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I spent the last sunrise of Sydney’s summer season taking in the view at Hornby Lighthouse, on the South Head of Watsons Bay. The red and white, candy-striped lighthouse is a unique piece of architecture and was so much fun to photograph.

The lighthouse is the third oldest in New South Wales. It’s an active one, marking the southern entrance to Port Jackson and Sydney Harbour. It lights an area of submerged rocks called the South Reef.

My housemate Emily and I got up while it was still dark to make it to Hornby Lighthouse for sunrise. We walked the South Head Heritage trail (for info click: here) to get there, which is a short 15 to 20 minute walk that also goes past Camp Cove Beach and Lady Bay Beach..

We rushed along the trail, turning to glimpse the Sydney city skyline start to glow across the harbour, as the first of the sun’s rays hit it at an angle.

We got to the end of the trail just in time to watch the sun rise out over the sea and its rays of light cast a glow over the lighthouse, making its striking colours pop.

It was the perfect way to say goodbye to the best season of the year.

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In less of a hurry on the trail walk back, we were better able to take in other sights the area had to offer. Lady Bay Beach was deserted apart from one fishing boat, and it’s blue, peaceful waters were very tempting. In my rush packing my photography gear though, I neglected to pack a bikini. But I’ll be sure to check it out another time.

Further along from Lady Bay Beach, I made a new friend in the form of a lorikeet (an Australian parrot), which was hopping about in a palm tree. The palms line the coast against the backdrop of the water and the Sydney skyline.

I’ve been getting questions from friends about the photos on my blog and how I took them, so I’m going to start including some information on that in each of my photo posts. To see my notes on photographing Hornby Lighthouse, see below the rest of my photos.

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1. Hornby lighthouse at sunrise / 2. Sunrise across the harbour at South Head, Watsons Bay / 3. Hornby lighthouse at sunrise / 4. Hornby lighthouse at sunrise with a fisheye effect / 5. Lady Bay Beach / 6. Lady Bay Beach’s waters / 7. An Australian lorikeet taking in the sunrise from a palm / 8. A palm tree and the Sydney skyline 10. A shack on the Water at Camp Cove Beach, with the Sydney city skyline in the background across the water.

Tips on photographing Hornby Lighthouse

  • While Hornby Lighthouse is stunning at sunrise, I found it difficult to compose shots of it with the sunrise and the lighthouse in the same shot. An ultra wide angle lens is really needed for this. The closest thing I have is my 8mm Samyang fisheye lens. I used this and “defished” most of my photos into wide angle shots using free software called Hugin. The “fishy” images are kind of cool, but I felt the distortion was a bit too distracting from how beautiful the scenery was (I left photo #4 above fishy though, have a look and leave me a comment about whether you like it or not!). It was difficult to move further back in order to get a wide shot, due to different elements of the landscape and how they impacted on composition of the photo. Without an ultrawide angle lens, you may struggle to get both aspects of the scene in the same shot, but it will still make for a beautiful photography session regardless.
  • I wonder if the sun would set closer to the lighthouse, which might make sunset an easier time to get both the sun and the lighthouse in the shot. I’m keen to go back to try photographing it at sunset one evening soon, so hopefully I’ll be able to report back!
  • In order to get maximum clarity in my photos and to experiment with different shutter speeds, I used a tripod (to prevent camera shake).
  • I’ve seen other photos of the lighthouse taken from down below the cliffs. I had a bit of a look around to see if I could scamble down there, but it looked pretty precarious to me, so I abandoned that idea.
  • In post processing, one thing I’ve found really useful with sunrise photos is changing the highlight levels. When I turned the highlights down on photo #2 above, it gave me a clearer outline of the sun as a ball of light, when I turned the highlights up, I got a more blown out image which was also cool (but I preferred the ball of light version).

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