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Reaching out from Portland Head

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Postby Gary Martin » Sun Apr 19, 2009 8:30 am


I was photographing in New England last week while my wife was attending a machine quilter's meeting in Manchester, NH. One of my stops was at Portland Head. While I did photograph Portland Head, I was also interested in taking advantage of the clear spring air over the water to photograph the lights off shore. In particular, I wanted some shots of Halfway Rock from Portland Head, which is 8+ miles away. Here's a map ala Google that shows the local geography:

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I had the Nikon 500 mm f/4 AF-S lens mounted on a Nikon D200 body with a Nikkor 2X AF-S teleconverter between the lens and camera body, giving me an effective focal length of 1500 mm at f/8 courtesy of the telephoto factor of the DX sensor in the D200. Here's what that combination afforded. Getting Halfway Rock wasn't at all surprising. What was a bit of a surprise, however, was a very distant view of Seguin Island lighthouse off to the right. Checking Google Earth, from where I was shooting at Portland Head to Seguin Island is about 23.5 miles :!:

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1500 mm is too much lens to photograph Ram Island Ledge from Portland Head. The lighthouse more than fills the viewfinder. Taking the 2X from between the lens and camera body, however, gives you a nice shot of Ram Island Ledge.

Image
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Postby Rob143 » Sun Apr 19, 2009 8:48 am


Nicely done Gary. I too am surprised to see Seguin Island at all at 23.5 miles. I found my 900mm effective, and haze off of the Keys two weeks ago, to get record shots saying I was there but not much more at 6 to 8 miles.
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Postby Hersh » Sun Apr 19, 2009 11:42 am


Big glass + clear air = sweet shots.

I'm surprised you didn't get the bottom of Seguin cut off by the curvature of the earth.
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Postby Gary Martin » Sun Apr 19, 2009 12:05 pm


I know what you mean, Rob. The big glass is about useless here in the vicinity of NYC in the summer months when the humidity and smaze are high. You're lucky if you can see a couple of miles, e.g. from the tip of Sandy Hook to the Verrazano Narrows bridge.

I was talking to Sue (aka Lighthouse News) and she mentioned that Seguin Island is Maine's tallest lighthouse in terms of focal plane. It stands atop Seguin Island and I definitely cut the bottom out of the island due to the curvature of the Earth, Hersh. I've got a shot of Seguin Island from a lot closer. I'll convert it to a jpeg and will post it so people can see just how high the Seguin Island light stands. The other purpose for hauling the big glass with me was to shoot Minot's Ledge and I got some nice shots of that light off of Cohasset. I'll get them posted some time this afternoon.

I guess I should bring the Nikon suitcase with me up to the St Lawrence in June. If it's cool and clear, we might be able to reel in some of the island lights from Tibbet's Point. They're in the 10-15 mile range.
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Postby Gary Martin » Sun Apr 19, 2009 12:44 pm


Here's a somewhat better satellite map of Casco Bay than you can get from Google Earth. This one happens to be from a NASA program called World Wind v1.4. The image is from the LandSat satellite using a surface known as Geocover 2000. The various points that we've been talking about and the other Portland area lighthouses are labeled on the map.

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The other nice thing about images from World Wind is that they're in the public domain.
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Postby Gary Martin » Sun Apr 19, 2009 12:50 pm


OK, prompted by Hersh's comment about cutting the bottom off the tower of the Seguin Island light, here are a couple of shots from much closer at 900 mm. These were shot from the road leading out to Popham Beach State Park.

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During the summer of 2006, I was invited to give a lecture at a scientific meeting in Portland. Gee, invitation to go there so no vacation time consumed... lighthouses in close proximity.... d'oh would you twist my arm please and make me go? Anyway, while I was in the Portland area, I drove down to Bailey Island to get a view of Halfway Rock. These shots were taken in August and obviously the marine layer was working to degrade visibility.

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I didn't bother to take the big glass with me on that trip figuring that the air quality for distant shots wouldn't be optimal.
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Postby Gary Martin » Sun Apr 19, 2009 4:30 pm


I've been trading e-mail today with Sue aka Lighthouse News. She sent me the link for a handy distance to the horizon calculator:

http://www.boatsafe.com/tools/horizon.htm

Checking USGS topographic map contour levels for where I was near Portland Head, my lens was about 25 feet above sea level since I was set up near the 20 foot contour a little to the south of the lighthouse. Plugging in that height, the horizon should have been a little less than 7 miles off. Looking at it from the other direction, the focal plane of Seguin Island is 180 feet. That puts the horizon at about 19 miles when you factor in that I'm about 25 feet above the horizon.

I guess that leaves the question... some sort of mirage or was it the real Seguin Island off in the distance?
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Postby Rob143 » Sun Apr 19, 2009 7:03 pm


I know what I saw in your shot and it was a lighthouse but that is why I was surprised you got it at 23.5 miles. Hersh commented on cutting it off due to the curvature of the earth. I was basing my original surprise on a completely non-scientific method. I reasoned that some of our coastal towers are in the 160' - 200' neighborhood and could be seen in the neighborhood of high teens to low 20 miles.

Interesting calculator. I'll have to check it out one of these days and add it to my ever growing list of ways to over think going out and shooting lights.
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Postby Grover1 » Mon Apr 20, 2009 7:16 pm


When at Portland head last summer, at sunrise, in a fog both thick and wet, we met a native walking his golden retriever ... He claimed photogrpahic skill and was amused by those down on the rocks trying to capture "the" unique Portland Head image. He was empathetic to our foggy plight and he told us that on a clear day, in extraordinary conditions, of the trifecta of sorts that three lights aligned created ... while I listened intently, I probably started shaking my head, impercepatbly I hope, doubting such a vision, let alone a photograph, was possible with the distances mentioned ... in excess of twenty miles ...

Gary, those were some spectacular images you shared ... thanks for posting them
Believe those who search for the truth ...
Doubt those who find it ...
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Postby Gary Martin » Tue Apr 21, 2009 2:19 pm


Barry, you could conceivably get a photo with four lights in it, but the difficulty would come from how close to Portland Head itself you'd be positioned. Getting Ram Island Ledge, Halfway Rock, and on a good day Seguin Island lined up would, however, work at about 750 mm, I think. I'm still amazed at seeing Seguin Island, or its mirage as the case may be, in the image at 1500 mm.
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Postby Blacktphoto » Wed Apr 22, 2009 6:18 pm


Gary, simply put, that's amazing! Hard to believe, yet there it is.

Will definately challenge myself and my gear with this the next time I visit Maine.

Just when you thought Lighthousing couldn't be more fun. Good stuff!

- John
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Postby Gary Martin » Thu Apr 23, 2009 4:52 pm


John, I'll be interested in see what you manage to come up with when you give it a try. I'd like to get there to shoot some time when the air temp is down maybe in the low 40's or colder so that the air would be maximally clear. You would, however, have to be certain that the body of the lens was thermally equilibrated to whatever the outdoor temperature is to be certain that the optical alignment of the lens was what it's supposed to be.
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