Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Green Flash

I spent a month studying dolphins in Hawaii during 1983. This is an experience I partially documented in a blog titled, The Dolphin is Also a Fish part one and part two.

There is nothing quite like Hawaii. The weather is consistently wonderful, a tropical mix of rainbows and sunsets, fragrant flowers and ocean views like nowhere else, certainly not in the United States. In preparation for my trip I purchased a decent 35mm Canon camera with a couple of lenses, one of which had a nice zoom. This was back in the days of film, a medium that resulted in cost-conscious photography, a conservative philosophy practiced by amateurs who were not provided unlimited film by kindly managers. (this is a tribute to myself given one member of my Facebook audience.)

In those days you shot a roll of 36 exposures and then headed to a photo lab and forgot about it for a while. Perhaps the next day you stopped by to pick up your prints. Longer if you were busy building sand castles or scrubbing the inside of a dolphin tank with those green scrubby pads many of us use in kitchen sinks. Disgusting.

Anyway, my camera was mostly manual. F-stop, exposure, all that good stuff. And with those settings pre-determined, I set out to take a picture of something I had heard about prior to my trip. The green flash.

The green flash is a phenomenon you can look up on the internet if you’re really curious. There is even a restaurant named in its honor. Suffice it to say, when the sun dips below the horizon on an evening when atmospheric conditions are favorable, precisely when the edge of the solar disc appears to become extinguished by the ocean, a tiny green luminous blip of green light appears for about one second. It is understandably hard to capture without perfect timing.

So I patiently watched the sun drop slowly toward the water’s edge against an orange tapestry of a sky. Waiters traversed the beach with trays of tropical drinks as music wafted out of waterside restaurants toward my position on the beach. As the time grew close, I raised my camera and tweaked the focus just a bit. My right index finger rested on the shutter release. My left hand supported the long zoom lens. Down the sun went, in an arc that we know as time, relentlessly ticking off seconds, and then…click, whir, snap. I took the shot.

I thought I saw a green dot on top of the sun, but it was anyone’s guess as to whether my timing was correct or if my camera was up to the task. I simply said, “Hmmm” and walked away.
I dropped the film off at the lab and went about my business, then returned the next day. When I approached the counter and told the tech my name, he turned and pulled the envelope containing my prints out of a bin at the back of the lab, paused in his stride back to the counter, looked straight into my eyes and said, “You got the green flash!”

Now, I hadn’t mentioned this when I dropped off the film, so I was completely surprised by my accomplishment, and also by his intimate familiarity with my photos. I guess processing film all day left one wanting for entertainment.

So, next time you’re fortunate enough to watch the sun go down against a distant horizon, see if you can spot this subtle but fascinating effect. It’s no erupting volcano or spectacular lightning flash, but it’s pretty cool to say you've seen it. I put it on my bucket list and immediately checked it off.

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