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!
The tide was bad (i.e. low and too early to catch it on time), the water was cold and it was very windy but it was good to go for a dip this morning. I now have a different strobe arm which makes it easier to position my strobe, which has often been tricky. Time for some macro practice. The photos are not that special but I hope interesting enough for you blog readers! Above a Peacock worm Sabella pavonina sticking out of an abandoned piddock hole. Below a common Hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus, a Grey chiton Lepidochitona cinerea, a very small Dahlia anemone Urticina felina (note the warty, adhesive column) and some Daisy anemones Cereus pedunculatus.
Some pics from today at Flushing Beach. Above, a pair of Green shore crabs Carcinus maenas, below two Furrowed crabs Xantho hydrophilus. (I probably should have gone for a whole crab series, as I saw several other common species…) Instead I took loads of random photos, of things that were 150 mm to things that were only 5 mm, with varying success. For instance of a Painted Topshell Calliostoma zizyphinum on the invasive Bryozoan Watersipora subatra. Also the underside of the urchin Psammechinus miliaris, showing its mouth (Aristotle’s Lantern). Photobombing top left is the commensal worm Flabelligera affinis (which I noticed as well the last time I took a version of this picture). Bit random but it was fun practicing. It actually is more difficult to take photos abovewater compared to underwater due to the glistening and the awkward position kneeling on wet gravel/rocks. Next time I might try a tripod (ideally remote flash would be used but I do not think I am going to invest in that). Btw, if you are on instagram, I also post pics as @an_bollenessor.
Another Silver Steps shore dive with @shannonmoranphoto and her fellow student Chris on Friday. The conditions were not as good as last time: low viz and a bit of a swell. I had set my camera to a longer focal range to try to take pics of cuttles or larger fish but that did not work out (with better conditions it still might not work out!). I could still shoot macro so that is what I did. Above to Devonshire cup corals Caryophyllia smithii. Pretty decent, but I know I can get a better close-up; I will try again Monday! I will have another go at the one resident Cray (or Craw) fish, which lives very shallow. I will also try the Twin fan worm Bispira volutacornis again, as I think a shot filled with just the fans (and not assorted bits of seaweeds etc) could be really nice. I might try free-swimming fish if they come close, as did this Poor cod Trisopterus minutus. Below some before- and after postprocessing. Just the jpegs in Windows Photos, nothing fancy. A bit of cropping, increasing clarity and contrast works wonders. Only when I have a really good photo I will invest time processing raw files in Photoshop. First the best photo of the dive: a Black-faced blenny Tripterygion delaisi (a female or possibly a non-breeding male). Next, a common Edible crab Cancer pagurus and finally a Twospotted goby Gobiusculus flavescens.
Finally a shore dive yesterday evening, it has been a long time. I partnered up with buddy Shannon via instagram (@shannonmoranphoto). Instagram has been a really nice way to learn about photography from likeminded folks (such as @danboltphoto and @malcolmnnimmo). We dived (dove?) Silver Steps in Falmouth, about which you can find a bunch of old snorkelling and diving posts on the blog if you are interested. Shannon was the ideal buddy: relaxed and really into photography, so we kept the same tempo. It was a very shallow dive (maybe 5 meters), so we were only limited by getting cold, which was after an hour. I chose to use my 60mm lens, but not to use the 1:1 macro setting, but the 0.19-040 focal range to try my hand at slightly larger objects such as fish. I was thus lucky in a sense that I did not encounter any beautiful nudibranchs of which I would not be able to to take a good shot. (Edit: actually, I since learned that 1:1 is still possible using this focal range). It was however unfortunate that I could not get a good shot of a cuttlefish that hovered about two meters away, rapidly changing colour and catching a wrasse! Next time I will perhaps change settings again to try my hand at (cuttle)fish swimming a bit further away. However, I was very happy with sticking to Leopard-spotted gobies Thorogobius ephippiatus. They do not stick their little faces out of nooks as do most blennies, but usually lie on and under ledges. The trick was to approach very slowly, shooting until they swam off. For some reason, I managed to position my strobe right and did not have backscatter issues. I used Windows Photos to postprocess. See below for a before and after example: Two other common organisms below: a Squat lobster Galathea rugosa and a Twin fan worm Bispira volutacornis. And finally an out of focus, but fun photo of a tiny tiny clingfish very aptly clinging to Shannon’s housing. This was one of the most fun dives in ages and I hope to repeat it sometime soon!