Faking It – or Pretending to Be What You Are Not

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on February 11th, 2011 by MadDog
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I’ll do something a bit different today. This post is actually a magazine article which has not yet been published. I submitted it nearly a year ago, so I don’t think it will find ink. So that it doesn’t go to waste, I’ll use it to bore you today.

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Sea people are adventurers and poets. Sea people are those who paint their lives boldly and joyously stroke by stroke on the vast canvas of Earth’s oceans and fresh waters. Fishermen, sailors, divers and snorkelers, surfers, sailors, merchantmen and marine warriors are all of a breed. They are bound by their love of and respect for the sea. How much great literature and visual art has been born of the relationship between humans and the sea? How can those who share this love of the sea not be inspired to and desirous of expressing their sentiments by the creative work of their minds and hands?

This is all very well and good, providing that one possesses the tiniest quantity of artistic talent. Being able to write a complete sentence and snap a decent photograph are largely demonstrations of technical skills. True artistry, however, mystifies the untalented. One might be capable of drawing water, but little else. Therefore we, the great ungifted masses, have forever been awed by those who are competent to pick up a pencil or brush and create from their mind’s eye a unique vision of the world. It’s a gift which few of us possess.

Therefore, out of sheer jealousy, we are inclined to mimic it. Since the arrival of the digital age, wretches such as us can aspire to play monkey-see-monkey-do and create images which, though utterly bogus, are pretty in a chintzy sort of manner.

Most folk today are familiar with basic image manipulation software. Nearly everybody can download pictures from their camera and play with them. Some of the software which comes with cameras even allows a bit of expression in the way of filters which apply special effects to the images. These are worth playing with to get one’s feet wet.

However, if one is serious about faking it, one must be prepared to step out a bit and trudge up a slight learning curve. I use Photoshop CS4 for all of my work. This is primarily because I work for someone else who wields enough financial clout to purchase it. It is absurdly expensive. One might liken it to the Rolls Royce of photo software. Adobe, the producer of Photoshop clearly states, “If you have to ask how much it costs, then you can’t afford it.” I’m absolutely certain that there must be ten pirate copies of Photoshop running on computers around the world for every copy which has been purchased.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. The GNU Image Manipulation Program, cutely nicknamed GIMP, is very capable and free software which strives to provide much the same power as Photoshop.

No matter which program one is using, the process details will be similar. We won’t go into details here, because our purpose is to show what one can learn to do in a couple of evenings. There are thousands of excellent tutorials available on the World Wide Web without payment which provides step by step instructions for the use of the tools in the software. Much of is learned feels very intuitive and quickly becomes habitual so that one can concentrate on the creative experience instead of the technical details.

Aside from the familiar controls with which most of us are familiar when working with our snapshots; brightness, contrast, colour saturation, hue, there are very many filters available to create effects which provide an almost endless range of possibilities for artistic interpretation of an image. A filter is a bit of software which examines the pixels of an image and then applies a complex mathematical formula to it to modify its appearance. Fortunately, one needs to know absolutely nothing concerning what is going on inside the complexity. There are simple slider controls which provide a way to adjust the actions of each filter. Simple filters can deal with elementary things such as noise (unwanted “static” in the image making it appear as if it were a miss-tuned TV), sharpening edges to make an image appear more focused, and corrections of distortions, such as correcting camera tilt by making the horizon level or correcting the apparent tilt or leaning of buildings.

The real beauty begins to glow when one begins to apply the artistic filters. There are dozens of them with names such as watercolour, poster edges, dry brush, fresco, paint daubs and palette knife. One can even apply filters upon filters to achieve genuinely wild effects. The trick is to learn when the fiddling has gone too far. Both programs mentioned above allow one get in the time machine and go back to an earlier stage of the process if sudden nausea occurs while examining the resulting image.

Though we concentrate on the sea and especially on creatures under the sea, there is no limit to the type of image with which one might begin. It can be anything. A carrot, if it seems particularly handsome.

One might ask of what use are these creations? Are they really art? My response is that neither question is pertinent. Unless one is obliged to make a living from artistic endeavours, then the exercise need only be purely for enjoyment.

Personally, I find such pursuits a pleasant alternative to sitting in front of the TV absorbing what currently passes for entertainment. This seems to me to be entirely passive. If you seek to create instead of consume, try your hand at Faking It. You might be amazed by what you can do.

You’ll find a variety of images here, some of them fishy and some not.

Scratch the last sentence. All of them are fishy.

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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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Still More Fish – Nearly Caught Up Now

Posted in Under the Sea on August 11th, 2009 by MadDog
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Well, I’m actually writing Tuesday’s post on Tuesday. For the last three days, I’ve been play catch-up, since I had to hustle so much for some magazine articles that I am working on. I’m going to have to get Eunie to start cracking the whip two weeks before deadline times so that I don’t get so messed up again. I’m such a slacker. I never used to wait until the last moment for an assignment. I don’t like working under pressure. I don’t know what’s gone wrong in the last year or so. I seem to always be hurrying the last few days before a deadline and I don’t like that. I try not to let it affect the quality of my work, but I think that I’m really kidding myself about that.

Anyway, here’s a strange critter that could spoil your day much more than a missed deadline. In fact, if you were seriously stung by the spines on his dorsal fins, you could be dead,  not just late:


It’s one of the many varieties of Scorpionfish that live in our waters. Here’s another one:


From the front, it is very difficult to see the eyes. Try enlarging the image by clicking it and comparing it to the previous image.You might be surprised where you find the eyes in this image. The “monkey head” figure, is just a fluke of camouflage and the dark depressions where you might think to find the eyes is just a trick of the light and shadows.

The Dwarf Hawkfish, though only half as long as your finger, is so full of colour that it looks as if it were wearing a clown suit:

Dwarf Hawkfish

We have quite a variety of hawkfish here. I should mention that the SEARCH box on the sidebar of Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  works quite well. Just enter “hawkfish” into the box and press <ENTER>.  You’ll see all of the posts in which the word appears.

Here is another shot that you may have seen before. I got this one at Planet Rock, I believe. It is a school of mixed Pickhandle Barracuda and Bigeye Trevally:

Pickhandle Barracuda and Bigeye Trevally

They tend to swim around in giant circles, so, if you get inside the circle, you can snap away happily for quite a while without having to chase them.

This is one of my best nudibranch shots. It is also one of our most colourful nudibranchs. The word means “naked lung”. You can see the breathing organs at the right side – the tail end:


Last, but certainly not least, is the Netfin Grouper. This fish seems somehow dignified to me, as if it were the undersea version of a banker or stock broker in a pin-striped suit. Whoops, maybe I did a little faux pas  there. Putting the word dignified in the same sentence with bankers and stock brokers these days might rub some people the wrong way. Oh well, it’s not for me to decide. I put my money under the mattress these days. I lose less that way:

Netfin Grouper

We’ll have to see if tomorrow something else pops into my head beside fish. I certainly hope so and that I have time to write about it.

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Swimming with Baracuda

Posted in Dangerous, Under the Sea on May 27th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’m getting homesick, so I’ll take a break from the On the Road category today.

Back in June of 2008 I had the golden opportunity to swim at Planet Rock near my home in Madang, Papua New Guinea among hundreds of Pickhandle Barracuda (or Blackfin Barracuda, as you please). Local names are useless for identifying fish. The taxonomic name is Sphyraena qenie.

Here is what I saw as I approached from below the circling school:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie) - coming up below the shcoolAs I approach I move around to the side so that they can see me. You don’t want to surprise them. If they can see you and get used to your presence for a minute or two, they will let you swim with them:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie) - coming around to the sideI move around just under them to get inside the circle and the slowly approach them:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie) - getting in closeNow I try to nudge my way into the stream of toothy, metre long underwater missiles. As long as I don’t spook them, I’m okay. This looks dangerous and it is  a genuine adrenaline rush, but I’ve never heard of anybody around here being harmed by these barracuda:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie) - trying to be a barracudaAnd now, my friends, I’m experiencing a joy that few have shared. I’m swimming with the barracuda! In fact, I feel very much like a barracuda:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie) - I'm a barracuda! Whoopie!I hope that you enjoyed seeing this one ten thousandth as much as I enjoyed doing it.

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