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!

St. Agnes

I did a little ‘recon’ last Sunday in beautiful St. Agnes on the north coast but my timing was a bit off (the tide came in, with sediment getting suspended and the water becoming super-oxygenated, resulting in lots of bubbles on the wetlens). Luckily, this Thursday with no wind, the sun out and low tide, I had the opportunity to nip out again: awesome! Trevaunance Cove has a small beach, with rock pools on either side, I chose the Trevellas Cove side. Coincidentally, Shoresearch Cornwall (facebook here and here) had a survey and so caught up with Matt and Adele as well as Thomas from HydroMotion Media who I had not seen in a while. The north coast is quite different from the south coast I am used too: more exposed and this site for instance had none of the long Thong weed and Wireweed which dominate Castle Beach. The pools are also wider and in parts have a rocky, gravelly or sandy bottom. One spot had a considerable rock overhang, and I probably spent a full hour alone just at these six meters or so as there was so much to see. With the tide out, it was only about half a meter deep, with rocks encrusted in purple corraline algae, pink and orange sponges, bryozoans, tunicates and red seaweeds. The over-under shot is not particularly great but gives a rough impression, as do the two underwater shots (note the mysis shrimp in the last photo): There is a great diversity in red seaweeds, but I find these species quite hard to ID. The red rags Dilsea carnosa look pretty ‘ragged’ in Falmouth at the moment, but in this shaded, high wave energy spot they looked very fresh (first photo). I made a lot more photos but I was really struggling, as the bright sun reflected on the sand, with the seaweeds sticking out from the shaded overhang, such as Sea beach Delesseria sanguinea. The third photo give a good impression of the beauty of this habitat. Black scour weed and Discoid fork weed manage to scrape around in the shifting sands. Serrated wrack hangs and drips from the rocks into the pools below.Apart from the mysis shrimp in the water column, very large prawns patrol the rock surfaces and Edible crabs, Velvet crabs and Spiny squat lobsters hide in crevices. The prawns are curious and really beautiful. Most spectacularly, I found a large lobster in a cavity and at one point had a small lobster walking over to me: Many fish could be spotted as well: Topknots are common (you can just about see one glued to the rocks behind the lobster in the photo above) and there were a couple of big fat Tompot blennies around as well. Dragonets patrol the sand and are very well camouflaged (and hard to approach). A juvenile fish was hiding on and in a sponge; I first thought it was a juvenile Black-faced blenny Tripterygion delaisi, but in subsequent facebook correspondence thought of a Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita (very common here) but then settled on a little Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine. This would have been a very good subject for a proper macro-shot if only I could get to grips with my strobe! In general this was a great place and time for fish. Apart from the topknots, tompots and Montagu’s blennies (juveniles were abundant, present even in the tiniest pools), I saw sand eels, corkwing wrasse, a pollack and horse mackerel (both a bit lost in these shallow pools), corkwing wrasse, shannies, sand gobies and rock gobies. I thought I spotted a Giant goby, but this turned out to be a very large rock goby Gobius paganellus (thanks Matt Slater). After the large goby photo, a tiny Rock goby (I think), a Shanny, a Cushion star and Snakelocks anemones. I cannot wait to get back to this beautiful site, but will need to wait a bit for the next good tide…

back in the water

It had been over two months since I last went snorkeling at my spot in Castle Beach. Although I did go on two boatdives (with no photos to show for), let’s say the work-life balance was tipped in the wrong direction. However I had time for a low-tide snorkel this Saturday and it was great to be back in the water, with a Curlew as my only companion. It was the plan to practise strobe photography but unfortunately I did not manage to get my settings right and I was going nowhere. As this is an activity that is supposed to be fun, I decided to ditch the strobe and stick with natural light. Fish I spotted were Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, two-spot gobies, tompot blennies, a fifteenspined stickleback, a dragonet and sand eels: It is pretty much the worst time in the year for seaweeds but the pools are still quite pretty. The first three photos give a general impression of the seaweeds, including Thong weed, Harpoon weed and Irish moss. After that: Codium spp,¬† Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticillata, a big plant of healthy-looking Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, withered Red rags Dilsea carnosa and Dulse Palmaria palmata growing on a kelp stipe. I called it quits after two hours. On my way back I noticed an abundant green algae species I had not seen before. David Fenwick identified it as actually being a cyanobacterium rather than a seaweed: Rivularia bullata, interesting! Hope to do a lot more snorkeling before it gets too cold…

Gilthead Seabream

Yesterday I went for a late morning snorkel; although the water looked inviting, the viz was disappointing. I did not see anything of interest until I noticed a Seabream (15-20 cm) hanging about, not a species I had seen before! It goes to show that there is no dive or snorkel session whithout something that makes it worthwhile. The fish was not very shy, but I did not have weight or fins so I could not get down to get a proper shot from the side. I found out that this was a Gilthead Seabream (Sparus aurata). This southern species seems to have become more frequent on the South coast of the UK the last few years, probably due to warming seas. It seems to be known among anglers, but less so among underwater observers (the NBN Atlas only has two records for this species in Cornwall). Other than that the usual Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, Two-spot gobies, Pollack and even a Blenny (very commonly found under rocks while rockpooling but I hardly ever see them when snorkeling).

Good Viz

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….

May snorkelling

A quick post to keep the blog going. Seaweed season has passed me by a bit, first because of the bad weather and second, when the weather was better, because I did not have much time to go out. I went snorkelling only twice in May in my usual (shallow) spot at Castle Beach in Falmouth. On the 13th of May the plankton bloom was in full swing: a (wannabe) photographers nightmare! Generally, the seaweeds at this point were already a bit ‘over the hill’. I managed to get a nice shot of Berry wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius though (above). I also glimpsed what I believe is Iridescent Drachiella Drachiella spectabilis under a rock overhang. The bright blue Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia contrasted very nciely with the deep red of the Red rags Dilsea carnosa, I hope to get a much better picture of that (probably next year…).By the next snorkel session the 19th, the visibility was much better. Some photos of the green seaweed Codium sp., A Gelidium sp. (pulchellum?) and a patch of Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens growing epiphytically on Hairy sponge weed Cladostephus spongiosus with the very common species Ulva and Oyster thief Colpomenia peregrina (and others). Next, Beautiful Fan weed Callophyllis laciniata and another Berry wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius. Finally, three shots giving a general impression of the seaweed growth and what I think is Chipolata weed Scytosiphon lomentaria as well as a snakelocks anemone inbetween yellowed False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata. About the animals: there are some juvenile pollack around, as well as two-spot gobies. I saw a brown, flabby shape drifting through the water at one point and my first thought was that it was a seahare but it actually turned out to be a small clingfish (I could not get a photo unfortunately). There were quite some polychaete worms erratically swimming around in their reproductive ‘epitoke’ stage. The final photo shows one (with a Nassarius reticulatus in the background) which could be Perinereis cultifera.

First proper snorkel session of the year

GyllingvaseThis 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!IMG_9393

Two November Boat Dives

I had the pleasure to go on two dives with Mark Milburn of Atlantic Scuba on the ‘Stingray’ RHIB this weekend and last, leaving from Mylor Harbour (see photo above). The first dive was in the Helford Pool, a deep area in the otherwise shallow Helford river. Buddied up with Sue and Al, we descended to 18 meters to swim over a gravelly area covered with tunicates and sponges. This was a drift dive but we did not get all the way to the eastern end of the pool where some small maerl beds are located. Swimming crabs and Leach’s spider crabs were very common; there were not many fish though. One exception was a cute little John Dory Zeus faber. I was struggling to take any decent photographs, in part because I have not used my strobe much yet and because I should have two, not just one! Sue Barnes kindly let me use a photo she took of the John Dory for the blog; also added is a photo of a sponge, one of the few half-decent ones I managed to take: The dive today took us to the cannon ball site, roughly a mile from Pendennis Castle, and an area where many of the cannon balls fired for practice ended up. With buddy Alex we descended to around 16 m using a shot line. Again a flat ‘rubbly’ area with few fish. The seafloor was covered with Common brittlestars Ophiotrix fragilis. The viz was quite good, and it was much lighter than the previous dive. I also had *a bit* more luck with the strobe. Leach’s spider crabs were common, and we also saw some Sea lemons, Doris pseudoargus, a large seaslug. Up next three common species: a little Rock goby Gobius paganellus, the colonial Antenna hydroid Nemertesia antennina and the colonial sea squirt Aplidium elegans (thanks David Fenwick). I keep my eyes open for seaweeds too of course, there were some small red species and what I suspect is Desmarest’s prickly weed Desmarestia aculeata. I found out back on the boat that I completely missed a small octopus that Alex pointed out, argh! I was very happy though that I managed to spot an Imperial anemone Capnea sanguinea, which is an uncommon species. The photo of this all-white individual was taken without a strobe; I really should have taken more time to get a decent shot. A good reason to go back though, and maybe we can spot some cannon balls then too. The water is 13-14 degrees and so it is still doable to dive with a wetsuit.

Falmouth Seaweeds Mid-November

Above the spot where I have been snorkeling all year at Tunnel Beach, between Castle- and Gylly Beach, in Falmouth (Pendennis Castle can be seen in the background). The best time to snorkel is before low tide, as when the tide comes in the viz gets worse. I try to aim for 50-100 cm above the low tide mark which is really shallow. This area is not a real rock pool but rather a gravelly zone between the rock pools proper and the kelp forest which begins past the last row of rocks on the photo. Last week I went snorkelling three times but only last Thursday had decent viz. The photos below show the abundance of pink Harpoon weed Asparagopsis armata, green Sea lettuce Ulva lactuca and new growth of Thong weed Himanthalia elongata and older plants covered in red fuzzy epiphytes. The old wireweed Sargassum muticum plants have died off and the remnants are covered in many epiphytes such as Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticilata, Cock’s comb Plocamium cartilagineum and the pretty Iridescent fern weed Osmundea truncata. However, there is new growth everywhere as well so, like Himanthalia, this species seems to have a half-yearly lifecycle. Below some Irish moss Chondrus crispus next to Wireweed. After that, lots of little fuzzy Falkenbergia growing on top of Discoid forkweed Polyides rotundus. This combination grows in a large patch and looks interesting but I struggled to get decent photos, as the dark seaweeds on very white gravel mess up the white balance big time. Next one or two different species of fine flat reds, the last probably Nitophyllum punctatum. The Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia is dying off (here overgrown with Asparagopsis and Dictyota) but the related Bushy berry wrack C. baccata is doing well. Among its epiphytes Spiny straggle weed Gelidium spinosum (ID thanks to Seaweeds of the Atlantic facebook page members) which is also freeliving, and finally the green Codium fragile. One time, when the tide came in, the water was super oxygenated, and all surfaces were covered with small silver bubbles which was beautiful (and annoying as the camera lens was also covered). The following photos show a very different looking Codium fragile, C. tamariscifolia overgrown with Sea beach Delesseria sanguinea and more Thong weed.

Falmouth Seaweeds October

To my regret I did not manage to take a look at the seaweeds at Castle Beach in September (it was my aim to go in at least once every month). Last Friday however, the sun was shining, the wind was gone and the tide was low (and I was able to escape work) so I at least could make October. Not only was the viz excellent, to my surprise, the seaweeds looked very healthy. It seems that there is a second, autumn seaweed bloom that I was not aware of. Some of the bleached corraline algae have regained their pink colour, the Harpoon weed Asparagopsis armata increased in abundance and I saw species such as Red grape weed Gastroclonium ovatum growing again. The Bushy rainbow wrack has partly died back, forming dense, dark-brown mats (fourth photo) but also show fresh growth. This species is covered in many epiphytes such as Brown fan weed Dictyota dichotoma, and remnants of Bull huss mermaid’s purses still cling on. Interestingly, Wireweed Sargassum muticum has almost completely disappeared. It is tricky photographing rock pool seaweeds. One main issue is to not disturb any sediment, especially as I keep it *very* shallow, sometimes lying on my stomach (I definitely do not need fins). The other main issue with using a (wide angle) wetlens is that there are three glass surfaces in front of the lens collecting bubbles and so need regular wiping. Light is also a challenge: photographing against the sun causes glare, but having the sun in your back results in casting shadows over your subject. I continuously fiddle with the exposure correction, but it remains difficult with the white sand and pebbles around the seaweeds. Below, some healthy looking Solier’s string weed Soliera chordalis, two photos of an ‘unknown’, Norwegian fan weed Gymnogrongus crenulatus, Under-tongue weed Hypoglossum hypoglossoides, seaweeds starting to grow on a pebble, and a rock covered in a variety of seaweeds.