So, So Blue

Posted in Under the Sea on February 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, now I’m only two days behind. No thanks to TELIKOM. For some reason known only to God and the local manager, I got a call this morning from a guy in the business department. He seemed to want to sell me a PABX system to fix my problem. I asked him if it had any copper lines going to the exchange. He didn’t know. I asked him if he knew anything about the USB wireless adapters that were announced for sale in April and still don’t work. He said he didn’t know. I asked him if he knew anything at all. He said he wasn’t sure. I think the local manager is trying to avoid me. Every time I call, he has “gone to pick up his kids at school” (funny thing for a manager to be doing in the middle of the day) or, “just stepped out”, or “in a team meeting”. Hah! Since his office is only a few steps from mine, that makes it a little easier for me. I can station one of my spies in the parking lot and he can inform me by walkie-talkie when the guy comes to his office. My means are many and nefarious.

I will not let this matter rest.

Never mind. I’m soon going to set up a wireless link between our big radio tower at our office and my house. I’ll have a fast 24/7 connection for absolutely nothing! I’m going to take my two TELIKOM handsets and throw them into the ocean where they will do the fish more good that they have ever done me. I’ll set up some Skype phones in the bedroom, lounge and our new J&E Enterprises Limited office and say “Goodbye and thanks for all the fish!” to TELIKOM forever. How glorious it will be to see the day when none of my communications have to pass through a single piece of TELIKOM’s crummy gear. Digicell will do me nicely for a portable. TELIKOM’s cell service doesn’t work half the time anyway.

I should possibly apologise to my readers who do not live in PNG and therefore do not understand the agony of trying to get simple phone service. My good mate Trevor Hattersley’s phone has not worked for five months. Most people simply give up and buy a cell phone. In fact, I believe that is exactly what TELIKOM wants. They want to abandon huge sections of copper cable that are so old that they can’t support even voice service. This leaves outlying small businesses stranded with no phones. Imagine owning a hotel (Such as Jais Aben) if your phones do not work half of the time. Yet TELIKOM offers no business alternative.

Okay, okay, enough for today. The pictures aren’t that great today either.

Today’s music is Pink Floyd’s Pigs on the Wing  from the ethereal Animals  album of 1977. It’s strangely in tune with my mood today. I also like Dogs  from the same album. Some of the lyrics bring tears to my crusty old eyes for their timeless poignancy. The guitar riffs are stunning.

Do you have to deal with people who think like this?

And after a while, you can work on points for style.
Like the club tie, and the firm handshake,
A certain look in the eye and an easy smile.
You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to,
So that when they turn their backs on you,
You’ll get the chance to put the knife in.

Sure, we all do. Sadly, some aspire  to that philosophy.

Never Mind. My task is only to show pretty pictures.

Here’s a little mob of Striped Catfish (Plotosus lineatus)   who, happily, never have to make a phone call: Lucky little critters, eh? You’ll probably have to click to enlarge them.

This is one of the prettiest Feather Star images that I’ve managed:The lovely Lamprometra  seems to be in a state of grace, all curly and calm.

This is a sort of throw it out and see who likes it shot. It makes me think of looking down into a particularly nice aquarium at some friend’s house. He must be very good at his hobby:It’s a bunch of small Anthea  of some species that I can’t identify.

Some of you will recognise these Bigeye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)  from many other posts here. I shoot them whenever I get the chance:I think “conformists” when I look at this image. I don’t like the feeling. If I stare at it long enough I can see them moving. Must be all the drugs I’ve been taking the last few days.

I usually strive for natural colour. Of course, that’s not what you get from the camera. They usually look more like this:Sometimes blue is what you need.

From Animals,  I leave you with Sheep:

Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away;
Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air.
You better watch out,
There may be dogs about
I’ve looked over Jordan, and I have seen
Things are not what they seem.

Peace.

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Underwater Guest Shooter – KP Perkins

Posted in Under the Sea on February 11th, 2010 by MadDog
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As it’s already after 15:00 today and I’ve not written a word yet, I’ll be mercifully brief. I did break free from the office yesterday afternoon to take KP Perkins for her last dive in Papua New Guinea, at least for the foreseeable future. You may remember this shot of her from another recent post:KP had asked me to give her some basic photography lessons, since her previous experiences had not been very satisfying for her. I took her out to Pig Island  and we dived The Eel Garden. The surface water was horrible. We could barely see our hands in front of our faces. Underneath, is was not so bad.

KP took most of the shots. One of the most difficult things about underwater photography is staying in position for the shot. Most divers are not used to moving their bodies to achieve precision; you just sort of swim through the water like a fish. KP got her introduction to motion blur. Shooting without flash as in this image of a Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata),  will quickly show you how shakey your hands are:Macro shots, such as the one above are the most difficult.

Wider field shots such as this river of tiny catfish (Plotosus lineatus) are more forgiving:The common Reef Lizardfish (Synodus variegatus)  is good practice, because, as long as you move in slowly, you can get pretty close before it gets fed up and scurries to another location:Still life shots such as these Palm Tree Coral (Calvularia species)  polyps also make easy shots:I took this one. I wanted to show KP how, with good bracing and a two-hand hold, I could get a crisp shot at 1/6 second:The image stabilization in the camera is not supposed to be much good at such slow shutter speeds. However, if you can get braced firmly enough, it yields perfectly good images. The little critter is a Phyllidiella pustulosa  nudibranch sliding downhill as fast as he can.

We switched to flash for a while to give KP a little practice. Here is a terrific shot of a Phyllidia varicosa  nudibranch:I can’t remember looking as bad as this in any photograph. But it’s not KP’s fault:I wish I could think of something funny to say about it.

Here’s a tidy little reef scene with the Palm Tree coral, a Seriatopora hystrix  (the golden one) coral and a couple of little yellow fish which I can’t seem to identify at the moment:KP is a very quick study, as you can see. A couple of hours of Photoshop work after the dive and she already has the beginnings of a respectable portfolio.

This only feeds my desire to to underwater photography courses in the best diving spots on the planet.

Any takers?

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Underwater Photography – Abort, Retry, Fail

Posted in Under the Sea on January 4th, 2010 by MadDog
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Back in the Bad Old Days of MS-DOS, if you were working with computers you would see, probably once an hour (it seemed so, anyway) the unhelpful message on your screen: Abort, Retry, Fail.  None of these three suggestions were ever of much help. It was Microsoft’s way of saying, “That’s not gonna happen, man.” Yeah, sure, you could usually figure out what was causing the problem, but most of the time there wasn’t much you could do about it.

You’ll be happy to hear that there is a way that you can once again experience these excruciating moments:  through the magic of underwater photography. I’ve collected a little gallery of horrors to illustrate a few of they infinite things that can go terribly wrong. I hope it amuses you, as an observer, more than it does me, as a practitioner.

SUBJECT RUNS AWAY

I wanted, longed, deeply desired, the moment that I saw this fish to capture its soul in digital bits. Sadly, the job is botched. This is a rather rare yellow colour variation of the Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus):

When I say rare, I mean that I have never seen this species with as much yellow on its body. It really is a beauty. This one, as you can see, was at a cleaning station – it’s like a car wash for fish. The underpaid and little appreciated workers in this car wash are the little cleaner-fish, one of which you can see here vainly chasing the Puffer in hopes of gobbling a few more parasites from its skin. You can see the little Bluestriped Cleanerfish trailing along behind. These little puffers run away (probably screaming in fishy terror) as soon as anything big approaches. They don’t swim very fast – just fast enough to spoil the shot.

The observant observer will note that the image is spoilt by motion blur. I was trying to pan the camera to follow the movement of the fish, which should have produced a reasonably sharp image of the fish with a motion blurred background. As it happens, I got it half right; both fish and background are blurred by the camera movement. I’m putting this one in the RETRY category. The big problem is that I may never see such a magnificent specimen again.

SUBJECT LOOKS PRETTY UNDERWATER – TERRIBLE ON THE SCREEN

These little Striped Catfish (Plotosus lineatus)  looked ever so pretty fluttering in the lazy current along the bottom at the Eel Garden close to Pig Island  on Saturday:However, the finished image is sadly lacking any interest whatsoever. You had to be there. As soon as I started working with the image I realised that the magic was in the motion. You can’t truly capture motion in a still image. I’m putting this one in the FAIL category.

SUBJECT IS A CAMERA TEASER

This juvenile Midnight Snapper (Macolor macularis)  is a pretty cool fish. They don’t look anything like the adult, which is a big brown lump of a thing. However, cool or not, this fish is a nightmare to photograph. Like many fish, it has an inbuilt standoff distance or “comfort zone” which you can, under no circumstances, violate. If it could talk, it would be saying, “Back off, Jack!”:

I did manage to get this rather pathetic shot from about four feet away with the flash turned on. It was as close as I could get. Apparently not many photographers have done a lot better. I Googled for images of this species and didn’t find anything much clearer than the shot above, except for images that were obviously shot in aquariums. I’ll let this one pass with a RETRY.

SUBJECT DARTS AROUND FRANTICALLY

This rather uncommon species, the Red And Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus)  swims spasmodically back and forth in its host and never even gives you an adequate opportunity to frame the shot. If fact, you’re lucky if the fish is even in the frame  when you push the shutter release. I only barely managed to catch it in this shot:This is compounded by the confounded shutter lag that is common in point-and-shoot cameras. I’d guess that the Canon G10 I’m currently using waits about a third of a second before capturing the image after I press the shutter release. So now, you have to guess where the fish is going to be during your next eye-blink. It’s like guessing which kernel of popcorn will explode next. This one can only be a RETRY.

SUBJECT DOES SOMETHING INAPPROPRIATE

Sometimes you just get a surprise. I would not ordinarily take a picture of an animal defecating. It’s simply not that interesting unless you’re a kid obsessed with scatological humour. We were at the deep end of the Eel Garden’s sandy slope where I was shooting the Red and Black Anemonefish when my dive buddy Carol Dover directed my attention to this big Sea Cucumber (Thelenota anax):

As you can plainly see, it was enjoying a nice, leisurely, satisfying poop. Without going into the unsavory anatomical details, I’ll simply point out the you can clearly see where the poop came from. There’s quite a bit of it, since the critter eats about 99% sand and digests only the digestible bits. All the rest comes out as tidy little sand sausages.

I’m putting this one in the ABORT category.

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Start With Fish!

Posted in Under the Sea on January 1st, 2010 by MadDog
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Man, I can’t believe that it’s 2010 already. I just got used to writing year numbers beginning with “2”. Now I have to retain my hand to leave out the “00” in the middle. What a bummer! I’ll probably jump ahead and start writing 20010. Hey wasn’t that a “thirties-something” TV series? No, wait, it’s the ZIP code for Washington, DC. See, I’m aimlessly rambling already. I hope that that’s not an omen.

Anyway, let’s start with things that are not  fish. This is not a fish:

As any fool can see, it’s a spider, a very familiar spider, on a yellow flower. I cannot stop taking pictures of these amusing little spiders. They are certainly prolific. On many days there will be one of these little fellows on nearly every blossom. I suspect that it also has a very specialised hunting technique targeted to insects that feed on and pollinate these flowers. It is obviously an ambush predator, as are many spiders. It does not depend on its web, which you can see if you click to enlarge. The web wraps around the central parts of the flower and may or may not take part in the capture. These spiders eat tiny striped-wing flies on which I have often seen them feeding.

And, this also is not  a fish, though the name implies otherwise:

It’s a Starfish (Linckia multifora)  on the old catamaran at the Eel Garden near Pig Island.

And, neither is this a fish. I got this shot to illustrate that everywhere you look in the sea you find the spiral. It’s one of natures’ most common themes:It is, of course, coral. Specifically, it’s Acropora clathrata.  Now you know. Isn’t that a relief?

Now, these are  fish. This rather disorganised mob of Striped Catfish (Plotosus lineatus)  are regrouping after being startled out of their tiny wits my me attempting to get close enough for a picture:They will shortly resume their normal feeding habit of marching above the sand in a line like soldiers policing up cigarette butts.

And, this is also a fish, the Pixy Hawkfish (Cirrhitichthys oxycephalus):A very pretty fish it is. These look very much more interesting against a dark, blurred background. You can then better see the delicate structure of its dorsal fin, an exercise in excess detail. You can see what I mean in this post featuring the Dwarf Hawkfish, a closely related species. By the way, this is the red variation of the species. The other variation is less colourful.

So, let’s finish up with everybody’s favourite fish – Nemo:Nemo, a Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula)  is here with friends and me today to wish you a very happy New Year.

Now I have to start thinking seriously about my New Year’s Resolution.

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Nudibranchs – Can’t Get Enough of ‘Em

Posted in Under the Sea on November 30th, 2009 by MadDog
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Saturday at the South end of Leper Island  was a good day for nudibranch hunting. There’s not much challenge to hunting nudibranchs, except to find them in the beginning. Sometimes there are a lot of them and sometimes none. I don’t know where they go. The slide around slower than land snails, so motion capture is not a problem. Most of them, however are teensy-weensy. This Chromodoris geometrica  was about 1.5 cm long:

Nudibranch - Chromodoris geometrica

You have to get your camera lens practically right up against the critter to get a shot like this. That means that, with the Canon G10 rig, you can’t use the flash; it’s blocked by the housing.

I was frankly surprised that these shots came out so pretty. The colours are very accurate and I got enough depth of field to get good focus from edge to edge. Here’s another shot of the little fellow going downhill:

Nudibranch - Chromodoris geometrica

The breathing organ (branch) is the feathery thing at the back. The antlers at the front are, I imagine, sensory organs. I’m very happy with these shots, especially since this is the first time that I’ve seen this species.

Here’s something that you don’t see every day, nudibranch eggs:Nudibranch eggsThe cluster is about as big around as a golf ball. If you click to enlarge you will see that is is very lacy. The individual eggs are stuck together and come out in a ribbon. They are always laid out in a circle or spiral shape.

Here’s another nudi for you. This one is a Phyllidiella pustulosa:Nudibranch - Phyllidiella pustulosa (flash lit)I can’t say that I’m fond of the taxonomic name. Anything that starts with ‘pust’ doesn’t appeal to me. The shot above was taken with the flash turned on. For a flash shot, it’s not too bad, though the colours are just a bit off.

Here’s the same critter with the flash turned off. I like this much better:Nudibranch - Phyllidiella pustulosa (natural light)It is much closer to what I actually saw. To me it appears more natural. I sometimes wonder of non-divers ever notice the difference. I suppose that most people just assume that everything is gaudy-bright the way the popular press shows most underwater images. It’s not really that way.

The clown shot of the day is provided by these cute little Striped Catfish (Plotosus lineatus):Striped Catfish - Plotosus lineatusThey travel around in schools and usually line up along a front edge of travel while they pick up tasty bits from the bottom. It’s comical to watch them marching on their whiskery little noses. Ones at the front will break away and move to the back so that their buddies can get to the fresh stuff. Or maybe they just need time to chew. I’m not convinced that fish are altruistic.

Here’s an image that I shot a few years ago up at Mililat Passage  of a river of Striped Catfish:A river of Striped Catfish (Plotosus lineatus)
Cool, eh?

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