Creating a Fine Art Print

Whaleback Lighthouse, Maine


Scattered around New England, there are locations that I've dreamed of for my personal "bucket list" photographs. These are images that require certain weather, lighting, and conditions that may take years to line up- if at all.

One of those images for me was of Whaleback Lighthouse, which sits offshore between Maine and New Hampshire, at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. Visible from many beautiful locations onshore in both states, I've photographed Whaleback many times over the years, but my favorite view is from Fort Foster in Kittery, Maine. 


Whaleback from Fort Foster in calmer seas

Let's take a detour from the Whaleback story to talk about another image I captured back in 2016, after Winter Storm Jonas- another Nor'easter that brought huge waves to New England. 

My mission for that storm was another offshore lighthouse, Minot's Ledge off the coast of Massachusetts.  


Notice the crow making a quick exit from it's perch on the lighthouse railing

While Jonas brought big waves, the other conditions were less than ideal. After exploring the coastline around Cohasset and studying Google Earth, we figured out the closest location onshore to photograph the lighthouse from, which still put Minot's Ledge nearly 1.5 miles away. Another issue was the biggest swells happening right at noon. With clear skies, the overhead sun and extreme sea spray was creating a lot of haze to shoot through- notice the post on top of the lighthouse tower looking slightly crooked due to the shimmer. These files were very difficult to process, and I had to crop quite a bit, meaning I couldn't print very large. 

Now, don't get me wrong. I absolutely love this image, despite any shortcomings, and watching these waves crash 90+ feet is something I'll never forget. But after this trip, the wheels in my head started turning. I've only photographed Minot's Ledge that one time, but what if I could get something similar at a lighthouse I have a deep connection to? Enter Winter Storm Riley.


Starting the day at Nubble Lighthouse

Finally, after years of waiting, it seemed like conditions were lining up. Big swells were forecasted all day, and the mostly cloudy skies kept the haze down and light more even- much better for photos. After hitting a few places around the New Hampshire and southern Maine coast, we saw the waves building and decided to head to Fort Foster. 


Just over 1/2 Mile, much better! 

Getting out to the point, I was very excited to immediately see a few big waves crashing against Whaleback that were exactly what I had hoped for. Unfortunately, what I soon learned was that it took a very specific set of swells to meet right before the lighthouse for the waves to be impressive- which only happened a few times over 2+ hours. I locked down my tripod and 150-600mm lens at 500mm, to leave room in the composition for the waves to crash, and waited with one hand on my camera shutter. Every time a big swell was moving toward the lighthouse, I would fire off 5-10 shots to catch the entire sequence at 1/1000th of a second to freeze the powerful waves and capture as much detail as possible.


Another sequence that didn't make the cut

Although it was hard to pull myself away, after a few hours the clouds cleared and the light got very harsh, so I decided to head home. I had a few good sequences to work with, and I couldn't wait to sit down at home to sort through them! I already knew that I wanted to do something special with these images. 


Before/After Processing

After sorting through the 500+ photos, I found the frame that matched the idea I had in mind for years- Whaleback engulfed in powerful waves. The more even light resulted in a fairly flat file, but after spending a few days dialing in the processing, I was able to bring out some beautiful detail in the scene. 

Normally I like to run my images on something like luster paper, for a bright and colorful print, but I had something different in mind here. This lighthouse tower was constructed in 1872, and I wanted my print to reflect the timeless nature of this scene, which meant a more traditional paper medium. After contacting a local Maine printer that came highly recommended, I sent off for multiple small proof prints on various papers to compare. 


The first round of proofs

My first thought after opening my first round of proof prints was "wow! These papers are absolutely stunning!". The fine art papers have a real weight and just feel like a piece of artwork, something that can be lost on other mediums. It wasn't an easy choice, but after getting a variety of opinions (a professional framer, other photographers, my dogs), the unanimous decision was Canson Rag Photographique, a beautiful museum-grade matte paper. 

The thing I appreciate most about working with a master printmaker, rather than a bigger commercial print lab, is the individual attention. After deciding on the paper, I made a few small adjustments to my file based on the suggestions he made to optimize the image for larger prints- try getting that service from some of the bigger labs! After another round of small test prints to double check the adjustments, it's time to move on to the final size, something I couldn't wait to see.


All smiles after opening the final print! 

At this point, I knew there wouldn't be any surprises on the bigger prints after doing multiple rounds of smaller proofs, but it was a great feeling finally seeing the finished product! I really love how the paper worked with this image, and the detail in the wave and lighthouse is beautiful. 

The last step is giving the image a title. In my experience this is either the easiest, or most difficult part. For this photo I wanted to play off the Whaleback name, and to me, the lighthouse reminded me of a whale jumping out of the ocean (AKA "breaching"), so I decided on that title- "Breach". 

After numbering and signing, the print was finally done, and one of those "bucket list" photos was checked off the list.


To purchase a copy of this limited edition print, you can learn more by clicking here


© 2018 Jon Secord Photography