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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A Few Lower Invertebrates

Posted in Under the Sea on January 25th, 2010 by MadDog
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Ah, the pictures are here, but the words, they don’t flow today. If you suffer from writer’s block, it’s handy to have a camera and a wet suit. Let’s jump right in and see if I can loosen my tongue a bit. I have a few recent amusing photos of lowly invertebrates to get us going, including a couple of puzzles. I’ll begin with something that’s not supposed to be here, assuming that I have correctly identified it.

This is what appears to me to be the Red Encrusting Sponge (Monanchora barbadensis):There is no denying that is simultaneously beautiful and spectacular, a combination of attributes not achieved since the days of the likes of Sophia Loren and Elke Sommer. The problem with it being:  it’s not supposed to be here. I can only assume that either I have misidentified it (most likely) or  it has begun to wander dramatically from its home waters in the Caribbean. It is even more stunning in person, as I am certain were Sophia and Elke, though I missed my chance to verify this.

Switching colours and approaching certainty we have here the Blue Encrusting Sponge (Haliclona sp):It’s equally spectacular in colour, but a little more messy in form.

Moving back to a warmer colour, if not improving the shape, we have this rather lumpy orange sponge which I can’t identify at all:I can find plenty of orange sponges on the web, but none of them fit the profile of this blob. It is incredibly bright. You can see it from a great distance. Apparently the colour is particularly good at penetrating sea water. Why anything that can’t move quickly would want to be so flashy, I can’t imagine. It’s like wearing a sign that says, “Eat me!”

This is a particularly neat, round Acropora hyacinthus  coral:This colony was particularly green, which caught my eye.

As I was working with the image, I noted that I had caught more detail than I imagined. Here is a close-up of the center of the colony showing the individual polyps:Quite a lot going on down deep inside there.

You’ve seen images of this Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata)  here before, but I’m showing you this one because it’s the best specimen image that I’ve managed yet. It shows all of the features needed to make a positive identification:Not that that’s critical in this case. There’s simply nothing else that looks anything like it.

Finally, here’s an image that features not one but two  Sea Squirt species in one frame:The green slimy looking stuff is a Sea Squirt (Lissoclinum patellum)  which I only recently came to the realisation of what it is. I’ve been looking at them for years, wondering what the heck they were. They look for all the world like blobs of moldy mint jelly. The tan thingie in the middle I am less sure about. I previously thought that these were some kind of sponge. Now I’ve changed my mind (easy enough). I now think that this also is a Sea Squirt of the genus Botryllus.

Did the earth shake for you?

Never mind. Just do as I do. Look at the pretty pictures. I can’t remember the last time that I actually read  National Geographic.

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Wrapping Up 2009

Posted in Under the Sea on December 31st, 2009 by MadDog
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After yesterday’s dark and whiny rambling through the back alleys of my nearly comatose mind, which prompted friends to call to see if I was planning to depart post-haste to greener pastures (or no pasture at all), I should maybe craft some slightly more upbeat prose. As a recovering (seemingly forever) bipolar, I need to be reminded once in a while that things are never so dark as I may wish to paint them on a down day. The flip side of that, as those who’ve experienced that hideous roller-coaster will instantly proclaim, is that things are never so bright either.

But, never mind. I’m over that. My craving for sympathy is satiated and I still have plenty of pineapple upside-down cake left. Today we will meet a couple of new characters and visit again with some old friends. A few days ago I took KP Perkins for her first dives after the completion of her Open Water Course. On our second dive, we went to The Eel Garden near Pig Island.  There, on the sandy bottom I got this pitiful shot of what we call a Leaf Fish. The “book” common name is Peacock Razorfish. This the juvenile phase of a species variation of Iniistius pavo:It’s a funny little thing. Against the creamy white bottom it looks very dark brown. I had to squeeze very hard on the lemon to get a bit of detail out of the body. Tha’s why it doesn’t look like a very good picture. We call it a Leaf Fish because, unless you are looking for it, you will be fooled by its colour, shape, the little topknot looking like a stem and its insane wobbly swimming motion into believing  that it is a leaf.

Here is another new something for you. It’s a coral, but I’m unable to determine the species name, since I can’t find it in my book. So, I’ll just call it Spiral Coral for now:What intrigues me about this coral is the striking resemblance between this overhead view and images of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction. Say what? Well, it’s a famous family of oscillating chemical reactions which can create amazing visible spiral patterns such as this:

I wouldn’t care to claim that I understand these reactions in anything other than a very general way. The details were not covered in CHEM-101 forty years ago. Nevertheless, the images were still im my mind and I could look them up with “spiral chemical reactions” using Google images. Ain’t the web great? Anybody can seem like an authority on anything. Wait, maybe that’s not  so great.

Well, here’s a spiky old friend from only a few days ago. It’s a Sea Cucumber (Thelenota ananas):I’m sure that it’s the same one that I showed you before. It lives there.

Here’s another old buddy, the gorgeous Tomato anemonefish (Amphiprion frenatus):It this shot you can see the strong blue tint that is often seen in the white vertical bars. I’m not sure if this is really pigmentation – it doesn’t appear to be so. I think that it either some sort of reflection of the sky (it seems to be more common on a sunny day when most of the sky is blue) or it is a property of the surface of the skin similar to butterfly wings that produces colour by means of optical effects at the nanometric level. But, who knows? Maybe God just paints it that way. I’m no expert.

Here’s another bit of underwater eye candy that you’ve seen here before. They are Sea Squirts (Polycarpa aurata):I like to think of them as elf shoes. See, they have nice little elastic bands around the ankles so that they won’t fall off in the midst of mischief-making.

This is a shot that I really like. It’s our old friend, the Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata)  way out at the end of his front porch:They usually stay right next to their hidey-hole. It’s rare to see one that doesn’t have its tail down the burrow. This one has strayed a few centimetres away. You can see the trail of “dust” that it kicked up when it last came out only a few seconds ago.

I had one chance at the shot above before the little spotted pixy dived back into its burrow. The image turned out perfect. Though it’s not colourful, it is exactly as I saw it.

That is as close to diving as I can get you unless you’re ready to get wet.

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Obie Goby

Posted in Under the Sea on October 8th, 2009 by MadDog
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Today was a Tsunami Day in Madang. It started out with a rather unremarkable sunrise. I staggered out to the water’s edge dragging my tripod behind me like a broken crutch and sat down to wait. This was as good as it got:

A Sunrise Panorama with glassy water (15 second exposure)

That shot was stitched together from three frames of fifteen-second exposures. The water is nicely flattened out and glassy. Too bad the sunrise itself was so flaccid. Otherwise, it might have been perfect. Story of our lives, eh?

We heard the tsunami warning on CNN. However, as usual, CNN was not aware of the existence of Papua New Guinea. Sometimes I imagine imaginary conversations in the CNN studio:

ANCHOR:  What’s this blobby looking thing here on top of . . . what is that, Austria?

CAMERAMAN:  Uh, no. That’s AustrALIA, not AustrIA.

ANCHOR:  Yeah, yeah, but what’s the blobby thing?


ANCHOR:  Let’s get rid of it.

Do you suppose that we would all disappear?

Anyway, when I got to work I had an email from Kyle Harris, our official science dude and tsunami watcher. He said that it was going to arrive at 11:25 or thereabouts. I looked at the clock and calculated just how much time I could waste writing in my journal before I needed to get into the truck and go over to Coronation Drive with my camera to see if I could get a cool shot of a giant wave curling over the top of my head. I got all excited just thinking about it.

At about 10:30 we got news that the warning had been cancelled. The tsunami was a little weak in the knees and got all tired out before it could get to us. This, of course, did not in any way affect the unrolling of a normal Tsunami Day in Madang. I heard that government offices and business were all closing. I suppose that there was a big traffic jam on Modolin Road as everybody at once decided to head for Nob Nob Mountain. I say, “I heard – I suppose” ,because I never left the office. I was still thinking about the incredible shots that I missed. Tsunami Days are getting to be like spur-of-the-moment holidays in Madang.

Hey, I’m not complaining. I’d rather see folks get a hundred days off for false alarms than see one poor schmuck get washed off the beach while pointing his camera straight up at the water. Especially if that schmuck is me!

So. How about some fish?

This is a Five-Bar Shrimpgoby, some species of Amblyeleotris,  I think. My reference book is a little vague on this one:

Five-Bar Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris sp.)

Here’s another individual under different lighting conditions on the same dive:Five-Bar Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris sp.)

These little guys have about 2,000 relatives that are also classed as Gobies. The family includes some of the smallest vertebrates on the planet – tiny adult fishes no bigger than the diameter of a pencil.

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata)

The one above is a Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata).  They are not called Shrimpgobies because they are small, though small they are. They are usually partnered up with a small shrimp which lives in the same hole and keeps the house tidy by pushing all of the loose gravel out. The shrimp feeds on tidbits rejected by the goby and the Goby’s poo. Yes, poo. Little goes to waste in the ocean.

Now that I think of it, I have a shot from about five years ago of a Spotted Shrimpgoby with its little buddy (Alpheus ochrostriatus): 

Spotted Shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris guttata) and commensal shrimp Alpheus ochrostriatus

This is a kind of Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata)  that you’ve seen here before. When I see a nice one, I can’t pass it up. It looks like some kind of joke to me:

Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata)

This character is a Pennant Bannerfish (Heniochus chrysostomus):

Pennant Bannerfish (Heniochus chrysostomus)It’s another of those pesky critters that stay just beyond the effective range of your camera. Pfffft! Psychic fish; who needs them? This is the best shot that I’ve managed yet of one of these snooty little creeps with the redundant name. Hey, a pennant is a banner, right? Okay, but it’s like  a banner.

Never mind.

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Diving at the Country Club

Posted in Under the Sea on September 20th, 2009 by MadDog
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On Saturday, we were bored with the usual dive sites. I’ve done most of them at least a hundred times. A couple of years ago, we did a dive on the point just in front of the club house at the Madang Country Club. The sea there was reasonably smooth on Saturday, so we decided to have a go. You have to watch the sea state and the wind closely, since the only place to anchor is only about ten metres from the rocks.

We went straight down to about 40 metres at the south side of the point, intending to work our way around it and come back to the boat over the top. It was not as clear as I like, but the canyons there are fairly spectacular. I got this shot of a sea fan at about 35 metres in natural light. The Canon G10 is amazing:

Sea Fan

It was shot in the RAW mode (always, please, for underwater shots – it’s the ONLY way to go) and worked over with the Adobe Camera RAW filter to adjust for tint and colour temperature before loading it into Photoshop. At that point you can sometimes just apply the Auto Tone or Auto Colour controls and come up with a shot that needs only minor adjustments. It is only a matter of how picky you are how much more work you want to do.

Here on the bottom at 40 metres I found someone’s clothes. No bones, so I don’t think anybody was in them:

Clothing found at 40 metres

I’m always harping about using natural light for UW photos. You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again. I like for my images to look as close as possible to the way that I saw them. The gaudy colours of flash photography are pretty, but no diver is going to tell you that you will actually see those colours while diving.

Here is an excellent example. At 40 metres, under a ledge, no less, I found this lonely nudibranch. The Canon G10 handled the shot with aplomb. It was a very slow shutter speed, so I had to brace the camera firmly, but, with a little Photoshop magic, you are seeing the nudibranch exactly as I saw it:

Nudibranch shot with natural light under a ledge at 40 metres

Now have a look at the same shot taken when I turned on my flash:

Nudibranch shot with flash under a ledge at 40 metres

It is certainly prettier, in the sense that it has nice, bright colours, but it is not what I saw.

There seemed to be quite a few critters much deeper here than I normally see them. Here are some Anthea  at 40 metres, about twice as deep as you normally see this particular variety:

Anthea at 40 metres

Coming up to shallower water near the end of the dive, I found this Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima):

Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima)

The title Giant is a bit misleading in this case. This specimen was only about a half-metre long.

This goofy looking thing is a kind of sea squirt. There are an incredible variety of sea squirts around here, most of them with interesting shapes and colours. This one, however, takes the cake in the “God’s little joke” category:

Tunicate (Polycarpa aurata)

In case you care, it’s a Polycarpa aurata.

I’m never unaware of the great blessing of living in a place where, for a few bucks worth of fuel, I can go out with my mates every Saturday and dive in one of the most prolific and beautiful marine habitats on the planet.

What’s more, my mates always kick in for the fuel, and a little extra. What more can a guy ask?

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