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!

Aquarium Update 7

Long time no post, just been too busy! The aquarium is doing reasonably well at the moment, especially considering the fact that I have not done any water changes since the last update and I have added a bunch of new organisms. I have added two Beadlet anemones Actinia equina. They are a dullish brown (except for a nice blue band around the base); I have not found the bright red or green individuals yet. Very similar but more striking are Strawberry anemones Actinia fragacea of which I have collected three. They are voracious, I could easily feed them a shrimp a day. The same goes for the Sea scorpion. I am afraid of sticking my hand in now as it comes after me! Time to let this buddy go. This will also give me the opportunity to add some other things such as squat lobsters.IMG_4825I have taken a break from experimenting with seaweeds and am focusing on anemones instead. I have added a bunch of small Plumose anemones Metridium senile that I scraped of the side of a pontoon. Weird fellas, they can fill up with water to be quite large, or just reduce to a crumpled little pancake. I have four white ones; I could only find very small ones of the orange variety and these were all devoured by Cushion stars (interesting). I’d like to have a large orange one as well, but I have to wait half a year until I can go diving again (they are very common in deeper water).

IMG_4812On the sheltered, silty shore of Flushing I found two small anemones attached to rock and half buried in the maerl sand. My excellent Seasearch Sea Anemones and Corals guide told me they were a Daisy anemone Cereus pedunculatus (uniform greay with many very short tentacles) and a Red speckled anemone Anthopleura balli (purplish and speckled, for a better picture of a different colour variant see this old post). Both quickly half buried/half nestled themselves under a rock so only the tentacles and the mouth are visible. They take pieces of shrimp and so hopefully they’ll be able to grow; these species should reach a decent size: IMG_4721

IMG_4729My friend marine biologist Chris gave me a snakelocks anemone that he had cured from its symbiotic algae. A very cool, bright white individual but it has returned to its original purplish colour so it must have taken up symbionts again. The snakelocks I already had, grew big, split into two and grew some more. Interestingly, one of the individuals seems to be turning from the green- to the purple colour variety:IMG_4828So six anemone species in all. I would really like to have some Dahlia anemones, they are very colourful, large, and not uncommon (old pic here). I need to go anemone hunting at a good low tide soon (I have not been out in ages).

I had the Chryseminia seaweed growing attached to the Tunze for a while and it worked OK, but it looks a bit messy and so I will remove it. However, I see that little Chryseminia plants have started to grow from the rock in many places (see top picture). I have to give the glass a weekly clean (with a tooth brush) and the rocks have turned a bit too greenish recently. I have noticed however that near the Snakelocks anemones, tufts of filamentous algae have appeared, as the grazers do not want to come too close to their tentacles (this reminds me of a work by an ecologist friend of mine who studies how seedlings can be protected from grazers when growing close to thorny shrubs, I’ll have to tell him of this observation!).

There has been some snail mortality. I mainly have Grey top shells but there are less than half of them left. I do not know why, part might be predation (which is not all bad as at least they serve as food for other inhabitants). I need to collects some more in any case. The Netted dog whelks are doing well. They are usually hidden below the sand, but as soon as they smell a defrosted shrimp, they come up like a Shai-Hulud. Their plowing through the sand is definitely good in preventing mats of diatoms to appear. Their little cousins the Thicklipped dog whelks are also doing fine. They tend to creep up the Daisy anemone to steal its food. I still have a Sting winkle Ocenebra erinacea which moves slowly but is very pretty. There are a variety of other species such as Blacklined- and Rough periwinkles. The best species however are the truly sublittoral large Turban top shells Gibbula magus (some of which have died as well, one of the shells has been taken over by a hermit crab, wich are also doing fine):


new sand

Welcome to this most obscure of blogs, my dear reader. The aquarium is a bit of a mess at the moment for a variety of reasons. First of all there are a lot of algae growing; I have a bag with Rowaphos hanging in the back compartment to remove phosphates but this does not seem to help much (I have had good experiences with before though). Second, one of my pumps broke and so filtration runs at half capacity. Third, the mixed success of planting many different seaweeds has left loads of detritus in the tank. I have made large water changes which helped a bit. An additional tank for experimenting would be nice to have… Fourth, I have been unlucky with some of the seaweeds: the Wireweed grew really well, but the large size meant it caught a lot of the current and was easily dislodged. The Dudresnay’s whorled weed Dudresnaya verticullosa was growing really well (see here) but broke off from the rocks and could not be replanted:


I could not attach the fine red seaweed (see last post) either and did not want to have it floating around so I have removed it. My nice red seaweed streaming from the pump outlet, most probably Devil’s tongue weed Grateloupia turutu (as the name indicates, another invader from the Pacific), broke of. A crap picture of both weeds:


I changed the white gravel with finer, beige Maerl gravel (Cornwall’s equivalent of coral sand, see previous post) here placed in a bowl for contrast:


I released my Shanny as well as the largest of the two Rock gobies. The former attacked to many of the snails (it was getting a bit of a mollusc graveyard) and the latter was just too voracious in general. The final straw was seeing it swimming around with half a Worm pipefish sticking out of its mouth (I still have a bunch of those). The Shore rockling did not survive, but I caught a glimpse of the Shore clingfish when I removed some of the rocks from the aquarium. The juvenile albino Edible crab (if that’s what it is) and the European sting winkle Ocenebra erinaceus I recently caught both still do well, as is a juvenile Shore crab Carcinus maenas:


The Netted dog whelk Hinia reticulata is not one of the most impressive looking snails, but they do very well in the aquarium, burrowing and moving around:


I am not sure whether replacing one of the actinic lamps with the daylight lamp was such a great idea, the tank looks too yellowish now, especially with the Maerl sand…However, I will stick with it and see whether it helps future attempts to successfully keep Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia (i.e. to retain it’s iridescence). If not, I’ll go back to the original lighting. I will not do too much with the aquarium in the near future as I want to get rid of the algae first. There are not many critters in the tank, which should help (I have only introduced a nice big Snakelocks anemone Anemonia viridis recently). I will do some more water changes and order a new pump. Only then will I slowly start experimenting with seaweeds again.

I am still unsure about the chiller, but with the weather getting warmer it might be more than just a luxury to have one. Apart from the price, it standing on the floor next to the aquarium with tubes sticking out is what I don’t like about the idea though. It will also not be silent, but perhaps I could get away with disabling the noisy hood fans, resulting in an overall quieter aquarium. The stripped-down tank (note that the red encrusting algae/seaweeds at the top of the tank have died (turned white) as they were exposed for a couple of hours when changing water):