Nudibranchs – Can’t Get Enough of ‘Em

Posted in Under the Sea on November 30th, 2009 by MadDog
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Saturday at the South end of Leper Island  was a good day for nudibranch hunting. There’s not much challenge to hunting nudibranchs, except to find them in the beginning. Sometimes there are a lot of them and sometimes none. I don’t know where they go. The slide around slower than land snails, so motion capture is not a problem. Most of them, however are teensy-weensy. This Chromodoris geometrica  was about 1.5 cm long:

Nudibranch - Chromodoris geometrica

You have to get your camera lens practically right up against the critter to get a shot like this. That means that, with the Canon G10 rig, you can’t use the flash; it’s blocked by the housing.

I was frankly surprised that these shots came out so pretty. The colours are very accurate and I got enough depth of field to get good focus from edge to edge. Here’s another shot of the little fellow going downhill:

Nudibranch - Chromodoris geometrica

The breathing organ (branch) is the feathery thing at the back. The antlers at the front are, I imagine, sensory organs. I’m very happy with these shots, especially since this is the first time that I’ve seen this species.

Here’s something that you don’t see every day, nudibranch eggs:Nudibranch eggsThe cluster is about as big around as a golf ball. If you click to enlarge you will see that is is very lacy. The individual eggs are stuck together and come out in a ribbon. They are always laid out in a circle or spiral shape.

Here’s another nudi for you. This one is a Phyllidiella pustulosa:Nudibranch - Phyllidiella pustulosa (flash lit)I can’t say that I’m fond of the taxonomic name. Anything that starts with ‘pust’ doesn’t appeal to me. The shot above was taken with the flash turned on. For a flash shot, it’s not too bad, though the colours are just a bit off.

Here’s the same critter with the flash turned off. I like this much better:Nudibranch - Phyllidiella pustulosa (natural light)It is much closer to what I actually saw. To me it appears more natural. I sometimes wonder of non-divers ever notice the difference. I suppose that most people just assume that everything is gaudy-bright the way the popular press shows most underwater images. It’s not really that way.

The clown shot of the day is provided by these cute little Striped Catfish (Plotosus lineatus):Striped Catfish - Plotosus lineatusThey travel around in schools and usually line up along a front edge of travel while they pick up tasty bits from the bottom. It’s comical to watch them marching on their whiskery little noses. Ones at the front will break away and move to the back so that their buddies can get to the fresh stuff. Or maybe they just need time to chew. I’m not convinced that fish are altruistic.

Here’s an image that I shot a few years ago up at Mililat Passage  of a river of Striped Catfish:A river of Striped Catfish (Plotosus lineatus)
Cool, eh?

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Reef Panorama? I’ll Have to Try Harder!

Posted in Under the Sea on November 29th, 2009 by MadDog
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On our dive on Saturday at Leper Island  near Madang, I tried to shoot some reef panoramas. I’ve been thinking about this for some time, just not while I was underwater. Funny how thoughts come to you when there’s absolutely nothing you can do about them. I’m driving down the road and I think, “Hey, I should try some underwater panoramas!” Do I remember this the next time I go diving? Of course not.  Does this happen to anybody else?

Here’s one that I finished:

Reef Panorama 1The colours do not make me happy at all. The Canon G10 shoots panoramas only in the JPG mode, which means that you lose all of the wonderful wholesome goodness of the Camera RAW filter. You simply cannot get the colours right:

Next time, I’m going to try shooting individual frames in the RAW mode, lock in the exposure on the first frame, and use manual focus. The only problem then is using the exact same settings for the colour adjustments on each frame before stitching them together. That may take some fiddling. Here’s a partially finished panorama:

Reef Panorama 2As you can see, I’m also going to have to frame the shots better. It’s surprisingly difficult to hold the camera at exactly the same angle when the surge on the top of the reef is pushing you around.

Here’s another partially finished panorama. I do really like the concept. I always strive to show you the scene as I saw it. This will be a very nice technique, if I can work out the colour problem. Note in this one that you can just make out the hull of Faded Glory in the upper left hand corner:Reef Panorama 3Well, enough of that until I can make them look better.

Here’s something that you don’t see every day, a Sea Cucumber wearing a clown suit. It’s a Thelenota rubralineata:
Sea Cucumber - Thelenota rubralineataThey are sometimes called Sea Slugs. Their top speed is about a metre an hour, so the concept of sluggishness fits their nature. In shallower water the lines appear bright red.

I’ll finish up today with one of the best shots that I’ve gotten of the Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus):Reticulated Dascyllus - Dascyllus reticulatus

Compare this on with one that I showed a few days ago. I have some other images of the Reticulated Dascyllus here and here (a video clip from my YouTube site).

I think that I’m getting the hang of it. No more ‘too shiny’ fish! Look at the red fish under the coral. When I took the shot I didn’t even see it.

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Underwater Miscellanea – Yet Again

Posted in Under the Sea on November 28th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’m working like a dog today, the day after American Thanksgiving to get a new calendar put together, hopefully to make a few bucks selling it. Before I go back to the Publishing Department to use their equipment, let me show you a few of the less ordinary images from my library. I don’t have a theme today. My mind is more or less blank. That seems to be happening a lot lately.

This is a spooky image of the interior of The Henry Leith,  a 34 metre cargo ship that was scuttled off Wongat Island  for an artificial reef and dive attraction:Interior of The Henry Leigh near Wongat Island

Creepy, eh? The image seemed to be more interesting in monochrome. Simon and Garfunkel were wrong. Not everything  looks worse in black and white.

This lump-of-coal thingie is an Egg Cowrie (Ovula ovum).  It’s quite rare to see them. They always seem to favour this Leather Coral (Sarcophyton sp.)  as a resting place:Egg Cowrie - Ovula ovum

They make horrible photographic subjects. The mantle is as black as the inside of a witch’s psyche. I’ve often wondered if it looks different to fish. Maybe it reflects some portion of the light spectrum that our eyes can’t see. You can barely see some of the snow white shell peeking through the seam where the two halves of the mantle meet.

This, I think, is a very juvenile specimen of the coral Heliofungia actiniformis:Coral - Heliofungia actiniformis ?I put it in here because, to us divers, it is a cute little baby thing. We bubble stupid stuff to each other like, “Awwww, look at the sweet little baby Heliofungia actiniformis.  Coochie coochie coo.”

It’s true.

Speaking of babies, these will grow up to have very big teeth, indeed:

Barracuda [juvenile] species unknownThey are juvenile barracuda. I don’t know what species. It’s interesting that the juvenile form here looks like a perfectly miniaturised copy of the adult.

Okay, back to work on the calendar.

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Nothing But Skies

Posted in Photography Tricks on November 27th, 2009 by MadDog
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Yesterday, American Thanksgiving day, I worked from six in the morning until about six in the evening on images for a calendar, The Skies of Paradise,  that I’m going to have printed in Singapore. Eunie has been pestering me (okay, okay, encouraging me)  to get this done for months. I’m already too late to print a 2010 calendar, so this one will be for 2011. I’m going to run off a few copies of a 2010 version on our big Konica colour network printer to give to friends for Christmas. That will be my test market.

On the way into the office this morning, another  day that I was supposed to have off work, I stopped at Coconut Point to show you that not every day in Paradise is begun with a garish sunrise:

A grey morning at Coconut Point

And now, since I’ve got to get to work putting a calendar together, I’m going to leave you with the 38 images that I slaved over all day yesterday. They are only 400 pixels wide and have been squashed pretty severely by compression, so they don’t look so great in the gallery. But you can get the idea, anyway.

Here is the cover of the 2010 give-away version:

The Skies of Paradise for 2010

And here is the gallery:

Got to get to work now.

Cholera Epidemic Doesn’t Stop Illegal Betelnut Sellers

Posted in Rants and Rages on November 26th, 2009 by MadDog
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If you don’t live in PNG it’s probably escaped your notice that there’s a cholera epidemic ripping through the population – as if HIV/AIDS was not enough! Anybody with an ounce of brains knows that cholera spreads through, uh, . . . well, there’s no polite way to say it – feces.  Okay, I guess that that’s reasonably polite.

So, the powers that be in Madang, in their infinite wisdom, have promulgated many rules to try to stop the spread. The problem is that nobody is out there checking to see if anybody at all is paying attention. These people certainly are not:

Illegal buai sellers in the centre of Madang Town

They have set up an illegal betelnut market (called buai  in Pidgin) not fifty metres from our office. They’ve even put up some scruffy barbed wire to mark it off, heaven knows why. They have not been happy at all with my three visits today, camera in hand:

Illegal buai market in Madang Town

Those faces may look  happy, but let me tell you they are not.  So, what’s so bad about this? Well cholera spreads primarily from poor sanitation. Your best defense from cholera is to stay clean, especially the places that count, drink no water that’s contaminated and do not eat food that might be contaminated. If you fail to follow these rules, you’re very likely to get very sick. The hospital has set up a special ward for cholera patients and it doesn’t look as if it’s going to be big enough.

Illegal buai seller

So what’s this got to do with buai?  Well, think about it. Especially since town water has been only occasionally available for several days, nobody is paying much attention to washing their hands. So, the guy shown above goes to the toilet and, guess what, he doesn’t have any toilet paper and no clean water is in sight. Then he goes back to his little store of death and picks up a buai  nut and hands it to you. You do the usual thing, pop it into your mouth and start to peel back the skin. Hmmmm . . . yummy cholera germs!

So, you’re skeptical, eh? MadDog is off on another of his rants, tasol.  Well, let me show you what I found (by smell) twenty metres from the buai  market. You guessed it – the toilet:

The toilet of the illegal buai market

Uh, that brown blob in the lower centre of the image is exactly what it look like. There was plenty more lurking inches back in the foliage. Lots  more.

If you’ve never had the delight of walking (very carefully) around in a tropical area where people are defecating all over the place, believe me, you can forgo the experience with no great loss.

Okay, now I’m mad. Somebody is going to do  something about this or I’m going to sharpen up my pencil and start jabbing it into people’s ears. There are people that I care about who are at risk from this.

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Guest Photographer Val Jerram – India With Eyes Wide Open

Posted in Guest Shots on November 25th, 2009 by MadDog
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I so much enjoy featuring the images of friends who share my passion for photography. Our long-time friend Val Jerram is a perfect example. Val is a world traveller of the first order. She’s been everywhere, man! She recently sent me some images from her last visit to India. I’m happy to present them to you here. Val shoots with a high-end point-and-shoot camera; she’s had a variety of them. These are great examples of what can be done with them by someone who reads the manual and has a good pair of eyes for composition and the moment.

Here’s a nice example. This image of a man playing the Sitar seems, at first, not particularly special. It’s nice, but . . . Okay, now look again. Look at the expression on the face of the old man in the background. Knowing Val, I don’t think this was an accidentally excellent shot. Here’s what Val had to say:

This gent Dr A. J. Tha serenaded us and played his sitar, along with a drummer at sunset as the fellow in the background paddled the boat down the Ganges river at sunset and we set our lighted candles to float on the water. There was a hive of activity because they were celebrating the religious festival of Diwale (The Indian equivalent of Christmas).

Sitar Man by Val JerramSounds better coming from Val, eh? Here’s another beautiful image preceeded by Val’s comment:

The picture of the man was taken in a remote village when we went for a walk after breakfast. We had stayed in the local fort which which was being restored and used as a hotel. It was in the province of Rajasthan.

Indian Man at Sunrise by Val JerramExquisite!

And, just to show that she’s not immune the the ‘tourist shot’ here’s one of the Taj Mahal:

Taj Mahal by Val JerramHey, wait a minute! That’s not your average tourist snapshot. That’s a well-thought-out, beautifully composed photograph worthy of exhibition.

Here’s one that Val described as, “A family out for a ride on the outskirts of town.”

Camel and Family by Val JerramNice use of the Rule of Thirds, angular elements and interesting cropping to capture the sense of motion.

This one is my favourite. Eat your heart out, National Geographic! Here’s what Val had to say:

On our ride on camels into the desert we had to take a break for some of our camel drivers to put their prayer mats down and face Mecca.

Camel Drivers by Val JerramOkay, but she didn’t walk over and take a shot of the guys praying, no not Val. That would be far too obvious. They are way up in the corner. Once you start to listen to the image, hearing what it’s about, you can’t stop looking at the fellows praying. It’s a setup job. She’s tricked you. All that beautiful colour and the smiling faces are red herrings.

And here is the talented lady herself:

It can get cool in the desert overnight. On the ride out those long sleeves protected me from the hot sun. The obligatory money pouch is strung around my neck.

Val JerramShe keeps saying that she’s going to take root for a while.

I don’t believe a word of it.

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The Spider Carpet and Some Thoughts About Passion

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Opinions on November 24th, 2009 by MadDog
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Life is about passion. I can’t imagine life without a few things burning me up from the inside out. Love, art, service . . . the list goes on. I’m fascinated by the things that people do because their passion drives them to do so. Sure, there is often  money involved, sometimes big money. That’s okay. It doesn’t detract from the amazement we experience when we see remarkable results of human passion simply because someone made a living from it. That’s a given.

From the 2 October issue of Science, the a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science comes this fascinating image and story:

The Amazing Spider Carpet from Lamba Weaving in Madagascar (Image: AMNH/R.Mickens)

A million female Madagascar golden orb spiders contributed their golden silk to this one-of-a-kind textile that went on display last month at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. More than 80 people spent 4 years on the work, collecting spiders in the wild, drawing silk from immobilized (and later freed) arachnids with hand-powered machines, and twisting hundreds of spider lines to make each thread. The 3.4-by-1.2-meter tapestry is on loan from Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley, who founded Lamba, a weaving enterprise in Madagascar.

I’m hoping that my journalistic license will allow me to escape the ire of the AAAS for filching their image and quoting a paragraph of text. I’ll give them a plug by mentioning that, if you’re a student or a post-doc, you can get a subscription for a limited time for just US$50 a year. That’s 51 issues of one of the finest science journals on the planet. What a deal! I paid over US$200 for my last subscription.

Let’s get the calculator out (can’t do this stuff in my head any more). Well, huh! A million spiders . . . I don’t know where to plug that in. Let’s set the spiders aside. I doubt if spider passion contributed much to this carpet (A Buddhist might disagree.)

Okay, it says that 80 people spent four years on the work. Let’s keep the numbers conservative. Let’s say that each person, on the average, worked 20 hours a week for 40 weeks a year. Hmm . . . 80 people times 20 hours times 40 weeks times 4 years . . . that’s 256,000 hours! A quarter of a million hours! A single person working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a years would take 128 years to finish the job (check my numbers).

Think about that while you contemplate this rather sombre sunrise at Coconut Point:

A Coconut Point Sunrise

Is the world any better off because of this achievement? Not a whit. Are a lot of ordinary people all excited about it? Probably not. Is it an intelligentsia thing? Of course. It appeals to rich folk, artsy types and science geeks. So, what’s it worth?

Well, (and you knew this was coming), let me tell you what I think.

Most of us face the daily grind and that’s about all that we will ever have. It’s simply too draining to exert much effort to pursue things which we may passionately desire to do, because putting food on the table and taking care of business is all we can manage. We need people who can somehow overcome these obstacles (no matter the means) and deliver to us remarkable achievements that inspire us.

Maybe they did it for money. Maybe they did it for love.

No matter. Though they didn’t know it, they also did it for me.

UPDATE: I found three very nice links with much more information about the Spider Carpet here, here and here.

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