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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Henry Leith and the Green Dragon

Posted in Under the Sea on January 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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No, I have not taken up writing children’s fantasy stories. A couple of days ago Anita, Wouter and I went diving at Wongat Island  on The Green Dragon  B-25 Mitchell bomber and the coastal freighter wreck, The Henry Leith.  It was an amazing day of diving, as the water in that area was as clear as I have seen it in over twenty years. Both wrecks could be clearly seen from the surface. Anita’s father, Jos, stayed on the boat most of the time, as he is pleased to do so. We all took some time while we waited for a safe period between dives to take a walk on the beautiful beach.

We started our day at The Green Dragon.  Here is an amusing shot of Wouter peering through one of the waist gun ports. There is an identical port on the opposite side of the fuselage. I stuck my camera through it and snapped Wouter as he shined his dive light around examining the ammunition feed chutes and other equipment scattered inside:

Under the port wing of the bomber there is always a mob of these fish. I should know the name of them, but it escapes me at the moment and my big fish book is at the office:I’m luxuriating in the glory of a 31.2KBS connection at my house. It took me only two years to get my phone line repaired by TELIKOM. We learn patience here in Madang – or we leave. We’re suffering another mass exodus of expatriates recently. Economic woes, lost contracts, fears of violence and a general dismay concerning the rapid deterioration of the cival infrastructure has caused many to abandon Paradise. It makes me sad to lose so many friends.

If you are a regular reader of Madang – Ples Bilong Mi you will be familiar with this scene. It is a Blue Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii)  fleeing in terror:Or, maybe not. If there were any sense to this situation, it should be the other way around. These creatures are remarkably tolerant to a close approach, as long as you do it slowly and don’t surprise it. If you put STINGRAY in the search box, you’ll find many other posts with images of this fascinating critter. We nearly always see one or two at The Henry Leith.

On the deck we found this juvenile Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis):They are very easy to photograph, as they seldom move unless you actually poke them, but they are difficult to find. They normally lay in wait for a meal on a coral rubble background where they are extremely difficult to see.

Also on the deck, at the stern, we found this lovely juvenile Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans):The common name refers to its numbers not its appearance. They are commonly seen, since there are plenty of them. There is, however, nothing common about their form. They are beautiful beyond description.

At the end of the dive, while hanging near the anchor line waiting for my blood nitrogen to bubble out like a fizzy drink, I took this image of my air bubbles racing to meet the sun:If life gets to be any more enjoyable, I’m going to have to hire someone to take part of the load. I’m pretty well maxed out on pleasure.

Maybe it’s just a mood swing.

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The Secrets of Leper Island

Posted in Under the Sea on December 7th, 2009 by MadDog
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There are, so far as I know, no secrets of Leper Island.  I’m just reaching for a title. There’s little mystery concerning it, other than the fact that there were no lepers on Leper Island  (they were actually on nearby Pig Island  or Tab Island  as it is more properly called) . Yes, the lepers were on Pig Island  and Leper Island  was the place where they raised pigs to feed the lepers. Confused? Join the club. I got that information from Tamlong Tab, a man who should know.

What has all that got to do with today’s malarkey? Absolutely nothing. I’m just filling space here. Anyway, here are the lovely Finisterre Mountains  in the background with Leper Island  on the right and Little Pig Island  (which also has another name, but I can’t remember it now) on the left:

Finisterre Mountain Panorama
The big strip of land in the mid distance is Kranket Island.

We had an excellent dive in a spot on the North end of Leper Island  on Saturday. I hadn’t dived this spot for some time, so I had forgotten how rich it is in coral species. Here is a Porites  coral with a couple of very nice Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus):

Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus giganteus)

That’s probably my best Christmas Tree Worm shot yet. I’m very happy with it. To give you an idea of the scale, the two worms together would be about as wide as the width of your eye.

This flaccid looking spiky thing is a Divaricate Tree Coral, (a species of Dendronephthya (Roxasia)):

Divaricate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya [Roxasia] sp.)

These things are fantastic at night. I think that the structure must be similar to optical fibre. If you shine a strong light into the base, the whole thing lights up like some kind of crazy lava lamp.

I’ll throw this bone to the coral freaks out there and hope that I’ve identified correctly. I’m not positive about the Acropora cerealis  in the foreground, but I am pretty certain about the Seriatopora hystrix  in the background:

Coral - Acropora cerealis (foreground), Seriatopora hystrix (background)

I need to find myself a better invertebrates resource. My book is pretty thin.

This is the Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans):

Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans)
They are usually fairly imperturbable. It won’t move much unless you poke your camera (not  your hand) right in its face and waggle it around. You’d be imperturbable too, if you had thirteen very poisonous spines sticking out of your back. This one, however, got into some kind a weird panic that I haven’t seen before. It started running away from me. When it swims fast, the delicate feather-like fins wave like pennants in a most beautiful display of the flight response. In the shot above, it is just about to swim under a ledge of coral.

In the morning we had all been complaining how hot it was. While we were down on the dive, I noticed that the light was getting dimmer. When we approached the surface we could see that rain was pouring down:

Raindrops from belowIf you click to enlarge, you’ll see some tiny little splash rings where individual drops are hitting the surface of the water.

When we got back on the boat, the temperature had dropped about ten degrees C. Now we were all complaining about being cold.

Spome people are never satisfied.

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Still More Fish and Some Waves That Will Blow Your Mind

Posted in At Sea, Under the Sea on August 10th, 2009 by MadDog
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I hope to get back to writing about a variety of other things that I’ve been thinking about lately, but thinking is about all that I’ve had time to do. I’m rebuilding our entire computer network at the office while trying to write two articles for magazines. Still, though I got a little behind posting, I’m nearly caught up so that there are no holes in my calendar. You’ll have to suffer through a steady diet of fish for a couple of more days until I get to the place in my head where the ideas hide and I can let them out for a little fresh air. It’s getting a little stinky in here.

First, I have some peculiar little ocean critters to show to you. Then, I”m going to blow you away with some images of waves from the “Wave Master”, Clark Little.

This little creature is a Leaf Scorpionfish. I love the way that he stands on his ‘foot’ which is really a modified pectoral fin. They stay very still until something edible comes into range. Then their mouth opens and the tasty bit is sucked in so quickly that the eye misses it altogether. The swallowing action of this type of feeding is among the quickest movements of any creatures on the planet:

Leaf Scorpionfish

The Lionfish, a kind of scorpionfish, is a very common sight. Of all the exotic fish seen at marine aquariums, this is probably the most likely to be shown. They drift through the water as if in a dream. They don’t mind if you get very close, but it’s a good idea to remember that all of the family of scorpionfish have poisonous spines. If I remember correctly, the Lionfish has thirteen spines down its dorsal fin that are filled with a toxin that could be fatal:

Lionfish

Now here is a fish that looks scary until you realise that it’s only as long as your finger. It’s a Reef Lizardfish. They are fairly easy to photograph as long as you don’t move too quickly and hold your breath as long as you reasonably can. I like to shoot them face-on, because it shows their magnificent dentition:

Reef Lizardfish

There are several colour phases in this species. The colour also depends on the lighting on the day and how deep the shot was taken. Here is another toothy menace showing different lighting and a different colour phase:

Reef Lizardfish

You’ve seen this image before, but I have reworked it for the magazine. It is an unusual Moray Eel image, because of the shape of the jaw. I haven’t figured it out yet. Normally this species has a more rounded jaw and less regular teeth:
Moray Eel

Whatever is going on with this guy, I wouldn’t want to get my hand stuck in there. Many people are injured by Moray Eels every year. I’ve never heard of it happening around Madang. I’ve stuck my camera right up in the faces of many Morays at least a hundred times. If I get too close, they just pull back into their holes. Maybe someday I’ll run out of luck and have some handsome scars to show off. Until then, I’ll just assume that our Morays are as placid as the rest of us. Living in Paradise can do that to you.

Finally, I have three images here which I sincerely hope will blow your mind and get you grabbing for your wallet. I ripped these images from the web site of the Wave Master, Clark Little. I’m hoping that if he notices, he will realise that I’m trying to promote his work and what I’m doing here comes under the heading of “fair use”. Anyway, legalities aside, sit back and have a look at these beauties:

One of Clark Little's fantastic wave images

His web site shows how he gets these amazing shots. He must be as much an athlete as the guys who ride them.

Clark Little - the Wave Master of image makers

Visit his web site and buy something. This guy deserves to get paid for his work.

Can't get enough of Clark Little's amazing wave images

And, with that, there’s nothing left to say. If you’re still hungry, come back tomorrow. I’m serving fish again.

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Fooling Fish on the Henry Leith

Posted in Under the Sea on December 30th, 2008 by MadDog
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On Saturday morning, we waddled out with a full load of fun-seekers on Faded Glory to Wongat Island to dive the Henry Leith for the millionth time. Okay, maybe the 500th time. It never gets tiresome. In fact it has been fascinating to do the same dive several times a year for a period of nearly twenty years. Wrecks in tropical waters change dramatically over time. I reckon that the Henry Leith will be virtually unrecognizable in another 25 years. It is deteriorating rapidly.

The visibility was miserable – about the worst I’ve ever seen it in that location. All the photography had to be up close because of the poor light and the pesky particulate matter in the water.

I did manage a few interesting shots. Here’s one of a fan coral that shows some of the individual polyps extended:

Weird Flower Garden

I’ll call that one “Weird Flower Garden.” The image looked pitiful until I had the idea to turn the entire background to monochrome black and white. That got rid of the nasty green background and allowed the natural colours of the fan coral to be seen against a neutral canvas.

Here’s a Spotfin Lionfish on a big leather coral:

Spotfin Lionfish on the Henry Leith at Wongat Island near Madang, PNG

The Spotfin is uncommon in other locations, but for some reason seems to be attracted to the Henry Leith.

Angelfish are notoriously difficult to photograph because they are so skittish. You simply cannot get close to them. I caught this one down in the passageway to the cargo hold. He was confused enough for a few seconds while deciding how to escape that I got one good image of him:

Angelfish - trapped!

Then Pascal had a brilliant idea. He pried open a small clam on the deck with his knife and we just watch the fish feeding on it. Great for photography – too bad for the clam.

I wouldn’t want to do this regularly, but these are easily the best angelfish images that I’ve gotten so far:

Angelfish feeding on clam

There was a lot of mixed-species feeding going on. It was interesting to see how each fish took its turn. There was very little pushing or shoving going on.

Sometimes, two or three fish were feeding side-by-side:

There's room for all at this diner

This is similar to the “turning the rocks over” trick that we do at Planet Rock.

Everything gets eaten by something eventually.

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Arm’s Length Friends

Posted in Under the Sea on October 21st, 2008 by MadDog
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A couple of days ago I showed you a few of my fishy friends. Today, I’ll show you the ones that cannot always be trusted. You know the kind I mean. Imagine being Tony Soprano’s next-door neighbour.

Our first unsavoury pal is the Papuan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis papuensis). It is a camouflage expert. Consequently, it is very difficult to see. I’ve blurred the background in this photo to make the fish more visible. As do all the scorpionfish, it has poisonous spines in the dorsal fin. If you put your hand down on one of these fellows, you would be in a great deal of pain immediately:

Papuan Scorpionfish

Often the first thing that one will see of a scorpionfish is its eye. It is the only regular shape on the entire body and therefore stands out as if it were a traffic signal.

Here is another fish for which the sting is the thing. This is the Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans). Though the stinging apparatus is similar, you will have no trouble at all spotting this critter:

Common Lionfish

The scorpionfish and lionfish are interesting, but not very scary. Let’s move on to something more Soprano-like. This character seems peaceful enough until you start fooling around in his back yard. Meet the Giant Moray (Gymnothorax javanicus):

The Giant Moray

The menacing looking character above was in a hole near Pig Island. I spent about fifteen minutes photographing him. I never felt threatened, though maybe he did. If I would get too close, he would simply pull back into his hidey-hole. Most of the time the mouth was only moving open and shut a little as it pumped water through its gills. However, a couple of times it really showed me its teeth. Very pretty – must have a good dentist.

Getting back to sting from teeth, we have the Blue Spotted Stingray (Dasyatis kuhlii). I trapped this individual in a little cave and snapped away. I say that I trapped him, but to be honest, he could have left any time he wished. I wasn’t about to try to stop him. The eyes remind me of a goat’s eyes:

Blue Spotted Stingray

 I’ve shown you the Blue Spotted Stingray before here, and here.

Let’s have a look at a fish that has a bad reputation. While populations of Barracuda elsewhere may be obnoxious, the species in this area of the world are pussycats. Here is the Blackfin Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie):

Blackfin Barracuda

The slim, barred fish are the barracuda. The stubby football shaped fish are Bigeye Trevally. They often school together.

I have, on many occasions, finned on my back under a mob of these and gently stroked a belly or two. They will take it for a couple of seconds and then twitch away from the touch. Sometimes they come back for more. It must feel like being petted by an alien.

Last, but by no means least we have the Banded Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrine). Most people already know that it has one of the most powerful venoms on the planet. This is true. Most people also know that its mouth is too small to bite you. This is most definitely not true. Many people die every year from Sea Snake bites – mostly fishermen clearing them from their nets.

I have been very close to these snakes and never even had one seem to notice me. Here’s one at a comfortable distance:

Banded Sea Snake at a distance

And, here’s one at a somewhat less comfortable distance:

Banded Sea Snake up close and personal

The main thing to remember is that they are generally not aggressive, but simply go about their business. Part of their business, however, is breathing. That’s why you do not want to hover over one while you’re watching it. Stay to the side so that when the snake surfaces to breathe, you won’t both be frightened out of your collective wits.

And remember what your mama told you, “Don’t play with snakes and spiders.”

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