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!
This Thursday was only sunny, but also not windy, with a good low tide in the early afternoon, which meant I reserved a few hours to go to Tunnel/Castle/Gylly beach for some snorkelling. The photo above shows Gylly Beach, with the start of Swanpool lagoon behind it and the Lizard in the far distance. (I took this with my iPhone using a Hipstamatic filter; for more iPhone pics of Cornwall see cornwall_hipsta on instagram…). The water temperature was OK (9C?) but the viz was not as good as I hoped. The seaweeds are at their peak now and the pools looked very pretty. Not many fish, but I saw a small brown thing floating around which I first thought was Sea hare, but turned out to be a small (perhaps a Connemara) clingfish lazing about until it noticed me and bolted into the seaweeds. I carefully snorkelled in about half a meter of water, admiring the views and trying to take photos close-up (as the viz was not too good) with my wide angle wetlens. Below an above-water shot of some iridescent Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia and the invasive red Bonnemaisonia hamifera (on the left). I need to go back studying photography basics. A main challenge is contrast. The pools have beautiful white sand, which result in hugely overexposed photos (or completely darkened subjects). I have come up with my own law, the Photography Frustration Index (PFI): the beauty of the subject (B) x the difficulty of capturing it (D). The PFI is very high in the case of seaweeds! Next: Bushy rainbow wrack under Thong weed, Purple claw weed Cystoclonium purpureum, Bushy berry wrack Cystoseira nodulosum covered with the epiphytes Asparagopsis (left) and Bonnemaisonia (right), Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata (you can see they grow in the sand and must be used to scouring) a ‘bouquet’ of different species (with a snakelocks anemone) and a last photo of a variety of species, including the common False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata. The tides and weather conditions are unfavourable the coming days but I hope to go snorkeling again end of the week!
It was cold last Thursday, but I had a window to go to the shore at low tide so I did. Optimistically, I went in full snorkel gear, but when I arrived I could not muster the courage to stick my head underwater! (5 degrees, water probably 9 degrees). So I waded in kneedeep and held my camera underwater to try some ‘over-under’ or split-shots’, with both the underwater- and above-water world in view. This is tricky using a wetlens, as there is water between the housing and the lens, which slowly leaks out when lifting the housing out of the water, resulting in a meniscus. The only way to do it is to be quick and frequently resubmerge the housing and get the lens off and back on. I brought my strobe as well (not attached to a tray but holding it in my other hand). This is crucial, as the above water part gets really over-exposed. I compensated 2 or 3 f-stops to prevent this; the strobe then lights up the even darker below-water part. At least, that was the idea, the strobe often made it too bright underwater (I have a simple ‘TTL’ strobe and not one where the strobe output can be manually adjusted) so I had to fiddle increasing the distance I held it from the camera. Post-processing bringing down the highlights was definitely necessary. Anyway, it was good fun to play around, and some of the shots are half-decent considering the circumstances. I definitely will try this more when it is a bit warmer and I can snorkel and look through the viewfinder. (At the end a conventional shot of a small snakelocks anemone just because it was pretty.)
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!