Salty Fun

Posted in Under the Sea on October 19th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Last Saturday, my friends and I motored out to Planet Rock  in Astrolabe Bay  for a morning dive. Going out to the rock is always a gamble. It can be a great dive, world class, really, or it can be miserable. Poor visibility caused by runoff from the Golgol River,  strong currents and bumpy water can make the fifteen minute trip out a waste of time. This time, the water was flat and there was no current. A thick layer of very turbid water from the river lay on top, making conditions below dark and greenish. The images required quite a lot of colour correction.

The top of the rock is quite flat, laying about eight metres below mean tide. Here you can see some of us, led by Richard Jones, just slipping down over the side to explore the slope around the edge:You can see Faded Glory’s  anchor resting in the jumble of wave-damaged coral. The life on top of the rock is constantly assaulted by wave action, but regrows very rapidly.

Soon after getting wet, I saw this lovely Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata)  tightly nestled into a crevice:

The light was very dim and greenish. I vacillated between flash and no flash. I much prefer the natural “that’s the way I saw it” colours. I used no flash in the shot above. The colours are natural. However, if the light is too dim, camera settings become a problem. The shutter speed will be so slow that the image will be blurred. In that case, you have to flash.

The result, while being pretty and colourful, does not represent the colours of nature. The spectrum of light from the flash is completely different from light at depths more than a very few metres, because of the absorption and scattering of certain wavelengths by sea water:

I enjoyed the dive much more than any I have done since returning from Australia. I attribute that to my plan to help my brain to rewire itself and find a new normality which allows me to find satisfaction and joy in the everyday activities which formerly spiced my life and gave me a measure of happiness. More about that later.

Because the peculiar lighting seemed to be giving me some opportunities to try some effects that I’ve been thinking about, I jumped in with both feet and produced some high contrast “dark reef” shots:

These are just a couple of the series which I shot. I’ll be showing some more of them later. I do like the effect. I didn’t try to hide the green cast in the shot above. On most of the rest of the images, I subdued it.

Here is another “dark reef” image. This one works nicely for me. I particularly like the way it brings out the globular shape of the coral in the centre:

I got about thirty usable images from Saturday’s dive, so you’ll be staying wet for a while. I also got some very nice shots when I went up at Blueblood on Sunday. I’ll be mixing those in over the next few days.

Which brings me back to “how did it go”? Excuse me while I take a Tuesday dive back into my diary mode.

Dear diary,

Well, this weekend I decided, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” I either need to be proactive to toss off these blankets of depression, self-pity and misery or continue in the current state, which is quite unacceptable. If I stop to examine the situation objectively, I can see that there is no reason for such a pitiful state of mind.

So, my attitude should be that if nothing is hindering me from enjoying the moment, then I should reject negative chatter in my head, which distracts me, pay attention to what is happening, and allow myself to react “normally” – as I once would have.

It’s a little tricky to get it right. I had some false starts which felt like faking. Then, during the dive I forced myself to concentrate on the photography and not let my mind wander. Back on the boat, I paid attention to what was being said and let myself be captured by the pleasant mood of my friends.

Up at Blueblood on Sunday, I engaged in a ruthless game of Pétanque. Late in the afternoon, for the first time in ages, I got into the water with friends and tossed a Frisbee – badly. I laughed out loud. I leapt, I splashed.

I think this might work.

Tags: , , , ,

Light and Shadow – Two Views of Beauty

Posted in Under the Sea on July 18th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

We had bright prospects on Saturday morning. The sun was shining in a partly cloudy sky and there seemed little chance of rain. However, when we got out into Tab Anchorage  it was clear that the sea was restless. The rolling waves promised an uncomfortable hour for any friends who were not safely under the surface of the water in the blissful calmness of Mother Ocean.

I never saw the ocean until I was twenty-five years old when Eunie and I took our infant son to Panama City, Florida while I was in Advanced Helicopter Training at Ft. Rucker Alabama. I was stunned. It was the first time I had seen a body of water wide enough that I could not see the other side. It had the aspect of infinity. Since then I have learned a curious fact. Practically anybody can get sea sick if conditions are bad enough. It takes a lot to get me sea sick, but I have been truly miserable for hours at a time during very rough passages. Therefore, I am very sensitive to the condition of my passengers. We found ourselves driven by the waves to our favourite calm cove at The Eel Garden near Pig Island  for the third week in a row.

There are a few places where we can dive even though the sea state might drive other boats back to the Madang Club for an early beer. Fortunately, The Eel Garden is a dive which never grows dull. Here Faded Glory’s  anchor and chain rests safely on the sandy bottom while the mottled lighting of the sand indicates the chaotic waves on the surface:

I decided that there were plenty of opportunities for high depth of field shots in these conditions. Here comes “Deep Focus” again.

Within moments of settling to the bottom I was presented with this little tableau. On the bottom is a Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata)  and hovering above is a Bicolor Angelfish (Centropyge bicolor):

Old-time PNG residents who enjoyed diving or snorkeling always called this “The Steamship’s Fish”, because its colours are those of the Steamships Trading Company which was one of the major suppliers of the bits and pieces of our daily lives.

Turning around the other direction, I found one of God’s Little Jokes, a bright, toy-like Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata):

Every single time I see one of these I feel a smile coming to my face. It’s something that simply can’t be stopped. In my head, I’m thinking simultaneously, “Why?” and “Why not?”

Still within the first minutes I came across this pair of Six-Spot Gobies (Valenciennea sexguttata).  This made me particularly happy, since this is only the second time I have photographed this species. The first image was less than I usually hope for. This time I got much better lighting conditions and two  of them:

Double the fun! Please don’t ask me why they are called Six-Spot Gobies when there are clearly seven spots. (We’re counting the blue spots, in case you’re wondering.)

Now we come to the images which really make me smile. Genevieve Tremblay just got some shiny new gear. She was diving with a borrowed set which had some serious deficiencies. There was nothing dangerous about it. It was simply not up to the standards which are comfortable for a new diver. Here she is teasing a Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  and grinning at me:

How cute is that, eh? The lighting was very nice for this shot. I didn’t need to use flash and the depth was shallow enough that It was easy to get natural skin tones.

This shot taken at about twenty metres on the old catamaran shows an effect that I’m trying to learn. It’s Genevieve again with a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  in the foreground:

I could have Photoshopped out Genevieve’s hair standing on end, but decided not to. We sometimes look a little odd underwater. It adds to the charm of the image. I have a bunch more of these shots from Saturday which I will show soon.

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

Photgraphing the Photographer

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on April 26th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

ANZAC Day has past now, and I’m into the work week with a fury. Well, a flutter, anyway. I’m so far behind that some things are simply getting put into the If I Ever Get Around To It tray. My situation report this morning will be terse, but I do have some nice snaps for your amusement.

I’ll begin by showing you my distressingly flabby triceps. As I was shooting a very nice sunset on Trevor Hattersley’s Lyin’ Dog,  I kept noticing flashes coming from behind me. I took little notice, since everybody was ohhhing  and ahhhhing  at the pretty colours. I assumed it was someone who did not know enough to turn their flash off. Little did I suspect that I was the subject and the cameraman knew exactly what he was doing. Witness the work of Lt. Colonel Simon Watts:Thanks for sending that along, Simon. It will help me to get back to hitting the weights a couple of times a day.

Once in a great while, I get a shot that drops my jaw. So much is up to luck. You can do it perfectly ten times and only one will be good. A hundred times and maybe you’ll say, “Oh, that’s really nice.” Give it a thousand times and you might get something like this:When the colours are so ethereal that it looks fake . . . no, painterly,  then I feel as if I’ve been somehow blessed. It is, of course, a Spinecheek Anemonefish (Amphiprion biaculatus).  There are presently two of them living in a Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  with incredible pigmentation at Planet Rock.  I’ve been shooting this same anemone for at least fifteen years. I visit it every time I dive at Planet Rock.  I’ve shown it to hundreds of divers. It’ my  anemone. I’ve made it the most famous Anemone in Madang, so it owes me.

Bulb Anemones, like some other anemones, can display an almost unreal range of colours as you can see from the one in this post.

This is what happens when you stack beauty on beauty. Kate and I were the only divers on Saturday, so we had Planet Rock  all to ourselves. Here a lazy Blue Plastic Toy Starfish (Linckia laevigata)  lounges atop an ancient coral bomie wearing a feather star for a cap while Kate provides the real eye candy:

Lots of blue there.

Since I’ve gotten started with blue, we’ll just keep that theme. Here’s an unfortunately motion-blurred shot of a Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion)  in a Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica):The tentacles of this anemone were absurdly blue. I don’t think that I’ve seen one this bright, though there are several other colours which reach this level of saturation. Witness the wonderful green-tentacled Magnificent Anemone here.

What this shot lacks in quality, it makes up for in blueness. It’s a school of Fusiliers of some kind racing past me:We like to say that diving in Madang is very much the same as diving in a huge aquarium. We seldom have to deal with fussy weather or big seas. The water is not always crystalline, but the quantity and the wonderful nearness  of the sea life makes up for the less than perfect visibility.

Not even Paradise is perfect. We don’t care. It’s close enough for us.

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

First Drenching of the Canon G11

Posted in Under the Sea on January 30th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

I won’t waste your precious time today with a lot of blabber. My own semi-precious “time for myself” is withering as my workload increases while my pay simultaneously shrinks. However, I did have a bit of fun today. I did my first dive with my new Canon G11 in its cozy factory housing.I still have a lot to learn about squeezing this new lemon, but first results have me feeling dreamy and wishing I had time for a mid-week dive.

The current at Magic Passage was raging and I had two divers with me with whom I had no experience, so I didn’t get much chance to shoot. I did get enough frames to tell me that I like what I’m seeing from the G11.

Here is a pretty ordinary shot of a Silver Sweetlips subadult (Diagramma pictum).  You’ve seen these many times here before, and much better images. However, this was a snap shot which I did not even expect to save. With a few minutes work, the G11 image came out acceptable:Here is a mob of what I think are Lunartail Snappers (Lutjanus lunulatus)  finning vigorously against the current. Again, as a snap shot, I’m very happy. The G11 seems to save more images from doom because of its increased dynamic range (the range of colours and shades that it can record accurately under varying conditions) and its lower noise level:Again, I didn’t expect for this image to be usable.

Here’s a sweet shot of a Circular Spadefish  or Batfish (Platax orbicularis)  that really illustrates how the two extra stops of dynamic range allow me to save a nearly impossible image:Where I would have had muddy dark areas and blown out highlights (such as the top of the frame), now I have decent detail in the very dark areas and smooth gradations with colour detail left in the very bright areas – just what I was hoping for.

I never pass up a chance to photograph the ridiculous Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata): When God was a little kid, he left some of his toys scattered around the planet. This is one of them.

Here is a close up shot of this very special toy:The detail is amazing. I’ve lost no ability to capture fine details by dropping from 15 to 10 megapixels. I think a lot of the extra megapixels were wasted because they were too small to gather enough light to put together a decent image. The pixel race is over.

Here is a reader favourite and mine also, the lowly Hermit Crab (Dardanus sp.):This little fellow will soon be receiving a notice from the Neighborhood Association for painting his house such an outrageous colour.

Back tomorrow with more wholesome G11 goodness.

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

The Big Blue Finger

Posted in Under the Sea on December 2nd, 2009 by MadDog
No Gravatar

I’m sitting here wondering what to say while I listen to some very cool East London Jazz from Seal, which dates my taste in music somewhere in the Early Bronze Age. Later I’m going to do some Steely Dan, maybe Babylon Sisters.  So, I’m all moody and overworked and and I had a bad night walking around in the dark at a friend’s house with a big rock in each hand while attending to an armed robbery. More about that later. So, right now I’m in the frame of mind to give the world The Big Blue Finger!

And (brace yourself)  here it is:

Blue Starfish - Linckia laevigata

Regular readers will recognise one of God’s funnier jokes:  the wonderfully whimsical Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata).  Actually not all of them are blue. Most are a sort of dull green or yellowish brown colour. I can never help laughing when I see one. I think to myself, “Yeah, I can dig it.”

Since my mood is wandering, let’s look ahead to our next Pagan-Turned-Christian holiday by absorbing the lemony wonderfulness of these Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus):Christmas Tree Worms - Spirobranchus giganteusThese are among the amazing tiny creatures that I never tire of seeing. It’s fun to see how close you can get to them before pop back into their holes and disappear.

Since I have a few live coral keepers out there who watch this space for mouth-watering samples of what they could be playing with, if they only had a big enough tank, here’s a nice little coral community:Coral CommunityI’m no expert, for pity’s sake, but I think that I can see seven different species of coral in this area which would measure about one square metre.

Here’s one of the better shots that I have managed of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii):Clark's Anemonefish - Amphiprion clarkiiIt’s not much good as a specimen shot, because you can hardly see the second white bar which is an identifying feature of this fish, as is the white bar in front of the yellow caudal fin. What you can  see, however are its tiny, razor sharp teeth (and they do  bite!), the clear cornea of his right eye, and a lot of detail in the front white band, which is very difficult to capture, because of the huge difference in brightness between the black and the white. Click to get a larger image.

Now, since I”m not feeling quite so grumpy as before, I shall show you a grumpy fish:Coral Grouper - Cephalopholis miniataThis Coral Grouper (Cephalopholis miniatafdsa)  clearly did not care to be bothered.

That’s pretty much the way I feel today. Eunie has gone to Port Moresby to do battle with the Department of Immigration and Naturalisation concerning her Permanent Residency. I can hardly think about anything else. I told her to not return to Madang until she had it in hand (as if I could order her around . . . makes me giggle just to think of it). I told her very sternly.

She gave me that smile. You know, the one that Mona Lisa did so well.

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

A Mixed Bag of Nature

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 11th, 2009 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Best plans aside, I find myself here at the office on Sunday morning. I ran out of time yesterday, so I managed to get only one post finished. Nevertheless, it was good luck, since I got some very nice sunrise shots this morning on the drive to the office. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see them, however. I’m still catching up with images.

Coming back from our dive a week ago on Saturday, I had to stop Faded Glory  in her track to get this image of the sun low in the sky over the airport. Dad told me, as he was teaching me photography, over and over, “Composition is King.” Pretty colours are nice. Sometimes we simply want snapshots to capture memories. However, when you’re shooting for something to hang over the mantle, you have to pick your moments and compose the shot with care. I like to think of myself as a painter. I ask myself where I would put my easel, what palette of colours would I use, how do I want to portray the subject, where do I want the viewer to focus?

Two Coconut SunsetThe two coconut trees in the image make a perfect focal point. Researchers have done some very interesting work using gadgets that can record where a subject’s eyes are looking at any instant as they view images. What they have found is that the eyes search out a particular point and keep coming back to it. As the viewer takes in the image and processes it, the eyes dart around the image, stopping at places of interest. Very often, however, the eyes return to a single point of interest. Click on the image above to enlarge it and study it a minute. I bet that your eyes keep returning to the two coconut trees. For an image of a person, the point of interest is almost always the eyes.

Now, let’s take a little trip to somewhere else. I don’t know where it is, but wherever we are the moon comes up in a most startling fashion. Okay, okay, it’s our front yard. A few evenings ago a friend called me saying that I had to run outside with my camera to catch the moon rising. (My friends know me.) I was a little tardy getting out with my tripod and camera, as I first had to dress appropriately. I was too late to catch the huge orange blob just above the horizon, but I’m quite happy with this image:

Psychedelic Moonrise

It can hardly be called a photograph now, since it has suffered merciless manhandling by Photoshop. Nevertheless, it is an interesting image. That’s all that I wanted.

And now, for something completely different.

I can’t pass up certain images that catch my eye underwater. Sea Squirts are among my favourites. They seem improbable to me. They clump together in a manner that makes me think of little hamlets where the faeries live:

Sea Squirts - Atriolum robustum

It seems that I’m waxing a tad too poetic this morning. Still, as faerie houses go, these are credible. The little houses above are Atriolum robustum.

There is a nice big fish called the Midnight Snapper (Macolor macularis).  As with many fish, the juvenile looks nothing like the adult. This is the juvenile Midnight Snapper:

Juvenile Midnight Snapper - Macolor macularis

It’s a terrible shot, but I excuse myself because this fish is fiendishly clever at avoiding the camera. They move constantly out of range (this is a telephoto shot) and always try to hide behind something.

I’ll wrap it up today with yet another image of this improbable Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata):

Blue Starfish - Linckia laevigata

Not aiming to sound irreverent, I beg forgiveness for imagining God as a kid, scattering around the universe all of the most treasured toys. Surely, this must be one of them.

Tags: , , , , ,

Have Some Fish – Catching Up

Posted in Under the Sea on August 7th, 2009 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Since Friday morning, I’ve been working solid until my eyes are blurry on images for two magazine articles. They are both about the East Indies Triangle, the most heavily speciated marine environment on the planet. Madang is in the heart of it. You may have seen some of the images that I’ll be showing you for the next few days, but all of them have been reworked extensively for publishing, so they will all look different, even if you’ve seen them before.

Here’s the Banded Sea Krait, which has appeared a couple of times on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi:

Banded Sea Krait - head detail

This is an egg-laying snake, so it must come onto land to deposit its eggs. I once came across one that had been run over by a car. I took it home and removed the skin. It now hangs in my office. It is missing about 30cm of its original length. You can see that they become quite long as adults:

Banded Sea Krait skin

This is a Bulb Anemone that you have seen before. I reworked the colours to appear more as I saw them with my eyes:

Bulb Anemone

Since I never get tired of seeing bright blue starfish that look like kids’ toys made in Japan, here’s one on which to feast your eyes:

Blue Starfish

It looks silly, doesn’t it?

You’ve seen this shot of a Blue-Spotted Stingray before, but it has been extensively reworked for magazine publication:

Blue Spotted_stingray

It’s one of the best full-length shots of a stingray that I’ve yet managed.

Finally, here’s a spunky Clark’s Anemonefish getting ready to attack me. I was bitten several times by this little fellow. They seldom draw blood, but their tiny little teeth get your attention very quickly:

Curious Anemonefish

It’s time to do some work for pay. I hope to find a few minutes to do another post and post-date it, as I have done with this one, so that my calendar has no holes in it.

Yes, I know that that is called cheating. Sue me.

Tags: , , , ,