Reef Scenes – The Magic Kingdom

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It has been a joy over the last few years to get truly into the digital age of photography. Having learned the smelly-chemical method before I was twelve years old, I stuck to the film media for several years after the first digital cameras. I had inadvertently joined the massive ranks of ‘serious photographers’ who were shouting down digital cameras of the time as playthings not worthy of the art. They were  pretty miserable at first. My first digital was a 1.3MP model which was okay for snapshots, but inadequate for anything else.

One of the great frustrations (among many) of shooting underwater on film was that I could never, except by dumb luck, get an image to look the way that I saw it with my own eyes  – in other words – natural.  I have discovered, especially in the last year or so, that the secret lies in the techniques used. I’m not going to bore you with all that. If you’re interested, I’ll trade all of my secrets for a case of beer. It’s not a big deal.

However, it does give me severe pleasure to present to you images that look exactly as the diver (me) saw them, or at least as close as I can get. For instance, you often see close-up shots here that are products of careful shooting and laborious processing with Photoshop. The truth is that we seldom actually get that close. Here is a more normal diver’s eye view of a Spot-Tail Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellicandus):Spot-Tail Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellicandus)It may not be spectacular, but it’s what the diver actually sees. If you are going to get any closer to this little butterflyfish, your name had better be Houdini.

On the other hand, it is sometimes nice to get close. These polyps on a Sea Fan (Acabria sp.)  seem to be a white mass from a metre away. It is only when you get close that you can see their flower-like beauty:Sea Fan (Acabria sp.)It shots such as this, getting the colours right is the most difficult part of the job. When I can sit back and think to myself, “Yep, that’s just as I saw it.” then I know that my work is done.

Here is a group of Purple Anthea females (Psudanthias tuka)  with stalks of Whip Coral (Sea Whip – Junceella sp.)  in the background:Purple Anthea [females] (Psudanthias tuka)The colouration of the Purple Anthea is problematic. In most cases, they do look purple in colour. However when viewed with the light at a different angle, they often appear more blue, as in this image.

Here is a beautiful Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya [Roxasia] sp.)  with more Sea Whips in the background:Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia)It is such a pleasure to sit back after fifteen or twenty minutes of work and say, “Uh-HUH!  That’s just the way it looked to me.”

Here is another coral species that has been a bother to me for a long time (Tubastraea micrantha).  It is a deep, deep forest green colour and is found only below about twenty metres where the light is beginning to dim to shades of blue:Coral (Tubastraea micrantha)It is devilishly difficult to get the deep green colour without trashing all of the rest, even with Photoshop. This is the best that I have managed so far. It came at the cost of desaturating much of the surrounding area. However, I can attest that the colour that you see on the coral itself is exactly as I saw it. Just ignore the stuff beside it.

Another type of image that I enjoy capturing is the community as a whole. Here is a little anemone garden featuring the Tomato Anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus).  These are females. The male, in this unusual case, is much less pretty, being more or less solid light orange:

Coral Reef Community with Tomato Anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus) [female]
It’s such a thing of wonder to glide up over clump of coral and look down on a beautiful scene such as this. I can’t imagine ever tiring of it.

Your mileage may vary.

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7 Responses to “Reef Scenes – The Magic Kingdom”

  1. rich Says:

    First tool use from octopuses….

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8408233.stm

    Underwater footage reveals that the creatures scoop up halved coconut shells before scampering away with them so they can later use them as shelters.

    Watch the footage if you can. Smart cookies.

  2. MadDog Says:

    The clip was a little jerky, but I got to see most of it. It is fascinating and comical.

  3. Steve Goodheart Says:

    Jan, this was a fabulous post. The pictures are really gorgeous and really show off how much work you pour into them to get them to look right and natural. I can’t wait to see these on my desktop. I also loved the variety in the images; it really made for a nice flow. I’ve gone back to look at the post of a couple of times now, but just found time to say something here.

    The Divericate Tree Coral and that deep green coral are so amazingly beautiful, and given my own meager efforts to “fix” images without a photo editing program (NOT Photoshop_, I can only imagine the work that went into them.

    This is definitely one of my favorites of your recent posts. Thanks!

  4. MadDog Says:

    Thanks for the praise, Steven. It comes in handy. My ‘natural look’ UW images are not everybody’s cup of tea. But, I like the idea of showing people how it actually looks to the diver.

    I can’t imagine trying to be a serious photographer without Photoshop or something like it. Have you looked at GIMP? It’s an open source Photoshop work-alike.

    I’ve been trying to get the colour right on that green coral for years. I got the colour right on it, but I had to sacrifice much of the rest of the shot. I know how to do it right, but finding the two hours or so that it would take is the problem. I might give it another shot if I can find time this weekend. I’d like to make it perfect.

  5. Steve Goodheart Says:

    Most welcome, Jan. “Just the facts…” 🙂

    I do have a pretty good editor called GraphicConverter, but I haven’t learned much about beyond basics, and yes, I think there is a version of GIMP for the Mac. If I can find time not to be writing, I’ll look into that.

    Whoa, that sounds like a lot of effort to get that “perfection”….I’ve noticed that in so many things….getting that last 5 or 10 percent came take as much or more time than the first part.

  6. MadDog Says:

    The last 5% of ‘perfect’ takes 95% of the time.

  7. Steve Goodheart Says:

    “The last 5% of ‘perfect’ takes 95% of the time.”

    Speaking the truth there!