20-Foot Custom Tripod Used to Capture America’s Fading Lighthouses

20-Foot Custom Tripod Used to Capture America’s Fading Lighthouses

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When photographer David Zapatka was rising up on Rhode Island listening to the foghorn of a close-by lighthouse, it instilled in him what his spouse describes as an “obsession.”

Zapatka is on a mission to doc the U.S.’s disappearing lighthouses and has at present photographed 193 of them, all at evening.

At one time there have been greater than 1,600 lighthouses permeating the coastlines of the USA, now there are just a little over 800 of them.

Sunken Rock, New York
Sunken Rock, New York | David Zapatka
Stamford Harbor
Stamford Harbor | David Zapatka

To seize the distinctive buildings, Zapatka makes use of an array of strategies and tools. Most uncommon is his 20-foot tripod {that a} good friend welded collectively for him in order that he can wade out into the water and nonetheless take a 20-second publicity.

“We’ve efficiently shot about 15 lighthouses in any other case unachievable except we had this incredible device,” Zapatka says of the Frankenstein tripod.

The tripod in use.
The tripod in use.

20 ft tripod

“It’s been a game-changer for the venture, and though we glance fairly loopy placing collectively the behemoth tripod whereas launching it off boats, the outcomes are fairly wonderful.”

tripod in action

Plymouth, Massachusetts
Plymouth, Massachusetts | David Zapatka
Race Rock, New York
Race Rock, New York | David Zapatka

Regardless of the big tripod, Zapatka says that pictures is the simplest a part of the venture and that researching every lighthouse is what takes essentially the most time and power.

“It’s crucial and respectful to look out the suitable permissions from the suitable individuals to realize their belief and entry previous to arriving on location,” Zapatka tells PetaPixel.

“After getting the permission, researching satellite tv for pc imagery, tide and navigation charts, lunar schedules, and lastly short-range forecasts assist decide profitable shoots.

“In various situations, I’ve accomplished full due diligence earlier than arriving on location solely to have a fog financial institution roll in. It may be irritating at instances, and it’s additionally the rationale why it has taken 9 years to {photograph} solely 193 lighthouses.”

Big Sable, Michigan
Large Sable, Michigan | David Zapatka
Sankaty, Nantucket
Sankaty, Nantucket | David Zapatka
 Fort Gratiot, Michigan
Fort Gratiot, Michigan | David Zapatka
Watch Hill, Rhode Island
Watch Hill, Rhode Island | David Zapatka

Picture Gear and Methodology

Earlier than each shoot, Zapatka presets his 10-year-old Nikon D4 to ISO 2,000, 20-second publicity time, and white steadiness is 3,200K. His Nikkor 14mm f/2.8 is all the time set at f/2.8.

“The shoot location determines the ultimate settings, and most frequently it’s immediately affected by any ambient mild remaining lengthy after the solar has set. I exploit the ISO as the one variable, and manually concentrate on the flashing beacon,” he explains.

For lighting, Zapatka makes use of a Lite-Panel Bi-Colour 1×1 LED on a stand.

Level Judith, Rhode Island | David Zapatka
Hendricks Head, Maine
Hendricks Head, Maine | David Zapatka

Zapataka says that every one of his pictures are single pictures with “no Photoshop composing.”

“I satisfaction myself on creating old-school latent pictures composed and lighted within the subject,” he says.

“I’ve by no means added any stars to any {photograph}, and just about what’s earlier than my eyes on location is what’s within the ultimate edit.

“I intently comply with the Related Press fashion information for moral photojournalism despite the fact that I’m a shopper solely to myself. I firmly imagine an excellent {photograph} must be obtained utilizing an clever strategy within the subject.”

Montauk, New York
Montauk, New York | David Zapatka
Fire Island, New York
Hearth Island, New York | David Zapatka

Then there may be the matter of his do-it-yourself, 20-foot tall tripod that he makes use of within the ocean.

“The most important hurdle for profitable tripod pictures is the make-up of the underside. One by no means is aware of what’s beneath the floor, and we hope for it to be flat and sandy,” says Zapatka.

“Rocky and hilly bottoms are a nightmare when attempting to set the tripod, and on various shoots I’ve needed to abandon utilizing it.

“It’s usually merely trial and error whereas on location floating at the hours of darkness close to a historic lighthouse.”

Turkey Point, Maryland
Turkey Level, Maryland | David Zapatka
 Ladies Delight, Maine
Girls Delight, Maine | David Zapatka

Zapatka is concerned with the preservation of lighthouses and is president of Plum Seaside Lighthouse in Rhode Island. The USA Lighthouse Society (USLHS) even donated a 20-year-old 22-foot leisure car (RV) to assist him journey to distant lighthouses.

“Since a lot of the shoots go late into the evening, with the ability to keep away from driving lengthy distances on unfamiliar darkish roads is a pleasant security characteristic,” he explains.

“Many lighthouse foundations enable me to remain on their properties in a single day, and there’s little extra interesting than climbing into the bunk after a profitable shoot and falling asleep to the blinking mild of the tower’s beacon.”


Different package features a rock-climbing helmet with headlamp, a private floatation machine, a miniature Emergency Place-Indicating Radio Beacon, ice crampons, and a pair of waders.

Zapatka has printed two books in regards to the lighthouses which can be found to buy right here. As of publication, they’re offered out however extra will likely be out there in mid-October.

Picture credit: All images by David Zapatka.

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