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….
This 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!
As I mentioned in the last post, I joined instagram (@an_bollenessor). One one hand it is a great way of getting inspired, on the other hand it is a bit disheartening: why even bother trying to get half-decent shots with so many fantastic photos already produced? One interesting observation though is that there are some very commonly used themes (macro photos of nudibranchs, open water photos of big pelagics, close-ups of colourful sedentary species such as frogfish) but there are few people who try to take photos of seaweeds, so that seems a quite open niche at least. I have a lot of photos on my computer from the past few years of blogging and am uploading these on my account before the weather gets better and I can go out again. Some are Canon Powershot D30, some Canon G16 but mostly iPhone4S, including the ones in this post (and so all taken above-water). A few other things have inspired me photography-wise recently. I attended a talk by Mark Webster on his Cornish underwaterphotography at the Poly in Falmouth. I already had his excellent book ‘Beneath Cornish Seas‘, but it was very interesting to hear him talk about his approach. See here for some his excellent photos. (I also learned of a very large rockpool on Treyarnon beach that seems excellent for photography and I really need to check out.) Last Christmas, Santa gave me Alex Mustard’s ‘Underwater Photography Masterclass‘ book, which not only has beautiful photos but also is very well written. Already some time ago, I bought a copy of ‘In The Company Of Seahorses‘ by Steve Trewhella and Julie Hatcher (which has an associated facebook page). A beautiful hardcover ‘coffee table’ book with very knowledgeable accompanying text on seahorses in the UK as well as many of the animals they share their habitat with: highly recommended!
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!
Last week I went for a little swim at the usual spot at Castle Beach. The viz was nowhere near as good as last month, but still OK. There are schools of sand eels and sand smelt and I even saw an eel. The contrast between growing brown seaweeds and withering red seaweeds has become even greater. Below you see some yellowed Harpoonweed and a ‘forest’ of Thong weed covered in epiphytes. As the light was a bit subdued, I focused on the most shallow area. The bare parts of the rock are covered with barnacles, dog whelks, sting winkles and limpets. The seaweeds are mainly Serrated wrack Fucus serratus, Sea lettuce Ulva, Grape pip weed Mastocarpus stellatus, some Ceramium and Laver Palmaria palmata, as well as Dumont’s tubular weed Dumontia contorta.
I have been diving three times last week but due to internet problems have not posted about them. I hope to do that in the coming days, but first wanted to blog about this mornings snorkel session in the shallow rock pools at Castle Beach in Falmouth, as I experienced the best viz (visibility) ever here. Apart from the stunning viz, I was very lucky with the fish: I spotted a Tompot blenny, Two-spot Gobies, Fifteen-spined stickleback, Rock goby, Pollack, Ballan-, Corkwing- and Goldsinny Wrasse and Sand eels (above and below). However, I mainly wanted to check what the seaweeds looked like, and things have definitely changed over the last month (see here).The Wireweed Sargassum muticum and Spaghetti (or Thong) weed Himanthalia elongata are thriving and at low tide hang over the surface creating ‘tunnels’. The Harpoonweed below is in decline, turning from pink to yellow-white (and the Bonnemaisonia is almost completely gone). The fronds of the False eyelash weed have turned from juicy and red-brown to wiry and yellow and the corraline algae are turning white. The Sea lettuce Ulva has died back and is covered in speckles (sporangia?). Some epiphytes are thriving, the very fuzzy brown Pylaiella littoralis covers kelp, a Ceramium species grows as pompoms on the Spaghettiweed. One pink and fuzzy species that is growing well I should have taken a closer look at because I am not sure what it is now (I will enquire at the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic facebook group). The next species I think I can identify: Chipolataweed Scytosiphon lomentaria. The Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia looks fuzzier and greyer than before. Although with less species and more subdued colours, the pools still look beautiful, and I hope the good visibility will last a bit longer!
Blogging slowed down a bit recently due to (variously or simultaniously) bad weather, work, bugs or unavailability of dive buddies. I entered one of the better photos I made this year (from this post) in the BBC Wildlife Magazine competition for fun and managed to get it published in the May issue, which was nice. I think I only went out once, which was a pontoon excursion in Mylor marina, the first time with the Canon G16. I tried some shots from above lying on the pontoon; I need to actually get in the water to get a better view of all the sponges, tunicates, peacock worms, mussels, oysters, anemones and seaweeds encrusting it. This shot of the Light bulb sea squirt Clavelina lepadiformis turned out best, but I believe there is a lot of room for improvement. I have bought a light which I will bring next time. I also ordered a strobe, so hopefully some proper dive photos very soon!
Last week I spent a week in Hong Kong for work; of course I had also reserved a couple of days to explore the marine life! My notion that Hong Kong was some kind of city state without any wildlife had already been dispelled after reading the Green Blue Sea blog, which documents Emilie’s (free)diving adventures in local waters (as well her trips to more well-known Asian and Pacific diving destinations). Although Hong Kong is the most vertical city in the world, and one of the most densely populated ones, 40% of the country is comprised of nature parks and the surrounding seas are home to corals. With 84 species of hard corals and 26 soft coral species, coral diversity is higher even than in the Caribbean. However, diversity is lower than in other areas in the region such as Taiwan or Okinawa, which is in large part due to habitat destruction. So less than 24 hrs after landing I descended in the warm and murky waters of the Hong Kong Global Geopark, diving of a boat at Basalt Island with diveshop Splash, operating from Sai Kung. My divebuddy was expat Dod, who was so kind to provide some of his photo’s to put on this blog (the one above and the four below; thanks Dod!). The conditions for underwater photography here are about as challenging as they get with the amount of ‘marine snow’; we probably only had two meters of visibility. (I did not attempt to take pictures as I have no strobes and we went down to 18 meters so it was pretty dark anyway.) Large numbers of big, brown anemones hosting clown fish, urchins and sea cucumbers were present. Going a bit deeper, there were lots of black corals around (although they were coloured white) and there were occasional small colonies of one of my favourites, the Sun coral. Large bubble tip anemones, tube anemones, feather stars, a moray eel, pipefish and a lionfish completed this dive, good stuff! As the viz was so bad, we tried the other side of the island the following dive, and we kept it a bit shallower. We saw few fish but a decent amount of coral. Water temperatures dropped from 30+°C to 21°C at the bottom. This was very cold according to all local divers, of course giving me ample opportunity to sneer: 4°C warmer than the warmest it gets in Cornwall! My last dive was in a 9°C sea! All in all a fun and well-organized dive trip. Dod’s photo’s of Sun coral, a Sea apple (a type of sea cucumber), a pipefish (probably a Trachyramphus spp) and a Marbled rockfish Sebasticus marmoratus: Back in Sai Kung later in the week I had some more good opportunities to see the local sea life, namely in the display tanks of restaurants. The Chinese definitely lived up to their reputation to being adventurous eaters: I saw Horseshoe crab (not much meat on that!), moray eels, tiny sculpins and the Babylonia snails I only knew from the shell nets sold in seaside tourist shops. Lots of huge and beautifully coloured mantis shrimps, crabs, lobsters, abalones, geoducks, perch and much more. Seafood is also sold from boats along the pier, it was sad to even see cute little filefish cramped in holding tanks in the burning sun. There must be a lot of overfishing going on here.I went back for half a day to the Sai Kung area later in the week. Small Hoi Ha Wan park (photo at top of post) lies next to the sleepy village of Hoi Ha and has a nice beach and a coastal walking trail. Huge orb spiders sat in their webs and there were loads of pretty butterflies. If you are really lucky you can see pangolins (you have to be very lucky probably, sigh). Clambering over rocks covered with razorsharp clams and large numbers of fleeing, cockroach-sized isopods, I had a little snorkel around. I saw a good diversity of fish but there were quite some jellyfish around also, which was tricky without a wetsuit. Some scattered corals can be seen here, but this area was traditionally used for lime extraction from which the corals are still recovering. Again the visibility was very bad; I managed a single nice shot just below the surface of some fish fry. My last day was spent on the tiny island of Tung Ping Chao, the most easterly point in Hong Kong. Ferries only go in the weekend, and are packed with tourists and ex-villagers (the island is no longer inhabited) packed with supplies to cater for the tourists. I first had a little wander around the island and then checked out the rock pools at Kang Lau Check. Unlike most of Hong Kong, this island consist of sedimentary rock, diagonal layers of which have been eroded by the sea to leave shallow, angular pools. The water in the pools must have been close to 40°C. Unlike Cornwall, but just like in Oregon, there were very large acorn barnacles and clusters of Gooseneck barnacles. The chiton Acanthopleura japonica was very abundant, as were very cute green-red anemones (have not been able to Google them yet). I took some quick shots using the Canon D30; I hope Emilie or Dod at some point can visit and do a better job; some very cool underwater scenery! After a rest, I took my new Canon G16 for a snorkel. The corals here looked very healthy, although unfortunately there was quite some garbage as well. Pondering both the surprising diversity of coral life still present here, and the threats they face, I think it would be cool if some citizen science project could be set up to raise awareness. I am pretty sure many Hong Kong residents do not realize what precious marine life they have close to home. Creating reef enthusiasts will be essential to help conservation efforts. What if coral frags could be propagated in local bays and used to stock native Hong Kong nano tanks to be set up in schools as well as restore damaged reefs? Anyway, thinking about those types of projects is my form of escapism! Due to problems with my mask, not having super viz or strobes and being lazy (using the automatic setting only), I just snapped random pictures. I was pleased to see that the image quality was still quite good! Below some shots of different corals: Acropora, Favia, Goniopora, Pavona, Platygyra and two genera I could not identify to give an impression of the diversity in shapes.
When going out rock pooling, I always take my iPhone and Canon Powershot (for underwater use) and take at least a couple of photos. Because of a lack of time, or because a single good photo is not enough for a new post, not everything ends up on the blog. Now I have some free time, I picked a couple of unused photos made this year that seem blog-worthy. First up, In realized only what I had found on the beach at St. Ives when leafing through the The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline: a Seabeard! This hydroid, Nemertesia antennina, grows as stiff colonies protruding from a matted base and occasionally washes up on shore. It looks a bit plant-like; at the time I did not have the opportunity to have a closer look and just snapped a quick photo. Next a Lesser sandeel Ammodytes tobianus found at Gylly beach. I always see them when snorkeling or diving (see here) but this was a good opportunity to see one up close (I get excited when I spot a dead fish on the beach (see also here) and I am not afraid to admit it!). Following are two colour varieties of the Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis, a Common brittlestar Ophiothrix fragilis and a shot of an Aequorea forskalea (or maybe A. vitrina) jellyfish. Next the gastropod mollusc Chinaman’s hat Calyptraea chinensis. I went back to Mylor marina for some pontooning recently but not much was growing; the only thing that stood out was the luxuriant sponge growth (I am not sure of the species, perhaps Halichondria).And of course some seaweed pictures. By iPhone: Under tongue weed Hypoglossum hypoglossoides in Flushing, Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata in St. Agnes and a photo showing a variety of wracks all colonizing the same patch (Flushing): Serrated wrack Fucus serratus, Spiraled wrack Fucus spiralis, Bladderwrack Fucus vesiculosis and Egg wrack Ascophylum nodosum. Next some Canon Powershot underwater pics (see also this post and this one): a random rock pool picture of mostly decaying seaweed, a closeup of my favourite the Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia and a shot of Wireweed Sargassum muticum that has completely taken over a pool. Finally an SLR photo of a rock pool at Gylly beach with large Cystoseira baccata plants (middle, Wireweed on the left).
A few weeks back I ordered a GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition, a tiny video camera that is especially popular amongst those that jump of cliffs etc. It comes with a housing that is waterproof up to 40 meters and has excellent video quality. The still images are not so great, you cannot focus or zoom and there is not even a display, although there is an app to control the GoPro using a phone which is very user friendly (the wi-fi connection however is lost as soon as you submerge the camera so you cannot use the phone display to set up underwater shots unfortunately). Of course I will try out the GoPro for diving, but I do not have very high hopes, as there probably will be loads of shaky footage under bad light conditions. Instead, I thought it would be cool to use the time-lapse function in rock pools. I was inspired by the following video:
(For two cool starfish time-lapse films here and here; the BBC ‘Life’ documentary of course is the cream of the crop.) I clipped the GoPro to the plastic baseplate it comes attached to in the packaging and strung that to a lead diving weight using a tie-wrap. The first time-lapse movies turned out OK-ish, the actual video is more impressive quality-wise. It is fun to see all the little gobies but it is obvious that they are not in focus when up close (and too small further away), so probably it is a good idea to bring some frozen artemia to lure them to the best spot. It is obvious that time-lapse works best for slow moving animals such as starfish; fish just flash by, although the nice thing is that you discover that there are many more fish around than you would think from just glancing over rock pools. Actually, it might be nice to try some slow-motion movies of fish using very high frame rates. The short clips I made are not good enough yet too post; the water was full of bits of seaweed, it was quite cloudy and the rock pools in general do not look as nice as they do in spring (lame excuses I know but see the picture below taken at Falmouth a couple of weeks back: it definitely does not look like this at the moment!). I also need to think about different subjects, as macrophotography is not really an option (although this lens might go some way).As a small consolation, I have added two videos from when I was rock pooling in Cameroon a couple of years back (this is a bit of an unusual holiday destination but highly recommended!). I made them using my now defunct Panasonic Lumix (DMC-F10) in very shallow water (<10 cm). Unfortunately I do not know what species of fish these are but they look like awesome aquarium fish (not too many people with a West-African marine biotope aquarium I reckon). The Lumix is not known for great macro but these vids are not bad (I fear this type of movie will not be an option for the GoPro…). I hope to make some cool GoPro videos soon and post them here!