Grass and Water

Posted in Under the Sea on July 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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I was standing out in the front yard this morning watching the sun rise up steadily, much too bright for good sunrise shots, and I looked down at my feet. The warm wine light of the fat, yellow orb was casting a very curious glow on the vegetation and shallow harbour water inches in front of my toes. I started to think about it. I took a picture.

It’s a very ordinary image. Yet, the familiarity of my surroundings give me context to extract much more from it than might be apparent to you:

The brown, twisty gnarls are the roots of my coconut trees. They are presently the only thing saving my front yard from melting into the rising waters of Madang Harbour.  The local sea level has risen at least twenty centimetres since we moved into our house twenty years ago. No, this isn’t global warming. It’s a local tectonic phenomena. We are on one end of a small plate which is tipping. Our end is going down. The gnarly roots speak to me.

The area at the edge of the water is almost daily flooded by boat wakes. The constant salting causes great stress to the grass at the edge of our lawn. The fresh grass shoots are vigorous and bright green.

All around me I can hear the splashing of fish. At this time of the morning predators are coming into water only ankle-deep and driving prey up toward the shore. I remind myself of the small life and death struggles taking place within a couple of metres from where I stand.

How much can you pack into an image.? I guess it depends on who is looking at it and what associations they can make.

Well, enough of the early morning moodiness. Have a look at this delightfully curly Feather Star (Comaster multifidus):

I didn’t think much of this shot when I first saw it on the screen. The composition is not so bad, but the varying distances from the flash left me with some spots far too bright and others too dark. It took a bit of fiddling, but I finally reckoned it was good enough to show.

I love Sea Squirts of all kinds. One could easily make a career of cataloging the varieties within a half hour boat ride from my house. I don’t know how you could make a living doing that, but it would be fun. These are Atriolum robustum:

I got some nice depth of field on this shot and the colour balance is spot-on. You are seeing exactly what I saw.

These are the same Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus)  on the same plate coral which I showed to you a few days ago in Sharp and Smooth:

It’s just another frame from the same series. I like the depth in this one, though the general composition is not as good as the shot in the earlier post.

You’ve seen this exact Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  before. I’m going to keep shooting him until I have him nailed down:

One might think that it would become boring doing hundreds (over 2,000 now) of dives in only a couple of dozen locations. I think it depends on what you expect from diving. For me it’s about being with friends, feeling the stress melt away when I slip into Mother Ocean, and photography. You don’t need to spend a lot of money travelling from place to palce like a well-heeled gypsy to get these pleasures. I’m happy to stay at home and squeeze the lemons.

Here’s two more of the Usual Suspects, Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus):

I had some fun playing with the colours in this shot. I can see some areas which are distinctly fake. However, I decided to take some liberties with Mother Nature.

I just don’t want Eunie to catch me. Shhhhhh . . .

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Nudibranch Eggs for Breakfast

Posted in Under the Sea on May 1st, 2010 by MadDog
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How I keep getting so far behind, I don’t understand. I’m doing yesterday’s post on Sunday morning, it’s almost 08:00 and I haven’t done today’s post yet. I have at least one magazine article that I must write today and I have another one to edit. How did I get so busy? I didn’t plan to be working this hard at 66. Maybe it’s a good thing. I don’t have time to get sick. If a doctor told me that I had a fatal disease, I’d simply have to tell him that I don’t have time to die.

There was a rather strange sunrise yesterday:I can’t decide if I like it or not. It’s almost too  moody.

One of the stars today is our little buddy, the Notodoris minor  nudibranch:I’ve been showing quite a few of these lately. I’m having fun photographing an uncommon species. I’ve found a spot where they are hanging around for a while. I’m fascinated by them, but know very little as was recently pointed out by reader Frank Peeters who explained that, in a previous post, I was seeing double.

Less than a metre away, we found this ribbon of eggs:This makes five or six times recently when we’ve found eggs in this area.

I’m rushing through the post today, so you’ll be spared my usual meandering. We’ll get right on to this Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima)  which was lounging directly under Faded Glory  at The Eel Garden  where we were diving:

Giant Clams are very common here. Unfortunately, many people harvest them from the reefs. I was once at Alotau where there were racks metre-wide shells which were being sold as pig feeders. Disgusting!

These are Diagonal Banded Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus lineatus).  They are difficult to photograph in the usual not-so-clear waters around Madang. They stay just far enough away to be hazy:

This is easily the best shot that I’ve managed of them. It doesn’t look like much here in the thumbnail. Click on it to get he larger image. It’s quite nice.

This shot is my pick of the day. It’s a little Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  who appears to be chewing on an anemone tentacle:This one also deserves a click to enlarge. The little fish looks as if it is fretting. “Oooo, who are you? You big bad thing! Stop blowing bubbles at me and go away.”

Sorry, I got a little carried away.

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The Skunk and the Crystal Goblet

Posted in Under the Sea on April 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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Yesterday was a dirty water day. I had a boat load of people; I think there were ten. With seven divers in the water, I had to actually do my Divemaster thing, keeping an eye on everyone. This was not easy, as there was only about ten metres of visibility. We went to the south end of Leper Island  first. It was uninspiring. After our surface interval to dump the excess nitrogen, we did another dive at The Eel Garden  near Pig Island.  There was no point going any farther, since everything near Madang seemed to be equally nasty.

At The Eel Garden,  directly under Faded Glory,  we found the resident Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  lurking in a similarly rare and beautiful Merten’s Anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii).  Anemones can stay a long time on one place. Most of them, in their final stage, become sessile. This simply means that they don’t move around:This anemone has been in the same spot for several years. I think that its wandering days are over.

I love patterns, as regular readers will know. I use many of them as desktop backgrounds. This shot of coral polyps really pleases me:There is a delicious combination of randomness and order here. The arrangement of the polyp tentacles suggests dynamic action. This is an entirely correct visualisation. The coral was only about five metres down and there was a constant surge. This was keeping the tentacles in constant motion.

I have no idea of the species of this coral. I was struck by the outrageous colour:I note that very few underwater photographers treat coral seriously. Truthfully, I find coral as interesting and as rich with photographic opportunities as fish. However, most people want to see fish. I try to give a bit of both.

Here’s an elegant example of coral beauty, a young fire coral:There will be no doubt concerning the common name of fire coral commencing with the first contact between it and your skin. It burns like billy blue blazes. Immediate treatment with vinegar, making one smell like a salad and suddenly reminding everyone on the boat that they are famished, is the best immediate treatment. This needs to be followed up by 1% hydrocortisone ointment, which we always have on the boat. It causes no permanent damage except possibly to the dignity of a grown man with tears running down his cheeks after scraping his inner arm across a patch of fire coral.

Here are a couple of Nemofish, as the Japanese now call them. It is probably the only species on the planet that has ben permanently renamed by Hollywood. It is, of course, the common Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula):If you watch them for a while, it’s easy to understand why they are called clowns. They bob about in the anemone as if they were bright orange and white striped toy balloons in a tornado.

As for the Crystal Goblet, you will need to exercise your imagination a little. If you can’t do that, then I will bet that you are not a regular visitor here. This is some kind of Sea Squirt, a fairly rare one in these waters:I say that it is rare not because I’ve researched it, but because, in over 2,000 dives here, this is the first one that I have seen. It is large for a Sea Squirt. The larger individual on the right, which I presume is a more fully developed version of the one on the left, is about 4cm in diameter. It is extremely transparent, as you can see.

We had a very good time at Jed’s house last night. The theme of the party was The Letter B.  It reminded me a little of Sesame Street:

It was a no-brainer for me to come as a Beach Bum. I didn’t even need to dress up. My normal casual attire needed only minor accessorisation. Karaoke was an integral part of the entertainment.

In the image above I’m performing my own crusty rendition of Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind.  It was intensely forgetable.

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Still at The Eel Garden – Can’t Get Enough of It

Posted in Under the Sea on March 3rd, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ll keep the babble at a minimum today, as my brain is running on empty and I’m moving at molecular speed though I have my mental pedal to the metal. In case you’re interested in the gory details, my sinuses are expanding exponentially and will soon be causing grey matter to ooze out my ears. It makes it even harder than usual to think. Oh, I can still think about a lot of things, – no worries there. The problem is that none of them are useful.

This does not bode well, as I have a very important appointment tomorrow, the outcome of which will have a huge effect on the next few years of  our lives. I’m sincerely hoping for a clear brain in the morning, if not clear sinus cavities.

I see that I’ve already exceeded my babble limit, so I’ll get right to this cute little Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii) guarding his host with due diligence:We used to see a lot of this species, but lately they seem to be getting more scarce. This always worries me when I note changes in species distribution. I don’t have enough technical knowledge to know if it’s important or not and I’ve had no luck, so far, in interesting any marine researchers to return to Madang, which used to be one of the main playgrounds for such eggheads.

Yesterday, if my memory is working correctly (no guarantees) I showed you another of these corals of the Galaxea genus:They are particularly beautiful and incredibly detailed. This one is the Galaxea fascicularis. It’s worth clicking on to see the detail of the polyps.

This shot is a bit of a double treat. The kicker is that I found it right under the bow of Faded Glory. We anchored in the sand, but the boat drifted a little over the top of the reef. I caught this just as I was returning to the boat. It’s a pair of seldom-seen Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos) lurking in a similarly rare and beautiful Merten’s Anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii):Quite a nice surprise at the end of a painful dive.

Going back a couple of days, I showed you this same Nudibranch (Phyllidia varicosa) shot with natural light. As I was going through the images from that day I noticed that I had also taken flash exposures of it. For the first time in a long while, for a macro shot, I think that I prefer this flash shot to the natural light exposure:I think that the explanation is that the light was poor and I had to do a lot of fiddling with noise and a bit of motion blur to get the shot by natural light. This one has much more realistic detail. I didn’t even bother to give it a bath to remove all of the little bits of ocean gook that usually cover everything.

Here’s another fish that you saw recently as a part of a pair. I found this side-on shot of a Split-Banded Cardinalfish (Apogon compressus) which I had previously rejected because I thought that it was over exposed:As it finally turned out, it is not a bad specimen shot, except that the intense blue of the eye is lost. Someday I’ll get the perfect shot of this fish.

Okay, I’m falling out of my chair now. I think I’ll go home and go to bed. I have computers to work on, but my brain is rebooting every time I think of that. It’s taking much longer to come back on line.

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All the Colours of the Sea

Posted in Under the Sea on February 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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This last Saturday was a banner day for photography. My new Canon G11, which you are undoubtedly getting tired of hearing about, was perking along nicely, grabbing shots with much increased dynamic and no noise whatsoever at ISO 80. The ten megapixels that it offers are more than sufficient for the magazine-size shots that I need to do my work. Don’t sniff at ten megapixels. If another camera offers more, but the resulting image is poorer in quality, what good do those extra megapixels do?

Yesterday’s post contained images from this Saturday’s dive also, as will tomorrow’s and the day after. In total, out of about one-hundred exposures, I got thirty-six which I deemed good quality. I’ve never had a two dive day that was more productive. Part of the reason for that was that my old buddy, Richard Jones, was “spotting” for me. He has amazing eyes and can find the smallest critters. Sometimes these are the most interesting. Tomorrow I’ll feature some nudibranchs which Richard found. Your mind will be blown.

But, that’s for tomorrow. Today, we’re doing colours. The dive at Planet Rock  was dark. There was a layer of muddy fresh water from the Gol Gol River  floating over the surface down nearly to the top of the sea mount at about 15 metres. I had to take many shots with flash. Though it is my preference to forgo flash when possible, sometimes it is unavoidable – there’s simply not enough light. In the first two shots, the effects of the flash are not noticeable. It simply acted as a fill light. In the others, the effect is dramatic, though the colours are, to me, artificially bright. They are, however, very pretty.

Green has been my favourite colour since I don’t know when. When I was a small child, it was red. I don’t know when I changed to green. I don’t even know if guys are supposed to have a favourite colour. I don’t talk about it much over the pool table with my mates, though I’m always soothed and mellowed by the green playing field. Maybe that’s why I’m such a lousy shot. Anyway, have a look at this lovely green Coral (Acropora tenuis):Click it to magnify and see the lovely details of the polyps waving in the current. Each little ledge on each tower is an individual animal. It is truly a thing of beauty.

Here’s another Acropora  species with a dramatically different colour:I’m always faintly startled when I run across one of these outlandishly purple corals. They seem somehow out of place. I wonder if a nearby toy store exploded and scattered misshapen shards of bright plastic on the sea bottom.

This shows why we have a pretentious name for the Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica).  You can see a scattering of  Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  chilling out and having a few beers:What a lovely playground they have.  There are few sights in the sea which are as calming and wondrous as this symphony of colour displaying a commensal relationship between vastly different organisms. Neither can flourish without the other.

Starfish fans will enjoy this lazy looking Linckia laevigata.This is the same species which often appears as a bright blue variation.

This Coral (Lobophyllia hemprichii)  contains the brightest red pigment of any creature that I have seen in the sea:This is a very young colony. They tend to become less colourful as they grow. Young ones, such as this, can often be seen as tiny crimson torches thirty metres away on a day with good visibility.

I’m a great fan of Feather Stars. This is a particularly nice image of some species of Lamprometra.  They are difficult for me to tell apart. I’ve been watching old episodes of Fawlty Towers  during the fifteen minutes that I can stop working each day. I can’t get out of my mind what Manuel (he’s from Barcelona, you see) says when he misunderstands a command from Basil Fawlty: “Eet ees deefeecult.”You can clearly see the “feet” of the feather star in this shot. If you gently tickle a foot with your fingertip, the creature will wildly thrash its arms around, waving madly. It’s a most comical sight. I’m going to have to shoot a video clip of it some day.

Here is a close up shot of another individual of a Lamprometra  species Feather Star:I didn’t think that the shot would turn out to be much. Now I’m simply blown away by it. Beware. If you stare at it long enough you may feel yourself getting slightly high, that is if you recognise “high”. Click on it to make it bigger and have a look. It’s mesmerising. This is a living thing. How can that be?

I don’t recommend it as a desktop background.

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Some Fish, a Friend and a Guest Lizard

Posted in Guest Shots, Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on November 4th, 2009 by MadDog
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Text will be terse today, as I am swamped by work in the computer room. Everybody needs everything right now.  It’s not something that system administrators are not used to. It does get a little irritating when you’re also trying to roll out an entire new network at the same time.

Enough complaining. Let’s have some fish.

This cute little critter with the improbable beard is, of course, a Goatfish – what else would you call it? Specifically, it’s a Manybarred Goatfish (Parupeneus multifasciatus):

Manybar Goatfish (Parupeneus multifasciatus)

The whiskery things are used to find food. It digs around in the sand for a meal. As you watch, you can see the whiskers flying around like mad. It’s speculated that they are extremely sensitive to the electrical fields around living things. Spooky, eh? I wonder if weapons researchers are checking into this.

This little one has the delightful name of the Pink Anemonefish . How harmless does that sound? If you’re on more formal terms it’s (Amphiprion akallopisos):

Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)

Everybody knows that this is a Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus).  What you may not  know is the it is the wrong colour.  This is another reason that I’m always whining about the use of flash for underwater photography. The eel looks nothing like this with the naked eye in natural light:Moray Eel (Gymnothorax javanicus) Compare it with these images taken with available light here, here, here and here. This shot was too deep for available light. I had no choice but to use flash.

Steven Goodheart sent several very nice nature shots, but I could not get any but this one to load properly. It’s worth a solo appearance. It is, as Californians will recognise, a Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis):

Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) by Steven Goodheart

This is a particularly nice shot for identification and I like it because the composition is also very clean.

And now, because I never tire of seeing myself on the silver screen, I’ll show you this shot of me at Blueblood with our missing friend Heidi Majano:

Hiedi Majano and Jan Messersmith at Blueblood

As is usual with most keen photographers, we hardly ever get an image of ourselves that we really like. This one tickles me. Put “heidi” in the search box in the sidebar to see some of her great images.

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