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!

Practising Fish Photography

This Thursday afternoon was quite bright with low tide still in the ‘OK’ range, however it was quite gusty, resulting in bad viz. As seaweed photography was not an option, I opted to lie down in a midshore rockpool and look at things up close instead. There are a surprising amount of fish in rock pools when you stick your head in and so I chose to have a go photographing them. Most common were Corkwing wrasse, but these are very shy. A pair of Two-spotted gobies Gobiusculus flavenscens hung around a ledge and were easier to photograph. Still tricky though as my standard settings result in limited depth of field; I need to play around with the aperture next time. I will also bring my strobe and videolight to try to bring out the colours more. I tried a split-shot which half-worked but you really need a wide angle dome port for that (not a ‘wet’ wide angle lens). You can see the steps leading from the tunnel entrance to the shore.Two-spotted gobies hover above the substrate instead of lying on it as most other goby species do, but you can see they are very well camouflaged against the corraline algae. Two Tompot blennies Parablennius gattorugine swam up to me. These are the least shy of all the rock pool fish (their cousin the Shanny did not come very close) and easy to photograph as they kept checking me out, striking all kinds of different poses. I need to try to photograph these with my macrolens next time. I turned over a stone and found a Long-spined sea scorpion Taurulus bubalis, these keep very still and are also easy to photograph. Prawns were of course around and are actually really pretty with blue and yellow legs and striped body. Finally a shot of seaweeds in this pool showing fresh growth of many red species and a shot with green Cladophora showing limited visibility due to wave action. Btw, I see this is the 200th post on the blog!

Netting

With the aquarium ready and a neap tide, I resorted to some fishing from the quay with my humongous (>2.5 meter) net. This thing is a pain when moving/emigrating but I’m glad I’ve kept it. It is custom-made for RAVON: Reptielen Amfibien en Vissen Onderzoek Nederland (Reptiles Amphibians and Fish Research The Netherlands), a great club that I joined for a while when living in Holland. (The ‘fish’ in the acronym covers only the species living or migrating in fresh water). The net can be bought via the RAVON web shop; at the time they also sold a handy cuvet:

IMG_0483I have scraped along the sides of the main quay in Flushing a number of times now (btw, the quay was built by the Dutch; Flushing is named after Vlissingen in Zeeland, the old Cornish name of the village is Nankersey). Two-spot gobies (the most common semi-benthic species), a rock goby and even a Fifteen-spined stickleback Spinachia spinachia have ended up in the net. The last species I did not keep, as they prefer live food that I cannot offer them, but I took it home for a quick pic:

IMG_8687I never caught young mullet, a species that is great for the aquarium, which is strange as they are common around water fronts. This weekend to my surprise I caught two wrasse for the aquarium: a Rock cook Centrolabus exoletus and a Corkwing wrasse Symphodus melops. Two very beautiful little fish (both species grow up to 15 cm, these were around 5 cm). Here the Rock cook Corkwing wrasse that looked superficially like a Rock cook but back home in the aquarium showed its distinctive spot on the base of the tailfin (best way to identify is counting scales and rays but that is almost impossible now; useful info on wrasse determination on this angling site):

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new year’s resolutions

It has been a while since I last posted about the aquarium, mainly because I had a problem with algae and did not like the look of the tank in general. Combined with being away for two weeks over the holiday season, I decided to remove the rocks and most animals from the tank. Only left are some snails, Cushion stars and a Spiny starfish (who seems to do fine except for being less brightly coloured than when I caught it). The snails made a good start and cleaned up a lot of algae but it was too little too late. Also, (non Spiny starfish-related) mortality was quite high. Of all snails, the periwinkles fared least well (as I had noticed on earlier occasions); the Grey top shells seemed to do best. A main problem is that the snails move out of the water and often die there. Grey top shells can be found in the intertidal but are also common in the subtidal and so might be more suitable for the aquarium.

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Anyway, time for a fresh start in the new year. I have decided to buy a chiller (and pump), mainly so I can switch off the noisy hood fans, but also because a more natural temperature regime might help keeping some of the more difficult species (see eg here and here). I have trawled the internet to find recommendations for the least noisy chiller but to no avail. I will stick with a more expensive brand and hope for the best. I will also invest in LED lighting. LED lights give a nice shimmer effect, generate less heat, use less electricity, need less replacement and are more easily dimmable. I’ve found this interesting Red Sea Max 130D retrofit kit:solderless_rsm130_dimmable__09721.1361404356.640.640I will need to buy a separate dimmer and probably will have to ask my local sparky for help fitting it in the hood but it seems like a good investment. I’d like to supplement white LEDs appropiate for shallow water with some blue ones so I’ll be able to get a deeper water feel as well. This week I saw an inspirational aquarium back in Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam: a deep water reef with gorgonians, many brittle stars, Boar fish (or Zulu fish) Capros aper, Snipe fish Macrorhamphosus scolopax and John Dory Zeus faber. A crap photo:

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However, I will go for a more brightly lit seaweed aquarium first. I will switch to finer gravel and reduce the amount of rocks to improve water flow. This time I will also focus more on fish. Marius has a great picture of a Two-spotted goby Gobiusculus flavescens in his Irish rock pool aquarium here and I definitely want to have a couple of these (I had a tiny one recently but it was eaten by one of the Snakelocks…). The other fish I definitely want to have is a bright green juvenile Ballan wrasse Labrus bergylta (although the other species are pretty too):

wrasseSmall wrasse can be caught using a hand net but I reckoned it would be easier using a cast net. After my first trial run with such a net in the Helford river a while back I am not so sure though: loads of leaves and twigs but no fish. Youtube has hundreds and hundreds of ‘how to throw a cast net’ videos but these all use slightly different techniques which sometimes involve a throw whilst holding the led line between the teeth… Anyway, I’ll have to practice!

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sea gherkin

Another ‘lifer’ yesterday: a Sea gherkin Pawsonia saxicola, at Castle Beach in Falmouth. It is a small sea cucumber (a relative of the Cushion star next to it); a very cool find indeed!

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The main aim though was to collect more snails to help out in the grazing project. This was pretty easy of course. I collected a couple more Painted top shells Calliostoma zizyphinum and many, mainly juvenile, Grey top shells Gibbula umbilicalis. I also picked up a beautiful small Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis; this fellow will go after the snails but as long as the predation is not too severe that will be OK, let’s see. Finally, using my little aquarium net, I went after some fish high up the shore and caught a tiny Two-spotted goby Gobiusculus flavescens. I need to catch a bunch more of those, hope to post about that soon

snorkeling at pendennis point

The sun was shining this weekend and the sea water is currently at its warmest so we went out for a bit of snorkeling off Pendennis Point in Falmouth. My experience with the iPhone waterproof case was not that good, so I took my Panasonic Lumix (DMC-FT10) along (which is not too great either!). The seaweeds are dying off mostly; the kelp is covered by bryozoans and hydroids to the point that they are completely fuzzy:

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I mentioned in the previous post that the Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis was common in rock pools; bigger ones can be found when snorkeling:

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Big Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis were everywhere and perhaps half of them had a little Leach’s spider crab Inachus phalangium associated with them. Wikipedia tells me that these crabs eat the anemones’ leftover food and also their mucus:

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This hour of snorkeling gave me some inspiration for a new aquarium set-up: less seaweeds (specifically less dying seaweeds clogging up the filter and releasing nutrients) and more rocks. On top of these a couple of big snakelocks with spider crabs and some Two-spotted gobies Gobiusculus flavescens. The latter are very common and pretty. I will have to catch them underwater with a net though, which will probably be difficult…

Fish

When looking for pictures of the squat lobster, I realized I have quite some neat old pictures to post. I should have started the blog when starting up the aquarium to keep things chronological, I will use the next couple of posts to get rid of this back log. First the fish. I have two Rock gobies Gobius paganellus in my tank. The big one is voracious and after a feeding session has a visibly distended belly. It is a curious fish that often comes to check me out when I am taking a picture. It is beautiful too:

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However, I will attempt to catch it and release it, as I suspect it to be a bit too large (three inches) and rash. My worm pipefish Nerophis lumbriciformis are very shy and they might be bullied by large gobies and blennies. I actually suspect the big rock goby to have eaten my recently disappeared beautiful little Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita, a species I have only found one time:

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A worm pipefish Nerophis lumbriciformis. To replace the rock goby, I will try to catch some Two-spotted gobies Gobiusculus flavescens later. This species is also beautiful, but smaller and it spends more time in the water column which is nice. It is not a rock pool inhabitant though; it lives among seagrass. I have seen many last year when snorkelling. I need to look into a good net to catch them! I had two  large Shannies Lipophrys pholis as well that I released again, I still have a small one left:

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I also had three thick-lipped mullet Chelon labrosus in the tank. These fish are quite ugly as adults, but juveniles are nice, restless silver fish. All  fish mentioned above are benthic (hang around the rocks rather than in the water column), whereas this species mostly swims at the surface and so really adds to the aquarium. I released these three when changing up the tank once and I now regret that. They are fast swimmers so quite difficult to catch (at least with the small aquarium net I use). Since they are so restless I did not manage to take a decent photograph. I have also added a Shore rockling Gaidropsarus mediterraneus and the cling fish the Cornish sucker Lepadogaster purpurea at one point. I should have known that these were mistakes as these are fish that mainly hide under rocks and I have not seen them since adding them to the aquarium. I will post some pictures of these fish in their natural habitat later.