Furbellows

One of the nice things about Cornwall is that there are so many coves and beaches, that even after seven years of living here, there are still plenty left to discover. This weekend we visited Kennack Sands on the Lizard peninsula. Two fine sandy beaches separated by a small hill and a rocky outcrop in the sea. What I also like about Cornwall is that every rock has a name. The rocks we explored are called Caerverracks. The tide was pretty good, the weather as well (except for a brief shower). The viz however was quite bad, and so I hope to go back one time when the sea is flat to retake some of these pictures. The rocks did offer some shelter though and it was great to be in the water. I focused (no pun intended) on a type of kelp called Furbellows (Saccorhiza polyschides). It is called that way because of the ruffles on the stipe (in dress-making, furbelow is another word for ruffle). These wavey frills help to dissipate wave energy, which of course can be very intense on Atlantic shores. This seaweed is much more prone to epiphytic groth than the surrounding Laminaria kelp. This must be the reason why it is always covered with grazing Grey topshells Steromphala cineraria. As with other kelps, it is home to the Blue-rayed limpet Patella pelucida. As the conditions were bad, I was forced to limit myself to a large, abundant and non-moving subject, but it was actually quite nice to work within such constraints. One of my favourite seaweeds and when conditions are better (and when I am by myself, with more time and a weight belt so I can dive down instead of holding the camera down and shooting ‘blind’), I definitely want to try again!

July Seaweeds at Castle Beach

A whole bunch of photos of yesterdays snorkel at Castle Beach. The viz has cleared up, although nothing like the fabled June 2017 viz, will it ever be as good again?! (see here). There are lots of yellows and browns, some greens, a substantial dash of blue of the rainbow wrack but hardly any reds and purples at this time of year. The glow of the sun exarcerbates the yellowish vibe, but somehow I suspect the colour temperature of the Olympus somehow is a bit off compared to my old Canon. I am not entirely sure about this though, and in theory this is all correctable postprocessing, I just don’t know how!  The photo below shows some of the common species, from the bottom right to top left: Cladostephus spongiosus, Dictyota dichotoma, Asparagopsis armata, Cystoseria baccata with Sargassum muticum in the background. Ij the second photo it is obvious that the Wireweed and Rainbow wrack are quite dominant, same for the Hairy sandweed Cladostephus spongiosus. The Thong (or Spaghetti) weed is covered in fuzzy epiphytes. I will keep practicing for when the reds and purples come back in autumn!

Snorkelling at Trevallas Cove

Rumours had it that the viz was great at the North Coast last weekend, and as it was pretty bad at the south Coast, I found some time to drive up to St. Agnes (buying new fins on the way) with the fisheye lens+dome. I was not disappointed: look at that blue sea! The water was clear, the sand was white and the seaweeds were waving on the rock faces. I saw flounder, mullet (thicklipped and red), seabass, sand eels, corkwing wrasse, sand smelt and most interestingly: weeverfish. Swimming above the sand with yellow fins and burying themselves so only the eyes are visible. I saw one half a meter deep on the beach, so it is advisable to wear surfshoes (see here). Unfortunately I could not get a good photo. I tried to take photos with the strobe but that did not really work so all photos here are natural light, trading off ISO, shutterspeed and depth of field to get the right exposure. There were Blue jellyfish around (small, 2-4 inches), and I tried to shoot them over-under but that was a bit too ambitious. Some easier shots instead. I hope to find some big Barrel jellyfish in the coming weeks, as they will be a lot easier to shoot! As the fish proved a bit too fast, and the over-unders a bit too difficult, I tried to take some shots of seaweeds instead. Although I mainly knew it from more sheltered locations, there was quite a bit of Mermaid’s tresses Chorda filum on this exposed coast. There was a lot of discoid forkweek Polyides rotundus on the sand but also on the rocks, and often covered in Falkenbergia. Other species that were abundant were Hairy sandweed Cladostephus spongiosus and Desmarestia ligulata. Hope to return soon!

Macro Shenanigans

I had my first two outings trying the the mzuiko 66mm macrolens with strobe this week. I managed to make some OK pics more due to luck than wisdom! It is actually not that difficult to find interesting subjects, but getting finding them back in the zoom finder is quite tricky (I usually point at a subject with my finger and then try to find a big white blob back when looking at my camera, then hoping to encounter the animal somehwre nearby). I managed to find a Least chink shell Lacuna parva spent on a Rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia plant and spent 30 minutes looking at it.  Although there is not much definition on this tiny (5mm) all-white organism, the blue background looks great. I will definitely go back to specifically look for (slightly bigger) things on Rainbow wrack! (The iridescence of this seaweed means that if the (strobe)light hits it at a different angle it is a dull brown rather than a deep blue or purple.) To give an idea of how tiny some things are see the photo above of the shell-less mollusc Runcina coronata (this is an ophistobranch, it does not have gills on its back as do nudibranchs), it was really, really tiny! This photo is nice for ID purposes but I do not expect I can take good photos of species this small (you reallly need an additional macro wetlens for that). I only later noticed the even smaller mollusc Flat skenea Skeneopsis planorbis next to it. (I identified this species using the excellent new Essential Guide to Rockpooling by Julie Hatcher and Steve Trewhella by the way, highly recommended!). I also noticed I need to clean my finger nails! (More tiny molluscs were present, including Eatonina fulgida.) Next, the mollusc Tritia reticulata (which I knew under the names Nassarius reticulatus or Hinia reticulata….) or Netted dog whelk in common parlance. These are very active and fun animals. The macrolens really brings out how battered and overgrown the shell is and the beady little eyes also stand out. A little hermit crab posed nicely as well. Another difficulty is working the strobe. Unlike the ‘normal’ ambient light photography I am used to, the image after clicking is different from that seen through the viewfinder so it is trial by error. Often the subject is not properly exposed. Also, floating particles cause backscatter. Perhaps I should try a snoot to minimise this effect, which can ruin an otherwise decent (in focus) photo, like this one of a Stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus which are common at the moment. (Notice the tiny molluscs on the seaweed in the background.)Finally some random pics: a Light bulb seasquirt Clavelina lepadiformis, two colonial seasquirts (a Morchellium argus and a Didemnid species) and a Bryozoan (it is late and I have not looked up the species). A whole new world opens up if you look at the tiniest denizens of rock pools, all complex, colourful and fascinating!

The plankton bloom has arrived….

A sneaky worktime dive today: the weather was beautiful, sunny and windstill and the tide was great. However, unfortunately the water was one turbid mass of snot: the spring plankton bloom has started! It was impossible to take good photos; with a fisheye you can get very close to the subject (CFWA ‘CloseFocusWideAngle’) minimising the amount of snot between subject and lens, but this only works up to a point! I had a go anyway. The seaweeds are in decline as well, see the fuzziness of the iridescent Osmundea truncata above. Below some shots of my alltime favourite the spectacularly iridescent Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia: Finally, the species Gelidium attenuatum (?), a common, thin and shiny species I would like to know the identity of, a rock with lots of buttons of Himanthalia elongata and a Snakelocks anemone amidst the Harpoonweed. Not sure when the bloom will be over, but I think I won’t bother going back over the weekend!

Olympus seaweed shots

Last weekend it was THE BEST weekend in the year for seaweeds here in Falmouth: the short window where most species peak (just before the bluebells are flowering on land), with a low tide, flat seas and sun. Unfortunately I was still waiting for my my new camera to come back from repair, which was very frustrating…. I took some pics with the Canon Powershot instead, but they are not really worth posting. I finally got my camera back last Tuesday: no damage to the lens but some replaced camera parts; with a bill under £150 it could have been a whole lot worse. As soon as I received the camera, I drove to Castle Beach and went for a 2.5 hour snorkel. The weather was not great, and the viz was neither. I took my strobe but that ended up in a big scatterfest so I quickly proceeded without it. First some general impressions of the rock pools with lots of Sargassum, Jania and Ulva. I also noticed quite a bit of Desmarestia ligulata (3d pic down):

I went fully Manual, varying ISO, shutterspeed and aperture which went surprisingly smoothly. The bad visibility and overcast skies however made it tricky to get good results and most photos were underexposed (of course still with some blown highlights). Also, I noticed the 8mm fisheye results in quite a bit of distorsion around the edges, more so than the wetlens I am used too even, which is slightly disappointing (but partially solvable by cropping). I tried a quick over-under shot which will I will practice more using a strobe (as the above water part is much brighter), but the main challenge will be to find a background that is more interesting than a bit of rock! Having a camera+ lens in a housing rather than a wetlens stuck on a housing is a huge improvement but I stilll have issues with having lots of bubbles on the dome. The seaweeds are happy at the moment and photosynthesising lots. The pic below of Harpoonweed Asparagopsis armata shows all the oxygen bubbles on the plant. Next, two photos of False eyelashweed Calliblepharis jubata and of Beautiful fan weed Callophyllis laciniata (I think!). Finally some animals. I discovered a small (3 inch or so) and exquisetly camouflaged Longspined scorpionfish Taurulus bubalis under the Thong weed, can you spot it? This is a shot that really needed a strobe but alas….Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis are common here. Again this pic is a bit underexposed and the vibrant colours do not come out but it shows the beautiful shape of this animal at least. What I need to do the coming months is too practice (especially with the strobe) so I will be well-prepared for the second seaweed season in autumn! (See the ‘2017 Falmouth Seaweed’ tag at the bottom of the webpage for posts showing how seaweed species wax and wane over the year.)

Some more seaweeds

Last Friday I went for another very shallow dip at Castle Beach in Falmouth. Even though the weather was pretty abysmal, it was definitely worth it! Here a small selection of photos, again the quality is not top notch but many pretty species to see. The first pic below shows the Hairy sandweed Cladostephus spongiosus remnants the Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens featured in the last post tend to attach to. After that, some Chylocladia verticillata, Dumontia contorta with Grateloupia turutura (past its prime) in the background, Heterosiphonia plumosa under a small overhang, a thin red (Rhodophyllis irvineorum? awaiting comments on the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic facebook group) and finally Chondrus crispus and Dictyota dichotoma.

Slender-beaded Coral Weed Jania rubens

Quick post about an hour worth of snorkelling on Wednesday. Very frustratingly, I had a housing mishap on Saturday, meaning my brandnew Olympus camera and lens got wet. $%&^”! as the saying goes…..I have sent both back for repair and hope all can be fixed relatively fast and cheap. A minor disaster but what can you do? Go out with my old Canon Powershot and wetlens instead I guess! The viz was not the greatest but I can only blame myself for a disappointing haul of photos. I took around 200 (as usual), whittled them down to 75 or so on my camera afterwards and then to 30 or so on my computer. Did some tweaking in ‘Photos’ afterwards but they were 5’s, 6’s and 7’s at most. The midshore pools were looking pretty. Lots of one of my favourite seaweed species Slender-beaded Coral Weed Jania rubens growing on top of (mostly) Hairy sandweed (and possibly Black scour weed). Lots of other epiphytic species grow on top of this assemblage, including Sea lettuce Ulva, Brown fan weed Dictyota dichotoma, Gelidium spp, Ceramium spp, Colpomenia OR Leathisia (I still am not sure of the difference..) and many others.

first snorkel with the Olympus

Yesterday I finally took my new camera underwater! I should have gone a bit sooner, but too be fair the water has not been looking very clear (and the viz was still not ideal). The sun was shining and it was great to be back in the water (perhaps 12C, not too cold with a wetsuit). It should be a great experience to shoot with a new, better camera, but it ended up being a bit of a frustrating experience not finding the right settings (I know, first-world problems!). I was stuck in Aperture Priority mode, which was a problem with significant wave action and the need for a fast shutterspeed. Although I took close to 200 photo’s, only a handful were halfway decent. Still, I learned a lot for next time. I took the 8mm fish-eye lens which allows you to get very close to the subject (especially useful for water that is not crystal clear) and still get a wide angle view. Above, a photo of an estuary sponge and seaweeds as well as Snell’s window. Below a badly composed shot of seaweeds, a downward shot of Furcellaria lumbricalis seaweed and Bushy rainbow wrack with Spaghetti weed in the background. All not very sharp and with flat colours, and hopefully standing in stark contrast to the next batch of photo’s!

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!