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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!