Fishy Shorts

Posted in At Sea on March 8th, 2012 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Having ignored the month of February here at MPBM, I’m considering all of the reasons why I no longer post regularly. Certainly my life could hardly be more different from the days when I was driven to post daily. Probably the main reason for my relative silence is that I simply do not have the two or three hours a day of leisure time it takes for me to prepare a post which satisfies me. Whatever the reasons, I don’t see the situation changing soon. Possibly someday, when I’m “retired”, I might find the time to revive a regular schedule.

Last week I spent some time organizing hundreds of video clips scattered here and yonder on a stack of hard disk drives. I was looking for clips which showed Eunie. I’m shocked by how little I have of her on video. Why didn’t I shoot more? Anyway, I did fool around for a couple of hours working up some short practice movies of fish. I’m preparing music, stills and video clips for an AV background for our upcoming wedding ceremony on April 1st. I need the practice.

This one, Reef Cruising, is a typical scene on the reefs in the Coral Triangle:

While it’s not National Geographic quality, it shows what can be done with clips from a simple camera (my Canon G11) and inexpensive movie making software. I used Cyberlink Power Director 10. It’s easy to use, much easier than the much more powerful but pricey Adobe Premier.

Here is a little clip of one of my favorite fish, the Reticulated Dascyllus (Dacsyllus reticulatus):

These tiny beauties hover over plate corals and dive quickly between the branches when frightened.

Here is a mob of pretty little Anthea dancing around a coral head:

If the bubbling noise bugs you, skip on to the last clip or turn the sound down. I was surprised by the very slow rate of my breathing. I hadn’t realized I was so calm and relaxed.

One of the most interesting creatures in this watery world is also one of the smaller, (Spirobranchus giganteus), the Christmas Tree Worm:

As you can see, they retract instantly into their tubes when disturbed.

This clip features the handsome Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii), a very common critter in tropical waters around the globe.

My last effort is the most pleasing to me. This clip features a large school Vlaming’s Unicornfish (Naso vlamingii):

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize the a little music would improve the viewability so much. It does make a big difference.

You’ll note that the last clip is not on YouTube. I’ve not been happy with the changes in YouTube since Google snatched it up. Vimeo seems more friendly to video producers. I will be doing a lot of video in the future. I want a publishing service which reduces my work load and delivers a more professional look to my viewers.

But first I have to upgrade my skills so that I can produce something which looks professional. It is not as easy as I thought.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sorry, Just Fish

Posted in Under the Sea on November 1st, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

Today I can’t think of anything to say about living in my skin that doesn’t feel to me like whining. The usual array of great heavy objects falling from a colossal height continue to rain down on my head. This week’s deluge began today. The details aren’t important to anyone but me, so I shan’t bore you. It suffices to say that it’s getting hard to stand up. So, instead of going all sissy on you, I’ll tell you a little story, two in fact.

Way back when, maybe a quarter of a century ago, we were in Lae to buy a car. It was a four-wheel-drive Daihatsu jeepy sort of thing. Anyway, we were in the auto showroom waiting for some paperwork. Suddenly, everyone went sort of stiff and jittery. There were a few nervous giggles, something which usually presages trouble. Everybody seemed to be looking in my direction. After checking my fly, I looked around cautiously. Standing behind me, staring at me with teary eyes was the tallest Papua Guinean woman I have ever seen. I’d guess that she was about fifty years old, but guessing age here is pretty useless. I was paralysed by curiosity and wonder.

A glance around revealed that everyone was looking from the corners of their eyes. Folks here often seem not to notice crazy people. As illustrated by the many people who walk on the very edge of the pavement a half-metre from whizzing vehicles with their backs towards the traffic, the general idea seems to be that if one cannot see the danger, it doesn’t really exist. In this case, there didn’t seem to be any danger, but the woolly forests on my arms rose up in anticipation. She took a hesitant step, seemed to make up her mind about something and walked toward me looking straight into my eyes. That got my attention, as it is almost unheard of. She stopped in front of me and asked, “Are you Jesus Christ?”

To this day, I can’t remember how or if I answered. In fact, I’m unclear as to what did happened next. It must have been anticlimactic.

Okay, another one.

Not too many years after that, I was sitting in our Suzuki jeepy thing in the parking lot of a now defunct food store. Eunie was inside buying some stuff. I was to lazy to go with her. I had the window down. In the side rear-view mirror I noticed a thirty-something guy walking up to the car. Caution always being wise, I pulled my arm in and readied myself for some action. I didn’t like the look of his stride. It was too determined.

Reaching the car, with no preamble he said, “Hello, I’m Elvis Presley.” Ever quick with a snappy comeback, I ventured, “I’ve got a lot of your records.” And that was it. He turned and walked away. You were probably expecting more. There isn’t any.

These two incidents somehow got wired up in my brain. I suppose that the connection is obvious. Whether there is any message there is open to interpretation. Let me tell you what I took away from them. You can decide if it sounds nusto and leave a comment explaining why or why not. It’s all up to you.

Some people have problems with genes or chemistry or injury or illness – that’s a given. Other people go off to lunar mindscapes for less obvious reasons. It’s not so much that they are crazy. It’s more that life has been crazy for them. One copes the best one can. One does what one must do. One deals with it. “Just get on with life.” “Take one day at a time.” This is what we are told. But, what if it all becomes too much? Some are stronger, tougher, more resilient, more anaesthetised against pain than others. Some will survive the onslaught. Others will perish.

I have infinite sympathy for those whose minds are broken, regardless of the cause. However, I am especially sad for those who have been beaten down by life. Perhaps it is because I’ve been there, I’m there again now.  I understand the feeling that one might fall over the edge with the next shove. It’s familiar territory. It’s terrifying.

So, maybe the two people about whom I have thought so many times over the years were not so unfortunate. They seemed blissfully unaware of their predicaments. Perhaps that’s the way to go – silently slipping into insanity without being aware of it.

And now . . . On with the fish.

We’ve dispensed with the Bad. Now we’ll have the Good and the Ugly. This critter should be familiar to you by now. It’s the Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans):

I think that it’s a reasonably good picture, if you like your fish in full context. We get a nice idea of what it looks like in its habitat. I frightened this one when I poked my camera at it to get it to move to a more photogenic location. I think that it believes that it is hiding now.

Here is a shot from directly above looking down:

No matter what I did, I couldn’t make this shot look nice. It lacks something, but I can’t honestly say what. It simply doesn’t sing. Maybe somebody can tell me why. I have photographer’s block.

Here’s a nice little shot of a couple of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii):

It’s odd that I only now notice that there is also a Pink Anemonefish in the lower left corner. I did not see it at all as I was working on the image. How the mind works! Or doesn’t.

This is a flash-lit shot of some Anthea milling around. The brightly coloured tubular objects are Organ Pipe Coral:

Though the colours are pretty, they are completely artificial. The spectrum of the flash matches sunlight at the surface of the water. You would never see these colours with the naked eye.

This little fellow is a Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus):

They usually dive down into the forest of horns of coral for protection. This one was curious and stayed out to keep an eye on me.

I wonder if he is crazy?

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Wearing the Captain’s Hat

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

Today being Dive Day, I have the usual display of rather boring underwater creatures. I haven’t gotten through all of the shots from today yet. I see some more interesting ones coming up. However, not all of the photographic action was underwater. Ush was back aboard Rich Jones and Pascal Michon’s Sanguma.  Someone passed her the Captain’s Hat and she perched on the stern rail with her now famous shiny red sunglasses. What can one do but take a picture?

Ush is working through her PADI Open Water Course, which means that she will soon be joining us under the sea as well as on top.

Well, I’m playing catch-up today, so the chatter will be minimal. I don’t know what kind of sponge this is, but it is rather pretty, as sponges go:

I’ve been playing with flash intensities for a while. Today I’m showing a few shots where I’m trying to balance flash with natural light. It’s not a big problem when you are near the surface. However, the deeper you go the greater the difference becomes between the spectrum of the light at your depth and the spectrum of the flash, which mimics the sun at the surface. This can create some very difficult colour correction problems. The shot above turned out very natural, according to my colour memory.

This shot of a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  in the strong current which we had at The Eel Garden near Pig Island  was taken under a ledge, so the flash predominates the lighting causing an unnaturally warm tone which I generally dislike, because it is not the way it appeared to my eyes:

The current does lend a nice sweeping motion to the shot.

Here I caught a Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus)  with a couple of Hawkfish in a single coral colony. A lucky shot:

I think that they are Pixy Hawkfish, but I’m too lazy right now to verify that. Who cares anyway? This shot displays a much better balance of flash and natural light.

I’m pretty sure that this is a very young Solitary coral of the species Fungia fungites:

It was only about six or seven centimetres in diameter. The little polyps were vibrating fiercely in the current. I had to take about twenty exposures to get one in which they were not motion blurred. This shot was taken with no flash at all.

This is one of my favourite Sea Squirts (Phallusia julinea):

I just thought about how geeky that sounds. It’s like hearing a grown man, indeed a mature  man, saying “This is my favourite model airplane.” or “This is my favourite miniature toy car.”

Hey, it’s just a hobby.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Grass and Water

Posted in Under the Sea on July 8th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

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 . . .

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: , , , , , , , ,

Planet Rock – Move Along People, Nothing To See Here

Posted in Under the Sea on March 7th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

I may as well continue feeding you a steady diet of fish for a couple of more days, at least until I run out of images from our dive on Planet Rock  yesterday. Richard Jones, (A. K. A. “Eagle Eyes”) has been spotting for me. It’s like having an experienced tracker along on a safari. We’re not shooting big game, but I bet Rich could spot a lion’s ears peeking above the savanna grass at 200 metres.

Here’s Rich doing his thing:Not a single nook or cranny escapes his attention.

However, while Rich is poking around looking for treasure, I’m usually takin’ in the scene, man. When you first start diving you’re looking for the big, flashy stuff. After the shine wears off you can begin to appreciate the simple beauty of a starfish:It looks as if it’s strolling along the bottom, which, in fact, it is – though very slowly. I admire the starfish’s lack of urgency. When you pass, there’s always a little whisper, “Hey, man. Stay cool.”

You look for the odd juxtapositions. There’s no shortage of them. Here two species of Solitary Coral seem to be cuddling:Nobody told them that it’s wrong. It’s blissful ignorance. Life is simple in the sea. You only have three things to think about. You eat. You reproduce. You are eventually eaten or otherwise return to Mama Ocean’s storehouse of building materials.

You can never swim far without encountering a bit of magic. Here little jewels of amber hover over a plate coral.They are Reticulated Dascyllus,  but that matters not a bit when the magic overcomes you. Everything is alive and a part of the whole. Identity merges into the gestalt.  Are the Dascullus Reticulatus  and the coral inseparable – needful of one another? Technically, no. However, the sense that you get is that it is all meant to fit together just as it is. Everything is copacetic.

Here and there passes a Unicorn . . . no, not really. Nevertheless, what it is is no less magical:A Trumpetfish hurries to escape the camera. It’s no less a beautiful mystery if you call it Aulostomus chinensis.  The background blurs and the camera strains to follow the motion. The photographer feels a part of the daily life of the reef. I think of the Don Knotts movie, The Incredible Mr. Limpet.  I feel somehow more peaceful and accepted as a fish. I move like a fish, through a three dimensional world. My breathing slows and my body relaxes. I’m in the sea. I’m of  the sea. I am home.

And she rewards me for my admiration, respect and love. She sparkles for me:The sweet Anthea  gather round me and frolic. I join their dance and music rushes through me.

We must protect our mother. If she dies, we shall all perish with her.

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

Wrapping Up a Week of Diving

Posted in Under the Sea on January 17th, 2010 by MadDog
No Gravatar

We ended up a week of diving, bush trips and industrial-strength socializing with Anita, Wouter and Anita’s father, Jos, today. It’s been a pleasure having them with us. Yesterday I realized that I had no photos of Jos. So, I took this shot of him steering Faded Glory:

Jos turned out to be very handy with a boat. On our last day, he handled the boat while the rest of us did a drift dive at Magic Passage. Communications were a little light, as we do not speak each others’ languages, but he is a very pleasant fellow. I wish that we could have had some heart-to-heart conversations.

Here is a shot of Anita and Swami Monty in the water at Magic Passage with Faded Glory,  Jos at the wheel, coming up in the distance:Anita, Jos and Wouter are leaving tomorrow morning. Wouter is an avid diver and runs with a crowd of dedicated techno-human-dolphins in the North Sea. I wouldn’t be surprised if we begin to get applications for diving here in Madang. It’s an entirely different experience from their normal dives. I think that Wouter found it a pleasant break from the adrenaline-drenched sport as it is enjoyed off the coast of Belgium.

Among the critters that we saw on our last two dives at Magic Passage  and Rasch Passage  was this Starfish (Nardoa rosea)  practicing Extreme Yoga:I am able to contort my body like this, having practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen. Okay, okay, I’m not as nimble and Gumby-like as I once was. However, I’ve not yet reached the point, at sixty-six, at which I need to ask myself, “Can I still do that?” This is a great blessing for me, as the physical activities (yeah, all  of them) are important keys to my well-being. I owe much of this to my Dad, an accomplished athlete, acrobat and dancer who taught me the principles of physical fitness as a life-goal and the concept of the body-aware spirit.

We may as well have a look at another starfish. This one, I think, is a Fromia nodosa  with its little toes curled up very cutely: You can’t swing a dead cat here without smashing a starfish. We have many different species and I have neglected them severely. I’m certain that their tiny little feelings are hurt. I’ll fix that in the future.

I got a bit of a “wow” experience from this huge mob of Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus):We would normally see a dozen or two in a plate coral. This was a huge plate and was home to a couple of hundreds of these lovely little purple-lipped fish. I love to play “scare the fish” with the Dascyllus.  If you slowly stretch your arm out over the plate with your hand closed in a fist and then quickly open your hand the entire gaggle will dive simultaneously into the coral and disappear. It’s like magic. Now they’re here – now they’re not. If you look closely, you can see them trembling in their little nooks and crannies where they hide from predators.

Barrel Sponges fascinate me. Some of them are huge. This Xestospongia testudinaria  is about two metres from bottom to top. Some are much larger:

You can see a few Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)  swimming in front of the sponge. The “purple” in the common name is a relative term. As with many fish, the colour that you see underwater is radically dependent on the depth, the colour of the sky and the condition and tint of the water. Sometimes P. tuka  appears purple and sometimes blue. The yellow dorsal fin edging and caudal fin are constant. The fish appear a bit motion blurred, because I was forced to a slow shutter speed by the low light level.

I am exceedingly happy, nay, overjoyed by this image:As you may gather, I’m easily aroused from my usual “so what” attitude. When I saw this fish, I became terribly excited. That will give you an idea of what a fish geek that I am. The reason for my shaking hands and fumbling fingers is that I have never seen this fish before; it was my first sighting. It is a species of Shrimpgoby (Ctenogobiops tangaroi).  There are several fortuitous aspects of this shot, aside from the novelty factor. First, there is the brevity of the sighting. I barely had time to raise my camera, hold my breath for a few seconds and fire off a shot before it disappeared down its hidey-hole.

Another lucky aspect of this image is that I caught the fish’s partner, a commensal shrimp (Alpheus ochrostriatus)  bulldozing a load of sand out of the shared shelter.

I’m not looking a gift fish in the mouth.

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