The Little Red Lighthouse, officially named Jeffrey's Hook Light, is a small (40'/12.2m) lighthouse located under the eastern span of the George Washington Bridge (AKA the Great Gray Bridge) in Fort Washington Park, Washington Heights, New York City. The official name of this lighthouse was surpassed by the name given it by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward in their famous 1942 book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge
. This book was one of my wife's childhood favorites, so ... it was fitting for me to have this location on my photo bucket list and circumstances worked out for me to cross off this line item.
Typically, big city landmarks are readily accessible and easy to visit. While the first applies to this one, for a non-local without a bicycle, the second ... not so much. The problem is the lack of local parking and the significant roads and railroad tracks separating Fort Washington Park and the Hudson River Greenway from the rest of the city in this area.
There are two entrances into Fort Washington Park. I chose the more-northern 181st St option over the southern 158th St entrance as it appeared logistically better. Parking at one of the closest parking garages, Alliance Parking Services (for GPS, use 649-699 W 184th St, New York, NY 10033) resulted in a just-over 1 mile (1.6km) hike to the lighthouse. The landscape in Manhattan and many other parts of New York City is mostly flat, but Washington "Heights" wasn't given its name without reason. While not a mountain by most people's definition, the ascent and descent into the park, over and under the roads and tracks, is noticeable under the weight of a heavy pack.
Loaded into my MindShift Gear BackLight 26L
for this trip was the following:
A pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R
DSLR bodiesCanon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM LensCanon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM LensCanon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM LensCanon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM LensGitzo GT1542T Traveler 6x Carbon Fiber Tripod
with a Acratech GP-s Ball Head
Numerous accessories, food, plenty of water, warm clothes.
I hand-carried a second tripod, my current-favorite Gitzo GT3542LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod
with an Arca-Swiss Z1 Ball Head
This gave me two complete camera setups with plenty of focal length overlap in the range I expected to need the most. The redundancy was first and foremost to allow me to take twice as many photos during the short time period within blue hour that I was most-targeting. This shoot consumed most of a day (I arrived home at 2:30 AM) and with the small extra effort of taking a second camera setup, I was getting nearly twice as many photos when the exposure durations hit 30 seconds (with an additional 30-second-long exposure noise reduction) during prime time. I would start one image capture and go attend the second camera setup, located far enough away for a different composition, but close enough that I had a close watch on it from a security standpoint.
Backup in case of failure was the other reason for the second complete camera setup. I was investing heavily enough (time and other costs) in this trip to warrant a backup.
The Little Red Lighthouse shoot went as planned. Arriving late in the afternoon, I climbed around the rocks for an hour or so, trying to decide what compositions would be best for prime time. I ate, rested and went to work as the sun set behind the GWB.
As the sun set, the balance of sky brightness to the light hitting the lighthouse transitioned from silhouette to nearly the opposite. By shooting continuously during this time, I could select my favorite look later. A darker background is always an option, but a brighter sky is not available again until another day (without some post processing techniques).
For this image, I opted for the 11-24L lens set to 11mm to provide a dramatic perspective that included the entire river span of the bridge. To see a sample result captured from the other camera, with a lens choice made for a reason, one that you may not have considered (not focal length or sharpness), check out the pic I creatively titled The Little Red Lighthouse