USA Stars & Lights

The main purpose of the Society’s “USA Stars & Lights” project is to document, through photography, all operational lighthouses in the country in their primary natural environment and condition: at night, with their light illuminated and serving as an aid to navigation. Hundreds upon hundreds of photographs from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, showing lighthouses during daylight, are available in our archives (along with many others) and are very valuable from a research perspective, since they show us the historic condition and evolution of the lighthouses over the decades. And many of us have extensive collections of modern-day photographs of our beloved lighthouses, again, mostly during daylight, with some occasional nighttime images. But the photography technology needed to adequately capture these lighthouses at night, with their lantern rooms all lit up and their beacons shining out to sea, did not exist until recently. Several professional and semi-professional photographers have started capturing these night-time images over the last decade, with a lighthouse here and a lighthouse there. Our project, started by David Zapatka, goes beyond that. Its goal is to capture night-time digital images of every operational lighthouse in the country in a consistent, structured manner and keep these images in our archives as part of their historical record, for generations to come. Fifty years from now, some of these lights will have been extinguished for one reason or another. These photographs will, in a sense, keep them alive for all of us to enjoy and appreciate. And apart from their historical purpose, they are simply stunning artwork, showing the beauty of our nighttime universe. 

Umpqua River Lighthouse
Umpqua River Lighthouse with its distinctive red and white beams

David started this project in 2013 on his own, photographing lighthouses in his native Rhode Island. He self-published his first book of these images, “Stars & Lights: Darkest of Dark Nights” in 2017. Several members of our Society’s Board of Directors met David at a maritime conference in New Orleans in 2018 where he did a presentation of his initial photographs, and we immediately recognized the excellence of his work and the significance of establishing a national collection of these night-time images. Our partnership was born there and has blossomed. Dave is now our Director of Photography,  published his second book, “USA Stars & Lights: Portraits from the Dark” through the Society in 2020, and he is about to publish his third book, “USA Stars & Lights: The Edge of Darkness” with his photographs taken since 2020, including his first West Coast lighthouses. The project has 284 lighthouses photographed as of July 2024. Dave’s images not only go into our archives, but he also gives copies to the owner or manager of each lighthouse that he visits. 

Dave travels with a fair amount of equipment, so to facilitate his getting around, one of the members of our Board of Directors donated their used RV to the Society for him to use on the project. The RV was given a name by its original owners – “Ruthie”. So Dave is now working on a children’s book documenting “Ruthie’s Big Lighthouse Adventure”! 

Ruthie at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Dave does his work as a volunteer and the project depends on grants from foundations and donations from individuals to cover his travel expenses. If you would like to donate to the project, you can go to our Donation page and select “USA Stars & Lights”.

To learn more about David and see his full collection of images and buy prints, go to  https://www.starsandlighthouses.com/

You can also buy his books at this link: https://www.stars-lights.myshopify.com

And if Dave hasn’t been to your lighthouse yet, be patient, he will eventually get there! And let him know you want him to come…and make him welcome! 

You can view a Today Show interview with David Zapatka about his book here: https://www.today.com/video/meet-the-nbc-cameraman-behind-beautiful-lighthouse-photos-144130117703