard and lending guidance. By the time I arrived the sun was coming up fast so I set up and started shooting. This was one of my first shots. I quite liked it, although I don’t think it completely captures my vision for this shoot.

I am thinking that most, if not all of these shots will be converted to black and white. But I want show the color versions as well. And although I liked them a fair bit, I think that the black and white images highlight the lighthouse a bit better.

I managed a couple of other compositions and I wanted something from the north side of the lighthouse as well, but I quickly ran into two problems. First, the sun had broken through the clouds on the horizon and was blowing out my sky. And second there just wasn‘t much real estate on the cliffs on the far side of the lighthouse and with my widest lens, I experienced vignetting when using my graduated neutral density filter and 2 ND filters (10 stop + 6 stop).


My plan for Day 2 was to catch a later boat, the 12:10 to Friday Harbor, and scout the Cattle Point lighthouse for a future shoot. But the clouds in the west were looking quite promising so I headed straight for Lime Kiln. And was very well rewarded. Just as blustery and windy as yesterday but the clouds were stunning and blowing directly onshore. I quickly snapped these 3 photos. The first was a 4 minute exposure and the second two were 8 minute exposures.

My favorite was the third one.

And the black & white conversion with a bit of cropping to accent the lighthouse.

I also captured a couple of portrait orientations. Not quite what I was looking for, but nice. I especially like the shot looking up at the lighthouse from the beach.


After a quick trip to Friday Harbor for some coffee, food and warmth I headed back out to Lime Kiln for the late afternoon light and sunset. It was a total disappointed all around. Normally sunset / twilight is my favorite time to shoot. But I had totally miscalculated the direction of the setting sun. And I just couldn’t find a location to isolate the lighthouse in great light. This one shot was pretty much all I got for the two hours of cold, windy shooting.


The nice thing about visiting the same site multiple times is the reflection that happens when you aren’t shooting. Time and time again, ideas for compositions came to me on the ferry ride home, or while I was doing some mundane task and I would quickly add the shot to my list of possibles for my next visit. Armed with new ideas, I took the mid morning boat to Friday Harbor and planned for a late afternoon shoot. With time to kill I spent two hours scouting out the Cattle Pass lighthouse on the south tip of San Juan Island and then spent another hour hiking around the old Lime Kilns.

When all was said and done I didn’t come up with any other compositions that inspired me at Lime Kiln. But I had wanted to try and capture a shot of the Lighthouse during sunset just as the light comes on. So I waited and took one last image. Unfortunately clouds on the horizon prevented the sun from casting a warm glow on the lighthouse and the rocks in the foreground.

But I am pretty sure that this wasn’t my last trip to Lime Kiln State Park.

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