“Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter”
Ansel Adams

Who would ever have imagined that dying plankton could be so cool?

Who could have imagined that dying plankton could be so cool?

The foamy creations slip & slide on the surface

The foam slips & slides across the beach

I’m the first to admit that I don’t always have a plan for my photography. In fact a lack of plan is more often the norm for me. There are certainly days I stroll out with a particular target in mind and those are the days I’ll roll with my very best equipment, but most of the time I’m just wondering around waiting for nature to give me inspiration. For that reason I always carry a pocket camera and my choice for the last 5 years has been the Canon S series. I have an older S100 and this little baby actually takes the majority of my shots on the blog for the very simple fact that I can take it anywhere. I carry my Canon slotted into a protective cover in the side-pocket of my hiking pants. The top is always open so I can whip it out for a shot faster than a western gunslinger, which allows me to satisfy the two main rules of photography -> always have a camera on-hand and always have it ready to be used :)

A couple of days ago we were hanging on the beach on a rather overcast and dreary day enjoying our time just playing in the sand. There was nothing particularly inspiring to photograph so I was basically just soaking in nature’s goodness. Soul-soothing stuff all around. The ocean was putting up a good show of waves so I approached the waterline to see if there was anything interesting to shoot. Right by the tide-line we walked into a bunch of frothy, brown(ish) deposits which basically looked like someone was running the laundry machine with a few tons of dirty clothing and spewing the result on the beach. The massive churns of frothy bubbles lay in mile-long lines along the waters edge skating and slipping over the surface with the tides like snake-shaped pucks on ice.

Yuck! What is this rubbish?

Out of sheer curiosity I peered closer and saw something I never expected. Beneath the ugly exterior were hundreds, no millions of bubbles transforming the dismal grey light of the day into a stunning playground of rainbows. Brilliant greens, cherry reds, neon pinks and deep-sea blues were glowing right under my feet. OMG I’ve never seen anything like this…this stuff is gorgeous…it’s frikkin’ amazing!! I whipped out my handy dandy pocket-shooter and started clicking away trying to capture the beauty that had revealed itself to me.

“What in the world are you photographing now?” Paul mumbled as he walked back to find me stuck with my nose in the froth
“Rainbows. Fabulous. I mean, I can’t believe it. Amazing. Can you see this??? I never imagined….” I chirped wild-eyed and woozy with awe
“Errrr….OK. Right, sure. Enjoy yourself then” he replied, backing slowly away

Hubby knows that sometimes it’s better just to let photographing nutters lie…

Some bubbles were the size of my hand

Some of the bubbles were the size of my hand

Turns out my foamy find was actually the decaying remains of phytoplankton (and other dissolved organic matter). At certain times of the year the microscopic algae bloom and die, creating foam-like bubbles as they crash ashore. The organic material acts as a surfactant lowering the surface tension of water just like soap, which in turn is what produces the feather light “lather”. The thin film of each curved surface causes light to reflect and interact giving you the whole spectrum of the rainbow depending on where you look. The more dissolved matter and the wilder the tides, the more frothy creation you get. Isn’t science cool???

Turns out we had the perfect foaming combo at Cape D that afternoon. Lots of the dissolved organic stuff + lots of crazy waves = lots of rainbow creation. I must have photographed for at least 40 mins trying to capture all the angles of nature’s amazing soap. Next day I rushed back with my “big” camera hoping for more of the same, but alas the moment was gone. I only got a few puny bubbles, nothing like the hand-sized magnums of the day before.

To paraphrase the brilliant Ansel Adams, I just happened to be there at the moment of nature’s reveal and was lucky enough to click the shutter to capture it. Gotta love natural art.

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50 Responses to Nature’s Abstract Art -> Sea Foam Rainbows

  1. Jeff and Cheryl says:

    As you say, sometimes it’s better to be lucky. Perfect pictures of something we usually take for granted.

  2. Rowanova says:

    The things, and places, nature makes it’s beauty…
    Always awesome.

  3. MonaLiza says:

    Wow, timing is everything. Im glad you were there to share that colorful bubbles. We did see a lot of foam while we were at Gulf Shores but was not lucky as you. Beautiful.

    • libertatemamo says:

      I have to admit I’ve never seen it quite as colorfully as we did that day I took these shots. I think we got extra lucky with big foam and perfect fuzzy lighting.


  4. Pete Olson says:

    Hope you get a chance to marvel at nature’s light show this summer: Bioluminescent plankton called dinoflagellates will make the breaking waves glow at night and the moist hard-packed sand along the water’s edge sparkle as you scuff your feet. Some nights it’s more dramatic than others, so it’s always a good excuse for a night-time beach walk… (Grew up in Lincoln City, OR, and have lived walking distance from the ocean there and Northern CA, and Southern CA most of my life, so am very familiar with this wonderfulness!)

  5. Janet Copeland says:

    How interesting things are when we just open our eyes and pay attention. This is a great post. I enjoyed it and, as always, your pictures are awesome. I linked to your site regarding the tire pressure monitoring system. I may link now and then when I would like my few friend followers to see what interesting and wonderful things you write and photograph if you don’t mind. Thanks for the awesome pics and writing. My husband and are enjoying our first day today as fulltimers. We are in the North Georgia Mountains near Helen.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Thanks so much for the link-up, and yes please go ahead and link again if you find anything interesting to share.


  6. mnwool says:

    Sometimes older cameras just do better than many new ones. These are great!

    • libertatemamo says:

      My little old pocket camera has been great. It’s probably time to upgrade, but when I do I’ll likely get exactly the same series…just the newer model. I’m a Nikon girl in my “big” camera, but I’ve been very happy with the Canon in the pocket size.


      • keepinontruckin says:

        Thanks for sharing photos. I’ve never seen that phenomenon, and the fact that you researched the source is even more impressive!
        I couldn’t tell if your Canon has a viewfinder. It looks like it doesn’t. We received a free Nikon Coolpix with screen only, and I have very little use for it. If I were to purchase a point and shoot, it would be the Canon A1300/1400 series with optical viewfinder.
        Our “photography” cameras are a pair of Nikon DSLRs. Just purchased a Sigma 18-250 lens, and found I can leave it on the camera 90% of the time.

        • libertatemamo says:

          No viewfinder on my pocket camera. It took me a while to get used to, but now I find it second nature. A good quality zoom on an SLR is great. I have an 18-200mm on my Nikon that I use the majority of the time.


  7. And you would have missed it if you stayed indoors on a dreary day…
    good for you.
    Box Canyon Mark

    • libertatemamo says:

      Indeed. Our dog gets us outside in just about any kind of weather, which I really appreciate. Never know what you’re going to experience even on dreary, rainy days.


  8. Jil says:

    why I always have (or try to have ) my handy dandy pocket camera with me…and nowadays we have a phone :) love this shots…

    • libertatemamo says:

      The phone is certainly taking over. We’ve never had a phone good enough to take pics. Maybe one day we’ll upgrade and I’ll do away with the pocket camera.


  9. Sherry says:

    Wow lucky is right. And curiosity is an important component too. Had you not moved closer to investigate the yuck, you would have missed it like most people do I’m sure. That little camera of yours did a bang up job. Great post!

    • libertatemamo says:

      I was totally surprised when I saw those rainbows. Really didn’t expect them to be quite that stunning.


  10. irdataman says:

    So….since your shooting millions of images, how do you care for them? Storage? Backup? Where? Do you mass trash many…weed? Do you shoot raw or Jpg?

    • libertatemamo says:

      I have 4 forms of backup for my shots -> my PC drive, an external backup drive which is a double-drive RAID system, and optical discs (which I burn). Once a year we also backup to another external drive which we leave off-site at our storage unit in San Diego. You can never have too many backups of your photos :)

      And yes, I do sort, weed and date all my shots. I shoot JPG which I know many serious photographers abhor, but I’ve been shooting that way ever since my professional days (food photography) years ago. If I were doing large format photography I might feel differently, but for now JPG it is.


  11. mcdonald says:

    You have a gift of sharing not only things, but “insight” of your making that touches on inspiration… keep up the good work. I know the enjoyment of the hues and subtle energies of nature, also.

  12. Jodee Gravel says:

    Seeing the “foam” in the past I always thought it was pollution of some kind and let it mar my beach experience. Your post is a good reminder to take the time to look closer at what is right in front of us :-). Maybe sometimes it is pollution, but obviously it’s worth checking out. The colors are wonderful. Thanks.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Sometimes even the ugliest-looking things hide beauty underneath :) I like to think there is beauty in everything and it’s my goal to find it.


  13. Mary says:

    Very cool. I would have been the same way, and my hubby would have said something similar. LOL

    • libertatemamo says:

      Hubby does so very well with all of my weird photography stuff LOL. Both him and doggie have learned to be patient and do their own thing while I do mine.


  14. Great catch on the colors. We saw lots of foam along the coast but didn’t see the rainbows. I kept meaning to look up what caused the foam but always forgot by the time we got home. Thanks for the science lesson!

    • libertatemamo says:

      I think we got lucky because the bubbles were particularly frothy and large that day. Made those colors “pop” like crazy.


  15. Carol says:

    Love this! So true .. as future boondockers, my hubby and I are enjoying reading about your travels and planning our boondock future! … but I am a photographer as well and just loved this post! Thanks for sharing the moment .. something for me to remember!

  16. Rand says:

    Always enjoy your observations. Glad you have a camera handy with a charged battery. (Loved my first S) Canon Loyality Program upgraded it. And happy knowing where the bubbles came from. Surfing through bubbles won’t be so gross now.

    • libertatemamo says:

      I had never heard of the Canon Loyalty Program until you mentioned it. Have now been searching on the web and found some references to it, but it’s definitely not a well-publicized program. Wish I had known about this when my original Canon S90 bit the dust two years ago. What a great little tip! I will definitely be using this in the future. Thank you!!


      • Rand says:

        I have an old film camera that would love to be volunteered. (Canon sometimes just asks for the serial number)Let me know.

        • libertatemamo says:

          What a lovely offer! I’m good with what I have now, but when/if my trusty S100 croaks, I may well come back and take you up on this :)


  17. Bill & Ann says:

    Wow! We learned a lot from this post. Pretty neat observations. Now we know!

  18. LuAnn says:

    I loved this post Nina! A couple of years ago while we were at San Elijo, I was walking the beach on a cloudy day and started photographing the exact same thing. Terry thought I was a bit odd but I thought they were fabulous! :)

    • libertatemamo says:

      I honestly don’t know why I’ve never noticed them before. I mean I’ve seen lots of sea foam in my time. I guess I just never bothered to look closely at it before.


  19. TenaciousBago says:

    So awesome! I’m glad your all enjoying that empty beach again. Just love the posts from Oregon.

  20. Rattlesnake Joe says:

    A Native American person of medicine told me back in 2004 or so that we would be getting a new color in our rainbow. Well a few years passed and one day a Rainbow presented itself to me and sure as shootin there was the color he mentioned. The new color was ………wait for it………Magenta.

    • libertatemamo says:

      All those “new” color names always crack me up. Orange and red are no longer trendy…must be adobe and ruby now.


  21. Good to always have a camera at the ready. I am so glad that our phone takes super photos because that is always with us even if I forget the camera. I am glad you were there when you were…super discovery:)

    Question…what kind of protective cover do you have for your camera. I carry mine in my pocket without a cover. Our case is too bulky for my pocket. My last camera ended up with fuzz on the lens. I like to carry the camera in my pocket when hiking. Thanks:)

    • libertatemamo says:

      Well, I’m actually using an OLD camera cover from my Panasonic Lumix days (we’re talking around 12 years ago now). No particular snaziness to it except it fits into my side pocket & has an open top (flip-open, not zippered) so that my camera can easily slip out. I always leave the top open and the camera strap hanging out so I can pull the camera out without thinking about it.

      If I were to (ever) need a new cover I would simply go to Walmart or Best Buy and try out every single cover there until I found one that fit in my pocket. Aaaand…just to prove how nuts I am, my hiking pants were chosen in large part because they had a large enough side-pocket to fit my pocket camera + cover.


  22. Isn’t the beach (and the Pacific Northwest) amazing? We love going to the beach and the pups can come too! When do you head farther North?

  23. Brenda says:

    Those are very cool, Nina, I’d never noticed color in sea foam, will look more closely from now on. Thanks for sharing.

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