Rhode Island may be the smallest state (and probably not the first that comes to mind for landscape photography), but it offers many miles of coastline perfect for photography.
Because of the many islands and bays, Rhode Island has plenty of coastline to keep you busy for an endless amount of time. In many areas, the coast of Rhode Island is rocky and rugged, just like you would expect from one of the New England states.
Here are some tips for making the most of your time photographing Rhode Island.
Take advantage of the best light
Light is a critical aspect in any landscape or nature photograph, and the best lighting conditions usually occur around sunrise and sunset. Fortunately, you can take advantage of both — Rhode Island’s coast has great places to photograph with both east and west-facing views.
Head to Black Point for sunrise, Brenton State Park for sunset, or Beavertail State Park for either.
You can easily do a Google search to find the sunrise or sunset times, but be sure to arrive early. The best color in the sky often occurs 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise. If you are just showing up at sunrise, you’ll miss the best part of the show.
At sunset, many of the best photos can be taken just after the sun has dipped below the horizon. So don’t pack up your gear and head to the car as soon as the sun sets.
Work away from the sun as well
Excellent light can be found at sunrise and sunset even if you aren’t facing the sun. One morning at Beavertail State Park, the sun wasn’t visible in any of my photos, but the lighting was still ideal. Many of the rocks in the foreground sat in shadows because the sun was still so low, but the sky had a lovely glow to it.
Be flexible with the weather
When photographing the coast, there are options for just about any type of weather. On extremely cloudy, overcast days you may not be able to photograph a sunrise or a sunset, but you can capture moody long exposures of water flowing over rocks. These photos are best taken on cloudy days because there are no distracting shadows or uneven lighting.
Brenton Point State Park is a great spot for an overcast day. There are plenty of interesting rocks here, and they’re easy to find. You can use a neutral density filter to slow down the shutter speed and achieve a blurred water effect. For detailed instructions on this technique you can see my Guide to Long Exposure Landscape Photography.
The photo above was taken at sunrise (although the sun was nowhere to be found). Rain was falling pretty heavily, and this was one of the few photos I was able to take without visible water spots on the lens. The rain picked up and I couldn’t keep the lens dry, so I had to pack up. I would have loved to have a cloudy day without the rain, as I could have spent hours photographing the rocks.
Find foreground interest
If you are photographing the sunrise or sunset, it’s easy to get distracted by the beautiful sky and forget to include something of interest in the foreground. Good foreground subject matter can serve as an excellent anchor to a composition.
Along the coast of Rhode Island you’ll have plenty of rocks or formations in your foreground. You can also use puddles, or in some cases, plants.
Catch lighthouses in action
Rhode Island has plenty of lighthouses that are perfect for photography. The Castle Hill Lighthouse in Newport is my personal favorite, but Point Judith in Narragansett is also popular. The lighthouse at Beavertail State Park is great as well.
If you are photographing a lighthouse, you’ll achieve the best results by snapping a shot when the beacon light is on. Of course, this means you’ll need to photograph at a time when it is dark or foggy.
In some cases, you’ll be limited by the hours of the grounds around the lighthouse. The Point Judith Lighthouse, for example, is typically only open from 8 a.m. to sunset.
I like to head to Castle Hill Lighthouse just after sunset to get some photos with the light showing. To reach the lighthouse, you can park in the marina parking lot and take a short trail until you reach the rocky coast.
The light will pulse on and off, so you’ll want to time your photo to capture the shot while the light is on.