Diving Into Deep Focus Again

Posted in Photography Tricks, Under the Sea on June 16th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

We had a middling decent sunrise this morning, complete with crepuscular rays from the sun shining between towering clouds over the horizon. Not a bad start for a day which I fervently hope will be less of a hassle than yesterday. However, it’s only 13:50, so anything could still happen. Half of the fun and half of the terror of living in PNG is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Or rather, the next  shoe.

Anyway, as I said, I got a passable sunrise this morning and, though three pedestrians attempted suicide on the bonnet of my car on the way to work, it has so far been a singularly uneventful day:

Just as well, too. My Valium stash is getting low. I’m going to have to see my connection pretty soon.

As you may recall, if you’ve ever been here before, I’ve been fooling around with what I call “Deep Focus”. Though this may sound like a meditation technique, it is really nothing more than setting your camera so that the hole where the light comes in is as teensy-weensy as you can make it. In fancy terms, it’s called the ƒ-stop. Real photographers insist on using the curly ƒ instead of the regular f because we are so pedantic. The explanation of all the ƒ stop explanations would simply explain you into a nap, so I’ll leave it up to you to Wikipedia it, if you like.

Explained so that even I can understand it, think of a pinhole camera. If you would look with one eye through a pinhole in a playing card held very close to your eye and wiggle your fingers around in front of it while viewing a distant scene, you would note that your fingers are clear and focused as well as the scene. Pull the pinhole card aside and you fingers will go all blurry unless you focus your eyes on them, in which case the distant scene will get blurry. There’s no free lunch. However, there is  a cheap  lunch. If you are willing to make other adjustments to your camera such as slowing the shutter speed to let the lens gather light for a longer time (unfortunately, also making moving objects blur) or setting your “film speed” (called ISO on digital cameras) to a faster setting (and getting “grainy” images as a result) then you can get stuff like this:

Note that everything from a few centimetres away to the distant diver is in focus, more or less. This is Deep Focus, and I didn’t invent it. I’m just fooling around with it. A fancy term for it is High Depth of Field Photography, but you can forget that now that you have heard it once.

Here’s another shot using the setting of ƒ/8 on my Canon G11 which is the smallest opening of the iris that I can get:

Again, we get a nice, almost 3D effect.

I’ve learned a few things in the last weeks I’ve been playing with this. First you must have water as clear as possible. That is sometimes a problem. Next you need a very bright, sunny day with as few clouds in the sky as possible – your best friend is intense sunlight. The other thing that I have found is that noon is not the best time. It is much better when the sun is coming in at an angle. Nine to ten in the morning or two to three in the afternoon seems best:

The shot above shows the deep blue that you want as a background.

Another thing that you want is what every photographer knows – keep the sun at your back or coming over your shoulder from the back. You want the light to be coming from behind you.

It does take considerable messing about with Photoshop to get the optimal results. I’m taking an average of about 15-20 minutes on each shot, sometimes more if there is a lot of particulate matter in the water which I have to remove bit by bit.

I have concentrated so much on macro shots for the last few years that I am now enjoying the process of learning something new.

I feel like an old dog who has only now learned to roll over on my back to get my belly scratched. Ah . . . what a relief!

Tags: , , ,

Sunrises Until You Want to Scream

Posted in Humor, Mixed Nuts on June 15th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

I usually try to get my daily post off at the beginning of the day before disaster strikes. I didn’t make it today. Nobody is dying and there are no injuries, but otherwise what started out as a hectic but promising day including hard work in the morning and a dive with some very significant visitors in the afternoon turned out to be a day of interesting events (In the sense of the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times!”) which simultaneously led to both sadness that something so disgusting should happen and gratitude that it wasn’t much worse. Someday, when the dust has settled, I may tell you about it.

In the meantime, I’ll show you garish images until you feel like screaming, “Enough with the sunrises!”

Here is this morning’s immensely uninspiring sunrise:

Yawn . . .

I tried to doll it up with some cocount trees:

Hey, we’re getting a hint of some crepuscular rays. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz . . .

Okay, how about if I put my dog, my lovely sweet mongrel, Sheba, in the sunrise?

Okay, I had to use a very low shutter speed, so one of her legs is blurred. She really does have four legs.

Now, let’s try it with my neighbor’s haus win:

A haus win  is a little platform on which one can sit with a roof overhead and enjoy the breeze without being fried by the tropical sun. It is also an excellent place for a nap, since the roof will protect you from falling coconuts knocking your head off.

Okay already, enough with the sunrises. I’ll show you a failed image of a Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata)  which I love nevertheless:

I got this one on Saturday someplace. I can’t remember where. It’s all a blur. I was shooting down in a hole and I had to use a ridiculously slow shutter speed. Therefore the blurry fins. However, I love the look of the image. It implies motion. Heaven knows, we need motion. Otherwise we would all turn into Ice 9.*

As you may have gathered, I am rather zoned out at the moment. Others say, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” I say, “What doesn’t kill me gives me the giggles.”

Okay, here is my last desperate attempt to amuse you. If this doesn’t do it, I give up:

One might ask, “What is it?” And, this would be a perfectly reasonable question, if, in fact, there were any reason to be had. Is that too many commas?

Well, let me tell you what it is. It is a piece of metal off of The Green Dragon,  a B-25 bomber which regular readers will remember from many tiresome messages sent into the black hole of the web in times before. It has slept on the bottom of Tab Anchorage  near Wongat Island  since the year I was born.

And, it’s still shiny.

* See Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Another Fine Mess

Posted in Under the Sea on June 14th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Thanks to the Queen’s Birthday, a public holiday here in Papua New Guinea, I did not have to go to work today, a bright and sunny Monday. That gave me a chance to work on one of my other jobs and write an article for Niugini Blue  about diving with Roz Savage. Well, it was a productive day, but I’m knackered, so I will spare you my usual nonsensical chatter.

My Facebook friend Kevin Lock sent me a link to a very scary site which allows you to put the footprint of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico right over the top of your house, if you are so inclined. My sense of geography is askew because of living in the same place for nearly half of my life, so I wanted to get an idea of the scale of the disaster. I put it right over Madang:

I was dumbfounded. All that I could think of was to be thankful that we have no ecological woes that could, even in the worst possible case, hold a candle to this one. That would be the same as comparing a firecracker to a hydrogen bomb.

I spent years in the U. S. Army National Guard flying helicopters. A large percentage of our missions were in support of disaster relief. I have seen close up and personal the kind of personal tragedy that such disasters cause. This one goes well beyond my imagination.

To get my mind off of those dreadful memories, I’ll show you the wing of The Green Dragon  B-25 bomber near Wongat Island:

What you see is the remaining metal framework of the control surface at the rear edge of the wing.

Inside the fuselage at the corner of one of the ammunition boxes was a spindly shrimp with an eel poking its head out next to it:

I wonder if they are even aware of each other.

Down on the bottom, behind the wing is a Heliofungia actiniformis  coral full of Periclimenes  shrimp:

The shot above is about as good as I can get with the Canon G11 in the low light conditions. I had to shoot at ISO 400. If you know what that means, you’ll have respect for this little camera a bit bigger than a pack of cigarettes, if anybody remembers what that looks like.

Here is another shot that gives an idea of how many of these little nearly transparent shrimp you might find in one coral:

They were hopping around like tiny bunnies.

This is very young coral colony which Monty Armstrong found out near the nose of the bomber. It was as delicate as any flower I’ve ever seen:

Its current size is about five or six centimetres. It will be interesting to see how fast it grows.

I’m tired and I still have captions to write. There will be more useless mumblings tomorrow.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Climbing Up the Chimney

Posted in Under the Sea on June 13th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Yesterday we went up to Wonagat Island  to dive a spot on the barrier reef we call The Chimney. I don’t think that we have dived there since I began Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  in September 2007. This is a little odd, since it is an interesting site and easy to get to. The conditions there vary wildly. Saturday wasn’t great, but I did get some amusing shots. We’ll get to that later.

First, have a look at Sunday morning’s sunrise. I deliverately made it darker than it really was. I wanted to bring out the very faint crepuscular rays. I could barely make them out visually. Some tender massaging with Photoshop brought them to life:

Trying to lighten up the rest of the image simply makes it look fake, which is not necessarily a bad thing, if you’re going for an artistic interpretation. The most interesting bit of this image is the dense black smoke erupting from the stack of the large ship as the left. Click to enlarge, so you can see it.

Here is another shot with a completely different colour interpretation which shows the ship’s smoke much more clearly:

Thank goodness that this amount of smoke is not normal. I only see it when the ships are starting up their main propulsion engines. It usually lasts only a minute or two. I would love to get into the engine room of one of these big ships. Maybe somebody out there will arrange this for me. I’m amazed at the things I ask for here which magically appear. Having a journal with thousands upon thousands of readers can come in very handy. Thank you , gentle readers.

If I project the numbers out to the end of June, it seems that I will have had 275,000 visitors in the first half of 2010. This simply stuns me. I sometimes find it difficult to get my fingers going in the morning, because it is absolutely scary how many people are going to read what I write while still waking up, sitting there in my nightwear (I’ll let you guess.) drinking a Fanta Orange soda. Hey, think about it! It’s a frightful responsibility. But, it’s still very small potatoes.

Well, enough of puffing my head up like a toy balloon, let us have a look at the mysterious dive site which we call The chimney for a very obvious reason. I carefully positioned Faded Glory  for the dive, because if you get the anchorage wrong, you will never find the hole. The trick is to anchor in a known position slightly to the North of The Chimney so that you know which way to go when you get down on the reef. Here is what it looks like if you get things right:

In my dive briefing I said the we would descend, go to the edge of the reef, descend again to 28 metres, turn right and look for the hole. And maybe we might find it. I have miscalculated the anchor point several times and failed to find it. This time, after the dive, I marked in on the GPS.

Here is how it looks from the bottom as you see a diver exiting from the top:

I should have mentioned beforehand that one shouldn’t use fins to swim up through it. It’s best if you just let a slow ascent take you up through the narrow passage. If you do it right, no sediment is kicked up to spoil the trip for the next diver.

Our resident French clown, Pascal Michon could not resist hanging upside down for a comical shot:

It’s nice to know that you have friends you can count on for a laugh.

Back up on top we went hunting. This little Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)  kept trying to hide from me. I caught him as he was peeking out to see if I was still there:

They are cute, but not very bright. They remind me of me, except for the cute part.

I’m still experimenting with the deep focus technique, but it takes a lot of light. this shot of Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllusreticulatus)  bobbing up and down into their coral hide-out is not yet what I’m looking for:

It seems a little flat to me. I’m looking for more depth.

I may have to send you a pair of 3D glasses.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

From Bilums to Bees

Posted in Mixed Nuts on June 12th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Inspiration failed to appear this morning and I was weary of trolling through images for fresh fish. Today is Dive Day, anyway, so I’ll have new images with which to play later today. Before I get to my stroll in the garden this morning, I’ll show you this bright collection of the iconic bit of Papua New Guinea art known in Tok Pisin  as a bilum.

A bilum  is simply a string bag. However, it is the Queen of String Bags. There are as many patterns as there are minds to dream them:Above is a small section of the display of the hundreds which are available at the main market in Madang Town every day. They used to sell for a pitifully small price. I’m glad that the people who make them and their agents at the marked have demanded higher prices. The amount of skill and labour which goes into the making of them is considerable. It deserves a proper payment.

In the garden this morning were the usual suspects. Here a tiny checker-board winged fly takes a snooze on a yellow flower:

I did not awake until 07:00 this morning, an unusual occasion. By the time I got out to the garden the golden light of the sun was intensifying nicely.

This flower was glowing furiously. The colour is all wrong. It was not red, but more of a violet colour. Some weird combination of factors prevented me from getting the correct colour. I’m going to have to investigate that:

It’s pretty enough as it is.

A stroll through the garden would not be satisfactory without a relaxing study of the orange lilies:

You may as well get used to these, because I am never going to cease finding new ways to display their beauty

I almost missed this small bee resting on a hibiscus leaf:

They usually fly away when I try to get my lens close enough for a good macro shot. This one seemed not to care. Possibly it was tired.

This is easily the shot of the day and a great example of photographer’s luck. Any fool can take pictures and most fools can do a pretty good job of it. Sometimes the difference is simply patience. I spent a full fifteen minutes squatting on the grass shooting frame after useless frame:

These bees are indeed busy, busy. They stay on each flower for an average of four or five seconds and then fly quickly to another. I feel like a big mackerel attacking a huge school of bait fish. Which one to chase?

Time to load the boat.

Tags: ,

Dead Bird Jam

Posted in Humor on June 11th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Friend and former visitor to our home, Alison Raynor has sent some items which I know that you will enjoy. Let me begin by saying that there are two Rosellas. One is a beautiful small parrot. The other is a rather unusual fruit. Both are native to Australia. When Ali was visiting us, she left us with a jar of her home-made Rosella Jam. The joke is, of course, that it’s not made from dead birds. It’s made from these things:

About which you shall hear more later.

Rosella Jam is not  made of this:

Which is a Rosella parrot (Platycercus elegans),  quite a different thing altogether, eh?

Ali sent an email to me which is so amusing that I think it deserves to be quoted directly here. I hope Ali agrees with me, or I am in big trouble.

I went to our local country Agricultural Show yesterday and, as always, it was a great  experience and a chance to catch up with people I have not seen since last years show. (people make their annual pilgrimage out of the hills for this one … ha ha)

There is the compulsory drinking  of beers at the “cattle bar” along with  throwing a few dollars at the local ambulance and rural fire brigade “chocolate wheels” in the hope of winning a “frozen chook” (funny how  no one ever calls it the chook wheel … ha ha?)

It is the place of huge pumpkins, giant corn cobs, funny looking chooks, heavy horses and loads of bull sh*t –  literally!

There are the  best steak sandwiches that you have ever tasted, big tractors, bigger hats, cowboy boots and belt buckles that you could  eat your Sunday lunch off.  It’s a  place to watch HUGE  men with big, sharp axes chopping their way down from ridiculously tall wooden poles … (GUTS STUFF!!! ) and then, of course, there are the chainsaw races for those brave or silly enough to take part … (we have a general saying about such boys here – “Smart like donkey …  Strong like tractor”)  You need to be brave just to watch this stuff, but we all love it just the same. (Work place health and safety would have a field day writing reports  whilst  dodging large jagged wood missiles, flying axe heads and air-born splitting wedges weighing about 2 kg’s each.) It’s great to live in the reality of the simple county life instead of the sterility of the city – I think?

Anyway enough of that stuff, I’ll get to the point.  In the Horticulture Pavilion (a hay shed) I found the prize winning “Rosellas” and thought that I would send you the picture.  They are funny looking critters indeed and very hard to peel.  You don’t see rosella jam on any commercial shelf for just that reason, they are incredibly labour intensive and are a country kitchen sort of deal and the jams are generally made by Mum or Granny and found at fetes etc.

Speaking of huge guys chopping wood, here is one doing just that:

Scary enough for you?

And, just in case someone says to you, “How would I know? I just came in on a load of pumpkins!” This is what he came in on:

Okay, okay, I don’t know the difference between a pumpkin and a squash.

However, some of these look suspiciously like pumpkins to me:

Rather large too.

Here is the jar of Rosella Jam which Ali left with us:

It is sweet, but not too sweet. It is tart, but not too tart. The flavour . . .  well, I simply can’t describe it. It is, however, not like anything I’ve ever tasted before. I have eaten only a little of it. I’m saving it carefully refrigerated until my sense of smell returns.

Here is a closer look at the clever label:

But wait. There’s more. Ali wrote a poem for us.

Rosella Jam

By Alison Raynor – 2010

The Rosella is a spiky, little crimson flower fruit
With a tarty type expression and a sour kick to boot
You must add a lot of sugar to the brew.

It is really quite a “bottler” and the darling of our jams
Never found in supermarkets, only in a grandma’s pan.
It’s a jam of love- that’s made by precious few.

A little bit like mulberries it’s a country backyard crop
And it’s only in the autumn, that the luscious fruit will drop,
You must hunt them down- if you should choose to stew.

Rosellas are related to the flowers of tropic beauty
Hibiscus might be pretty but our ugly friends are fruity
It’s in the eye of the beholder” -That is true.

It isn’t quite a flower, not a veggie or a bird,
There are no parrots in Rosella Jam…That’s simply quite absurd.
We make sure to sieve all feathers from the brew.

It’s a flavour to be savoured, a rare delicious taste,
You’ll never find it mass-produced, it’s never made in hast.
It’s a gift from nature’s garden- just for you.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

And, with my good wishes for you today, I shall say goodbye.

Tags: , , , ,

Scorpionfish – Fail!

Posted in Under the Sea on June 10th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

We had a lovely dinner at our house last night with thirteen of us there consuming Eunie’s delicious Midwestern American farm meal. A special guest was there, but I’m not going to keep blasting her name out over the web, because I think that it’s time for her to have a chance to enjoy a bit of privacy. It was a typical Madang dinner party. There was a pile of “happy shoes” at the door, good food, good friends, and good Australian wine. Everybody came to our house by boat, so even the departing was fun. Everybody walks out to the dock, gets into their boats and we all wave bye-bye as if we’ll always see each other tomorrow. And, we usually do.

When I saw the sunrise this morning, the word industrial  popped into my mind:

It seems that I am a compulsive titler – is that a word, someone who titles things? I don’t know. If it isn’t, it should be. Every image has to have a title floating around in my head.

Oh, I can see that I’m boring you. Let’s get to the miserable failure that is the subject of today’s post. This could have been a perfectly good image of a Scorpionfish:

We had just gotten into the water at Planet Rock and I was fussing around making certain that our anchor was not doing any damage and watching divers and counting noses when Richard Jones pointed out this Scorpionfish. It was such a peculiar shape and so well camouflaged that I really wanted to get a good image of it. Sadly, I had time only for a quick snap. Unfortunately,as so often happens, the camera did not focus where I wanted it to. The focus on the rear half of the fish is tolerable, but the head is blurry. Still, it is so odd that it’s worth a look.

I have a lot of trouble figuring out what is a sponge and what is a sea squirt. I was all set to identify this as some kind of sea squirt. Fortunately, I sent the image to my Facebook friend Ana Karinna Carbonini of the Laboratorio de Biología Marina at the Universidad Simón Bolívar. She said that she thinks it is a Sponge, possibly a species of Leuconoide  or Asconoide:

You can take a sip of coffee now while you absorb that. Have a quick glance over your shoulder to see if the boss is lurking about.

At the request of a friend, here are a couple of Anemonefish shots from our dives on Saturday. This is a Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus)  peeking out from the safety of its host anemone:

I particularly like this shot, because it shows a very typical behavior. Anemonefish will often alternate between dashing about frantically around the anemone, coming up close to you to investigate or even take a nip of your finger and then plunging down within the tentacles to peer out and observe the result of the attack. I get more fun from watching anemonefish than anything else under the water, with the possible exception of some of my dive buddies.

For the Disney fans, here are some genuine Nemo wannabes. The Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula)  never fails to live up to its name:

One seems to be shouting at me. By the way, I would call this a failed shot also. Careful examination will reveal that it was a snap shot and I did not take the time to check the focus carefully. Of course, if I had, I would have missed the shout.

Finally, I’ll show you this artsy shot of the beautiful clear view of the reef near Alexishafen late on Sunday afternoon:

We were all peering over the side of Felmara  as we stopped for a swim. The water was crystal clear and the pinkish sunset was alternating with the deep green of the two metres of water under the boat. A little bit of magic.

A little bit of magic is all it takes.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,