More Macro

These photos are from a couple of weeks back; since the weather has been hideous most of the time I have not been out much since. More practice with the m.zuiko 60mm macro lens abovewater. Above a small Strawberry anemone. Below a small Cushion star Asterina gibbosa and my finger tip for size. Below that the hydroid Candelabrum cocksii and an Idotoea isopod species (there are several common Idotoea species but I have not paid much attention to them yet I must admit). Finally, the adorable Worm pipefish Nerophis lumbriciformis which is common and usually found in small groups under rocks (I have never seen them underwater as they are small, slow, well-camouflaged and probably hidden most of the time). Definitely will try to get some more portraits of these lovely fish!

New Aquarium: Red Sea Reefer 170

I replaced my old Red Sea Max 130D tank last December with a new Red Sea Reefer 170 tank. I was not entirely happy with the design of the old tank (see this old post) and I was thinking of a new aquarium with a sump, and then my retrofitted LEDs stopped working: I was practically forced to buy a new aquarium! It is much better to have a sump to have a large skimmer in, the glass is much clearer and the (separately bought) AI prime LEDs are great (with seven different individually adjustable colours). I had a long day switching tanks and found three clingfish alive and well. I released my ballan wrasse as it was before the christmas break and I did not want to let it go two weeks without food. In the following weeks, I managed to collect some more anemones, I now have Snakelocks, Strawberries, Beadlets, Daisies, Redspeckleds and Dahlias. It is my aim to collect maybe ten or so more species this year when rockpooling and diving and turn it into a proper anemone tank. I probably won’t add any fish or big inverts as they could fall prey to the anemones. I have added some snails to help keep the algae under control, unfortunately after a a superclean first two months some green hues are starting to appear so I will add some more. These are two hasty shots; a proper update is soon to follow!

more macro rockpooling

Another quick, brisk trip to the rocky shore in my village of Flushing today to practice my macro photography with the 60mm lens. I used the highest F-stop, varied the output of the flash and let the camera decide the shutterspeed and ISO. I did not find anything too special, but the very common organisms are just as pretty as the rarer species. Above and below juveniles of the Flat topshell Gibbula umbilicalis and the Grey topshell Gibbula cineraria on pink encrusting algae. Still not quite used to not having optical zoom as with my old Canon Powershot but quite happy with the shots, especially as all were hand-held. As I am lazy, these are JPEGs with some  tweaking using Windows photoviewer.

Below a Black-footed limpet Patella depressa, a more ‘atmospheric’ shot of a periwinkle, might be the ‘normal’ Littorina littorea but not 100% sure, and a baby Edible crab Cancer pagurus. Really looking forward to go into the water again, but not only is it still cold and grey, it is very windy and choppy so bad viz. Probably another rockpooling post next weekend!

new camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II + M.ZUIKO 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

Santa Claus was very generous last year and I am now the proud owner of an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II mirrorless camera! A big step up from my Canon Powershot G16 compact camera (which I still find a great little camera btw). Apart from a better sensor, greater dynamic range, more pixels etc, the main reason for going for a so-called micro four thirds camera was that I can use separate lenses. By that I mean lenses that actually go on the camera rather than wetlenses that are attached to the camera housing. The wetlens approach has the problem that air bubbles can form on three surfaces rather than one, and also, water seeps out from between the lens and housing every time you lift it out of the water (which I tend to do a lot in rockpools less than a meter deep). I first thought of going for an SLR, but these are much more expensive (the housings at least), require looking through a viewfinder which seems annoying to me and also they are considerably bigger, which is also not handy in rock pools. Luckily I learned that mirrorless cameras also existed! I bought an M.ZUIKO 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens as well. I have not been in the water yet, as the weather has been grim, but took the camera out for some above-water rock pooling last weekend. The first day I did not take the separate flash, which demonstrates my ignorance (to maximize the depth of field, a small aperture is needed which lets in little light, resulting in long shutter times and high ISO). The photos were not great, but the next day with flash it went a lot better. Above a Broad-clawed porcelain crab Porcellana platycheles and a Long-clawed porcelain crab Pisidia longicornis. Next time I will bring a ruler to show exactly how tiny these crabs can be (these are juveniles).

Above a flat worm (check the eyespots!) and a Thick top shell Phorcus lineatus. A main problem is that all subjects are covered with a film of water, resulting in glistening highlights when using the flash. Another issue is the shallow depth of field. The next time I might try to do some photo bracketing/stacking, merging images of a different focal depth (I need a tripod for this). The great thing is that there is no shortage of subjects: turning over a single rock can reveal multiple species each of echinoderms, molluscs, crustaceans, bryozoans, worms, flat worms etc. Below a selection of chitons, I have not had time to check out which species; there are not that many here but they are tricky to identify from photographs. I will check Ian Smiths fantastic photo resources on flickr to do so.


Underwater Fluorescence

It has been three months since the last blog post so high time for an update. I have not been out much as the weather has been grim. In fact, the photos in this post are one year old! I bought a blue LED light for fluorescence photography which has been gaining popularity in recent years. Many organisms and fluoresce (i.e. absorb light and emit it at a longer wavelength), although the function of this is generally not well-understood (perhaps in some cases it might not even have a function and just be a byproduct). Coral reefs can especially be spectacularly fluorescent but the cold waters of the UK harbour a variety of fluorescent organisms too, most notably anemones and corals, see here for great marine fluorescence photos from Scotland by James Lynott. Anyway, I bought my light and a yellow barrier filter (which serves to let the emitted fluorescent light through but not the blue light) to be held in front of the camera housing, as well as a headset barrier filter from a very knowledgable German chap here; his site contains a lot useful information for those interested in the background and applications of this type of photography (see also here, here and here). The photography is very tricky: the ISO needs to be bumped up in the dark which results in a lot of noise. The dark also requires long shutterspeeds which results in shaky images. A large aperture for more light is best, but since the subjects are usually small this results in suboptimal depth of field.  I have only been out twice last January, and only whilst rockpooling (I have not done a single nightdive or nightsnorkel in Cornwall and I am not overly tempted to do so!). The very shallow rockpools high up at Castle Beach in Falmouth reveal some fluorescent animals, including hermit crabs but I focused on anemones. Snakelocks are big and very fluorescent (the green ones, the grey variety is not, although it does emit red light via its symbionts) but not common high up the shore. Hardly visible normally due to their small size and inconspicous colours, red-speckled anemones, daisy anemones and gem anemones become apparent using a blue light (in fact, this method is use to study tiny coral recruits in the tropics). The top photo shows two green gem anemones Aulactinia verrucosa (with red and purple coralline algae in the background). The anemones are very small (2 cm max) and I used my CMC-1 wetlens on my Canon G16. The other two photos show Daisy anemones Cereus pedunculatus. I only later noticed the tiny anemone babies (this is a livebearing species). I hope when the rain and wind disappear and the evenings still start early to go out again and post some more photos. Also, I have bought both a new camera and a new aquarium so I have plenty more to post about!

Trevose Head

Was last Wednesday the last sunny day of the year? It might well have been and so it was good I had taken a day off to drive to the north coast for some rock pool snorkeling at Trevose Head near Padstow. A beautiful, empty beach at Booby’s Bay led to the low cliffs of Trevose Head. I did not make it that far up the headland as there were some deep gullies and the waves were pounding below. If you slip and fall on your head you could be in real trouble on these solo outings, so easy does it. Like St. Agnes and Fistral at Newquay the pools were dominated by Brown fork tuning weed Bifurcaria bifurcata, one of my favourite seaweeds and not a species I have ever seen near Falmouth. In contrast to my local Castle Beach spot, the coral weed Corallina officinalis was not bleached but a deep purple and growing much more vigorously. I lowered myself in some of the deeper pools and although the viz was not the greatest I instantly knew the trip was worth it. I tried to get some overall impressions of the pools. What would be really cool is to try to make panorama photos underwater; I might order an underwater tripod for that! There was some green Ulva, a variety of small red seaweeds and Bushy berry wrack (and a little bit of Bushy rainbow wrack) and Sea oak with the same colour as the tuning fork weed. Many limpets were covered in quite a big variety of seaweeds. Not many shots came out well (due to the strong light, overcast days might actually be better) but it would be fun to do a post just on limpets and their mini-ecosystems of epizoic seaweeds. The pools are teeming with Montagu’s blennies Coryphoblennius galerita, I would say more than 10 per square meter. They are very curious and swim up to you, although the little ones then are so skittish that it is still tricky to get a shot. The fish below was a very good model though, quiff up high. Only through this close-up shot I noticed the strange flaps in the corners of it’s mouth. The blueish spots seem striking but also make for excellent camouflage amidst the coralweed.  Beadlet-, Strawberry- and Snakelocks  anemones were common and I also spotted large Dahlia anemones and small Daisy anemones. I saw a large (for the species) Gem anemone Aulactinia verrucosa as well. In the sun, my wide angle wetlens diffracts ligth on the subject which usually is not what you want but resulted in an interesting effect in the second image of the retracting anemone.

Finally, the bright red seasquirt Dendrodoa grossularia which I remember seeing before in Falmouth without realising what it was (the squirts are very small and clumped together). A green stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus attached to coral weed unfortunately is not in focus but I like the very striking colour contrast. If only I could get my strobe to work and get good macro shots! This has the best north coast rockpooling site so far and I’d love to go back as soon as the weather (and tide) allows!  

iPhone macro photography

I used to have an olloclip lens for my phone (see these old posts), but now I have a new phone (an iPhoneSE) I bought a much cheaper 3-in-1 clip-on lens set. I mainly bought it for the macrolens, which in this case magnifies 20x. This is actually a bit too much, as you have to almost press the lens on top of the subject and the depth of field is very minimal. The image size corresponds to 9 x 9 mm. I went rock pooling twice in Flushing and it was a lot of fun playing around with it. The photo above is a detail of the Flat topshell Gibbula umbilicalis, which I found quite revealing: the surface is very weathered and the stripes are not that regular anymore viewed up close. Below the first whorls of the same shell, a small Painted topshell Calliostoma zizyphinum, a chiton (believe Lepidochitona cinerea as the shell plates are granular, but it is not possible to make out the girdle due to the depth of field issues) and a tiny Littorina saxatilis (probably, there are similar-looking species).         Next, the invasive but very pretty bryozoan Watersipora subtorqata. Common in marinas and on boats but also under rocks on this site. Some colonies are red, others black with a red rim.  Finally, some barnacles (I have not given these much attention so far, which is a shame, as they are very interesting animals (and were an important inspiration source for Darwin). The first are very small Verruca stroemia, then Semibalanus balanoides (I believe; I need to check aphotomarine and the excellent flickr accounts by Ian Smith some more). Next, a tiny brittlestar and finally the funny face of a limpet Patella vulgata. I will be switching from snorkelling to rockpooling in the winter months and thus will use it a lot more. Most lichens are perfect for this little lens as they tend to be flat and have beautiful colours and textures so I will post about these soon.

rockpool photography

I have been out twice this week with the Canon G16 with the hope of snapping a few good photos (out of the hundreds I take). It was trickier than usual, in part because the viz was not great but also because I am making a bit less progress I feel. Investing in an expensive DSLR + housing will get me further but I do not know if it will be worth the money. However, I still have a lot to do when when it comes to mastering the principles of photography, especially getting to grips with manual settings. In this post I will highlight some of the ‘issues’ am facing; who knows I will be lucky and get some feedback via the blog (and instagram), sharing is caring! As usual, I focussed on the seaweed diversity, although at this time of year it is not the best looking. The photo above is nothing special (the seaweed looks a bit straggly) but I like the blue background. It is interesting the wide diversity of seaweed species on the Red rags in the photo below and I like the contrast of the green sea lettice versus the brown Bushy berry wreck in the second photo but both pics are a bit meh. A main difficulty is that many times the sand (orthe bleached coral weed) contrast with the subject of the photo resulting in excess highlights. I try to counteract this by reducing F-stops (resulting in an overall darker picture) and reduce highlights during post-processing. @chris_exploring recommended to choose overcast rather than sunny days which is probably the best approach (and I will have plenty of opportunities to test this the coming months!) The first pic below of a Two-spotted goby is OK but I could not get quite close enough. The second photo is of course out of focus but I included it anyway to show that some of these photos have great potential. It inspired my own photography rule (the ‘Vos Index’): the beauty of the subject (on a 1-10 scale) times the difficulty of a shot (on a 1-10 scale). We are all trying to score a 100: a perfect capture of a beautiful organism. I am stuck with mediocre captures of beautiful things. Sometimes I get a very good capture but then mostly it is of something not-so beautiful. I shoot JPEG + RAW, which is a bit of a pain as I do not want to clog my hard drive and reviewing and deleting JPEGs and then having to filter for names to delete the associated RAW files is annoying. I actually keep few RAW files because very few photos are worthy of any advanced Photoshop editing, and also the standard Windows photo editing software is not half bad. For example see the photo below of whitebait (impossible to tell if it is herring, sprat or pilchard). It is very low contrast and bluish; by reducing highlights, increasing ‘clarity’ and a bit of cropping the image is completely transformed (although still relatively unusable as the resolution is quite bad).   Finally macro. I just cannot seem to get my strobe to work which is annoying so the pics below are all ambient light. I need to up my game with this as there are so many cool subjects around to shoot if you take time to look. Below some tiny (3-4 mm) snails Rissoa parva. I wanted to zoom in more but was unable to unfortunately. Next a much bigger (2 cm) Netted dog whelk Tritia reticulata (sigh, I knew this as Nassarius reticulatus, and Hinia reticulata but the name has changed again). Next, a baby (3 cm) Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine which are one of the easiest fish I know to photograph, not very shy! Finally another challenge to photograph, a mermaids purse (egg case) of a Nursehound Scyliorhinus stellaris shark with a tiny (2-3 cm) embryo visible. I had a little light with me that I used to illuminate it from the back but this could be improved upon as well!

St. Agnes

I did a little ‘recon’ last Sunday in beautiful St. Agnes on the north coast but my timing was a bit off (the tide came in, with sediment getting suspended and the water becoming super-oxygenated, resulting in lots of bubbles on the wetlens). Luckily, this Thursday with no wind, the sun out and low tide, I had the opportunity to nip out again: awesome! Trevaunance Cove has a small beach, with rock pools on either side, I chose the Trevellas Cove side. Coincidentally, Shoresearch Cornwall (facebook here and here) had a survey and so caught up with Matt and Adele as well as Thomas from HydroMotion Media who I had not seen in a while. The north coast is quite different from the south coast I am used too: more exposed and this site for instance had none of the long Thong weed and Wireweed which dominate Castle Beach. The pools are also wider and in parts have a rocky, gravelly or sandy bottom. One spot had a considerable rock overhang, and I probably spent a full hour alone just at these six meters or so as there was so much to see. With the tide out, it was only about half a meter deep, with rocks encrusted in purple corraline algae, pink and orange sponges, bryozoans, tunicates and red seaweeds. The over-under shot is not particularly great but gives a rough impression, as do the two underwater shots (note the mysis shrimp in the last photo): There is a great diversity in red seaweeds, but I find these species quite hard to ID. The red rags Dilsea carnosa look pretty ‘ragged’ in Falmouth at the moment, but in this shaded, high wave energy spot they looked very fresh (first photo). I made a lot more photos but I was really struggling, as the bright sun reflected on the sand, with the seaweeds sticking out from the shaded overhang, such as Sea beach Delesseria sanguinea. The third photo give a good impression of the beauty of this habitat. Black scour weed and Discoid fork weed manage to scrape around in the shifting sands. Serrated wrack hangs and drips from the rocks into the pools below.Apart from the mysis shrimp in the water column, very large prawns patrol the rock surfaces and Edible crabs, Velvet crabs and Spiny squat lobsters hide in crevices. The prawns are curious and really beautiful. Most spectacularly, I found a large lobster in a cavity and at one point had a small lobster walking over to me: Many fish could be spotted as well: Topknots are common (you can just about see one glued to the rocks behind the lobster in the photo above) and there were a couple of big fat Tompot blennies around as well. Dragonets patrol the sand and are very well camouflaged (and hard to approach). A juvenile fish was hiding on and in a sponge; I first thought it was a juvenile Black-faced blenny Tripterygion delaisi, but in subsequent facebook correspondence thought of a Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita (very common here) but then settled on a little Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine. This would have been a very good subject for a proper macro-shot if only I could get to grips with my strobe! In general this was a great place and time for fish. Apart from the topknots, tompots and Montagu’s blennies (juveniles were abundant, present even in the tiniest pools), I saw sand eels, corkwing wrasse, a pollack and horse mackerel (both a bit lost in these shallow pools), corkwing wrasse, shannies, sand gobies and rock gobies. I thought I spotted a Giant goby, but this turned out to be a very large rock goby Gobius paganellus (thanks Matt Slater). After the large goby photo, a tiny Rock goby (I think), a Shanny, a Cushion star and Snakelocks anemones. I cannot wait to get back to this beautiful site, but will need to wait a bit for the next good tide…

back in the water

It had been over two months since I last went snorkeling at my spot in Castle Beach. Although I did go on two boatdives (with no photos to show for), let’s say the work-life balance was tipped in the wrong direction. However I had time for a low-tide snorkel this Saturday and it was great to be back in the water, with a Curlew as my only companion. It was the plan to practise strobe photography but unfortunately I did not manage to get my settings right and I was going nowhere. As this is an activity that is supposed to be fun, I decided to ditch the strobe and stick with natural light. Fish I spotted were Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, two-spot gobies, tompot blennies, a fifteenspined stickleback, a dragonet and sand eels: It is pretty much the worst time in the year for seaweeds but the pools are still quite pretty. The first three photos give a general impression of the seaweeds, including Thong weed, Harpoon weed and Irish moss. After that: Codium spp,  Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticillata, a big plant of healthy-looking Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, withered Red rags Dilsea carnosa and Dulse Palmaria palmata growing on a kelp stipe. I called it quits after two hours. On my way back I noticed an abundant green algae species I had not seen before. David Fenwick identified it as actually being a cyanobacterium rather than a seaweed: Rivularia bullata, interesting! Hope to do a lot more snorkeling before it gets too cold…