Barracuda Point – Dirty Water – Disappointing Results

Posted in Under the Sea on November 23rd, 2009 by MadDog
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We arrived at Barracuda Point  near Pig Island  on Saturday morning in bright sunshine. The water was very turbid with a lot of particulates drifting around. Miserable shooting conditions! I did manage to salvage a few shots from the lot. Not much to look at, I’m afraid.

This Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria)  looks like the entrance to hell:Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria) All it needs is some red-hot lava boiling down there in the bottom.

Hungry? Have some Pizza Anemone (Amplexidiscus fenestrafer):

Pizza Anemone (Amplexidiscus fenestrafer)As you may notice, I’m a little terse today. We’re still rolling out a new network at the office and, computers being what they are, it’s two steps forward and one back.

As I mentioned, the shooting conditions were awful. Here’s a mediocre image of a few listless Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus)  taken with flash:Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus) If the fish is in the right (or rather wrong)  position, the power of the flash blocks the side of the fish to full white, losing all detail. You get the same result if you take a picture into a mirror with the flash on.

Here’s another example of the much despised flash effect. Have a look at this imag of a Pixy Hawkfish [red variation] (Cirrhititichthys oxycephalus):Pixy Hawkfish [red variation] (Cirrhititichthys oxycephalus)The fish does not look anywhere near that red in natural light.

Here’s an absolutely terrible shot of an Eclipse Butterflyfish (Chaetodon bennetti):Eclipse Butterflyfish (Chaetodon bennetti)I’d have deleted it if it were not the only image that I have of this species. Oh, well. It gives me something to strive for.

Again I’m foiled, this time by a chunk of coral in the way. The Clown Triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum)  likes to stay just far enough away from you to tease:Clown Triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum)Your brain is saying, “Swim a little faster and you’ll have him!” Your body is saying, “Whoah! Heart attack time!”

Of course, by the time we came up a storm was passing over, everybody was shivering, and the wind was howling like a banshee. We went home for Saturday afternoon naps instead of the usual fun and games. Every day isn’t perfect.

Even in Paradise.

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Odd Fish Pics

Posted in Under the Sea on November 22nd, 2009 by MadDog
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Again, I’m covered up by work and have little time to write. However, there is always time for images. Today I’ll show you some of my more unusual friends.

This wiggly little thing about the size of a baby’s finger is the Urchin Clingfish (Diademichthys lineatus):

Urchin Clingfish (Diademichthys lineatus)

They are quite tiny and constantly moving, so it’s not easy to get a shot. They are also pretty rare. This is the only one that I’ve ever seen.

Okay, this is not a fish. I bet some out there will guess that these are squid eggs:

Squid Eggs

I have no idea why they are attached to a submerged tree branch which was only about two metres below the surface. It looks like a good lunch for a predator. They are more often seen attached to the underside of rocks.

This is a ferocious Titan Triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens)  which appears to be quite dead. Why is the Monty Python  “Dead Parrot” skit playing now in my brain?Titan Triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens)

You don’t need to weep. This is simply a common habit of the species. They often wiggle-waggle sideways on the bottom in this manner. I suspect that it helps to dislodge parasites.

This cute little guy is a Black-Saddled Toby (Canthigaster valentini):

Black Saddled Toby (Canthigaster valentini)

I see these on almost every dive, but it’s rare to get such a decent image of one. They are very wary and skillful at staying just out of camera range. I surprised this one.

This oddball is a Bignose Unicornfish (Naso vlamingii):

Bignose Unicornfish (Naso vlamingii)

There is another species that has a horn-like protrusion on the nose that looks more unicornish. This one just has a big schnoz. This fish goes through a remarkable colour change when it is at a cleaning station where the little cleaner fish pick off the parasites – like a car wash for fish. Normally the fish appears jet black. However, while it is at a cleaning station, it changes colours until it is nearly a pale baby blue. I imaging that this is to ‘tell’ the cleaner fish that it’s safe to start work and they are not going to be eaten.

That’s all of the strangeness that I can manage for today.

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Sequential Sunrise – Too Busy to Write

Posted in Photography Tricks on November 21st, 2009 by MadDog
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I have a friend here who is a contractor for building and maintaining network systems. He’s a very busy guy and is often out of town. I got my boss’s (Eunie) permission to hire Mark to help me build a whole new network according to his specifications so that, when I need a holiday, I can rest easy knowing that Mark can come in to fix anything that goes wobbly. It’s hard work and leaves me little time for anything else. However, yesterday morning I got one of the best sunrise sequences that I’ve ever seen, so I’m going to toss the images up here with little comment.

I don’t have to yammer on about this one. The images speak for themselves. I’ll just say that the exposures changed radically as the light increased, but I’ve normalised them to the same brightness. I’ve also modified the colours in each image to suit my aesthetic taste – gaudy. Each image is made of of two to four exposures merged together in Photoshop.

So, I’ll loose the comments and show you what a beautiful half-hour I enjoyed.

This is first light:

Sequential Sunrise at Madang - First LightIt was quite dark still. I couldn’t see the controls on the camera. It was on a tripod and this was a fifteen second exposure.

Now the sky brightens a little and we get a few rays from the shadows of huge towering clouds over the horizon:

Sequential Sunrise at Madang - Sky BrighteningThis was only a two frame shot. The angle it covers is not as wide.

In this four frame shot we have a wider angle. Some of the lower clouds are illuminating as the sun rises toward the visual horizon:

Sequential Sunrise at Madang - A little Brighter- Jan MessersmithI was getting a lot of purple impressions at this time, so I enhanced the image in that way to capture the moment as I felt it.

The sun is now nearing the horizon and we’re picking up some more shadows of clouds nearer to us, but still below the horizon. That’s why the rays (banding of the light) change as the sun rises. Different sets of clouds below the horizon cast shadows that we can see:Sequential Sunrise at Madang - Some Rays FromingIt was getting very yummy about this time. I kept thinking to myself, “These are going to be great!” What a wonderful way to start off the day.

The sun disk has not yet risen above the horizon at my elevation (my camera was about two metres above sea level), but the clouds over Madang are already ‘seeing’ the rising sun. So, they catch fire!

Sequential Sunrise at Madang - Clouds Catching FireThe shot above and the next one are definitely going on calendars. I’ll make some money for them. You’re welcome to use any of these as desktop backgrounds or screen saver images.

Though the shot above has more colour, this one, just as the sun’s disk is rising above the horizon, is my favourite:

Sequential Sunrise at Madang - Sun nearly over the horizon - Jan MessersmithWhy? Well, it’s because I caught three birds. Click to enlarge. I’ve given you an extra large image, more pixels than I usually upload.

When you see the image on your screen, especially on a black background, it gets a lot of depth from those three birds. If I stare at it for a minute or so, it snaps into 3D. It’s a little trick that I learned. You might want to try it. Think about the birds being closer and just stare at it. I’d be interested to know if anybody else notices this.

This also works for stars at night if you have a very clear, dark sky. If you lie on your back and think about the brightest stars being closest and the dimmer stars being far away (which is, of course, not so) you may get lucky enough to see everything suddenly snap into 3D and you’ll be staring with wonder into the depths of the universe.

I still managed to blab on a bit, didn’t I?


The Computer That I REALLY Want!

Posted in Humor on November 20th, 2009 by MadDog
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I sit at my desk most days keeping at least two computers humming desperately to keep up with my demands. I have two screens and two keyboard/mouse inputs. I could use an automatic switch to use the same keyboard and mouse to control both computers, but that’s too easy. While I’m waiting for something to finish on one machine, I’ve started something else going on the other. It’s not that I’m such a whiz, it’s just that computers are so infernally stupid and slow. I constantly have to explain what I want in the most minute detail. And I have to do it with my decrepit old fingers.

I tried vioce recognition. Let me tell you. We’re just a hair’s breadth away from making that work. I’ve already dictated most of two magazine articles using the VR that’s built right into Windows 7. It works just fine, once you get it trained.

But why do I even have to talk? Here’s a sunrise to look at while you’re thinking about that bit of craziness:

Good morning sunshineI want a computer that’s built in. I don’t want to have to plug anything into my neck or my belly-button. When I’m stumbling down the street in Amsterdam, I want to be able to think, “Beelzeebubba, show me the way to my hotel.” You see, my computer’s name is a nonsense word that I’d be extremely unlikely to use normally. That’s how the computer knows that I’m asking it and not some stranger on the street or I have used its name in casual conversation. (except in the extremely unlikely case in which a telepath named Beelzeebubba happens to be standing close to me)  That’s why the old Star Trek  thing of saying, “Computer!” every time you want something from it won’t work. Every time you speak (or think) the word ‘computer’ the stupid thing answers back, “Huh?, Waddaya want?” You would certainly not want to name your computer Uhh or Hmm.

I should be able to ask questions like, “If I jumped out of this plane, how long would it be before I hit the ground?” The computer, knowing that I”m on United 12 from Kewanee to Kankakee (no such flight, by the way), knows exactly where I am and at what altitude. It also knows the elevation above sea level under the plane. It should come back with something like, “It will take three minutes and twelve seconds plus or minus five seconds with a 90% confidence level.”

I would be comforted by the knowing. Here’s another sunrise while you digest that:

Getting brighter - GO SUN!

My computer should be powered by my own metabolism. If Beelzeebubba seems a little sluggish, I just eat more and the peppiness will return. If I’m putting a little air in my spare tire (my tire is presently very spare), I just think, “Beelzeebubba, calculate the value of π to 10 googoplex places and send it to my CNN IReport account.” and I’ll lose a couple of kilos. The exertion of that task will consume some of my excess body fat and I’ll return to my svelte normality.

Here, calm your frayed nerves with this mind number (as in numbing your mind). Your hands will feel like two balloons:

The Torch

I want to be able to think, “Beelzeebubba, get me to Rangoon by Friday Noon and charge it to Bill Gates.” I would like to muse, “Beelzeebubba, could God be manipulating the universe through quantum entanglement?” (one of my pet theories) I would like to ponder, “Beelzeebubba, what do women want?”

Beelzeebubba would obey my commands and answer all of these questions and more. Here, stare at this a while. Stop when you feel dizzy:Good morning sunshineBeelzeebubba would communicate with me by direct connections to my optic, auditory and other essential nerve fibres. I’d ‘hear’ it speaking to me and ‘see’ what it wants to show me. The visual stuff would appear as a ‘heads up’ display in my field of vision. The spoken voice would sound like Olivia Newton-John. In the background there would always be the faint hum of roller skates.

Beelzeebubba would also monitor my state of health, if I want it to. Constant nagging about not smoking and “that’s enough beer” could be filtered out. “You are about to have a heart attack!”, I might not want to filter. Or maybe I would. It would, of course, perceive everything that I see, hear, touch, smell and taste. It would advise me if I were drinking the wrong wine with pressed duck. More sunrise action? Okay, have this one:Coconut Point SunriseThat’s Coconut Point.

I’d be able to command Beelzeebubba to, “Write me an article for Niugini Blue  called Heart of the Hunter.  Use what I’m currently thinking about as the theme. ( I now let my mind wander around in the subject matter.) Use the images that I’m imagining. Fill in any gaps in my knowledge from the web. Have it ready in a half-hour.”

In the evening, when I’m ready for some sack time, I could think, “Beelzeebubba, knock me out until 05:00. Schedule six variations of what I’m going to think about for the next sixty seconds as my dream sequence. Keep it clean and no violence or ethnic jokes. Oh, and I don’t want to hear anything about Britney Spears!”

That’s the computer that I want.

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Heart of the Hunter – Part 2

Posted in Under the Sea on November 19th, 2009 by MadDog
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Yesterday, I dumped a bunch of images on your screen that I’m preparing for an article for Niugini Blue  magazine. The title will be Heart of the Hunter. Look back at my post from yesterday to read all of my blather about that.

Today, we’ll just look at some of the rest of the images that I’m submitting.

You’ve seen the Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata)  here before. I’ve even managed to get shots showing the commensal shrimp that lives in the same burrow. I spent about fifteen minutes sneaking up on this scene to get the fish along with two  of the  shrimps Alpheus ochrostriatus:

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata) with shrimps Alpheus ochrostriatusThe timing here is very tricky. I could see that there were two shrimps living with the fish in the burrow, but it took a lot of patience to wait until both of them came out at once, pushing sand in front of them as if they were tiny bulldozers. The Spotted Shrimpgoby appeared previously here and here. If you get too close or make a sudden move, they all pop back in the hole in a flash.

Stalking relatively immobile critters is easier.  You’ve seen this nudibranch (Notodoris minor)  here before several times (put notodoris in the search box):

Nudibranch (Notodoris minor)In this shot, I think I’ve finally figured out how to get the subtle bumps and curves of the body of the beastie to show clearly. The thing is so bright and so monochromatic that you can’t really see this much detail with the naked eye. It’s an interesting example of how a photographic image can show you details that you can’t see with your eyes. Underwater, this critter looks pretty much like a blob of bright yellow with black stripes. It’s very hard to make out any detail.

I shot this image of the Spotted Porcelain Crab (Neopetrolisthes maculata)  a couple of years ago with my previous UW camera, an Olympus C8080:

Spotted Porcelain Crab (Neopetrolisthes maculata)Though there a lot of variables that I can’t account for, it’s still interesting to compare the Olympus shot with this one of the same species shot last week with my current outfit, a Canon G10:

Spotted Porcelain Crab (Neopetrolisthes maculata)As I said, there are too many variables to make a direct comparison, but it certainly looks as if I’ve lost nothing in the change.

This shot of a Spotted Garden Eel (Heteroconger hassi)  is one that I must admit makes me feel almost like a pro:

Spotted Garden Eel (Heteroconger hassi)

It’s not so much that it’s technically perfect – it isn’t. However, if you understand the behaviour of these eels, you will appreciate how difficult it is to get a good, clear close-up. The garden eel is usually found in mobs sticking up out of the sand. That’s all well and good – and quite pretty. However, when you approach them, they all pull back down into their holes; it’s their best defense. To get this close to one requires Job-like patience and a full tank of air. I cheated a little by easing a bit of telephoto into my lens, something which is normally useless underwater, since there is always too much stuff floating around.  I also had to do an enlargement trick (the multiple 110% enlargement method, in case you’re a Photoshop fan) to get the image big enough to crop out the middle and still have good detail. I’d guess that the front of my camera was about a half-metre from the eel.

Look, he’s winking at me.

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Heart of the Hunter – Part 1

Posted in Under the Sea on November 18th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’m fairly frantically trying to balance my work between herding a bunch of ornery computers, writing an article for Niugini Blue,  and doing my daily posts on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  There’s just no help for it. I’ve got to combine some tasks to serve dual purposes or sink into the dreaded black hole of “missed deadline” which means embarrassment and lost of precious moolah. So, I’m killing two of the three birds with one bullet (which is my not so clever way of slipping into the subject matter) by giving you a preview of the images that I’m submitting and a taste of the text. This literary snake-oil will be delivered to you in two or three parts.

My Gradpa taught me to hunt. Marksmanship was first on the list of essential skills, so, back when ammo was dirt cheap, I fired thousands of rounds at teeny-weeny targets until I was up to Granddad’s standards, which were pretty high. All this practice served me well when I went for Army training, as I qualified Expert on every weapon with which I was trained (and a few that I wasn’t supposed to be using).

Grandpa also schooled me in the psychology of the hunt, with which I became obsessed. Unfortunately, this involved a lot of blood loss, mostly to the critters at which I was shooting. I never thought much about it at the time. It was just hunting – everybody did it. Eunie and I survived a whole summer in Montana on the huge jackrabbits that I shot (she bagged a few – she is also an excellent marksman).

Anyway, not to get carried away, I had a few bad experiences with beautiful creatures whose designated bullets had not landed precisely. They tell tales about animals screaming when horribly wounded. I’m here to tell you that it can happen. It’s something that you don’t want to hear. So, I left the killing behind, cold turkey, as it were, but the other, less bloody psychological elements of the hunt have never left me.

What to do? Shoot them with a camera, of course! I didn’t dream this up. I remember when I was a kid seeing newsreels of big game hunters who had sickened of the killing and were mounting expensive cameras with huge telephoto lenses on rifle stocks. They were making a pretty drastic statement at a time when most people were fairly blasé about the whole matter of hunting. I admired these people.

No, I’m not going to unload the whole article on you here. It will run upwards of 1,600 words and I don’t expect anybody to read a post that long. So, let me get to my most recent ‘kills’. It’s illegal in most civilised places now to kill a hawk, but it’s there’s no problem with bagging a Dwarf Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys falco)  with your camera:

Dwarf Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys falco)This is by far the best shot that I’ve done of this species. You’ve seen many Hawkfish here before (use the search box), but this is the one, of this species, that will define my best work, at least until I get better gear.

Moving from the sublime to the clownish, this little fellow (or lady – who knows) is a Spotted Sand Diver (Trichonotus setiger):

Spotted Sand Diver (Trichonotus setiger)They are fiendishly difficult to photograph, because they do exactly what the name implies. One second it’s there on your screen, the next instant it’s dived head-first into the sand, leaving only a puff of pale powder drifting along in the current. I was trying very hard to get a black background in this shot, but I could not get low enough. If I had, you could better see the long, slender filaments extending from its dorsal fin.

Somebody out there is thinking, “Enough with the Spinecheeks, already!”, but I’m not giving up until I’ve done it perfectly. So here’s yet another  Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus):

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus)I’m getting close to what I want. If you click to enlarge you can probably make out some scales and you should definitely be able to see the lateral line.

Here’s one that you have seen here only once before. This is a much better shot of the Redfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunulatus):

Redfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunulatus)I’d call this thing absurdly beautiful. That doesn’t mean a lot, since the ocean is chock full of absurdly beautiful things.

I’m not much of a sportsman when hunting with my camera. Sitting ducks are also on the list of endangered beasties. Nudibranchs are ridiculously easy to shoot. The don’t move very fast, maybe a metre a day. All you have to do is find them. That’s the crunch. It’s a treat to find such a nice specimen of a fairly common nudi, (Phyllidia coelestis):

Nudibranch (Phyllidia coelestis)Well, that’s enough for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with more of the grisly trophies of my weekly ritual slaughter of the innocents of the sea.

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Skies – Trees – Tug Boat – Guest Ron Barrons

Posted in Guest Shots, Mixed Nuts on November 17th, 2009 by MadDog
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I was very happy this week to get a couple of gorgeous images from our friend Ron Barrons.  Ron lives in Hamilton, Ontario where our son and his family also reside. We’ve had many happy times in Hamilton with family and visiting Ron and his wife, Brenda. Ron has been a guest on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  here.

This one gives me goose-bumps. I could bore you to tears with my analysis of this image. It’s got it all. The composition is perfect, using just about every rule to perfection. Note at the right side on the horizon that you can see the bridge connecting Hamilton to Toronto. Click to enlarge (I wish I had a higher resolution image for you) and you’ll see it better:

Hamilton, Ontario Sunrise by Ron Barrons That bridge makes a wonderful focal point in the enlarged image.  All of the lines and shapes seem to point to it. You can’t keep your eyes away from it, but it doesn’t dominate.

Here’s another fine composition by Ron. Though I hate being cold, I do envy the photographers who live in temperate regions with beautiful deciduous forests that glow with surreal colours in the autumn. Ron beautifully captured the serenity of this scene. I don’t know where the image was shot, but I’d like to go there and sit for a while, in a warm coat with a cold Chardonnay and a cigar:Trees mirrored by Ron BarronsNice job, Ron. Please, keep them coming!

Well, I feel a little inadequate this morning to compete with that. Hey, it’s not a competition anyway. It’s a sharing. So, A couple of mornings ago, I got this mid-telephoto of the sun rising above Madang Town across the harbour from our house:Madang sunrise with copra boat heading to Kar Kar IslandThe shot shows the limitations of the sensors in point-and-shoot cameras such as my Canon G9, my carry-about camera. No matter what I did, I could not bring up any decent detail and colour in the shadowed town. The dynamic range of brightness in the scene was just too much for the sensor to capture.

The main advantage of a big, full 35mm frame (called FX) sensor in an expensive digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera is that each ‘bucket’ (pixel) that collects photons of light is bigger. This means that the number of photons counted from adjoining buckets will be more accurate because the random fluctuations caused by several factors will be smaller. In other words, there will be less noise  in the image. Noise shows up as little speckles that shouldn’t be there. The bigger buckets also collect more photons, so the calculations in the computer in the camera can more accurately deliver a wider range of brightness levels (dynamic range).

Here’s how I think of that. Imagine marking off an area in your yard ten metres square. First, put out 1,000 little buckets filling the area as best you can and wait for a big rain. Now measure the water in each bucket. You’ll find a comparatively large difference between buckets, when you would have expected them to be all the same. This is noise. Now remove the 1,000 buckets and replace them with 100 buckets filling the area (they will have to be bigger  buckets). Now wait for a rain which drops about the same amount of water. This time, when you measure the water in the buckets you will find that there is much less difference between them. You have reduced the noise. That’s one important reason why bigger sensors are better. You don’t want more pixels, that can make the noise worse, because each pixel must be smaller. What you want is bigger  pixels.

There are other reasons that bigger sensors are better, but those are even more boring.

This shot made me a little happier:Tug boat in the morning light across the harbour from our houseIt’s a little fakey looking, because I had to massage it pretty vigorously with Photoshop, but it’s cheery, so I’ll satisfy myself with that.

I went a little crazy with the panorama concept in this one:Madang Town morning panoramaIf you click to enlarge, you can see quite a bit of detail in Madang Town, including a blurry band around the tall coconut tree to the left of centre where Photoshop failed to blend properly the adjacent frames when it was building the merged image.

We’re having fish tomorrow! Somebody bring the tartar sauce.

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