Capturing Lighthouses

Wayne Chatfield has photographed over 250 lighthouses

September 2022 Feature Heather Magda Serrano

Lighthouses evoke feelings of serenity and awe, and most people cannot help but be drawn to them. Wayne Chatfield is one such person who feels a strong pull towards these historic landmarks on the Great Lakes.

The Ohio local decided to take up lighthouse photography almost a decade ago on account of his love for history. He created a lighthouse photography blog and has since traveled tens of thousands of miles to visit and photograph over 250 lighthouses.

Capturing The Beauty

Wayne finds great beauty in the different kinds of construction and architecture in lighthouses and loves the tall brick ones that have been weathering all the storms for over 100 years. Having traveled across the country visiting lighthouses, some of his favorites are in North Carolina, Maine and Michigan.

“People don’t realize that the state with the most lighthouses is actually Michigan,” noted Wayne.

When it comes to capturing the lighthouses, he finds great enjoyment in setting up the photo. He thoughtfully plans his composition, creating the atmosphere with the subject, background and foreground in each photo.

“It’s such a peaceful, serene thing because you’re always on the shoreline,” observed Wayne. “You travel on the shoreline, you feel the breeze, you feel the waters and the weather is also a neat factor, like when it causes extremely large waves to slap on the shore.”

As someone who has always been an avid fan of photography, Wayne has even entered into contests, winning a couple second and thirds places. His love for the history also propels him forward in his photography journey. He’s even started photographing covered bridges because of this and started a photography blog on them four years ago as well.

Immersed In History

Every lighthouse tells its own unique story. For example, Wayne described one lighthouse out in the middle of the Lake Huron in the winter. The surface was frozen in some areas when Air Force Master Sergeant William J. Wyman had airplane troubles had no other choice but to crash land in the lake in 1959.

From there, Wyman was able to make it to the Spectacle Reef Lighthouse, situated on a sturdy underwater crib in the at the east end of the Straits of Mackinac. After staying there a while without food or water storage and attempting to signal for help, he decided to cross the partially frozen lake, a distance of around 11 miles, however he never made it.

As a result, now all the lighthouses in the area keep their doors unlocked during the off-season in case somebody needs refuge in the winter. It’s a sad story because the man lost his life, but because of this tragedy, the lighthouse doors remain open for other people that have troubles around this area.

“When people think of lakes, they usually think of small lakes but Lake Superior is around 1,500 feet deep—it’s like a small ocean,” added Wayne. “A lot of these waters are very treacherous, and every place has its own history and story that goes with it—it’s like a rainbow where every color is beautiful, and there’s a variety of atmosphere around each one.”

A Peaceful Pastime

Along with his love of history comes his love on sharing it with other like-minded people. He feels like there is so much connection in finding kindred spirits who love lighthouses and their accompanying history.

“It’s a different kind of people that enjoy it,” shared Wayne. “It’s a relaxed hobby, so you don’t have the hyper smoker/drinker type because these people are in a different state of mind when they go around lighthouses. It’s just a form of relaxation for me and I love to share the beauty with others.”

Getting There

Wayne always goes solo on his photography trips to visit lighthouses. He’s often spontaneous when it comes to setting out. For example, he could wake up tomorrow and decide to go to Upper New York.

From there, he’ll hop on the internet and go to a cite called Lighthouse Friends which maps out all the lighthouses in North America and part of South America with all the GPS information he needs. Before leaving the house, Wayne will pick out around eight or 10 lighthouses to see and plot out his route to see each one at the right time of day.

Wayne also happens to be an avid long-distance kayaker which couples well with his lighthouse photography. He never wants to go for more than three or four days without kayaking, so he always takes his kayak with him.

“It also allows me to get to places close to shores or to peninsulas,” explained Wayne. “A lot of the time lighthouses are on a peninsula, but the whole peninsula is private property making it so you can’t get there by land. So I get in my kayak and I’ll kayak out to it and then climb up to the lighthouse and take photos that way.”

He’s employed this tactic about a dozen times. Then when the lighthouse is clear out in the middle of the lake, say in Lake Superior, Michigan or Huron—even in the Atlantic Ocean—he simply cannot kayak that far and has to find an alternative method.

In these instances, there are a plenty of places around the country that give lighthouse tours by boat. For example, in Lake Michigan you can go out and see around five lighthouses in the lake then go to another touring company and see some more. Wayne has done around a good dozen of these tourist trips so that he can get out in the water and photograph the lighthouses.

Sharing His Passion

Although he’s photographed over 250 lighthouses, Wayne has never felt the inclination to sell his work. However, that does not mean he’s opposed to sharing—just the opposite. His philosophy is that if you’re not going to make big money off one of his photos, then he’ll simply share the photo with you.

“I give a lot of photos away,” admitted Wayne. “I’ll frame them and give them to family. I’ve never made money off of it, but I don’t really care. It’s just the point of being able to share it with people. I just want to give.”

As a conservative Christian, Wayne’s main goal in life is to share and help others. That’s the main reason he doesn’t have any desire to sell his art but rather share it others. And his journey is far from over because he plans to carry on his lighthouse photography journey and also pursue his covered bridges blog. No doubt, these projects will continue to bring him great peace and fulfillment as he continues shares his work with others.

 

Be sure to check out Wayne’s blog at wclighthouses1.blogspot.com. Then if you’re interested in covered bridges, you can also find his work on these at his other blog wccoveredbridges.blogspot.com.

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