Cape Cod's Beautiful Light
Article and Images by Ronald A. Zincone
If you are a nature photographer or astrophotographer, as I am, and you really want to capture some nice magic hour “light” then Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is where you want to be. For me it started out as a family camping trip in August for one week at the Shady Knoll campgrounds in Brewster, Massachusetts, which is located about mid to lower Cape off of Route 6A. Since this particular week in August coincided with the annual Perseid meteor shower which peaked on August 12/13, I was hoping to capture not only my first Perseid meteors but my first meteors on digital. Campgrounds can provide the observer with some nice dark skies depending on the phase of the moon. In my case the moon was, unfortunately, in full phase. This meant that the fainter meteors would be washed out but I might get to photograph some brighter ones. Well, that’s what I was hoping anyway.
What started out as a plan to capture some sunset images turned into a four night sunset and one morning sunrise marathon that started out on August 11th at Rock Harbor in Orleans, First Encounter beach on the 12th, and Sunken Meadow beach on the 13th for some dramatic sunsets, and then onto Nauset Light beach for a sunrise on the 14th! These beaches are all located along Route 6A going east along the mid to lower Cape region. You can see from my images here that in each location the “light” was truly different and had a magical quality of its own. Finding the right or good “light” at the right time is so important to us nature photographers.
Rock Harbor, which I visited several years ago, is an area that features a unique landscape and draws tourists and vacationers daily, many with cameras on hand. Rock Harbor is known for its memorable sunsets and the sunset I captured didn’t disappoint me.
On the next night, First Encounter beach was also picturesque and giving of beautiful light as the sun sank below the horizon. As I continued to shoot with every lens I had, I asked myself how long the weather would hold out. My photographic equipment included a Bogen Manfrotto Carbon/Mag fiber tripod with three-way pan head, a Canon EOS 35 mm 20Da SLR 8.2 million pixel camera, a 75–300 mm Canon telephoto (120–480 mm equivalent field of view), a 18–55 mm Canon lens (28–90 mm equivalent field of view), a Sigma 10–22 mm super wide angle lens (16–32 mm equivalent field of view), a remote shutter release, and assorted filters.
In most of these locations, I was lucky enough to reach my destination early enough to scout out my angles to the horizon and obtain a high-point so that the tourists would not interfere with my shooting. We often hear from the pros how important it is to scout out your destination early.
On the 13th of August, I traveled to the next sunset location called Sunken Meadow beach just a little further up 6A. This night’s sunset truly stuck in my mind for the texture, patterns, and color of the light were absolutely mind-boggling as you can see from the image in this article. One of the Cape’s other assets, as I learned from this trip, is its low seascape horizons facing east or west. This was an added bonus for me as an astrophotographer because the planet Mercury is often very low above the western horizon within the sun’s glare.
After I returned from that glorious sunset at Sunken Meadow on the 13th, my family and I headed back to camp for a night of much needed sleep in the tent. I had already planned to do a final photo shoot early the next morning to catch the sunrise at Nauset Light beach which is an east facing beach. My back was hurting and I was tired so I contemplated canceling my plans but instead forced myself to wake up at four in the morning (common for an astrophotographer) and head east on 6A to Nauset. As it turned out, it was the highlight of my trip and a memorable morning of photography and I was glad I had changed my mind.
It was a nature photographer’s and astrophotographer’s dream. The sky was crystal clear and the air was very dry. You could easily see the beautiful twilight layering along the horizon. Behind me and to my left was Nauset Lighthouse. The gibbous moon hung above me at the zenith while in the eastern sky stood the Orion constellation and our inner planets Mercury and Venus. As I shot away with my 20Da, I reminded myself of all nature gives us and how sacred these moments are. As it turned out, not only was I able to capture some nice celestial subjects, Nauset Lighthouse and the moon, but as the sun rose that morning under dawn skies, this astrophotographer, shooting in continuous burst mode, both observed and captured my first “green flash” and “sun mirage.” It was my icing on the cake! As Forrest Gump so correctly stated in the movie, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.” Well, we can say the same for nature photography!
If you have never been to the Cape or have not seen or photographed its dawn or dusk, make plans to visit its coastal regions between May and October—I guarantee you’ll leave with some memorable earth and sky connections!