This is one of my favorite seascape horizon photographs: How Blue Can You Get?
Some photos present themselves to me on a platter. Some are made. This is both—although in this case the platter was more of a blue plate special.
February 7, 2013, Sonoma County Coast. I was driving up the coast with my wife, looking forward to a winter weekend on the bluffs. The driver in me was trying to beat an impending storm. The photographer in me was hoping we’d hit it square on. The photographer won. Just north of Jenner it was almost upon us, majestically rolling in. I stopped at the next turnout.
All my camera gear was securely (and utterly inconveniently) packed away, so I grabbed my small but very capable Sony RX100 and forced the door open into the wind. I stood on the side of the road and watched the storm approach. While the gusts were increasing in strength, the clouds were like floating castles—getting bigger by the minute. And the whole scene was . . . blue. I made several shots as the storm front grew in the sky and dashed back to the car just as fat raindrops began to pelt me in earnest. I asked my wife, “did you see that?!” She confirmed that I was not hallucinating.
When we finished the drive and I unloaded the photos into my laptop (which had a meticulously color-calibrated screen), there was the scene. Blue. Not a camera color-balance error either. It was blue.
As I explored the shots at various magnifications and savored the possibilities of the photograph I was going to make out of this, I was visited by the muse of Mark Rothko who, characteristically, spoke only a few words—but the right ones. I extracted just the heart of the scene. The simple essence. Balance and texture. Voila.
Some time later when I decided to title my photos I was visited by a very different muse. This time it was B.B. King singing, How Blue Can You Get? The original lyrics (written in 1949 by Leonard and Jane Feather) transformed into new words where the ocean sings to the cloud:
I gave you a billion raindrops
And now you want to give them back.
There was the title. In that state it lived for several years, inspired by Rothko and named after a blues song. But there was still that unanswered question.
In mid-2018 I took another look at the original scene. This time I was inspired by the majesty of the panorama. I made a new version. Rothko lives in this one as well, joined by maybe just a tiny breath of Turner and O’Keeffe. Now the question is finally answered. How Blue Can You Get? This Blue.