Cave of Dreams

I cheekily ordered a larger dome port last week (8 inch instead of 4 inch), which should suffer less chromatic aberration (unsharp corners), but also make it easier to compose splitshots (or ‘over-under’ shots) where the top half is above water and the bottom half below water. I played around with this type of shot a bit before with the small dome (e.g. see here and here) but it should be much easier with a larger dome. Anyway, the weather was such that I did not immediately have a go at it, but this Tuesday I figured I could give it a try at Fistral Beach in Newquay, which has some good rockpools that are not directly connected to the sea at low tide and might be still enough. It was bloody hard to get a decent shot in the deeper rockpools I tried first, as the difference in ambient light above and below water really necessitates the use of strobes to result in an even exposure, As I struggle with strobe lighting for normal shots, this was a bit too much to ask. My fallback was the ‘cave of dreams’ a rather grandiose name for a small overhang containing scarlet and gold cup corals (Balanophyllia regia) and Yellow hedgehog sponges (Polymastia boletiformis) (amongst other sponge species). (Check out THIS OLD POST on the cave of dreams with some decent pics I took with my old Canon Powershot camera.) Crouching down, I could barely fit under the overhang. The picture above looks like it is a substantial scene, but I could only submerge my domeport halfway! Using strobes would have been too finicky and probably result in quite unnatural light, so I bumped the ISO to 400, lowered the shutterspeed to 1/30 and used a 6.3 F-stop to get sufficient exposure using my micro four thirds Olympus camera. I needed to go down to a shutterspeed of 1/25 and a 5 F-stop for the close-up shot below. Here is to more experimenting this spring/summer!

P.S. the sponges have been going strong for a good while, see these pics from 2014/2015!

Buoy Biodiversity

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!


A rare sunny interval on Saturday meant I grabbed my gear for one last snorkel this year before returning to The Netherlands for Christmas. The visibility seemed good the last couple of days (judged by peering down the quay) and there was no wind, but I was quickly disappointed when sticking my head underwater at Flushing beach (also had major brain freeze!). I headed to the nearest buoy to practice some close focus wide able shots with my two strobes (one just arrive back from Japan for repairs). This proved difficult but fun. Lots of adjusting positions; outward when they created back scatter and inwards when the middle of the photo was not lit up. As the buoy was bobbing about I used a fast shutterspeed which resulted in dark water but that too has its charms. Lots of diversity, including the solitary seasquirt Cione intestinalis, colonial seasquirts Botryllus schlosseri, Diplosoma listerianum, Didemnum (maculosum?), bryozoans Watersipora subatra and Bugula and/or Bugulina species, the purse sponge Sycon ciliatum as well as tufts of red seaweeds and green Ulva. There are an enormous amount of tiny critters such as worms and snails hidden between all these species as well. It will be a nice project for next year to take a better wide able pic and complement these with macro pics of individual species.

Corals at Porth Mear Cove

I met up this Friday with Tom from Hydro Motion Media to look for Scarlet and gold star corals (Balanophyllia regia) in a cove that was new to me: Porth Mear, between Newquay and Padstow. It was a beautiful day, sunny and crisp, but with frost on the ground. Tom was keen to capture timelapse videos of feeding Snakelocks Anemones using his GoPro. (Follow him on instagram @hydromotionmedia to see his videos.) I was keen to get some photos of the beautiful yellow coral polyps. We met recently on Fistral Beach in Newquay to look at this species in the ‘Cave of Dreams’ (see here for an old post) but I did not get any good shots that time. Tom knew exactly where to find the corals in a shallow gully. These corals are solitary but they occur in small clusters. I saw several dozens of polyps; a few stood out by being fluorescent yellow instead of the normal orange and yellow. They are tricky to photograph, awkwardly located under overhangs and with an ugly greyish ‘animal turf’ for a background. The cove was very pretty and had some really good rock pools; I will definitely try to come back here!


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.

rockpool impressions

Some pics from last week when the weather was good. The pools are golden brown at the moment (especially in the sun) with wire weed, thong weed and kelp dominating and mainly pinkish harpoon weed on the bottom. There are many schools of pollack along with the occasional school of young mullet and sand smelt. (One sand smelt was not in very good shape so I could get very close to take a good look.) These pics are taken using natural light. Nothing too special but I just wanted to post a bit more this year!

Snorkel Adventures

The sun is shining (most days) and the water has warmed up, so ideal conditions for a bit of snorkeling. I have been out at my usual spot in Falmouth (rockpools and kelp forest) and my local beach in Flushing (seagrass) (and yes, I really count myself lucky every time that l live here!). The last couple of times I have brought my son along, as he is now old enough (nine). He is a nature freak just like his dad, actually probably more so! I need to get him fins and a weight belt soon, but he has been doing fine in the water already.

The photos above and below illustrate the state of the rock pools at the moment: quite brownish with the Sargassum and Himanthalia growing everywhere. The red, pink and purple species have largely disappeared (apart from Harpoon weed) and there is quite a bit of green Ulva growing. The water teems with juvenile pollack in the rock pools and schools of sand eels a bit further out. Diving over sandy patches, you can see the latter species shooting out of the sand en masse. It is crazy how such a silvery pelagic fish can also burrow in the sand. I guess it does take its toll, as there are quite some dead ones to be seen too.

The Flushing snorkel site is very different, no (deep) rockpools, only a little bit of kelp but with a very healthy patch of seagrass. No catsharks or thornback rays when we went in, just the odd small sea bass. There are many small Snakelocks anemones on the seagrass. I used to think that it was mostly the purple form that did this but I now noticed that most were the green variety, so the morphs do not seem to differ in this respect after all. One anemone had ‘caught’ a crystal jellyfish (an Aequorea medusa). Not sure if it was in the process of being digested or just ‘stuck’.

I have played around with my new INON strobe, which works a lot better than my old strobe. I have ordered a second one for Wide Angle photos too….(as you can see there is quite some backscatter in the pic of the Shore Crab above). I will need to get back to some shore diving to make optimal use of two strobes, as I am too lousy a freediver to get the lighting and exposure right in one breath!

Summer Seaweeds

Snorkeling in summer is nice because it is sunny and warm, but the seaweeds are turning a bit manky. That has its charms too though!

Above: Furbelows Saccorhiza polyschides. Middle: Thong Weed Himanthalia elongata covered in epiphytes (Ceramium?). Bottom: seaweed assemblage with Red Rags Dilsea carnosa, Irish Moss Chondrus crispus, Forkweed Dictyota dichotoma, Harpoon Weed Asparagopsis armata, Sea Lettuce Ulva lactuca and other species.

Snorkeling with Blue Sharks

Last Tuesday I went on a boat trip with BlueSharkSnorkel departing from Penzance. The Celtic Fox took us an hour out from the coast. On the way we were greated by Common Dolphins and a small Sunfish sped past as well. (Being in the water with a big Sunfish would be an amazing experience!) After some chumming and mackerel fishing it was time to wait for the sharks. There was quite a bit of swell and I felt a bit seasick! Finally, the plastic bottle tied to a hookless line with mackerel bait started to bob up and down, announcing the presence of the first Blue Shark (Prionace glauca). After giving the shark(s) some time to get settled around the boat we slid in. Two sharks around my size appeared and disappeared. I did not pay attention to their sex, but at least one had small wounds on its back which could suggest it is a female (the males bite when mating). They had some parasites too. The sharks came up to about a metre from us but remained relatively wary, so I did not get any close up shots unfortunately. The pic above came out OK, it gives a nice impression of the blueness of the shark and their pelagic habitat. This was my second Blue Shark experience (see this old post) and hope to go look for them again some time!

Back in the Water

I had not been in the water for many weeks due to bad weather, work and laziness, but as the sun was shining last Tuesday and there were indications from social media that the plankton bloom had gone, I went back in for a snorkel. The water has warmed up, although the viz was not as good as I had hoped. I swam a bit further than my usual shallow rockpools to explore the kelp forest. Pollack, wrasse, mullet and sandeels swam about. I noticed a line with crabpots starting very close to shore, something I had not seen before. Unlucky spider crabs and some lobsters could be seen in the pots. Below a Spider Crab that was still free….

After exploring the slightly deeper waters I went back into the pools where the viz actually cleared up a bit. Seaweed-wise, things have deteriorated a bit compared to early spring, but it was a very nice swim around all the same!