September is here and the summer is definitely over. But I’m not going to let it get me down. Instead, I’ve got the blues in a positive way: I’ve rounded up several shades of what is, for me, the most evocative colour in photography. Blue is the colour of the sea and of the sky, but there are so many shades. Here are some of my favourites, and what they mean to me.
There’s a magical kind of blue that I associate with Kodak Portra film. It’s a special dreamy sky blue, where the wispy clouds go slightly pink. It’s a colour I associate with Greece and Italy, where Portra seems to provide the perfect palette for photography — above all, with this blue. Sometimes I look at a sky and think to myself: so Portra! And I’ll try to emulate it by just concentrating on the processing of the blues whether it’s digital or mobile.
The word turquoise refers to a colour in English, but it’s really just the French word for “Turkish”, and the colour of a blue-green mineral, first brought to western Europe from Turkey, in particular. You really do see a lot of this blue in Turkey, and here is some evidence: it’s the colour of the water on sandy beaches, like this one, at Kaputas.
The Turks have their blue, and so do the Greeks: there’s a shade of navy blue that is often used to paint doors, or window frames, or the domes of churches, which are otherwise painted completely white, making the blue even more vivid. The odd thing is that the ancient Greeks seem not to have described things as blue; Homer described the sky as “bronze”, and the sea as “wine dark”. Whatever the ancient Greeks thought, though, the modern Greeks certainly like their blue.
Shallow water around the Mediterranean is often turquoise, but once you get away from the coast the sea is a wonderful, deep blue. Its vivid colour is a consequence of the bright sunshine and cloudless skies, I assume, because water is just water, and the sea never looks like this off the British coast. The Romans called the Mediterranean “Mare Nostrum” (our sea), and built their empire around it. I love the deep colour of the Mediterranean in part because I know that I’m looking at something that looks exactly as it did in ancient times. Lots of other things have changed since then, but the colour of that sea has not.
As winter approaches I will have to do without the blues of Greece and Italy, except in my photographs. But I will be looking forward to the spring, when another favourite blue will be on show: the violet-blue of the carpets of bluebells that appear in the woods. Going to see them is an annual ritual that heralds the start of summer. But this blue doesn’t seem to look quite right when photographed using digital cameras; film seems to capture it better. There’s some debate about this, but it may have to do with sensitivity to the ultra-violet end of the visible spectrum.
It’s yet another example of how difficult it is to capture the range of colours, and emotions, evoked by the simple word “blue”. All Blues.