Parrotfish and Deep Focus

Posted in Under the Sea on May 30th, 2010 by MadDog
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Saturday dawned brilliant and promising. I was looking forward to going back to The Eel Garden near Pig Island  to find the Leafy Sea Dragon which has been reported to be on the old catamaran. I looked in vain for it last week, but a fellow diver, Hendirck, told me that he had found something promising. In return for the information, I dragged out my old Canon G10 and its underwater housing for him to try out.

Unfortunately, with all of the juggling around of cameras, housings and memory cards, I managed to show up at Magic Passage for our first dive with my G11 showing “NO MEMORY CARD”. Ai ya yai ya yai!  Stupido!  So, I did a very nice dive on which some very interesting critters were spotted, but I had no camera.

Never mind. I pretended to enjoy it, playing Divemaster and pointing out all sorts of fascinating items which I determined to burn into my brain memory cells instead of my usual memory contained in my camera. The camera is much  more reliable.

On the second dive at The Eel Garden, Rich Jones was not diving, so I used his new G11 which was out on its virgin underwater experience.

There were many very colourful parrotfish about. This is simultaneously exciting, euphoric and frustrating. If you are a snorkeller or diver you understand the first two. If you are an underwater photographer you get the latter. Google parrotfish and look at the sad offering of images. It is nearly impossible to get close to them. You must depend on the occasional quick shot when one darts past:

I don’t know the species of the one above. My fish book is at the office and I have photographed so few that I can’t remember most of the names.

This one, I do know, but I would call it a “failed” image:

It is a Hump Head Parrotfish (Bulbometopon muricatum).  They are huge. This one was at least 1.5 metres long. Unfortunately, they are delicious and easy to spear. In some areas of the South Pacific they have disappeared completely. This was a quick snap shot at the end of a long tiring chase during which I managed to corner it long enough for a very poorly framed image. The closer you get to them the bluer they look. I was about two metres away from this one in fairly dirty water.

I’ve been playing around with a photographer’s technique called “deep focus”. It sounds exotic, but it is easy to understand. The smaller the hole you are looking through, the more “depth of field” you will get. In other words, objects from near to far will be in focus if the hole is small enough.

Theoretically, a pinhole will have a focal range from very close to infinity. So, the larger the number of the f-stop you use on your camera (the size of the hole through which the light passes) the smaller the hole will be. I know it sounds backwards, but never mind. Big number – small hole  – more depth of field. That’s the way it goes. If you can get f 16 on your camera, you will get lots of stuff in focus from near to far. At f 2.8 you will get only near or far, but not both.

It works better for non close-up stuff. For instance this shot of the Nudibranch Phyllidia varicosa  doesn’t show much effect:

Sure, most of it is in focus, but there is not much to show the depth of the image. There are no obvious visual clues to indicate depth.

It this shot of coral with an anemone in the background, however, there are many clues to indicate distance:

It requires a lot of light to use the small lens opening, because not much can get through. If you don’t have enough light, you will be forced to use shutter speeds that are too slow to give sharp images. There’s no free lunch. You can have it one way or another, but not both. I manually blurred and darkened the very distant objects at the top to enhance the effect.

In both of these images I failed to note that when I changed the mode of my camera to Aperture Priority (meaning I get to set the aperture and the camera automatically sets the shutter speed) I lost my format setting and it reverted to JPG. I always shoot underwater in the RAW format mode because it allows me much more colour control. Sorry to bore you with these arcane details, but there are a few photographers out there who are constipated enough to care about these things.

Here is a pretty scene, never mind the colours are off, of some coral with Purple Antheas swimming around:

It nicely illustrates the reality which you can get with the deep focus technique.

Okay, that’s it for me. It’s Sunday evening. The sun is below the yardarm. I’m going for a wee dram and lay on the bed to watch some mind-numbing TV for a while. Then maybe I’ll rest my eyes for a bit.

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Growing New Legs

Posted in Under the Sea on May 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today we went up to Wongat Island to do The Green Dragon B-25 Mitchell bomber and The Henry Leith. The bomber went fine. I got some nice shots which I’ll be showing soon. However, when we went to do The Henry Leith, I brilliantly decided to anchor the boat at the beach so that the ladies could snorkel while Hendrick and I did the wreck. Than meant that I we had to dive off of the beach and I had to remember where the wreck was. I’ve done it many times before, but years ago.

Of course, I couldn’t find it. It’s only twenty metres down, but the water was too dirty so see more than about ten. The bottom where the wreck lies is at twenty metres, so we followed that contour in the area where I thought it was. After fifteen minutes, we gave up and came up to the shallow reef to shoot some pictures. This was my second dive on a big 80 tank. I ended up with 110 minutes. I was using my gills most of the time.

This is a cute little starfish missing only one leg. That’s pretty good by small starfish standards. This one is about five or six centimetres across. I’d say that about half of the starfish that I see are missing at least one leg:I think that it’s a Linckia multifora, but I’m not sure. It doesn’t look quite right.

However, what happens to the leg, if the fish which bit it off doesn’t like the taste? Well, we simply grow a whole new starfish from the leg. Some people call them arms, I call them legs, since we don’t walk on our arms, do we? Here on this severed Linckia multifora leg, you can see four tiny new legs growing out of the severed end:This is a pretty cute trick. Many organisms can do this. Medical researchers are busting their guts trying to find a way to mimic this behaviour in humans. The reason is obvious. Whoever solves the problem first will become the richest person on the planet.

Here is an absolutely lovely young Electric Swallowtail nudibranch (Chelidonura electra): Older specimens develop a lemon yellow edge around the edges.

This particularly nice Divericate Tree Coral (Dendronephthya roxasia) caught my eye:It’t quite lovely and I certainly appreciated the pleasure of seeing it.

However, this is my choice of the day for the shot which pleases me most:The little Glass Shrimp (Periclimenes holthuisi) is about as big as your thumbnail. He has several buddies swimming around him.

They are a nightmare to photograph. They are very small and don’t like the camera up close. They never stop moving, hoping around from place to place and waving their little pincers. Flash photography is useless; you have to use available light. Finally, they are nearly invisible in the first place! You can not see their bodies, only the spots.

It’s like playing “connect the dots”.

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A Model Model

Posted in Under the Sea on May 3rd, 2010 by MadDog
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I have been feeling very anxious and incompetent for the last month. I was having a difficult time understanding the cause of my feelings. This, of course, simply made matters worse. As I’ve mentioned. I’ve taken on another job aside from my duties in the IT Dungeon. I’m now the editor of two quarterly magazines. It has finally dawned on me what the cause is of my distress. I haven’t had a new job for thirty years. Studies have shown that starting a new job is one of the top stress generators. I had forgotten the feelings of inadequacy, loss of control, uncertainty and raw fear that accompany a new job. I’ve been an author for a long time. However I’ve never been an editor. The job seemed simple when I took it on. It is only now that I’m into it that I realise how little I know about what I’m doing. Wish me well as I struggle to get myself oriented. I’m on a three month probation, so I don’t have much time to prove myself. It’s sink or swim time. Keeping this job and doing well at it so that I have a future in the industry is an essential tactic in our survival strategy as churches will undoubtedly continue to abandon us as we age.

However, today’s sunrise cheered me up:Nice sunrises are getting more and more frequent.

On Saturday we did a dive at The Eel Garden  near Pig Island.  The weather was horrible. We immediately ran into rain and it rained nearly the whole day. Only in the last hour did we get a little sun. Underwater, however, it was beautiful:

A beautiful lady is always a welcome addition to nature’s own. Above is Genevieve and a Magnificent Anemone with Clown Anemonefish or “Nemo” fish.

Here is another one of Genevieve with a Feather Star:

Taking inexperienced divers into my care and teaching them how to enjoy safe diving while learning the mysteries under the ocean is one of the more pleasant parts of my life. Genevieve comes to us with few dives and had not dived for about a year. I expected the jitters and problems on the dive. I was surprised that she was as cool as a cucumber, stayed close to me and interpreted my instructions perfectly. Being an excellent swimmer, she also moves through the water gracefully.

I trapped these Scarlet Soldierfish (Myripistis pralinia)  in a little cave: I had to laugh into my regulator as they darted around crazily as their teeny-weeny brains tried to figure out what to do.

We found the big patch of anemone’s near the island and it was full of  Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus):I’m sure that this one believed that I couldn’t see him. The will often try to position themselves in the anemone so that only the eye is exposed so that they can keep it on you. I think that they don’t realise the their noses are fully visible.

I’ll finish up with a critter that is probably beginning to bore you.:Yes, it’s the nudibranch, Notodoris minor  again. I’ve found where they are living and I’m to keep on taking pictures of them as long as they are there. It’s a moderately rare species, so I want to “collect” as many as I can. Each image is like a trophy to me.

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The Half-Eaten Gumdrop

Posted in Under the Sea on April 13th, 2010 by MadDog
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Once again, I find myself in the middle of the evening trying to catch up with the day. How did I hustle so much and accomplish nothing that I can call progress? It seems to be becoming a way of life. How thought provoking. The harder I work the less I accomplish. I spent half the day putting little tags on wires so that I can tell where they go. I’m drowning in wires! Throw me a life-preserver. No, wait. That’s a mixed metaphor. I’m strangled by wires! Throw me a hatchet.

This Bannerfish exasperated me from the moment I met it. First, I couldn’t get close enough for a shot. I had to chase it, something which I usually avoid, since it usually simply burns up oxygen. Then, when I finally set up a successful ambush, it sped away so fast that all I could manage was a quick panning shot. I’m surprised that it turned out so nice:More consternation arose when I tried to identify it. After a search through my pitiful collection of references I spent a few fruitless minutes with Google Images. No luck. Phooey!

UPDATE: Thanks to my old pal Tris  for jabbing me in the ribs to point out the the fish is not a Bannerfish at all, but a Moorish Idol (Zanclus cornutus).  Thanks for “helping” me, Tris.

The Bigeye Trevally (Carnax sexfasciatus)  at Barracuda Point  on Saturday were splendid. You don’t really have to chase them. You simply swim closer and closer as they whirl around.  This shot was snapped at less than two metres:I soon have to back off to slow my breathing. I let them meander around me for a minute or so and then join the procession again.

The problem with Trevally is that they are so blasted shiny! It’s very difficult, with a small-sensor camera such as my Camon G11, to get enough dynamic range to capture the dark and mid-range tones without blowing out the whites:Still, I’m happy with these shots. Even after chasing them, I still got two dives and over 100 minutes off of an 80 cubic foot tank. My gills are working just fine.

Here is a not too wonderful shot of some Midnight Snappers (Macolor macularis):The interesting bit is that we have adults and a couple of teenagers. The juveniles are black and white with spots and bands. You can still see a trace of the juvenile colouration and pattern on the two teens in the middle.

This is a perfectly normal Pyllidia varicosa  nudibranch:Vaguely amusing, eh? They are easy to photograph, so I tend to show you a lot of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re getting bored.

Okay, how about this one which has had a chunk bitten out by a predator:It’s the Half-Eaten Gumdrop mentioned in the title.

Many nudis remind me of some kind of fancy candy and, strangely enough, take me back to Vienna. The Austrians go for the fancy candy. There are shops which sell nothing else.

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Warm Fish Soup

Posted in Under the Sea on April 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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Divers have an amusing expression to describe the scene when there are far too many fish to count. Indeed, you can’t even count the number of species. We call it fish soup.

I had some warm fish soup in the tepid water of The Eel Garden  near Pig Island  on Saturday. Most of the fish that you see here are some species of Anthea:There are many varieties of Anthea.  Most are very colourful. They gather in small schools around a fixed location.

I snapped this shot as I was passing over these two Soldierfish. The one on the left is a Scarlet Soldierfish (Myripistis pralinia)  and the one on the right is a Brick Soldierfish (Myripistis amaena):A you can tell, if you click to enlarge, they were both looking up at me as I passed overhead.

I nearly missed this Slender Grouper (Anyperodon leucogrammicus)  as it tried to sneak past me:One trick that I’ve learned is that fish will almost always flee to deeper water. Therefore one needs to have a head’s up stance to catch the ones which have spotted you and will soon be trying to take the shortest route to a deeper hiding place. This usually means that when they pass directly to your right or left, they will be a close as they are going to get to your camera.

This is a very young Bubble Coral (Plerogyra sinosa)  only about 4cm in diameter. At this stage they look more like a strange, puffy flower:To the right and below is a colony of very small Sea Squirts which look to me to be Eusynstyela latericius.

This sneaky little Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)  thought that he was hidden behind a bit of coral about a metre away from me. I popped up and caught him with his mouth open:I’m an old stalker. I can usually get a shot if I don’t have to give chase. I’m not as fast on the long pursuit as I used to be. Ah, but crafty I am.

How foolish it is to attempt to hide from me. This is a fairly rare orange variation of Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii):I tried to get a shot in the clear, but finally gave up and accepted this one instead. I can pretend that I intended it that way.

PRESENTER: See how the timid anemonefish attempts to hide behind the tentacles of the anemone? It seldom exposes itself to danger by leaving the poisonous, protective arms of its host. This symbiotic relationship is reinforced by the protection that the anemonefish receives from the anemone. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Works for me.

Nudibranchs are a pushover. This Phyllidia varicosa  moves so slowly that the whole idea of evasion is silly:

I love to photgraph nudis. I can just float in the water with my camera about 5cm from the little devil and relax while I snap away.

The nidibranch is none the wiser.

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Things One Seldom Sees

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on March 19th, 2010 by MadDog
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I get a lot of enjoyment from writing daily, though it is sometimes very difficult to find the time. However, I do sometimes question myself as to why  I do it. Getting away from the TV is a good enough excuse. Also, since it looks as if writing, editing and photography are going to be  a major part of my work from now on, I need the discipline of writing every day, whether I really feel like doing it or not. So, I’ve got plenty of good reasons to keep cranking it out.

Then, I ask myself why I have so many readers – ten times the highest number that I ever hoped for and growing month-by-month. What do I provide that people seek? What is is about the content of Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  that draws an audience that dwarfs my wildest aspirations?

Well, I can think of some things that it is probably not.  It’s hardly great literature. It’s certainly not deep thinking. In fact, frivolity, sarcasm and whimsy are my favourite seasonings. The photography is so-so, but there is much more spectacular stuff available at the click of a link. The subject matter is pretty tightly focused, being mostly about me, me, me,  so, unless you’re stalking me, that’s not it. Hmmm . . . subject matter – content . . . maybe that has something to do with it.

Truthfully, I think that what I may provide is distraction.  No matter who or where you are, what you are doing or what your current state of mind may be, whatever you find here each day is likely to distract you, maybe rattle your cage a little. I know that I have to rattle my cage pretty hard just to get my fingers moving to write it. My hope is not to make you think or impress you with great ideas or even make you gaga over the pretty pictures. It is simply to provide you with a little break. Whatever you see here is almost bound to be a different kettle of fish than whatever presently occupies your mind.

So, with that in mind, I’ll present you with a small assemblage of  images which signify nothing. I found them handy on my camera card from the last week or so. Make of it what you will.

When I see our boat, Faded Glory  in my dreams, this is how she looks:

Not that I dream of her often. I have many more amusing subjects. I dream much more often now than I did a few years ago. And the colour has returned!

I bet that you have never seen a nudibranch playground:I can see seven nudibranchs here of two different species. There is one potential courtship and a possible mixed-species ménage à trois,  if you care to examine the scene closely. I’ll make no moral judgements. They quite literally don’t know what they are doing.

Okay, if you’re settled down from that, maybe you’re ready for this:

This is our guru IT  advisor and general “get me out of this mess” guy, Mark Bleyerveld. He is up a pole, as you can see. What is not obvious is that it is a very tall and springy pole. I took this shot at 5x telephoto. The leaves are the top of a rather tall coconut tree. If you’ve seen big coconut trees, you get the idea. Mark is not only smart, he’s brave. No, make that crazy. By the way, the pole is the same one that you saw in yesterday’s telephoto shot. You can find the image in the link in the next pargraph.

Mark is installing the final links in our Free From TELIKOM crusade. By this evening I expect to be cruising the web at 54MBS in my home without having passed through a single wire belonging to TELIKOM. Hurrah!

While I was over at the coconut oil refinery where pole-climbing Mark was sweating away in the sun, I snapped this shot of the giant machines that grind out the skin-softening ingredient that many of the ladies adore:Let me tell you that it is very  loud in there and it stinks!  The smell is like a million burnt coconut macaroons stuffed up your nose and pounded in solidly with a jackhammer. Even with my severely retarded olfactory capability (sinus infection still with me), I had to hold my breath.

Stay with me. I’m about to wrap it up with a little colour. You’ve seen the Nudibranch Pteraeolidia ianthina  here before, but not this particular one whose name is Fred, or maybe Frederica:We know where a bunch of them hang out, so I’m working on getting the perfect shot.

You’ve also seen the Chelidonura inornata  before, but this is my best shot so far: You can see some of them in the playground shot above.

Tomorrow is dive day. I still have the pesky sinus infection, but tomorrow morning I’m supposed to get a definitive diagnosis and a prescription. That’s always an iffy thing here.

We’ll see how it goes.

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Still at The Eel Garden – Can’t Get Enough of It

Posted in Under the Sea on March 3rd, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ll keep the babble at a minimum today, as my brain is running on empty and I’m moving at molecular speed though I have my mental pedal to the metal. In case you’re interested in the gory details, my sinuses are expanding exponentially and will soon be causing grey matter to ooze out my ears. It makes it even harder than usual to think. Oh, I can still think about a lot of things, – no worries there. The problem is that none of them are useful.

This does not bode well, as I have a very important appointment tomorrow, the outcome of which will have a huge effect on the next few years of  our lives. I’m sincerely hoping for a clear brain in the morning, if not clear sinus cavities.

I see that I’ve already exceeded my babble limit, so I’ll get right to this cute little Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii) guarding his host with due diligence:We used to see a lot of this species, but lately they seem to be getting more scarce. This always worries me when I note changes in species distribution. I don’t have enough technical knowledge to know if it’s important or not and I’ve had no luck, so far, in interesting any marine researchers to return to Madang, which used to be one of the main playgrounds for such eggheads.

Yesterday, if my memory is working correctly (no guarantees) I showed you another of these corals of the Galaxea genus:They are particularly beautiful and incredibly detailed. This one is the Galaxea fascicularis. It’s worth clicking on to see the detail of the polyps.

This shot is a bit of a double treat. The kicker is that I found it right under the bow of Faded Glory. We anchored in the sand, but the boat drifted a little over the top of the reef. I caught this just as I was returning to the boat. It’s a pair of seldom-seen Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos) lurking in a similarly rare and beautiful Merten’s Anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii):Quite a nice surprise at the end of a painful dive.

Going back a couple of days, I showed you this same Nudibranch (Phyllidia varicosa) shot with natural light. As I was going through the images from that day I noticed that I had also taken flash exposures of it. For the first time in a long while, for a macro shot, I think that I prefer this flash shot to the natural light exposure:I think that the explanation is that the light was poor and I had to do a lot of fiddling with noise and a bit of motion blur to get the shot by natural light. This one has much more realistic detail. I didn’t even bother to give it a bath to remove all of the little bits of ocean gook that usually cover everything.

Here’s another fish that you saw recently as a part of a pair. I found this side-on shot of a Split-Banded Cardinalfish (Apogon compressus) which I had previously rejected because I thought that it was over exposed:As it finally turned out, it is not a bad specimen shot, except that the intense blue of the eye is lost. Someday I’ll get the perfect shot of this fish.

Okay, I’m falling out of my chair now. I think I’ll go home and go to bed. I have computers to work on, but my brain is rebooting every time I think of that. It’s taking much longer to come back on line.

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