The breakers beat the rocky shore
I thought I was a landscape photographer, until my camera met the sea.
From chapter 111 of Moby Dick by Herman Melville, "The Pacific,"
"There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seems to speak of some hidden soul beneath; like those fabled undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried Evangelist St. John. And meet it is, that over these sea-pastures, wide-rolling watery prairies and Potters' Fields of all four continents, the waves should rise and fall, and ebb and flow unceasingly; for here, millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls, lie dreaming, dreaming, still; tossing like slumberers in their beds; the ever-rolling waves but made so by their restlessness.
This, the center of a short and poetic chapter of Melville's iconic work, is easily the best group of words in the entire book. This chapter is reason enough to read the whole tome. Many other chapters are almost as beautiful and many other phrases throughout the book would merit mention, but of all, Chapter 111 is the greatest. Further, it is the best description I've read of the Pacific, and tied only by Dylan Thomas' The Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait for its skill in depicting simultaneously the fearful and romantic aspect of the sea at large.
There's a beach on the Peninsula coast, north of Davenport Beach where often with friends, we have stopped to find a bit of lonely coast. My wife and I brought a friend here visiting from the midwest for dinner and a beer or two. We were quite alone the entire evening and made our way to the southern edge of the beach, to a rocky shelf that obstinately meets the surf head-on. Here's a link to Google Maps where you can see the location of the rocky shelf I've used in all of these photographs.
It is to the shores of California that Melville's restless, tossing slumberers send massive breakers from open pastures of brine. From his Potter's Fields the ebb and flow gains speed and strength and becomes a surge upon the rock. Mixed shades and shadows twist on cold rocks in the freezing abyss and after leagues of travel, the wind and tides spit foam upon the beach at my tripod's feet. The sea grasps for the land like a swimmer out of air, but is doomed always to slip back into the breach.
There is drama enough along the edge of the Pacific, that even ordinary light illuminates extraordinary action. Whenever I find myself photographing the coast, lifting my camera away from the occasional rogue wave, I tend to ask myself, why it is that I've taken so long to return and when will next I find time for another sojourn?
All the photographs on this page were taken with exposure times between 1/2 and 1/15 of a second. I find there's a sweet spot in that range which gives life to the waves; too short and the water is frozen, too long and the waves turn to mist. One extreme or the other fails to connect with our internal memory of what a wave looks, sounds and feels like - therefore the "correct" shutter speed is essential in making evocative seascapes.