Light and Shadow – Two Views of Beauty

Posted in Under the Sea on July 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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We had bright prospects on Saturday morning. The sun was shining in a partly cloudy sky and there seemed little chance of rain. However, when we got out into Tab Anchorage  it was clear that the sea was restless. The rolling waves promised an uncomfortable hour for any friends who were not safely under the surface of the water in the blissful calmness of Mother Ocean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Weird Sea Creatures and Vapid Poetry

Posted in Humor, Under the Sea on July 16th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today, I am using the “Underwater Pictures Ruse” to inflict upon you the earthly equivalent of Vogon Poetry.  This literary genre has an amusing history. First revealed to us Terrans in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,  it is said to be the third worst poetry in the Universe. The description from the Guide  goes thus:

“Vogon poetry is the third worst in the Universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their Poet Master Grunthos the Flatulent, of his poem,  Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning,  four of his audience members died of internal hemorrhaging, and the president of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off… The very worst poetry in the universe died along with its creator, Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Sussex… in the destruction of the planet Earth.”

A brief example is also given:

“Oh freddled gruntbuggly/thy micturations are to me/As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.
Groop I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes. And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon, see if I don’t!”

It reminds me of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky,  except that it is infinitely more painful. You need not worry. My humble offering is unlikely to cause you any permanent harm. A faithful reader, Facebook Friend and fellow web journalist Steven Goodheart (yes, that is his real name) has been nagging and nagging for me to publish some of my poetry (Okay, he asked me about it once, “You write poetry?”), so I have a plausible excuse for my coming out.

First, let me prepare you for the shock by lulling you into a peaceful reverie with calming images of marine life:

That’s a nice little fan coral on the catamaran at The Eel Garden near Pig Island.

Here’s another, fancier bit:

I’ve been fiddling with creating a dark background.  Getting the colour right is a bit fussy.

Here’s a little better job with this Divericate Tree Coral (Gendronephthya roxasia):

There. That’s better.

Feeling all nice and calm now? A little sleepy, eh? That’s good. Blank your mind now and prepare for Star Drifters:

If your mind wasn’t blank before, it certainly is now. This presumes that you discovered that you have to click on it to actually read it. Yes, there is writing there. In fact, it is designed just the right size so that you can print it onto one of those t-shirt thingies which use to transfer an image onto cloth using an iron. Don’t burn yourself. For pity’s sake, don’t make a t-shirt from it. People will think you are nuts. I suggest a cotton tea towel which is ready for the trash. After being embossed by Star Drifters,  you can use it to clean up messes in the bathroom.

Now, for your comfort and safety I need to ease you back into the world of what passes for sanity on this planet. I’ll show you a rare and splendid thing.

During over 2,000 dives I have never before seen a juvenile Trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis):

Amazing, eh?

See, you never know when to take me seriously. I love that.

Seriously, when I first saw this little one, only about eight centimetres long, I thought it was some newfangled sort of pipefish. Then I noticed the very distinctive mouth:

There is no doubt that this is a juvenile Trumpetfish. What tickles me most is that I am almost positive  that you have never seen one. Of course, you had never read Star Drifters  either. Two shocks in one post. My, my.

I’ll leave you to recover with this peaceful image of a Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica)  and some cute little Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula):

Yes, those are Nemo’s cousins.

Peace, baby.

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Wearing the Captain’s Hat

Posted in Under the Sea on July 10th, 2010 by MadDog
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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.

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A SCUBA Diving Bee?

Posted in Under the Sea on July 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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This morning I was out stumbling around in my garden looking for something to shoot. I was nearly ready to give up, not having found anything that I haven’t already snapped a hundred times, when I came across this small bee wearing a SCUBA diver’s mask:

It’s only Tuesday and I’m already running out of material. When I start pulling your chain about diving bees, you can tell that I am desperate. Yeah, I know that it’s silly, but look at its eyes. I have never seen a bee, or any other insect, with eyes such as this. They are huge. They also have an unusual shape, which I suspect give it an enormous field of vision. This makes me think that it is possibly an insectivorous bee. A bee which hunts on the wing would need exceptional vision. It also does not resemble the standard, flower-visiting bee. I watched it for some time. It was showing no interest in all of the flowers around it. In fact, it gave the distinct impression of a hunter lying in ambush.

UPDATE: Faithful reader and friend Alison Raynor has already nailed down the identification of this bee. It seems that I coulnd’t have been more wrong. Oh, wel. It’s not the first time:

HI JAN,
COULD THIS BE YOUR CRITTER?
Blue-banded bees (Amegilla cingulata) are native to Australia, but also occur naturally in Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Indonesia and Malaysia. Unlike other bee species, blue-banded bees are solitary insects. They typically build nests in sandstone, mud or the mortar-gaps in the brickwork of houses.

Blue-banded bees specialise in an unusual sort of flower pollination called ‘buzz pollination’. Normally flowers release pollen passively, but some species are specially designed to be pollinated by ‘buzz pollinators’ that grab onto the flowers and vibrate them quickly to release the pollen.

Okay, the bee doesn’t dive, but I do. I ran through some more frames from our dive at The Eel Garden last Saturday and found a few which may amuse, if not amaze you.

Though this will probably mean little to you, I can testify that this is an unusual image. This Sea Cucumber (Thelenota anax)  does not belong on this bumpy coral. It is a creature which gobbles up sand by the bucket, runs it through its innards, sifting out the digestible bits, and then excretes the sand out of its other end:

Why it is wandering around up here on this coral shelf, metres away from its feeding ground, I have no idea.

The lower fish, whiskering around in the sand, is a Goatfish, specifically a Parupeneus forsskali:

They feed by bulldozing around in the sand, throwing up big clouds of “dust” and using their whiskers to find food. The other fish is a Redbreasted Wrasse (Cheilinus fasciatus),  a fish which usually stays far enough away to be difficult to shoot. It is not unusual to find other fish hanging around where a goatfish is feeding. They often stir up items which do not interest them, but other fish find tasty.

This is a Longnose Butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus):

It’s not a particularly good shot, but my excuse is, as usual, they try to stay at a distance. How they calculate the distance at which it becomes nearly impossible to shoot them, I don’t know. They must know more about cameras than I do.

This is a reather handsome Soldierfish named Myripistis amaena.  His friends call him Misty. He has a gender identity problem. That’s why he wears the butch outfit:

Chain mail is very “in” at the bars where he hangs.

You are undoubtedly tired of the Phyllidia varicosa  nudibranch. Well, you may as well get used to it, because it is one of our more common varieties and I haven’t got the absolutely perfect image on one yet:

I’ll let you know when I do.

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The Old Catamaran

Posted in Under the Sea on July 5th, 2010 by MadDog
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You have read of many dives here on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  near Pig Island  at a spot we call The Eel Garden.  It is probably our most popular dive for several reasons. It is close, only a few minutes from Madang. It is also usually sheltered from waves, so that it is comfortable for those staying on the boat. It is an easy dive and has a variety of habitats from sandy bottom to outer reef. Last, but not least, it has a wreck . . . of sorts.

We’ll get to the underwater shots after I show you our orange lilies, from a slightly different angle, glowing in the morning sun:

After you cross over a huge wall of coral from the sandy bottom of The Eel Garden, you come upon a curious wreck which appears to be an old barge made of two slender hulls, making it, boatwise, a catamaran:

This is how they appear as you approach them from the bow end.

In between the hulls is a tangle of strange structures which may once have held the hulls together:

In this area is a wild menagerie of life. It would be easy to spend an hour between the hulls cataloguing the crazy tangle of coexisting critters.

During this dive there was a Bluefin Trevally (Carnanx melampygus)  bustling around us. They are extremely difficult to photograph, because they never stop darting around:

As you can see, the shot above was “spoiled”. As the fish darted past me, I spun around and grabbed a snap shot. I expected it to be motion-blurred. What I did not expect is that, after minimal massaging with Photoshop, it turned out to be an interesting bit of art. It certainly conveys the sense of motion.

Here is another shot of the tangled mess between the hulls:

You can see a diver’s bubbles behind the lattice.

This shot is from farther toward the stern. You can see that I was moving toward the back end of the hulls. As the sunlight angle changes and the distance decreases, the coral at the left of the shot above changes to a deeper, warmer tone, since there is less sea water between it and the camera:

If you click to enlarge and look at the extreme left of the image, you can barely make out the image of a diver’s fins as he moves off to the left. You can also make out his bubbles trailing above and behind him.

Most of these shots were taken with the iris stopped down to ƒ/8 to increase the depth of field. Yes, some more “Deep Focus” shots. I’ve found a whole new way to bore you.

My next project is a gigantic model train layout with tiny towns and miniscule pine trees. I will explain every detail of this to you when it’s finished.

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Great Barracuda!

Posted in Under the Sea on May 28th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today begins a new pursuit for our J & E Enterprises Limited company. I’m going out to install the first VSAT dish which we have sold. I’m familiar with the technology, so the job should be simple and take only a couple of hours. On Monday, after the unit is switched on at the Orion terminal in Australia, our customer will enjoy Internet communications and VOIP (voice over Internet – think Skype) the likes of which have never before been seen in Papua New Guinea at the relatively low cost of these units. It really is an exciting event for us. It’s fun to be involved with what, in this country, is the cutting edge of technology. Never mind that it has been available in most of the rest of the world for at least a decade.

Here is your morning sunrise:

Provided I arise early enough, I should be able to show you a new one nearly every morning now that the dry season is arriving.

The subject of this post is the large, toothy critter in this sadly poor photograph:It is a Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda). It’s not called “great” because it’s particularly famous or gifted or nice, but simply because it is big. I reckon that this one was about a metre and a half long. I tried my best to sneak up on it while it was getting the fishy equivalent of a car wash here at a “cleaning station” where tiny cleaner wrasse swim around and pick off tasty parasites from the barracuda’s skin – even inside its mouth! However, the instant it sensed me as a possible threat (pretty unlikely, I’d say), it shot of so quickly that it was just a blur in my eyes. Its departure was accompanied by a sound like a whip snap and a general panicky scattering of all of the fish in the general area as they hurried to get out of its way. It was quite a spectacle.

The water at Barracuda Point was murky, so the photo is very poor, despite my being only about three metres distant from the fangy bullet. This is only the third or fourth Great Barracuda which I have seen here in over 2,000 dives.

I have selected the rest of my images today not for their excitement, but rather for their calm, restful beauty. Here is one of my favourite creatures, the Mushroom Coral (Fungia fugites or possibly F. scutaria):

This one is resting next to the large colony of beautiful green and white Sea Squirts, Lissoclinum patellum.

This is a very lovely Divericate Tree Coral (Gendronephthya roxasia) which is growing between the hulls of the old wrecked catamaran on the ocean side of the barrier reef at The Eel Garden near Pig Island:

The Tree Corals are some of the few things which I like to use flash to capture. The way that they light up seemingly from the inside out is quite amazing. This one has a wonderful blue and pink colour scheme which I have not seen before. As soon as I began to work with this image my mind drifted to the recent movie Avatar. That film is packed with creatures which any diver would immediately recognise.

Here is another colonial animal which is best seen with flash. It is some species of Semperina, I think:

In ambient light it is a dull brown. When the full spectrum of sunlight hits them, as a camera flash is designed to replicate, it light up bright red.

We may as well finish up with a couple of Disneyesque Nemo impersonators. The Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula) has certainly become the most universally recognised reef inhabitant on the planet:

That’s it for today. Tomorrow is Dive Day. I’ll be back to waste more of your valuable time.

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Madang – The View from Heaven

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on April 29th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today is my day to try to catch up. I’m behind in some paying work as well as still behind here on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.  Today is the first day in a week on which I’ll be posting the same day as the post date. Not that it makes much difference to anyone but me. I hate getting behind in my work, because I am fundamentally extremely lazy. It’s all too easy for me to start thinking that I just don’t have enough time, so there are some things to which I’ll never attend. Then I have to be honest with myself and think of how many hours a week I spend staring at TV. I’ve come to think of this as a complete waste of time. Frankly, if I really want down time, I’d rather read. TV is the lazy person’s amusement. It requires absolutely no effort and little imagination. I simply don’t want to spend my life that way any more.

So, with the sermon out of the way, let’s have a look at this morning’s sunrise:Not bad, but not great, either. Maybe I’m getting a little to demanding. After you’ve seen a few thousand here, it’s easy to get picky.

As the title suggests, we’re having aerial shots today courtesy of Sir Peter Barter with whom I hurled through the atmosphere for almost three hours on Tuesday. His Robertson R-11 is a beautiful little machine. I can only imagine what a dream it is to fly. Here is a lovely shot of my home town, Madang:As you can see, the bulk of the town is on a peninsula. To the left (east) is Astrolabe Bay  and to the right is Madang Harbour.

Here is another shot looking north. You can see part of Madang Town and the North Coast:The chain of islands stretching to the horizon is where we do most of our diving.

This a very nice angle from which to view the entire Madang Coast:Madang is on the left. The large island is Kranket,  followed by Leper Island, Little Pig Island  and Pig Island.  These are all local contemporary names, except for Kranket Island,  which is traditional. The others have different names on the nautical charts.

This image covers pretty much the same area, except that you are looking east out over Astrolabe Bay:The fuzzy blue area under the clouds to the right is the mighty Finisterre Mountains. 

I got some very nice shots of some of our favourite dive sites. This is Magic Passage  in the centre and the southern tip of Leper Island  on the right:Kranket Island  is on the left. This is easily the best aerial view that I’ve seen of Magic Passage.

This shot shows an easy month’s worth of daily dives. At the far left is Little Pig Island  with The Eel Garden  to its right. The large mass is Pig Island  with superb diving all around the ocean side. At the bottom is Barracuda Point:

Up the right side clear to the edge of the image is all wonderful diving. The gap in the barrier reef near the top is Rasch Passage,  an excellent dive.

That’s my back yard from the air.

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