Sorry for you non-photography geeks, this is a short post about a lens, the “Panasonic H-X09E Lumix LEICA DG SUMMILUX 9mm F1.7 Lens” to be precise… During the spell of bad weather I was practically forced to browse, and yes, spend money on photo gear. I had long wanted a lens suitable both for landscape and street photography, but especially one that allowed me to focus on say a reptile or amphibian and still have the habitat in the background. A fisheye lens can do this a bit (see the previous post), but on land it results in distortions that just look unnatural. This is a lens that can do the job, as it has a minimum focusing distance of about 10 cm – resulting not in real macro shots but being able to come pretty close, combined with a wide angle background. After having it taken out this weekend for the first time I must say I am really happy with it.
The bank holiday Monday warranted a morning visit to one of our favourite haunts Windmill Farm to do some ‘herping’. Adders and slow worms were found after lifting up corrugated iron sheets, but they slithered off before I could take any good shots. However, there was a toad that sat nice and still so I was able to take multiple shots, camera in one hand, diffuser in the other. For a first try, I was pretty happy with the result. Next, we took a walk from nearby Lizard Point to Housel Bay. The weather was absolutely glorious, with many wild flowers on the cliffs and fulmars, choughs and pipits flying around. The water was blue and crystal clear – you could see the seals swimming underwater! A small part of me was cursing that I was not in the water myself to take photos, but it was a fantastic day on land too.
P.S. annoyed that the Windows photo software straightening tool is not very precise – the horizon is not straight!
We have had some sunny spells but generally the weather has been disappointing lately, especially with regards to wind and waves. I did some snorkels with the fisheye lens to try to capture the seaweeds but the viz was such that I did not even bother to copy the images from my camera to my laptop….A crying shame as it means I have to wait a whole other year to capture the seaweeds in their full glory! (although even when most seaweed species are in decline, with good viz and some sun the pools can still look fantastic later in the season, see for example HERE or HERE). Anyhow, instead of taking my fisheye lens underwater, I tried it out on land instead, specifically on the muddy foreshore of my village Flushing. (A wide angle lens would have been better for this – no warped horizons etc – but I don’t have one.) I had a go at this a while back, before I really knew about softboxes to disperse flash light….what can I say, I am a slow learner… I recently bought a flash and a trigger so I can hold my flash in a softbox near subjects which is the way forward for these types of shots. Although not home to the most spectacular animals or backgrounds, it was fun playing around a bit. Top left: Montagu’s Breadcrumb Sponge (Hymeniacidon perlevis), top right: something that looks superficially like Elephant Hide Sponge (Pachymatisma johnstonia), although the colour and texture are off. (This specimen will be sampled by David Fenwick for a close look at the spicules (if it is a sponge and not a seasquirt!)
There are many oysters here too, mostly the invasive Pacific oyster (Magallana gigas) (pictured above), but also the native oyster (Ostrea edulis). I hoped to get a shot of an eel, but the ones we caught were small and a bit too active. We also found rocklings, shannies, rock gobies, a sea scorpion and interestingly a dragonet and a painted goby (I had not seen one of these before). Although there are quite a lot of interesting species to be found in the mud, I hope I’m able to go snorkeling in some clear blue water very soon!
A while ago I played around with taking pics of the underside of a buoy, which was fun, and so i wanted to practice this some more. My mistake the first time (see here) was to use a fast shutterspeed (the buoy was bobbing about after all) which made the water look unnaturally dark. I tried again this weekend and it went a bit better, although I already know I can improve things. This time I thought it would be nice to put some names to the amazing fouling biodiversity (I did this before for some seaweed images, see here). Crustaceans (tube-dwelling Jassa), Sponges, Bryozoans, Seaweeds but especially a lot of Tunicates (seasquirts; both solitary and colonial species). David Fenwick (of AphotoMarine fame) had a quick look to help with some IDs; there is a more there but this was not meant to be exhaustive. I have underlined species that are invasive. Anyway, I am sure I will post more of these types of images: the buoys are always there and these organisms do not swim off when you try to take a photo!
Holywell Beach on the North Coast of Cornwall is known for a small sea cave which houses a ‘holy well’. According to Mabel Quiller-Couch, in her 1894 book “Ancient Holy Wells of Cornwall” in 995 AD the bishop of Lindisfarne, Aldhun, was bringing the remains of saint Cuthbert back to Ireland. Blown off course in a gale, he was left stranded in Cornwall where he settled and built a church dedicated to St Cuthbert. After some years however, an oracle instructed Aldhun to return the relics of St Cuthbert to Durham. As he was leaving from Holywell Bay, the saint’s bones touched the side of the well, giving the spring its magical healing powers. In medieval times, many people flocked to this cave to seek out the healing powers of the spring.
I was in the area this week when the tide was low (at high tide the cave is completely flooded, so you have to check the tides!) and decided to bring out the fisheye lens and a tripod to take some long exposure pics. They came out all right. There are more colourful photos available online, but my suspicion is that these use artificial light and sometimes also some enthusiastic post-processing. By using the longest possible exposure time on my camera (Olympus OMD E-M1markII), a full minute, I was able to let enough light into the camera. This enabled me to use f/18, allowing great depth of field, and ISO200, meaning little noise.
The formations result from a rare (in Cornwall) limestone deposit in the roof of the cave. Slightly acidic rainwater percolates through this limestone, dissolving calcite and becoming enriched in calcium bicarbonate. When the water drips down the rocks, the process is reversed and calcite precipitates, especially in areas where the water moves a little, causing CO2 to gas off. This results in the dam-like rimstone (or gours) formations. The tiny ‘rice terrace’-like formations on the dams are called microgours. I’d like to go back one time to experiment more and also to take some macro photos of the microgours and colourful microbes.
It is the time of year where the rock pools look less attractive (for an example see this old post) and jellyfish appear in the sea beyond. As they are pretty and slow moving, they make for excellent subjects and so I have ventured out over the kelp recently to look for them. I now have a reliable INON D-200 strobe (actually I have two such strobes, it is just that the second arrived 6 weeks ago but not its fibre optic cable…) which makes a huge difference in the types of shots you can take. Photos taken using natural light only can be pretty (see for example here for previous attempts) but a strobe just opens a whole new range of possibilities. I was quite pleased with myself with the shot above of a Compass Jellyfish that seems to float in outer space. Here, the strobe lights up the jelly (which is really close in front of the camera) but it cannot light the ocean behind. Using a fast shutter speed, the ambient light (that would make the water blue) is not let into the camera, resulting in a black background. An exception is the bright sky, which is visible in Snell’s Window, and which looks a bit like a planet against the black background. Of course, even with using a strobe you can choose to let in ambient light, leading to more conventional shots such as the one below (however the jellyfish is a bit further away and not very nicely lit up by the strobe):
By pointing the camera downwards and getting rid of much of the sunlight, the fast shutter speed black background effect is even stronger, even on a sunny day. An example is the Moon Jellyfish below. Btw, I have touched these photos up with the generic Windows photoviewer (a poor man’s Adobe Lightroom) whch performs quite well. It is however tricky to get rid of some of the backscatter (particles in the water that light up because the strobe is incorrectly positioned, illuminating not just the subject but also the water in between subject and lens). This effect can be seen above the jelly in the second photo even after editing in Windows Photo:
It is great fun to practice photography with these jellies. In principle one strobe is enough (and many pro photographers recommend to try shooting with a single strobe). However, there are situations where two strobes are clearly better, namely when a subject needs to be lit up from two sides. The photo below was taken with the camera turned 90 degrees with the strobe to the left side (notice the remaining backscatter after using the clone stamp tools in Windows Photo). Having had another strobe to the right would have avoided the shadows (but probably have added backscatter!):
Some more shots below. The visibility has been poor lately but I hope to be able to practice some more over the weekend.
A while back I was lucky to be one of the two winners of the Hilda-Canter Lund prize (see this post). An exhibition featuring seaweed photography organised by the British Phycological Society at the University of Nottingham has now been opened (outdoors rather than indoors for obvious reasons). The nice thing is that the organisers have also put the exhibit online, if you are interested, please click this link.
After posting this photo on the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic group, I received a lot of positive replies, and Jason Spencer-Hall, Professor at Plymouth Uni and president of the British Phycological Society asked me to submit this photo for the annual Hilda Canter-Lund Photo competition. This award was established in recognition of Hilda Canter-Lund, whose photomicrographs of freshwater algae combined high technical and aesthetic qualities whilst still capturing the quintessence of the organisms she was studying. I am pleased to say I ended up as joint winner (there is always a micro-algae and a macro-algae winner), prize money included! The caption:
Carpodesmia tamariscifolia (Bushy Rainbow Wrack) framed by Himanthalia elongata (Thong Weed) in a rockpool in Falmouth, Cornwall, U.K.
I took this photo of this stunningly beautiful iridescent Rainbow Wrack spring 2020 at a low tide when this rockpool was no more than a meter deep. This species is a perennial that forms a home to many animals, from sponges to tunicates, and is often used by the Bull Huss to attach its egg cases to. Many seaweed species also grow epiphytically on Bushy Rainbow Wrack, such as the invasive red species Bonnemaisonia hamifera on this photo. Photo taken using an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with an 8mm fisheye lens and with a single automatic strobe.
Definitely THE photo competition for me and I hope to get more good shots for the 2021 installment (most probably next March/April). As this post is short, below a photo (taken with my old camera) I submitted in 2017 (I managed to forget about the competition in the intervening years).
l have not made much progress sorting through recent seaweed pics but it is easy to post two recent photos that came out well. Above the Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis. This seastar can grow up to 70 cm across, but on the shore you generally do not find them much larger than 20 cm. It occurs from Northern Norway down to West Africa. Below a patch of Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis, probably originating via binary fission. The most common anemone in the rockpools here, around half are this tan colour, the other half is green with purple tips. No one knows why. (And interestingly, it is not the only anemone species that shows two colour variants, beadlets are red or green, plumose anemones white or orange). Although the water was 9C, with the sun on the white sand it looks pretty tropical to me, a clownfish would not have been out of place! (I took a photo of this same patch in March but that one was not nearly as good.)
This was the year I switched from my trusted Canon G16 compact camera (with wetlenses) to a mirrorless Olympus OM-D E-M5 II (with ‘actual’ lenses). Throwing money at things is not necessarily a guarantee for improvement, but it definitely helps! The shot above (from this post) was commended at the 2019 Falmouth Underwater Film Festival. This was made using the few times I went out with the mzuiko fisheye lens and is shot using natural light. (For some more natural light wide angle shots taken snorkelling on the north coast see this post.) I mostly used the mzuiko 60mm macrolens in combination with my strobe. The weather at the start of the year was so foul I initially used it abovewater during rockpooling. The shot below of a Flat periwinkle is quite simple but one of my favourites ‘topside’, together with the shot of the two Shore crabs: Below are some favourite underwater macro shots (the best pics I also post on instagram). Macrophotography I find easier, as the camera settings remain quite invariable (small aperture with a short shutterspeed because of the flash) and the composition is often (but definitely not always!) simpler compared to shots of say an entire rockpool. First some taken snorkeling in rockpools. The first is a Chink shell on Bushy rainbow wrack. The iridescent nature of the seaweeds means it is bright blue or purple viewed from one direction, but a dull brown from the other. If you get it right, it makes a very striking background and it is definitely a subject I want to explore more. After that, detail of the tip of a Spiny starfish, a European cowrie and a pill isopod. Below some macroshots taken while (shore)diving off Silver Steps in Falmouth. A Blackfaced blenny, a Leopardspotted goby and a Devonshire cupcoral. Many more photos of course if you scroll down. I have now also invested in a new strobe and new strobe arms. Having two strobes will allow me to take wide angle photos without depending on (dim) natural light, for instance whilst diving. My second strobe is manual so I can ramp up the strobe power if needed for macro too. I still struggle with positioning even a single strobe, so having two will be frustrating in the beginning I am sure. I am hopeful this new investment will pay off though. As for the blog, I have updated the links page. It is high time I post an update on the tank. I have not been diving much but hopefully next year I can collect some new species of anemones for it (and of course take photos, although the two activities are pretty much mutually exclusive). My new years resolution will be to get in the water more. I wish all blog readers a happy and healthy 2020!