Sunset Dreaming

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on October 17th, 2009 by MadDog
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Morning is my second favourite time of day. I’m usually up by about 05:30. The first thing that I do is look out of the front windows of our house to see what’s going on in the sky. The sunrise a few mornings ago displayed itself as a beautifully muted array of pastels. Here’s the wide-angle shot from our front yard:Sunrise in MadangIf you’re wondering about my favourite time of the day, it’s when I sit down in my favourite chair, with my favourite beer, my favourite brand of cheap cigars, a bit of favourite reading material and pet my favourite (only) dog, Sheba. I can feel the stresses of the day evaporating like a cool misty haze around me.

A minute or so later, I got this image with a mid-telephoto setting:Sunrise in Madang

Man, I love those colours. It’s too bad that, here in the tropics, sunrises and sunsets fly past so quickly. In general, they last about ten or fifteen minutes at the most. That’s because the sun (and moon) are rising and falling straight up or down, not at an angle as in temperate zones. You have to get your camera out and be ready. I have missed fantastic sunset shots by being only one minute too late.

Yesterday, I showed you an image of this same Notodoris Minor  Nudibranch. This image was taken at Planet Rock  with flash:Nudibranch (Notodoris minor) at Planet Rock

The one from yesterday was captured by available light at about 30 metres. You can compare the difference.

Here’s our old favourite the Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculatus)  also at Planet Rock:

Spinecheek Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus) at Planet Rock

I’ve been concentrating very much on getting good specimen shots. I’m trying to get a publisher for a coffee table book called The Fishy Families of Madang.  Anything for a buck.

On the way back from Blueblood last Sunday on Felmara,  Mike Cassell’s boat, I caught our friend Frauke Meeuw dreaming in the sunset light:
Frauke Meeuw dreaming in the sunset

It is redundant to say that happiness is a state of mind.

So, I won’t say it.

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More Sky and Water – Maybe a Little Lightning

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 14th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ll start today with a couple of images that I got a few nights ago when I was trying to capture lightning in a thunderstorm. Here is an amusing image of a boat tied up at the south side of the compound near the airport. You can see the lights of the airport glowing in the distance and off of the bottoms of the nearby low clouds. The lighting on the boat and the fence and trees is from the main wharf which is at least a half-kilometre away:Boats in the light from the main wharf a half-kilometre away

The shot took fifteen seconds to expose. You can see a bit of motion blur on the boat, as it was bobbing around in the gentle waves.

This is the only shot of the thunderstorm that showed any lightning. My Canon G9 only allows up to fifteen second exposures. I wish I could get a full minute out of it. There wasn’t enough lightning in this cloud to make more than one or two flashes in fifteen seconds. This was the best shot that I got. I’m going to try again soon:A bit of lightning in a Cumulonimbus cloud

Strangely, this year has been almost absent of thunderstorms.

Here is a shot of Coconut point in the morning sun. I got this one on the drive into town a couple of days ago:

Coconut Point in the morning sun

It’s not a bad sunrise shot, but not as spectacular as some. What is interesting is that I accidentally caught a mob of Flying Foxes returning to town after there night-time raid on the gardens. You might have to click to enlarge to see them.

I got some nice images last Sunday on the way back from Blueblood on Mike Cassell’s boat, Felmara.  Here is a shot into the lowering sun with the Canon G9 set with the Night Snapshot scene setting and the flash forced on:Wake spray of Felmara in the afternoon sun I really enjoy having specific settings on the camera in the form of Scenes. It takes care of most of the adjustments that you need for particular shooting conditions. I could have recreated this shot using manual settings, but I would have to think a lot more. With the G9 I simply had to set the camera on Scenes, choose the Night Snapshot by spinning the wheel until it appeared on the screen, push the flash control until I could see that it was on demand and fire away.

This strange apparition is a lenticular cap on a Cumulonimbus cloud:

Lenticular cap on a Cumulonimbus at sunset

The cloud (called a pileus [Latin for cap] – thanks, Steve Goodheart) is rising up so quickly into the upper atmosphere that it is pushing warmer, moister air above it in a sort of shock wave. The warm, moist air can’t get out of the way, so it gets moved up to colder regions and the water in the air condenses into a small lens-shaped cloud that sits on top of the thunderstorm. There was much more of a rainbow effect visible to the naked eye. I couldn’t capture those nuances with the camera.

Though a US$4,000 camera and lens could do a much better job on this very technically demanding shot, for US$400, I’m quite happy with what my Canon G9 gave me:

Canoe in the late afternoon sun

The problem here is what is called dynamic range. I don’t know what the real numbers are, but I’d guess that there is at least 100,000 times as much light in the sun glowing through the thin cloud layer than there is in the trees in the foreground. The little sensors in point and shoot camera simply cannot handle this difference. So, everything gets compressed into a smaller range.

However, the technical aspects of this shot are not what I’m thinking of now. What I am thinking of is the gift that I got when the opportunity arose. There was a good deal of luck involved. Felmara  was moving at a rapid pace. I was shooting a medium telephoto shot from a bouncing boat. I had maybe a one-tenth of a second window for the shot.

Luck was with me.

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Cameras and Water Don’t Mix

Posted in Under the Sea on April 15th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ve been taking photographs underwater for a long time. In the beginning, it was nearly more torturous than it was worth. I started out with a small plastic housing made to protect 35mm throw-away film cameras. It came with a strobe light. I think it cost a couple of hundred dollars. Of course there was no focus, no zoom, no close-up capability. It was as basic as a camera can get. Add to that the hopelessness of getting film properly processed and printed in Madang, and you don’t leave much room for fun.

Nevertheless, I did take many hundreds of shots, waited for the pitiful processing, patiently scanned them into the computer and dutifully put them up on our old diving website (which is still up, but an embarrassment – I’m too sentimental to take it down). You can still find the original web site there by following the “the old web site” link. An example of the best we could manage with this rig can be found here. Compare that shot with this one.

As I began to get serious about underwater photography, I purchased an Ikelite housing and strobe for my Minolta SLR camera. It was a monster. It leaked like a sieve. I managed to flood two cameras. Fortunately the cameras were available very cheaply in used camera stores. I took many hundreds of shots with this housing and it sits in an honoured position in the “MadDog Museum of Incomprehensible Folly” at our home (admission free if you BYOB).

Underwater photography - the old way
The rig above weighs about a thousand kilograms (rather, it feels as if it does) and is very difficult to manage underwater. Jumping into the water with it was always a risky proposition. I received several bruises and at least one bloody nose over the years that I used it. After a while I gave up the macho delight of plunging into the water holding onto a boat anchor and asked someone to hand it to me after I was safely bobbing on the sea.

The next outfit was an Olympus C8080 in a factory PT-023 housing. I never had any argument with the quality of the shots that I got with this rig. The images were an order of magnitude better than film (DIGITAL – AMEN!) and it was a quarter the size and a tenth the weight of the old rig. It was still a two hand job to handle, but at least I could enter the water with it without risking injury.

I did, however have several BIG arguments with the build quality of the housing. It broke on me twice. The first time it broke I noticed a small leak and managed to surface before I lost a camera. The whole front of the housing is made to come off so that one can (presumably) fit another type of port for the camera to look through. However, the entire front of the camera was held in place by two little cam-lock devices that hooked onto tiny plastic projections on either side of the round port opening. The projections are about the size of the little clicker thingie on the end of a ball-point pen (you can see the remains of one in the image below). When one broke, the whole front of the housing came loose. You can imagine the result:

Olympus PT-23 repair job number one
Though I saved my camera by surfacing as quickly as I safely could, I did lose a camera the second time the housing broke. This time it was the main hinge that holds the housing halves together. The housing is intended to open like a clamshell so that you can load the camera into it. Most underwater housing are made such as this. The problem is that (again) the amount of material devoted to strength was inadequate. The hinge broke while I was underwater and allowed seawater to flood in. The result was this mess:

A drowned Olympus C8080

That’s right, a completely destroyed C8080 camera. I found another one cheaply on EBay and began with a vengeance to re-engineer the fastening together of the two halves of the housing. Here is what I devised:

Olympus PT-23 repair job number two
The stainless steel plates and bolts replace the hinge mechanism. The other side is still held together by the original snap-lock fasteners. It works okay, but it’s a little fiddly to get the bolts adjusted just so. I still use it for teaching and as a backup.

My current camera and housing is a Canon G-9 in a factory WP-DC21 housing.  Here is a picture of the housing:

The Canon WP-DC21 housing for the G-9 cameraI like it very much. It fits in one hand, creates images as good as I need, and it cost me only about US$600 when I bought it new. I have no complaints.

My only problem now is that when the jerk on the street stole my camera, he (or the cop) dropped it. Here’s the damage:

Canon G-9 thief caused this damage when he dropped it

It doesn’t look like much and has no effect on the usefulness of the camera until you put it into the underwater housing. Then the little thingie that allows you to control the button shown above presses constantly on it and locks up the camera. You can take pictures, but you can ‘t work any of the controls. Here is why:

Damage to Canon G-9 caused by thief when he dropped it

The green arrow shows the button again. As you can see from the red arrow, the metal was bent in the fall and now is separated slightly from the main frame of the camera. This causes the button to be further from the frame than it was. I did manage to fix it by shortening the little plunger that is meant to allow you to push the button while underwater. So, it’s fixed now.

I have a new Canon G-10 and a new WP-DC28 factory housing waiting for me in Canada. I’ll be taking photos with it when I return to PNG in mid-June. Whoopee!

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I Get Robbed

Posted in Dangerous on March 8th, 2009 by MadDog
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I haven’t said anything about street crime here in Madang. That will change now. I haven’t said much yet, because I had never been seriously bothered by it.  That changed on Thursday morning:TargetHere is the report that I sent to the police:

5 March 2009

RE: Sworn statement by Jan Messersmith regarding an incident of theft.

At about 12:30 in the afternoon, I left my office to go to the store to buy pencils. As I walked on Nuna Street toward the corner where Air Niugini is, a group of young men dressed mostly in black shirts with red trim surrounded me as I walked. I felt someone bump into me from behind. I carry my camera in a bag hanging from my belt. I quickly felt the bag, but I did not press it hard enough to notice that my camera was missing.

I entered the Welcome Stationery Store and bought some pencils. As I was paying, I noticed that my camera was missing from the bag. I rushed from the store and saw a Police Officer with my camera in his hand and holding onto a young man. He returned my camera to me and told me to report to the Jomba Police Station.

At the police station, another Officer told me to return to my office and prepare a report of the incident.

The camera is a Canon G9, Serial Number 6321313336. I purchased it in the USA in April of 2008 at a price of $450 (K1,200).

This is my sworn testimony.

Signed: ____________________
Jan Messersmith

There is a lot more to it.

I strongly suspect that there was a gang at work here. The guy who was caught by the cop was wearing a grey t-shirt. However, he was obviously working the crowd with the fellows wearing the black shirts with red trim. I knew that there was something up the moment I left my office. They gathered around me and walked the same direction. They seemed overly-friendly and nervous. I looked around me and smiled, giving them a thumbs-up and saying, “Spots clab hia, a?” (So, you are a sports club, eh?) They laughed half-heartedly and agreed. How stupid am I, anyway?

I should have checked more carefully that my camera was still there when I felt him bump into me. I didn’t make sure it was still in the bag. It is probably just as well. If I had noticed it was gone I might have reacted in a way that could have gotten me bashed. I can hold my own with one or two, but this was a gang.

Then there is the question of the cop witnessing the crime. When I asked him he said only that he witnessed the theft and retrieved my camera. Did they have this gang under surveillance, or is it just a bizarre coincidence?

It gets better. When I went to the Jomba Police Station to report (as instructed), the police asked me what I wanted to do with the kid. What is that about? I suspect that they were waiting to see if I just wanted to beat him up and let him go. They asked me if I wanted to file charges. I said that as far as I could see, it wasn’t necessary for me to do so, since a police officer witnessed the crime. I told the cops that I thought we lived in a nation of laws and I wanted to see the law properly applied. Otherwise, it was none of my business what they did with him.

On Friday afternoon, I walked over to the hardware store at Beckslea Plaza. In the five-minute walk I saw three huge fights involving unlucky pickpockets who were being thrashed to within an inch of their lives by angry crowds. I saw a lady that I know and asked her what she thought of it. She said that the police were unable to stop the pickpockets and people were getting more and more frustrated. She said that she was worried that we were going to have people dying in the streets.

In Madang?

I hoped that I would never see this. I called the Prosecutor’s Office this morning to “bring it to his attention”.

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North Contender in the Dark

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on March 3rd, 2009 by MadDog
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I woke up at 05:00 this morning – bummer! I hate it when that happens. It’s too late too take a pill and go back to sleep and it’s too early to get excited about doing anything else. I suppose that about half the world has  to get up at or before that ridiculous time, but I’m happier with an extra hour’s sleep.

Anyway, I looked out the front window and saw a big ship across the harbour. It was all lit up and making some beautiful reflections in the water. I grabbed my camera and tripod. I set my camera (Canon G9) in the manual exposure mode and fiddled with the knobs and buttons for a bit. I ended up with a fifteen second exposure at f 5.6 (the camera’s resolution ‘sweet spot’) with an ISO of 200. As if you care. I took a few shots at higher and lower exposure values, but that setting worked out best. Of course, I had to use manual focus also, because the camera couldn’t grab an automatic focus.

Here’s one of the shots:

The "North Contender" just before dawn in Madang Harbour, PNG
I dig the way the red masthead light was caught in the reflections in the water.

I ran another of the shots through Microsoft’s Photozoom. Check this out:

If you don’t have Microsoft Silverlight yet, you’ll need to install it. It’s a ‘wave of the future’ anyway, so you may as well go ahead. If you zoom in (try the full-screen mode) and look to the right and below the red light on the top of the ship, you can read the name, North Contender.

Of course, I Googled the ship. I Google everything. I’m a Google-o-Matic. I couldn’t find any photographs of the ship. I did run across the General Arrangement of the ship and its Capacity Plan. You can look at these and see that it is the same ship (sometimes ship names are ambiguous – there are so many with the same name).

I also ran across this reference to the ship in an apparently abandoned blog (millions of those out there). The fellow, Chian Ee, was planning on joining the ship while it was in Papua New Guinea.

The world is a curious place. There are so many connections – busy, busy, busy . . .

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About the Hat

Posted in Humor, Under the Sea on February 17th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ve shown you several examples of the differences between juvenile forms and adult forms. I can hear you yawning already.

But, look at these beauties:

Silver Sweetlips sub-adult Diagramma pictum

They are Silver Sweetlips (Diagramma pictum).  I think that they are one of the prettier fish that it is easy to get a camera on. In fact, they are so tame that one wonders how they survive. It’s quite easy to sneak up behind and grab a tail. Oh, I should mention – these are sub-adults (the technical term for teenagers).

Now, have a look at this big homely thing:

Silver Sweetlips adult (Diagramma pictum)

That’s what a Silver Sweetlips looks like when it’s all grown up. Not a pretty fish.

Okay, enough of that. I’ve also bored you senseless about the differences between images taken by available light and those captured by flash. Let me warn you that there is more of that to come. In fact, another dose is coming your way right now.

Here is a nudibranch (Phyllidia coelestis)  captured on my Canon G9 with the flash turned on:

Nudibranch (Phyllidia coelestis) taken with flash

Here is the same nudibranch flashless (ambient or available light):

Nudibranch (Phyllidia coelestis) by available light

In this particular case, the differences are more subtle. However, even in this less dramatic example, it’s my opinion that the colours in the available light shot are much more as I saw them on the dive.

If nudibranchs light your fire, I’ve written about them before here, here, here, and here.

Okay, enough of the technical stuff.

Here’s something that might amuse you. The big critter (half a metre long) on the left is a Sea Cucumber, sometimes called bêche-de-mer.  In this case, it’s a Thelenota anax:

Sea Cucumber (Thelenota anax) with pooWhat’s interesting is the pile of stuff near the bottom. Hmmmmm . . . what could it be? Did I hear someone say, “Poo”? The answer is yes, it is a pile of Sea Cucumber poo. I bet you will go for at least the rest of the day without seeing another pile of Sea Cucumber poo.

Oh, yes – about the hat. To save me a lot of breath explaining to my neighbors – no, I am not the CÏA Station Chief. Of course, that is exactly what I would say if I were, so you’ll never know:

What a laugh! - Or IS IT? - You'll never know.

A friend who is an automobile racing official gave the hat to me. In fact, he is a Senior Official. One should treasure gifts from friends, but the phrase “SENIOR OFFICIAL” seemed a bit stuffy to me, so I removed some of the embroidered letters. My craving to play the fool is insatiable.

Originally, I removed the letters so that it read “SENIOR OF CIAL” – somewhat cryptic, but amusing. My friend, Amana Watson, asked me why not remove the final “L”. I was stunned at my ability to overlook the obvious. Thanks, Amanda.

If you’re still suspicious, ask yourself: “What kind of secrets would I ferret out in Madang that would be of interest to the CIA?”

What a laugh!

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