Water surrounds me. I live on a tiny island, barely 17 miles across, that would fit quite comfortably inside Los Angeles, where I lived previously. Although I’ve live here for over 2 years, it wasn’t until I obtained my DSLR, a painting assignment, and this Photo 101 assignment that I really thought about what the water that surrounds me is, and what it means–not only to me, but to the people who have spent most of their lives here, on the island of St. Martin, that is home to two countries and about 80,000 people. Today, I finally had a chance to take my new camera to a nearby beach. I took photos of the water breaking on rocks, and photos of the “point” marking the resort on the very edge of the village of Maho, on the Dutch side of the island. For my art class, I wanted the photos of the waves crashing against the shore and rocks. But for this assignment, I wanted the other shots, taken close enough to sunset to color the water and the horizon in hues that are difficult to see across lakes or rivers–maybe even along other seas. The water in these photos are the Caribbean Sea. If I had the time to drive to Orient Bay, it would have been the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the photos instead. Another day I’ll take those photos, but not today.
This first photo is the second one I took. To be honest, it was difficult to see exactly what would appear in the photo. With the sun in my eyes, I was wearing sunglasses when I took it. I knew approximately what I was seeing, but not exactly. You can see that the sun is very low in the sky. I was surprised when I viewed the photo on my computer that the clouds formed positively fascinating patterns. The darker clouds in the foreground have been hanging around most of the day, dropping a bit of badly needed rain. It wasn’t enough to fill our cisterns or our water supplies, but it helped some of the flora on the island to fresh and aerated rain again instead of the low oxygen content of our captured cistern water.
After the clouds, I looked carefully at the water itself. I saw the ripples of the tide coming in even though this was not the best position to catch the waves lapping the sand, closer and closer to the rocks with each soft wave. The light from the sinking sun formed a jagged ribbon more reminiscent of the tinsel garland on Christmas trees than a tattered bit of cloth, with a shimmer that augments rather than detracts from the blur of sun on the resort at the point of the cove.
The first photo I took, which I show second because there is something very special about it that even showed up on the viewer on the camera, is my favorite of the two–not only because of that something special, but also because I was actually able to see what I was shooting, and I kind of like the off-center framing. What I saw in this photo is a wider view, giving the impression of a wider expanse. The blur of sun is still there, but it no loner captures the tattered ribbon of its reflected light. In this picture, I feel the vastness of the sea surrounding me–and I guess I consider myself as much a part of the island as it has become a part of me. I also see the more of the clouds, especially that beautiful ring like a halo around the sun.
But here is the surprise: If you look more closely at the small dot of light toward the left of the photo, you will see that it is green, not the expected blue of the sky shining through the clouds, or a reflection of the water which is clearly not a green reflection of the Caribbean Sea. At that distance, the water is deeper and holds a deep blue-gray color. A popular activity here on the island is to watch the sun set over the water and hope for a glimpse of the Green Flash which occurs just as the sun finally sinks below the horizon of the sea. I’ve never seen the Green Flash–not yet, anyway. Usually, when I’m up and about in the evening, I’m either not close to a beach, or there are too many clouds hanging over the water. The clouds obscure the Flash, and many a tourist leaves the island disappointed because they didn’t see St. Martin’s Green Flash.
The green dot is not the Green Flash, but probably is based on a similar principle, that is a reaction to the “last” bit of light reflected on the water just before the sun’s rays disappear. In this case, I think the hole in the clouds is getting the last bit of sunlight that it’s going to get for the day. In fact, a few frames further of exactly the same scene clearly shows no green spot. And if you zoom in a bit on this photo, not only do you see that the spot is indeed green, but that there is a faint purplish ring reflected from the clouds that parted just enough to show the green.
That the “flash” is not seen in the first photo is understandable–I was shooting that photo to give the scene “height” and the feeling of depth over that of breadth. Had I looked at the wide photo before shooting the long photo, I may have concentrated on that rather than on the different viewpoint. What is truly interesting to me is that the long shot contains the same cloud formation as the wide photo and was taken literally a second or two after the wide shot–but there is no green light surrounded by purple. Something about taking the wide shot (which I think captures vastness better) allowed its capture, while the long shot (which seems to capture distance better) may have been responsible for the difference in the color of the dot. Or maybe, just like the Green Flash, it disappears almost the instance it shows up…