Silver Steps Diving

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!


Facebook/instagram and even news websites have been awash with Barrel jellyfish photos and videos the last week and so I had to get a piece of the action! I had seen these gentle giants in previous years but had not tried to take any photos in earnest. I snorkelled out from the beach in Falmouth and after 200 meters or so I sure enough found three or four (they occasionally came close to each other but there of course was zero interaction). Barrel jellyfish Rhizostoma pulmo can in rare cases have a bell 90 cm wide but these were smaller, maybe 90 cm in length. I dove to take shots from below again and again: good exercise! I learner to hold my breath so the shot would not be ruined by air bubbles. I tried some over-unders but the shore was far away and so ended up only being a sliver, tricky!I tried some downward shots as well, which were much more gloomy. I saw a lone Blue jellyfish and a couple of Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella. They are much smaller and have longer tentacles that unlike the Barrel jellyfish can sting (but not badly). Jellyfish are a great subject, beautiful and not rapidly swimming off! I hope to go back soon and try some more shots. (I will have to make sure to wipe the dome port occasionally as I had to spot-fix quite a bit).

Macro Practice III

What friends predicted happened last Sunday morning: someone scrambled down the rocks to check if this figure lying motionless in a shallow pool was dead or alive. Luckily, I was feeling very alive indeed, watching a sizable Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis moving over the rocks using its hydraulic tube feet. A beautiful blue-grey colour, the surface of these animals are very richly textured. I am not sure exactly what is going on at the tips of the arms: the very end shows a red organ, potentially light sensing. It is surrounded by nodules, which might be the precursors of the centres of new plates covering its body, or something else. The tube feet at the tips are smaller and orange-tinged and I am again not sure whether they are just newly developing or having special sensory functions. I noticed the madreporite at the top of the animal: this sieve plate is involved in pumping the water in the body for hydraulic locomotion. It resembles a stony coral ‘madrepore’ colony, hence its name. In general, the seastar surface resembles a coral I think. The photos are nice, but I know I could do a lot better: next time!

Macro Practice II

I am running out of original blog post titles; these are just some more macrophotos practicing with the mzuiko 60mm lens. Friday afternoon was a gorgeous sunny, windstill day here in Falmouth. Although I somehow did not manage to find a stalked jellyfish, there were plenty of other things to see floating around in the shallow pools. I tried my hand again at the European cowrie Trivia monacha (see last post) with better results. It is hard to get the strobe position right, so I now hold it in my hand (rather than attached to the ‘tray’ that also holds the camera) to try to take as many different shots as possible. Below, a small Light bulb seaquirt Clavelina lepadiformis and the colonial seasquirt Morchellium argus. Finally, I noticed a shanny Lipophrys pholis hiding in a crevice. It was too large to capture its whole face with the macrolens so I tried to get one eye at least. It will be fun to try to get some fish portraits next time. Btw, catch me on instagram: @an_bollenessor.

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!

Underwater Fluorescence

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!