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.
A while back I was lucky to be one of the two winners of the Hilda-Canter Lund prize (see this post). An exhibition featuring seaweed photography organised by the British Phycological Society at the University of Nottingham has now been opened (outdoors rather than indoors for obvious reasons). The nice thing is that the organisers have also put the exhibit online, if you are interested, please click this link.
After posting this photo on the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic group, I received a lot of positive replies, and Jason Spencer-Hall, Professor at Plymouth Uni and president of the British Phycological Society asked me to submit this photo for the annual Hilda Canter-Lund Photo competition. This award was established in recognition of Hilda Canter-Lund, whose photomicrographs of freshwater algae combined high technical and aesthetic qualities whilst still capturing the quintessence of the organisms she was studying. I am pleased to say I ended up as joint winner (there is always a micro-algae and a macro-algae winner), prize money included! The caption:
Carpodesmia tamariscifolia (Bushy Rainbow Wrack) framed by Himanthalia elongata (Thong Weed) in a rockpool in Falmouth, Cornwall, U.K.
I took this photo of this stunningly beautiful iridescent Rainbow Wrack spring 2020 at a low tide when this rockpool was no more than a meter deep. This species is a perennial that forms a home to many animals, from sponges to tunicates, and is often used by the Bull Huss to attach its egg cases to. Many seaweed species also grow epiphytically on Bushy Rainbow Wrack, such as the invasive red species Bonnemaisonia hamifera on this photo. Photo taken using an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with an 8mm fisheye lens and with a single automatic strobe.
Definitely THE photo competition for me and I hope to get more good shots for the 2021 installment (most probably next March/April). As this post is short, below a photo (taken with my old camera) I submitted in 2017 (I managed to forget about the competition in the intervening years).
A while back I thought it might be an idea to experiment with flash photography. Using one flashgun (strobe) I set out in my usual spot. I should have tried this a lot earlier! Although supershallow water has enough light to do without flash, a main problem (for me at least) is to balance harsh white sunlight (from above and from reflections from the white sand below) with the darker subject. By illuminating the subject, this effect evens out. I took probably almost a hundred photos of the Bushy Rainbow Wrack above and this one came out alright! Apart from the Thong Weed framing it, I like the row of Thong Weed ‘buttons’ in the foreground. I held the strobe in my hand for this one, and I used my older strobe, as my newerand more expensive manual one just not fires reliably for some reason (still trying to find out what is going wrong). Below some more strobe experiments. I really hope diving will be allowed soon so I can play around more with the wide angle lens and two strobes.
This was the year I switched from my trusted Canon G16 compact camera (with wetlenses) to a mirrorless Olympus OM-D E-M5 II (with ‘actual’ lenses). Throwing money at things is not necessarily a guarantee for improvement, but it definitely helps! The shot above (from this post) was commended at the 2019 Falmouth Underwater Film Festival. This was made using the few times I went out with the mzuiko fisheye lens and is shot using natural light. (For some more natural light wide angle shots taken snorkelling on the north coast see this post.) I mostly used the mzuiko 60mm macrolens in combination with my strobe. The weather at the start of the year was so foul I initially used it abovewater during rockpooling. The shot below of a Flat periwinkle is quite simple but one of my favourites ‘topside’, together with the shot of the two Shore crabs: Below are some favourite underwater macro shots (the best pics I also post on instagram). Macrophotography I find easier, as the camera settings remain quite invariable (small aperture with a short shutterspeed because of the flash) and the composition is often (but definitely not always!) simpler compared to shots of say an entire rockpool. First some taken snorkeling in rockpools. The first is a Chink shell on Bushy rainbow wrack. The iridescent nature of the seaweeds means it is bright blue or purple viewed from one direction, but a dull brown from the other. If you get it right, it makes a very striking background and it is definitely a subject I want to explore more. After that, detail of the tip of a Spiny starfish, a European cowrie and a pill isopod. Below some macroshots taken while (shore)diving off Silver Steps in Falmouth. A Blackfaced blenny, a Leopardspotted goby and a Devonshire cupcoral. Many more photos of course if you scroll down. I have now also invested in a new strobe and new strobe arms. Having two strobes will allow me to take wide angle photos without depending on (dim) natural light, for instance whilst diving. My second strobe is manual so I can ramp up the strobe power if needed for macro too. I still struggle with positioning even a single strobe, so having two will be frustrating in the beginning I am sure. I am hopeful this new investment will pay off though. As for the blog, I have updated the links page. It is high time I post an update on the tank. I have not been diving much but hopefully next year I can collect some new species of anemones for it (and of course take photos, although the two activities are pretty much mutually exclusive). My new years resolution will be to get in the water more. I wish all blog readers a happy and healthy 2020!
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!
As I mentioned in the last post, I joined instagram (@an_bollenessor). One one hand it is a great way of getting inspired, on the other hand it is a bit disheartening: why even bother trying to get half-decent shots with so many fantastic photos already produced? One interesting observation though is that there are some very commonly used themes (macro photos of nudibranchs, open water photos of big pelagics, close-ups of colourful sedentary species such as frogfish) but there are few people who try to take photos of seaweeds, so that seems a quite open niche at least. I have a lot of photos on my computer from the past few years of blogging and am uploading these on my account before the weather gets better and I can go out again. Some are Canon Powershot D30, some Canon G16 but mostly iPhone4S, including the ones in this post (and so all taken above-water). A few other things have inspired me photography-wise recently. I attended a talk by Mark Webster on his Cornish underwaterphotography at the Poly in Falmouth. I already had his excellent book ‘Beneath Cornish Seas‘, but it was very interesting to hear him talk about his approach. See here for some his excellent photos. (I also learned of a very large rockpool on Treyarnon beach that seems excellent for photography and I really need to check out.) Last Christmas, Santa gave me Alex Mustard’s ‘Underwater Photography Masterclass‘ book, which not only has beautiful photos but also is very well written. Already some time ago, I bought a copy of ‘In The Company Of Seahorses‘ by Steve Trewhella and Julie Hatcher (which has an associated facebook page). A beautiful hardcover ‘coffee table’ book with very knowledgeable accompanying text on seahorses in the UK as well as many of the animals they share their habitat with: highly recommended!
It has been a year and a half since I bought my Canon G16 and tried to be a bit more serious about my underwaterphotography: I should have done that a lot earlier! Two sessions with Thomas from HydroMotion Media to get up to speed with my camera greatly helped. I have switched from rock pooling to lying flat in rock pools with my snorkel. Sticking your head underwater unsurprisingly is the best way to take underwater photos. I am slowly coming to grips with the technical aspects of photography, moving away from automatic settings but have a lot of practice to do. I also (finally!) started to play around with RAW images in Photoshop. Compare the image above with the original here to see what a massive difference this can make. I have also bought a strobe and although I have been diving a bit more this last half year I have not used it a lot yet. Strobes are pretty much a must for any diving (rather than rockpool) underwaterphotography in the UK, so I am very happy I have one now. I tend to massively overexpose and instead of buying the one of the cheapest ones, in hindsight I should have gone for a manual rather than TTL strobe but there is lots of room for improvement positioning the strobes and decreasing shutter time etc. This colonial sea squirt Aplidium elegans from a boatdive with Atlantic Scuba at the Falmouth Cannon ball site came out pretty OK. I would really love to go back to the Manacles next year and try to get good photos of jewel anemones. Deeper water photos are great fun, but that is what everyone is doing and maybe my niche is that of the shallow rock pools with natural light. I have been concentrating mainly on seaweed photography (see these 2017 posts) using a wide angle wetlens (I might be using this lens a bit more than is appropiate). The first image below is perhaps my favourite, lots of colours and textures. I had one snorkel session in June where the visibility was truly exceptional (well, for Cornwall anyway), see the second photo below. You can have the best equipment and skills (I have neither), but with bad visibility it is nearly impossible to get good photos. I have done quite some coastal ‘drive-by’s to check whether I should be getting in the water. (these two photos have not been put through photoshop btw) I did post some of these photos on the UK Viz Reports facebook group to make people jealous…which worked! I also bought a nauticam CMC-1 macro lens which allowed me to take some half-decent pics of tiny stalked jellyfish. I only had a couple of dedicated macro snorkel sessions and have not used it whilst diving but I would really like to start photographing nudibranchs and other little critters next year. I was on a roll with the blog in the first half of the year but slowed down a bit after that, in part because I was too busy and in part due to changes in Google algorithms greatly decreasing traffic to the blog (I am not in it for the ‘hits’ but still, it was a bit disheartening). I’ll try to post more regularly again; at the very least it forces me to critically evaluate and process my photos and ID organisms (another New Year’s resolution is to register any noteworthy finds through SeaSearch; it is dumb I have not been doing that earlier). Instead of blogging, I have been fiddling with my phone and uploading photos on my an_bollenessor instagram account. It has been a very good way of reviewing the work of many underwaterphotographers (and I am the first to admit that it also is just very addictive). I tried Flickr first as it seems to be a lot more sensible (i.e more serious photographers and less attention seekers) but somehow it did not work for me as well as instagram. One of my favourite moments in the water was at the ‘cave of dreams‘ (more a small rocky overhang) in Newquay, where I saw the Scarlet and gold star coral Balanophyllia regia. It was fantastic to see hundreds of small, bright yellow corals (as well as some assorted sponges) scattered on the rock walls and reflected on the water surface. What I really would like to do is create an underwater panorama photo of this next year. Might not work (cramped, low-light conditions and I have not been able to find examples of panoramas taken at 1-2 feet distance) but worth a try! Fish I find the most difficult to photograph (they tend to swim off!) but I was lucky one afternoon when a Longspined sea scorpion stayed put long enough to get a good shot. Lastly, I have reposted my favourite underwater photo of this year, that of two Bull huss’ mermaids purses attached to Bushy rainbow wrack, taken in maybe two feet of water in March. I hope to post a lot more photos in 2018!
I had a few rock pooling sessions recently to play with my new camera (and wide angle lens). The main one was a workshop with North coast-based Thomas Daguerre of Hydro Motion Media (facebook). I am just a beginning photographer and so learning the ropes from an experienced hand proved immensely valuable. The session started with going through some of the basics (white balance, focusing etc), after which we headed out to the rock pools to put some of the theory in practice. We headed down to Thomas’ stomping ground of south Fistral Beach (I visited once before). Although the timing was not the best tide-wise, it was a beautiful day. This was the first time I actually submerged myself in rock pools to take photo’s; of course, being able to look through your view finder is the only way to do it right. It is hard to not stir up sediment though and in some pools salinity gradients made for bad viz. I used Thomas’ G16 setup with video lights and a strobe on a tray (something like this; should have taken a picture of it) which was very difficult! As a result of all the experimentation I ended up with few blog-worthy photos, but this session made clear that trying to capture ‘rock pool scapes’ is what I would like to focus on, the variety of seaweed species, colours and shapes I find especially cool.I really need to try to go back to these pools and try to get better photo’s. I also will arrange a second session with Thomas later in the season to start learning how to post-process RAW files. What was very interesting to see is that the pools here teem with Giant gobies Gobius cobitis, a protected species in the UK. We saw two lying side by side in a crevice but they are shy and it was hard to get a good shot. Thomas has recently made an excellent series of short films highlighting various charismatic local marine species, and one of them features the Giant goby (see the Hydro Motion Media site for the other eleven films):