I stayed two nights at the beach because sunshine was forecast, an extremely unusual event, this time of year. What I didn’t check was wind forecasts. When I reached the jetty in Ocean Shores the second morning, I was worried about my telephoto lens getting sandblasted by high winds. Not unexpectedly, birding was awful, with only seagulls and an occasional pelican to be seen. So, I turned to photographing the pounding surf, even though a 400mm lens is less than ideal for landscape shots. It didn’t help that it was impossible to use HDR to capture the full range of textures, but Photoshop’s ability to stitch several shots together made it possible to capture some shots I liked, like this one of the waves breaking over the end of the jetty.
Although I liked the panorama quite a lot, something about it didn’t seem quite right. So I fiddled around with the shot in Photoshop and Perfect Photo Suite 8 until I came up with this version,
which I preferred, even though I don’t think it was as true to what I saw as the first one. This got me thinking about why I would prefer this version since I almost invariably try to recreate what I actually saw. I really dislike HDR shots that hype-up-colors to the point that shots are nearly unrecognizable.
Then I remembered a painting that my mother had hanging on the wall as long as I could remember, one painted by her cousin, a graduate of an art school in California, before I was born. For a good part of my life, that was what I thought the ocean looked like, since I’d only seen Puget Sound, not the ocean. By the time I actually got around to seeing the ocean first hand, I suspect I still saw it through that painting.
It was many years later, after I began teaching in Vancouver that I spent much time at Oregon’s beaches and visited art studios. I began to love oil painters that could somehow capture the translucent greens and blues in the ocean, even if I couldn’t afford an oil painting by an artist who was that accomplished. For years I tried to capture that quality in my photographs, but was never able to do so.
This photo, though (at least in the green areas) might come as close as I have ever managed.
I took so many shots waiting for the winds to die down — the whole time I was there—that I had a hard time deciding what shots I liked most. This shot
reminded me of Romantic painters, like Delacroix and seemed to capture the intensity of the waves better than almost any other shot, though, like most Romantic works, it seems overly dramatic.
I also took pictures on the other side of the jetty where the light was quite different and ended up with totally different kinds of shots that I liked, at least when I zoomed in on them.
This version comes close to capturing the green waves but also has some of the characteristics of my mother’s sea painting.
We tend to forget just how much our perception of reality is dependent on our own experiences and on artistic interpretations we’ve been exposed to. I expect I see the sea quite differently from someone from Hawaii or someone from Southern California. Oregonians flock to the ocean mid-winter to watch the powerful storms hit the beach; Californians flock to the beach to surf giant waves.