Weird Light – Dallman Passage

Posted in Under the Sea on January 3rd, 2011 by MadDog
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It’s a new year. I have my work cut out for me. Most of the horribly unpleasant chores which were generated by Eunie’s illness and subsequent death have now been disposed of by a mixture of desperate prayer and grim determination. Some things are improving. I’m marking 2011 as The Year of Rehabilitation.

As one friend recently pointed out to me, 2011 is also the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese Zodiac. I give absolutely no credence to anything vaguely astrological (as opposed to astronomy, in which I am very interested), but sometimes it’s amusing to delve into the ways others view reality. I Googled Year of the Rabbit and came up with this outlandish description of those born under that sign.

People born in the Year of the Rabbit are articulate, talented, and ambitious. They are virtuous, reserved, and have excellent taste. Rabbit people are admired, trusted, and are often financially lucky. They are fond of gossip but are tactful and generally kind. Rabbit people seldom lose their temper. They are clever at business and being conscientious, never back out of a contract. They would make good gamblers for they have the uncanny gift of choosing the right thing. However, they seldom gamble, as they are conservative and wise. They are most compatible with those born in the years of the Sheep, Pig, and Dog.

Well, I’m here to tell you that practically none of that applies to me. I will admit to being vaguely articulate, but ambitious – HAH! I don’t have an ambitious bone in my body. I’m happy to just sail along. It is true that nowadays I seldom lose my temper, but that is mostly because of good training from my wife. Forget about clever at business also, but my word is my bond. It is correct about gambling. I believe that it’s foolish. Whatever wisdom I might have was born of error recognised as such.

So much for astrology.

UPDATE: Before I get a flood of comments, I’ll admit that I completely missed the point of the whole zodiac thing. The year in which I was born, 1943, was the year of the Sheep, according to the Chinese. So, of course, the attributes of those born in the year of the Tiger would have nothing at all to do with me. I haven’t bothered looking up the attributes for those born in the year of the Sheep. I doubt that they would be any more accurate.

However I did appreciate this bit of wishful thinking from another site.

According to Chinese tradition, the Rabbit brings a year in which you can catch your breath and calm your nerves.

I could use some of that, but I don’t need astrology to deliver it. Do I sound as if I’m trashing astrology? No, I’m not. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t fit into my world view. Arguing about world views is someone else’s job.

Good friend Monty Armstrong came over on Thursday afternoon for a dive, along with sweet Meri, Monty’s dear wife. We set into place a new buoy in front of my dock to keep Faded Glory  from drifting off. I very much appreciated this, since the buoy and its heavy chain have been sitting in my lounge room for quite a while. We went to Dallman Passage.  The water was murky and the light was poor. It did, however create some interesting images.

The weird light lent a ghostly appearance to many of the coral colonies:

I’m reasonably sure that this colony is sick. It looks to me as if it’s bleached. Bleaching occurs when something causes the coral polyps which make up the colony to expel the symbiotic protozoa which live in the coral and play a crucial role in its health. You can read more about it in Wikipedia.

The strange light also made this Solitary Coral (Fungia fungites)  glow:

I’ve not seen one of this yellow colour. It may be a natural variation or it may be bleached.

In most of these shots, the background appears very dark. That is because of the high contrast ratio between highly reflective objects and other less reflective ones. It was an unusual condition worth capturing. I was also using a very small aperture (ƒ/8.0) in order to get the greatest depth of field (the maximum amount of the image in focus):

As we descended to twenty metres, the light dropped to practically nothing and I was forced to turn on my flash. In this shot of Sea Squirts (Didemnum molle)  you can see an unnatural rosy glow in the highly reflective white areas:

This shot of an Epaulette Soldierfish (Myripristis kuntee)  is interesting because of the parasitic isopod which has attached itself to the fish’s head:

It is amusing that, in this case, being parasitised might have an advantage. It seems that females are more attracted to males who wear a silly hat. You can read a little more about it here in this post.

The small aperture paid off in this shot, which shows a group of Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllys reticulatus)  darting in and out of the protective coral:

With the low light level, a long slow shutter speed was demanded. I think that this shot was taken about about 1/20 second. That’s too slow to stop the motions of the fish, so they look a little blurry. However, if you look at it positively, it does convey a sense of motion.

This week I start a major remodelling job on myself.

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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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Grass and Water

Posted in Under the Sea on July 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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I was standing out in the front yard this morning watching the sun rise up steadily, much too bright for good sunrise shots, and I looked down at my feet. The warm wine light of the fat, yellow orb was casting a very curious glow on the vegetation and shallow harbour water inches in front of my toes. I started to think about it. I took a picture.

It’s a very ordinary image. Yet, the familiarity of my surroundings give me context to extract much more from it than might be apparent to you:

The brown, twisty gnarls are the roots of my coconut trees. They are presently the only thing saving my front yard from melting into the rising waters of Madang Harbour.  The local sea level has risen at least twenty centimetres since we moved into our house twenty years ago. No, this isn’t global warming. It’s a local tectonic phenomena. We are on one end of a small plate which is tipping. Our end is going down. The gnarly roots speak to me.

The area at the edge of the water is almost daily flooded by boat wakes. The constant salting causes great stress to the grass at the edge of our lawn. The fresh grass shoots are vigorous and bright green.

All around me I can hear the splashing of fish. At this time of the morning predators are coming into water only ankle-deep and driving prey up toward the shore. I remind myself of the small life and death struggles taking place within a couple of metres from where I stand.

How much can you pack into an image.? I guess it depends on who is looking at it and what associations they can make.

Well, enough of the early morning moodiness. Have a look at this delightfully curly Feather Star (Comaster multifidus):

I didn’t think much of this shot when I first saw it on the screen. The composition is not so bad, but the varying distances from the flash left me with some spots far too bright and others too dark. It took a bit of fiddling, but I finally reckoned it was good enough to show.

I love Sea Squirts of all kinds. One could easily make a career of cataloging the varieties within a half hour boat ride from my house. I don’t know how you could make a living doing that, but it would be fun. These are Atriolum robustum:

I got some nice depth of field on this shot and the colour balance is spot-on. You are seeing exactly what I saw.

These are the same Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus)  on the same plate coral which I showed to you a few days ago in Sharp and Smooth:

It’s just another frame from the same series. I like the depth in this one, though the general composition is not as good as the shot in the earlier post.

You’ve seen this exact Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  before. I’m going to keep shooting him until I have him nailed down:

One might think that it would become boring doing hundreds (over 2,000 now) of dives in only a couple of dozen locations. I think it depends on what you expect from diving. For me it’s about being with friends, feeling the stress melt away when I slip into Mother Ocean, and photography. You don’t need to spend a lot of money travelling from place to palce like a well-heeled gypsy to get these pleasures. I’m happy to stay at home and squeeze the lemons.

Here’s two more of the Usual Suspects, Red and Black Anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus):

I had some fun playing with the colours in this shot. I can see some areas which are distinctly fake. However, I decided to take some liberties with Mother Nature.

I just don’t want Eunie to catch me. Shhhhhh . . .

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Climbing Up the Chimney

Posted in Under the Sea on June 13th, 2010 by MadDog
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Yesterday we went up to Wonagat Island  to dive a spot on the barrier reef we call The Chimney. I don’t think that we have dived there since I began Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  in September 2007. This is a little odd, since it is an interesting site and easy to get to. The conditions there vary wildly. Saturday wasn’t great, but I did get some amusing shots. We’ll get to that later.

First, have a look at Sunday morning’s sunrise. I deliverately made it darker than it really was. I wanted to bring out the very faint crepuscular rays. I could barely make them out visually. Some tender massaging with Photoshop brought them to life:

Trying to lighten up the rest of the image simply makes it look fake, which is not necessarily a bad thing, if you’re going for an artistic interpretation. The most interesting bit of this image is the dense black smoke erupting from the stack of the large ship as the left. Click to enlarge, so you can see it.

Here is another shot with a completely different colour interpretation which shows the ship’s smoke much more clearly:

Thank goodness that this amount of smoke is not normal. I only see it when the ships are starting up their main propulsion engines. It usually lasts only a minute or two. I would love to get into the engine room of one of these big ships. Maybe somebody out there will arrange this for me. I’m amazed at the things I ask for here which magically appear. Having a journal with thousands upon thousands of readers can come in very handy. Thank you , gentle readers.

If I project the numbers out to the end of June, it seems that I will have had 275,000 visitors in the first half of 2010. This simply stuns me. I sometimes find it difficult to get my fingers going in the morning, because it is absolutely scary how many people are going to read what I write while still waking up, sitting there in my nightwear (I’ll let you guess.) drinking a Fanta Orange soda. Hey, think about it! It’s a frightful responsibility. But, it’s still very small potatoes.

Well, enough of puffing my head up like a toy balloon, let us have a look at the mysterious dive site which we call The chimney for a very obvious reason. I carefully positioned Faded Glory  for the dive, because if you get the anchorage wrong, you will never find the hole. The trick is to anchor in a known position slightly to the North of The Chimney so that you know which way to go when you get down on the reef. Here is what it looks like if you get things right:

In my dive briefing I said the we would descend, go to the edge of the reef, descend again to 28 metres, turn right and look for the hole. And maybe we might find it. I have miscalculated the anchor point several times and failed to find it. This time, after the dive, I marked in on the GPS.

Here is how it looks from the bottom as you see a diver exiting from the top:

I should have mentioned beforehand that one shouldn’t use fins to swim up through it. It’s best if you just let a slow ascent take you up through the narrow passage. If you do it right, no sediment is kicked up to spoil the trip for the next diver.

Our resident French clown, Pascal Michon could not resist hanging upside down for a comical shot:

It’s nice to know that you have friends you can count on for a laugh.

Back up on top we went hunting. This little Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus)  kept trying to hide from me. I caught him as he was peeking out to see if I was still there:

They are cute, but not very bright. They remind me of me, except for the cute part.

I’m still experimenting with the deep focus technique, but it takes a lot of light. this shot of Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllusreticulatus)  bobbing up and down into their coral hide-out is not yet what I’m looking for:

It seems a little flat to me. I’m looking for more depth.

I may have to send you a pair of 3D glasses.

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Wrapping Up a Week of Diving

Posted in Under the Sea on January 17th, 2010 by MadDog
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We ended up a week of diving, bush trips and industrial-strength socializing with Anita, Wouter and Anita’s father, Jos, today. It’s been a pleasure having them with us. Yesterday I realized that I had no photos of Jos. So, I took this shot of him steering Faded Glory:

Jos turned out to be very handy with a boat. On our last day, he handled the boat while the rest of us did a drift dive at Magic Passage. Communications were a little light, as we do not speak each others’ languages, but he is a very pleasant fellow. I wish that we could have had some heart-to-heart conversations.

Here is a shot of Anita and Swami Monty in the water at Magic Passage with Faded Glory,  Jos at the wheel, coming up in the distance:Anita, Jos and Wouter are leaving tomorrow morning. Wouter is an avid diver and runs with a crowd of dedicated techno-human-dolphins in the North Sea. I wouldn’t be surprised if we begin to get applications for diving here in Madang. It’s an entirely different experience from their normal dives. I think that Wouter found it a pleasant break from the adrenaline-drenched sport as it is enjoyed off the coast of Belgium.

Among the critters that we saw on our last two dives at Magic Passage  and Rasch Passage  was this Starfish (Nardoa rosea)  practicing Extreme Yoga:I am able to contort my body like this, having practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen. Okay, okay, I’m not as nimble and Gumby-like as I once was. However, I’ve not yet reached the point, at sixty-six, at which I need to ask myself, “Can I still do that?” This is a great blessing for me, as the physical activities (yeah, all  of them) are important keys to my well-being. I owe much of this to my Dad, an accomplished athlete, acrobat and dancer who taught me the principles of physical fitness as a life-goal and the concept of the body-aware spirit.

We may as well have a look at another starfish. This one, I think, is a Fromia nodosa  with its little toes curled up very cutely: You can’t swing a dead cat here without smashing a starfish. We have many different species and I have neglected them severely. I’m certain that their tiny little feelings are hurt. I’ll fix that in the future.

I got a bit of a “wow” experience from this huge mob of Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus):We would normally see a dozen or two in a plate coral. This was a huge plate and was home to a couple of hundreds of these lovely little purple-lipped fish. I love to play “scare the fish” with the Dascyllus.  If you slowly stretch your arm out over the plate with your hand closed in a fist and then quickly open your hand the entire gaggle will dive simultaneously into the coral and disappear. It’s like magic. Now they’re here – now they’re not. If you look closely, you can see them trembling in their little nooks and crannies where they hide from predators.

Barrel Sponges fascinate me. Some of them are huge. This Xestospongia testudinaria  is about two metres from bottom to top. Some are much larger:

You can see a few Purple Anthea (Psudanthias tuka)  swimming in front of the sponge. The “purple” in the common name is a relative term. As with many fish, the colour that you see underwater is radically dependent on the depth, the colour of the sky and the condition and tint of the water. Sometimes P. tuka  appears purple and sometimes blue. The yellow dorsal fin edging and caudal fin are constant. The fish appear a bit motion blurred, because I was forced to a slow shutter speed by the low light level.

I am exceedingly happy, nay, overjoyed by this image:As you may gather, I’m easily aroused from my usual “so what” attitude. When I saw this fish, I became terribly excited. That will give you an idea of what a fish geek that I am. The reason for my shaking hands and fumbling fingers is that I have never seen this fish before; it was my first sighting. It is a species of Shrimpgoby (Ctenogobiops tangaroi).  There are several fortuitous aspects of this shot, aside from the novelty factor. First, there is the brevity of the sighting. I barely had time to raise my camera, hold my breath for a few seconds and fire off a shot before it disappeared down its hidey-hole.

Another lucky aspect of this image is that I caught the fish’s partner, a commensal shrimp (Alpheus ochrostriatus)  bulldozing a load of sand out of the shared shelter.

I’m not looking a gift fish in the mouth.

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Batfish or Spadefish – Who Cares?

Posted in Under the Sea on September 1st, 2009 by MadDog
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I had too many nice shots from Saturday’s dive at Magic Passage  to dump them all on you at once. So, today and probably tomorrow, I’ll finish them up.

Just as we went down over the edge of the seaward end of the passage there was a small gang of Batfish gliding along. Group sizes vary widely, from three or four to over a hundred. This little mob was the perfect size for my camera:

Circular Spadefish (or Batfish) - Platax orbicularis

It’s always difficult for me to figure out what to call the fish that I show to you. Common names vary wildly around the world. In my reference book, Reef Fish Identification – Tropical Pacific  (Allen, Steene, Humann, DeLoach), this fish is called the Circular Spadefish. If one wants to do a proper job of presenting fish, it requires the use of the taxonomic names. That’s why I tell you that this is the Platax orbicularis.  I also do this so that people looking for images of fish and information about them can find my site more easily using search engines such as Google.

For example, if you Google:   “Caranx sexfasciatus” madang

You will see:

Caranx Sexfasciatus  | Madang – Ples Bilong Mi 
Bigeye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)  form a solid mass of fish. This creates a mesmerizing pattern that looks artificial:
www.messersmith.name/wordpress/tag/caranx-sexfasciatus/ – CachedSimilar

at the very top of the Google search results (unless someone else rises above me somehow). This link will take you to all of the posts on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  that feature images of the fish. This is handy for searchers and it gets me a large number of hits on my site. By the way, the Caranx Sexfasciatus  is commonly called the Big-eye Trevally.

Well, enough of that.

Here is something that I like to show once in a while – nothing. I’m pointing my camera in a random direction and snapping away. Sometimes the “waterscape” is as amusing as the details. What you see here is what you would see just about anywhere on the top of our reefs. Think of it as a rainforest underwater:

Reef community

When I see an image such as the one above, I am reminded that it is something that few people ever view with their own eyes on the spot. If everyone could take just one dive on a tropical reef, there would be far less difficulty getting people to understand why we need to protect them. From above, it just looks like a lot of water. Think of flying over a rainforest at ten thousand metres. It just looks like a lot of trees. You can’t even see the individual trees. But, if you walk around down there, you will see that it is jam-packed full of life. It’s a carnival of creation.

Here’s another typical reef scene:

Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus)

The fish are Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllus reticulatus).  The coral is Acropora robusta.

This is my pick of the day:

Amanda Watson on the edge!

It’s the extremely rare Amandanas watsoni,  commonly known as Amanda Watson swimming behind a lovely school of Anthea on the edge of the passage. She’s been sick, so she looks a little undernourished. We need to fatten her up.

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Ah, Sweet Saturday

Posted in Under the Sea on February 22nd, 2009 by MadDog
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The weather the last few weeks has been miserable, at least by Madang Standards. I don’t think that there has been a single day without rain. It has also been very cold. You have to remember, of course, that is tropical cold, not regular cold. When the mercury drops below 24°C (75°F), we call it cold.

However, this Saturday was sunny as reasonably warm. We went to Magic Passage. The surface conditions looked good – little current and clear water. Down at the bottom at about 3o metres, though, it was milky. The current was running sluggishly outward, carrying the foggy-looking water from the anchorage out to sea.

I did manage some interesting shots which I’ll give to you in a gallery without a lot of comment for a change:


The Bigeye Trevally shot is interesting. It was so murky at the bottom that there was virtually no colour. I decided to take advantage of this instead of moaning about it. So, I made the shot monochrome.

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