Eastham is located in Barnstable County on Cape Cod, with a population of around 5,000 residents. The area was originally settled by the Nauset tribe, which explains why the name Nauset appears frequently in both business and place names around the area. The town is discussed in some detail in Henry David Thoreau’s book, Cape Cod.
Eastham also has some historical significance. It was here that the Pilgrims from the Mayflower first encountered the local Nauset people. While on a hunting expedition in 1620, the Pilgrims met the Nauset people on one of local beaches now aptly named, First Encounter Beach.
The town is considered the “gate” to the Cape Cod National Seashore, which was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to protect the coast from the effects of erosion and overpopulation.
Nauset Light (also called Nauset Beach Light) was built in 1877 to serve in Chatham. It was only moved to Eastham in 1923 to protect ships from the dangerous Nauset Bar at sea. Then in 1996, it was moved back 300 feet from its original position to escape the effects erosion. It now sits on high ground away from the cliffs.
Nauset Light is the most famous and photographed lighthouse on Cape Cod. Its 49-foot tower is painted red and white as a daytime indicator. For an additional fee, residents can purchase a vehicle license plate with an image of the lighthouse, so it’s recognized by millions of people.
BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH
I find that May-June and late October are the best times of year to photograph Nauset Light. In spring, the foliage takes on a vibrant green hue, whereas, in late October, the foreground is colored in more earthy tones. To avoid mere frustration, I skip the summer months altogether (mid-June to September) because Cape Cod is extremely busy at those times, making hard to take a shot without tourists in the frame.
As with most landscape photographs, the best time of day to be here is early morning or late afternoon. At sunrise, the lighthouse is generally front-lit, which means that the sun will be at your back. At sunset, the buildings are side-lit in spring and back-lit in autumn. Since I tend to favor backlight, I prefer to come in late October when the sun sets directly behind the lighthouse tower, increasing the chances of catching colorful skies.
The lighthouse can be a bit challenging to photograph, as there are trees to the west and power lines obstructing the view looking north. Also, the ocean is not visible from any angle here. So, the better compositions tend to be from the east side of the lighthouse, near Nauset Light Beach Road.
Nauset Light is easy to find at 120 Nauset Light Beach Road. From Route 6 in Eastham, take Nauset Road (the turn for the Salt Pond Visitor Center). After half a mile, Nauset Road will veer off to the left at the intersection of Doane Road. Continue driving on Nauset Road for 1.25 miles, and then turn right on Cable Road for another mile. At the stop sign, turn left on Ocean View Drive. You’ll see the Nauset Light Beach parking lot to your right. No parking is allowed on the street close to the lighthouse, so park in the beach lot and walk up to the lighthouse.
There’s not much to fear in a heavily-visited location like this, except for the horde of tourists in summer. Be aware that the keeper’s house is at times rented, so be sure to respect the grounds and limit noise, especially if you happen to be here early morning or late evening.
Otherwise, enjoy the iconic lighthouse that has made Eastham famous. Nauset Light may have been photographed countless times, but as we’ve witnessed on numerous occasions, unique conditions still have the power to make a great photo stand apart from the rest of the pack.