Jennifer Rasmussen had never photographed the Port Washington Breakwater Lighthouse before she packed up her equipment and winter gear before dawn on Feb. 20, 2021.
The resident of Grayslake, Illinois, decided to try for a shot of the 1934 art deco landmark after photographing a lighthouse in her home state.
Her sunrise shot – featuring a soft, watercolor-like gradient; a flock of birds; and Lake Michigan steaming in the below-zero temperatures – was a bit of serendipity that belied some miserable conditions behind the camera.
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We asked her about the image featured in March’s issue of Milwaukee Magazine. (Answers have been edited for length and clarity.)
What’s the story behind this shot? Were you expecting to get such a cool effect with the steam and the sunrise?
This shot almost didn’t happen. It’s approximately an 80-minute drive from my house to the lighthouse. My husband, our youngest son and myself headed out the door around 4:30 a.m., thinking it would give us plenty of time to get there and for me to get situated. Problem is, since we had never been there before, we got lost – the GPS took us elsewhere – so by the time we found our way to the correct area and got parked, colors were already popping. The area was covered in snow – fun fact, the older I get, the more I dislike winter, but the best skies occur then, so I prevail – and I was unfamiliar with it, so it took me some time to line up my shot. It took everything in me to stand there in negative temps and capture photographs because I couldn’t find my gloves in my car while I was panicking, thinking that I was going to miss the sunrise.
My favorite times of the day to shoot are around sunrise and sunset. The way the sun (possibly) paints the sky at those times, it’s magical and shows the beauty of our planet in a whole new way. The problem is there’s no guarantee that there will be any colors. When loading my camera equipment into my car that morning, not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would capture such a unique and thrilling shot.
This seems a little obvious because it’s so striking, but what “makes” this image, to you? Are there some subtle details that we might otherwise miss?
There are definitely a lot of different elements that are working together in this shot. The snowy rocks in the foreground almost add a sense of danger. The low-lying clouds behind the lighthouse lend a hand in how the colors from the sun are distributed. The fog sets the mood. And then there are the birds. When I first started shooting, there were a few seagulls flying , and a few waterfowl in the water. The huge flock appeared from practically out of nowhere, and I consider myself blessed to have captured them how I did. What makes this shot for me though, the light atop of the lighthouse is on! Aside from the perfect timing that occurred with all of the elements, I captured the lighthouse doing its job, if that makes sense. Lighthouses are strong, resilient structures, built to withstand the worst of conditions and provide guidance and direction to those in need, while also instilling a sense of hope that they’ll make it through the darkness.
What’s your background as a photographer?
I feel as though I’ve been photographing different things my whole life. When I was little, it was my pets, troll dolls and anything outside, like wildlife and rock formations. As the years passed, I continued taking pictures of wildlife and nature, and then interesting things I would come across while traveling. Once I had children, portraits got added to the mix. I found myself capturing shots at sporting events, holding dance and senior sessions for my sons and their friends, etc. My heart and soul lies deep within nature photography, but I find immense joy in capturing moments and memories for others. Since most of my children are adults, I have more time to focus on myself these days. So, after winning a couple of awards, I decided it was time to take the plunge and try to make a career out of my passion. I just recently, with the last year or so, started creating a website and really building my business/brand, WolfPack Images.
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