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…

Gilthead Seabream

Yesterday I went for a late morning snorkel; although the water looked inviting, the viz was disappointing. I did not see anything of interest until I noticed a Seabream (15-20 cm) hanging about, not a species I had seen before! It goes to show that there is no dive or snorkel session whithout something that makes it worthwhile. The fish was not very shy, but I did not have weight or fins so I could not get down to get a proper shot from the side. I found out that this was a Gilthead Seabream (Sparus aurata). This southern species seems to have become more frequent on the South coast of the UK the last few years, probably due to warming seas. It seems to be known among anglers, but less so among underwater observers (the NBN Atlas only has two records for this species in Cornwall). Other than that the usual Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, Two-spot gobies, Pollack and even a Blenny (very commonly found under rocks while rockpooling but I hardly ever see them when snorkeling).

Good Viz

Wednesday had a good low tide, sun and no wind so I headed out for the water during my (long) lunch break. I was not disappointed with the viz, although the wireweed and thong weed shed tissue (conceptacles and/or epiphytic algae?) which immediately cloud the water so you have to ‘swim and shoot’ before the opportunity is gone. At this time of the year, the seaweed biomass is at its greatest, with lots of Harpoonweed, Wireweed, Sea lettuce, Bushy rainbow wrack and Thong weed but the biodiversity is lower, with many other species such as Discoid forkweed, False eyelash weed, Bonnemaisons Hookweed and Red grape weed gone or decaying. Below some general impressions (more photos from around the same time last year here and here): On the two photos above Bushy berry wreck Cystoseira baccata (along with Brown fan weed and Oyster thief). There are many big snakelocks anemones around and quite some fish, mainly shoals of juvenile pollack, Corkwing wrasse and Ballan wrasse, Two-spot gobies and, beyond the pools above the kelp forest, shoals of sand eels and sand smelt. The wind has picked up again so no more snorkelling in the coming days. I’d love to go for a dive again but my strobe malfunctioned and is back with the manufacturer for repair and so I might wait a bit going back into the water….

May snorkelling

A quick post to keep the blog going. Seaweed season has passed me by a bit, first because of the bad weather and second, when the weather was better, because I did not have much time to go out. I went snorkelling only twice in May in my usual (shallow) spot at Castle Beach in Falmouth. On the 13th of May the plankton bloom was in full swing: a (wannabe) photographers nightmare! Generally, the seaweeds at this point were already a bit ‘over the hill’. I managed to get a nice shot of Berry wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius though (above). I also glimpsed what I believe is Iridescent Drachiella Drachiella spectabilis under a rock overhang. The bright blue Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia contrasted very nciely with the deep red of the Red rags Dilsea carnosa, I hope to get a much better picture of that (probably next year…).By the next snorkel session the 19th, the visibility was much better. Some photos of the green seaweed Codium sp., A Gelidium sp. (pulchellum?) and a patch of Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens growing epiphytically on Hairy sponge weed Cladostephus spongiosus with the very common species Ulva and Oyster thief Colpomenia peregrina (and others). Next, Beautiful Fan weed Callophyllis laciniata and another Berry wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius. Finally, three shots giving a general impression of the seaweed growth and what I think is Chipolata weed Scytosiphon lomentaria as well as a snakelocks anemone inbetween yellowed False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata. About the animals: there are some juvenile pollack around, as well as two-spot gobies. I saw a brown, flabby shape drifting through the water at one point and my first thought was that it was a seahare but it actually turned out to be a small clingfish (I could not get a photo unfortunately). There were quite some polychaete worms erratically swimming around in their reproductive ‘epitoke’ stage. The final photo shows one (with a Nassarius reticulatus in the background) which could be Perinereis cultifera.

First proper snorkel session of the year

GyllingvaseThis Thursday was only sunny, but also not windy, with a good low tide in the early afternoon, which meant I reserved a few hours to go to Tunnel/Castle/Gylly beach for some snorkelling. The photo above shows Gylly Beach, with the start of Swanpool lagoon behind it and the Lizard in the far distance. (I took this with my iPhone using a Hipstamatic filter; for more iPhone pics of Cornwall see cornwall_hipsta on instagram…). The water temperature was OK (9C?) but the viz was not as good as I hoped. The seaweeds are at their peak now and the pools looked very pretty. Not many fish, but I saw a small brown thing floating around which I first thought was Sea hare, but turned out to be a small (perhaps a Connemara) clingfish lazing about until it noticed me and bolted into the seaweeds. I carefully snorkelled in about half a meter of water, admiring the views and trying to take photos close-up (as the viz was not too good) with my wide angle wetlens. Below an above-water shot of some iridescent Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia and the invasive red Bonnemaisonia hamifera (on the left). I need to go back studying photography basics. A main challenge is contrast. The pools have beautiful white sand, which result in hugely overexposed photos (or completely darkened subjects). I have come up with my own law, the Photography Frustration Index (PFI): the beauty of the subject (B) x the difficulty of capturing it (D). The PFI is very high in the case of seaweeds! Next: Bushy rainbow wrack under Thong weed, Purple claw weed Cystoclonium purpureum, Bushy berry wrack Cystoseira nodulosum covered with the epiphytes Asparagopsis (left) and Bonnemaisonia (right), Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata (you can see they grow in the sand and must be used to scouring) a ‘bouquet’ of different species (with a snakelocks anemone) and a last photo of a variety of species, including the common False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata. The tides and weather conditions are unfavourable the coming days but I hope to go snorkeling again end of the week!IMG_9393

over-unders

It was cold last Thursday, but I had a window to go to the shore at low tide so I did. Optimistically, I went in full snorkel gear, but when I arrived I could not muster the courage to stick my head underwater! (5 degrees, water probably 9 degrees). So I waded in kneedeep and held my camera underwater to try some ‘over-under’ or split-shots’, with both the underwater- and above-water world in view. This is tricky using a wetlens, as there is water between the housing and the lens, which slowly leaks out when lifting the housing out of the water, resulting in a meniscus. The only way to do it is to be quick and frequently resubmerge the housing and get the lens off and back on. I brought my strobe as well (not attached to a tray but holding it in my other hand). This is crucial, as the above water part gets really over-exposed. I compensated 2 or 3 f-stops to prevent this; the strobe then lights up the even darker below-water part. At least, that was the idea, the strobe often made it too bright underwater (I have a simple ‘TTL’ strobe and not one where the strobe output can be manually adjusted) so I had to fiddle increasing the distance I held it from the camera. Post-processing bringing down the highlights was definitely necessary. Anyway, it was good fun to play around, and some of the shots are half-decent considering the circumstances. I definitely will try this more when it is a bit warmer and I can snorkel and look through the viewfinder. (At the end a conventional shot of a small snakelocks anemone just because it was pretty.)

2017 Photography

It has been a year and a half since I bought my Canon G16 and tried to be a bit more serious about my underwaterphotography: I should have done that a lot earlier! Two sessions with Thomas from HydroMotion Media to get up to speed with my camera greatly helped. I have switched from rock pooling to lying flat in rock pools with my snorkel. Sticking your head underwater unsurprisingly is the best way to take underwater photos. I am slowly coming to grips with the technical aspects of photography, moving away from automatic settings but have a lot of practice to do. I also (finally!) started to play around with RAW images in Photoshop. Compare the image above with the original here to see what a massive difference this can make. I have also bought a strobe and although I have been diving a bit more this last half year I have not used it a lot yet. Strobes are pretty much a must for any diving (rather than rockpool) underwaterphotography in the UK, so I am very happy I have one now. I tend to massively overexpose and instead of buying the one of the cheapest ones, in hindsight I should have gone for a manual rather than TTL strobe but there is lots of room for improvement positioning the strobes and decreasing shutter time etc. This colonial sea squirt Aplidium elegans from a boatdive with Atlantic Scuba at the Falmouth Cannon ball site came out pretty OK. I would really love to go back to the Manacles next year and try to get good photos of jewel anemones. Deeper water photos are great fun, but that is what everyone is doing and maybe my niche is that of the shallow rock pools with natural light. I have been concentrating mainly on seaweed photography (see these 2017 posts) using a wide angle wetlens (I might be using this lens a bit more than is appropiate). The first image below is perhaps my favourite, lots of colours and textures. I had one snorkel session in June where the visibility was truly exceptional (well, for Cornwall anyway), see the second photo below. You can have the best equipment and skills (I have neither), but with bad visibility it is nearly impossible to get good photos. I have done quite some coastal ‘drive-by’s to check whether I should be getting in the water. (these two photos have not been put through photoshop btw) I did post some of these photos on the UK Viz Reports facebook group to make people jealous…which worked! I also bought a nauticam CMC-1 macro lens which allowed me to take some half-decent pics of tiny stalked jellyfish. I only had a couple of dedicated macro snorkel sessions and have not used it whilst diving but I would really like to start photographing nudibranchs and other little critters next year. I was on a roll with the blog in the first half of the year but slowed down a bit after that, in part because I was too busy and in part due to changes in Google algorithms greatly decreasing traffic to the blog (I am not in it for the ‘hits’ but still, it was a bit disheartening). I’ll try to post more regularly again; at the very least it forces me to critically evaluate and process my photos and ID organisms (another New Year’s resolution is to register any noteworthy finds through SeaSearch; it is dumb I have not been doing that earlier). Instead of blogging, I have been fiddling with my phone and uploading photos on my an_bollenessor instagram account. It has been a very good way of reviewing the work of many underwaterphotographers (and I am the first to admit that it also is just very addictive). I tried Flickr first as it seems to be a lot more sensible (i.e more serious photographers and less attention seekers) but somehow it did not work for me as well as instagram.  One of my favourite moments in the water was at the ‘cave of dreams‘ (more a small rocky overhang) in Newquay, where I saw the Scarlet and gold star coral Balanophyllia regia. It was fantastic to see hundreds of small, bright yellow corals (as well as some assorted sponges) scattered on the rock walls and reflected on the water surface. What I really would like to do is create an underwater panorama photo of this next year. Might not work (cramped, low-light conditions and I have not been able to find examples of panoramas taken at 1-2 feet distance) but worth a try! Fish I find the most difficult to photograph (they tend to swim off!) but I was lucky one afternoon when a Longspined sea scorpion stayed put long enough to get a good shot. Lastly, I have reposted my favourite underwater photo of this year, that of two Bull huss’ mermaids purses attached to Bushy rainbow wrack, taken in maybe two feet of water in March. I hope to post a lot more photos in 2018!

Pink Sea Fans at the SS Volnay wreck

Today I went for my final dive this year, again with Atlantic Scuba, and this time to the wreck of the SS Volnay (see here and here for background). Just off Porthallow on the Lizard peninsula, at around 17 meters (at low tide) lie the remains of this WWI casualty, hit by a mine and dynamited twice after (probably to get rid of unexploded shells), so she is mostly flattened. The boilers still are largely intact and are very impressive though, see the first not very-well composed shot (should have used my buddy for scale); note the white Dead man’s fingers. This dive would guarantee two ‘lifers’ for me, first the European spiny lobster (or Crayfish or Rock lobster) Palinurus elephas, which seems to be getting more common the last few years. Indeed, we did not have to look hard and saw the long antennae sticking out of nooks and crannies everywhere (see also the Devonshire cupcorals on the second photo). Second, and the main thing I was looking forward too, were the Pink sea fans Eunicella verrucosa. I had found some pieces of this gorgonian washed up on the beach before but never seen it alive. Luckily, at this site it is a common species (many juveniles, unbranched little ‘sticks were also present). I took a whole bunch of snaps and edited the jpgs in the standard Windows photo viewer (I keep the RAW files but need to find some time for proper post-processing). Just reducing highlights etc does wonders, but what I really need to do is be more clever with my camera settings in the first place. My New Year’s resolution will be too think ISO and aperture and not lazily rely on presets. I might also invest in a strobe capable of manual control (thanks for tips kelpdiver @dpreview!) High time to up my game! Below, three of the sea fan photos that came out best. Lastly, a nice new species for me: Trumpet anemones Aiptasia mutabilis. My four recent dives with Atlantic Scuba have all been great; a boat full of friendly divers leaving from just down the road in Mylor, skippered by Mark Milburn who has a very deep knowledge of the area. Todays dive with buddy Jan was very relaxed but I still learned a thing or two. More diving next year! P.S. Mark Milburn just published “Falmouth Underwater: a Guide to Marine Life, Wrecks and Dive Sites around Falmouth” (available here) which I highly recommend to anyone planning to dive or snorkel in the area!