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Still competing

All contestants of the UW Photo Shoot Out at NAD Lembeh

We are now more than half way through the Underwater.kr Shoot Out and the contestants will have their last day of diving tomorrow, before they have to submit their shots for judging. All cameras are still dry and all equipment is fully functional – thank you again to our sponsors from Nauticam for their on-site support.

Besides the four contest dives a day we also had a bit of evening programm including a Lembeh photo slideshow by Serge, a Video Showcase by EunJae and Simon will do a little lecture this evening. Other than that, all contestants are busy selecting and editing their photos. We are looking forward to the results!

Underwater.kr Shoot-Out started

The competition started

Since today the Underwater.kr Lembeh Shoot-Out started. Nad-Lembeh is hosting this international Underwater Photo Competition, where Photographers from Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, USA, Indonesia and Europe compete in different categories such as “Interchangeable Lens Cameras”, “Compact Cameras”, “Portfolio”, “Super-Macro” and “Unrestricted”.

To give a good example for the whole underwater photography scene, there will also so be a Special Prize for good diving behaviour – awarded to the diver with the most respect to the marine life and the best diving/buoyancy skills. It seems to be working: The judges saw very good behaviour on the first day of the competition. Also good … No flooded housings so far. The only thing that actually went wrong today: Simon had to do his first dive as a judge without fins, which had been left in the resort 😉

A big thanks goes to all the sponsors, that donated the huge prize fund and special thanks also to the sponsors that are here on site: Nauticam, Eneloop Malaysia and Cam Square.

Marine family ties

A number of marine animals do occur in families. Maybe not in the sense we usually use the word to describe human family relations, but at least in the sense of a mother being followed by one or some of her offspring. Dolphins and larger whales are examples that readily come to mind.

Dolphins. Picture not from Lembeh

We often encounter animals that seem to be living in families. Examples are of course the anemone fish, where two adult fish live as a dominant couple defends an anemone, and smaller conspecifics also live in the anemone seemingly without doing much (all to similar in behaviour  to my kids!). A number of shrimp also seem to live in families. Tiger shrimp,

Tiger shrimp

bumble bee shrimp

Bumble bee shrimp

emperor shrimp

Emperor shrimp

and sometimes harlequin shrimp can occasionally be seen in groups of two large individuals and one small, leading many observers to draw the conclusion that the small individual is the offspring of the larger ones, and that the larger ones happily tends for their “baby”.

Harlequin shrimp

What is that then with the “seem to be living in families” I include above? Well, the reality of the anemone fish and shrimp family life is that the small individuals are not related to the large ones. For the shrimps, the interaction between small and large individuals have not been studied a lot, while anemone fish relationships have received quite some attention from researchers. Suffice to say in this blog entry that the relationship between large anemone fish and small conspecific inhabitants of an anemone is far from that we would expect from parents and their beloved offspring.

Pink anemone fish

Why am I so sure that these shrimp and anemone fish are not related? Well, the shrimp and the anemone fish all adhere to the standard way that marine fish and crustaceans, and almost everything else marine, use to multiply. Eggs in marine environments generally hatch into larvae that spend some time as plankton. Plankton are animals that are moved around by currents and have little option to decide wherever they are going. Most larvae are plankton for quite some time, which means that currents sweep them far from their mother and father. Whenever the time (weeks to months) as plankton is over and the larvae metamorphose into the adult form, the shrimp and the anemone fish settle.  The likelihood that larvae should happen to reach metamorphosis size at the same time it is located close to its parents is simply extremely small. Thus, the small anemone fish and different shrimp mentioned above that live together with large, adult conspecifics are extraordinarily unlikely to be related to those adult individuals. This means that relatedness, and thus family ties, can not be used to explain why the small individuals live with the larger ones.

False clown anemone fish

I will in my next blog entry shortly discuss the relationship within an anemone fish “colony”. Be prepared for a grizzly world, combining slavery, forced starvation, castration due to stress, a just-to-happy willingness to let conspecifics meet a certain death outside the anemone and cannibalism, all taking place in one and the same anemone. Quite a far way from the cutie, cuddly feeling that Nemo left most of us in!

Photo tips: Bracketing

I touched on bracketing in the previous photo tips post.  Bracketing was used (back in film camera times) to make sure that one of your shots from a sequence was correctly exposed;  you take a sequence of shots at varied settings and hope that one was correct.

As an example – if you set your camera in full manual, and at f/8 and your meter reading told you to use 1/60th, then you’d shoot one at f/8 – 1/60th, one at f5.6 – 1/90th and one at f/11 / 1/30th (back then we didn’t have 1/3 stops).  This was based on your strobe power being correct for f/8, from the table printed on the side of strobe.  By using varied f-stops you could manipulate your exposure, and maintain the same background ‘blue’.  Those days are gone so there’s not much point in going back through the nostalgia of developing your film and spilling chemicals all over yourself, so don’t worry if you don’t get all that right now – if you shoot manual for long enough, you will understand it.   In our modern iworld we have digital and it is supposedly easy.  Except you have to organise everything (that blog post will come when I’ve worked out the best way to be organised, which isn’t going to be anytime soon) and these days we tend to just expect things to work, sadly this isn’t the case for underwater photography, it needs human input to flourish.

Bracketed Frogfish

These 4 shots were bracketed with strobe position (lowest power setting). This gives different shadow positions. I checked after every shot so I can remember which shot had which position. No 4 was my favourite, so i stopped there.

To be completely honest, Bracketing in the sense outlined above is pointless in the digital era, you have a screen on your camera and you can check – so you don’t really need to shoot all these combinations of settings for each subject.  If you did the above for 5 minutes on a piece of rubble at the distance you normally shoot a subject from (it doesn’t normally change much in Lembeh) you will know the setting you need to start from for almost every dive here – that’s your benchmark setting and everyone has one. I actually have 4 benchmarks depending on the setup:

  • DSLR, TTL Strobes, working distance 5 – 15 cm:     ISO 160 :: f/18 :: 1/100th, flash ev -2/3 (on camera setting).
  • DSLR, Manual Strobes, working distance 5-15cm:  ISO 160 :: f/18 :: 1/100th, 2 flashes set to 1/2 power
  • Canon S95, manual settings,  working distance 5 – 15cm:  ISO 100 :: f/8 :: 1/100th, flash set to 1/2 power
  • Canon S95, Aperture Priority, working distance 5 – 15cm: ISO 100 :: f/8, flash set to ttl and camera set to -2/3 ev.
Bracketing Coral Scenes with F-stop

Bracketing Coral Scenes with F-stop, F/10 on left, F/13 on right, everything else constant.

What we have to bracket these days if we are shooing auto or semi-auto is different effects: different lighting angles, different coloured backgrounds (exposure), different depths of field. Very rarely should you be bracketing exposure whilst shooting a subject on a macro dive.  If you are spending ages bracketing your exposure on a pair of mating bluerings whilst other people wait, something is wrong. Same applies to Pygmy Seahorses, practice on the fan with no pygmies to get your settings somewhere near correct, and remember what you did for the photo that turned out good.

I think what is key to take from that ancient era of bracketing, is the mentality.  You never trust your camera, you fully expect it to not be perfect and that you, the user, has to make it work.  In the old days, bracketing 3 shots from your max 36 was quite a commitment. That would give you 12 subjects in a dive with 3 shots per subject.  You had 2 choices, blast away and never get any better because you had no idea why the shot was good, or put some effort in.  This is the other important thing to take from the old-timers.  THINK BEFORE YOU SHOOT.

There’s nothing cool about taking 100’s of shots of the same animal.  An underwater photographer hopefully will not blast the heck out of a subject because they have a new set of batteries and a 32gb card, I’m not saying don’t use a flash; just think about bracketing on something not too fragile first if you are not confident with your settings (try taking 20 flashes from your underwater strobes with them 10cm from your face – i bet you stop at 3). A good underwater photographer will look at the subject and think first.  If the positioning of the critter isn’t good, then it might be best to move on – think back to your library of images, do you have a better one of that same subject already?  Try this as a routine:

  • Angle of approach to the subject
  • Metering / camera settings
  • Strobe positioning
  • Strobe power
  • Pull trigger

This still applies these days,  taking those 5 steps to make sure all your settings are good makes you cool in my book.  I say that with humour but I mean it, it is genuinely cool watching a seasoned pro select the subject angle, tweak a few things, take a photo, tweak again, shoot again, and move on.  They got to that level by pushing themselves to remember settings and techniques.  They used their brain and read books.

Bracketed Banded Pipefish

Bracketing a Banded Pipefish with strobe power, shots i would not have attempted with film unless I was very bored.

From my example photos you can see I have bracketed on a subject, but it is a variance of less than 1 stop, so all of them are useable because I shoot raw format and you can tweak them in the computer.

If we are to re-jig those 5 bracketing options from the old days, and say like most people you are using automatic strobes and can get the correct exposure to within editable standards then that leaves these 3 options:

  • Angle of approach to the subject
  • Strobe positioning
  • Pull trigger

Obviously the 3rd one is quite simple (or is it?).  The first 2 will be the subject of my next blog post.

Photo Tips: Introduction

With everyone shooting digital and huge memory cards it is quite easy these days to take 100+ photographs in a dive, especially in Lembeh.

The key to getting a good photo that you are still happy with by the time you go home is to take your time and keep using the image review button.  Here at NAD we have started to make a recommendation of take 5 photos, nice and slow, then pass the subject on to someone else if they are waiting.  Whilst they take their 5 shots you can take a look at what you shot and find the problems and try to correct this for when the subject gets passed back to you.  This was brought about by a bunch of serious photographers agreeing (our stand in blogger, Bent, was one of them) to be more civil to each other in this way, and they actually found that they ended up with better photos than had they just blasted away for several minutes.

In the old days of film we were always taught to bracket, as it may be weeks before you get to see your developed pictures – so take several and pick the good one later on.  So you would bracket your exposure, and sometimes your strobe position.  Writing down the frame number and technique on a slate, then transferring it to a book back on the boat between dives.  Fast-forward to getting your slides back a week later you would check each slide, hoping that your numbering came through and find the best one and check what you did in the book, and try to remember it.  Very tedious isn’t it?

With these digital cameras to do all that, instantly, all you have to do is press the ‘play’ button to look at it straight after you shot it.  So my question is, why are some people too lazy to do that?!

There really isn’t much excuse for saying at dinner, “my shots were all bad, I need to go back to that divesite again” – unless you had malfunctioning equipment or a malfunctioning buddy kicking up silt in all your photos.  Going back to a divesite because it was orgasmically good, is of course a completely normal excuse!

I will admit of course I have done the above myself.  Getting caught in the moment and not checking the image review and then coming back with a memory card of junk photos where a strobe was out of battery, iso was set to 6400, etc etc

There is a big difference between shots not being good enough, and shots being just plain bad; if they are plain bad, you need help, probably a course.  Either  a quick freebie refresher from me to make sure your camera is working properly (free means a quick 20 minute run through 😉 Not me looking at every out of focus picture you took), or maybe a paid course with me where I come diving with you and watch what you are doing.

If  you are reading this and nodding your head repeatedly at all the mistakes  laid out above, you might want to do a workshop with someone like Mike Veitch (he has a workshop here next year). People like Mike (I used to work with Mike on these workshop weeks in the past as well) do these intensive weeks of tuition where that’s all it is about, learning – no other distractions.  Now I have a resort and a baby so my time is more limited. So if you really want to learn a lot I totally recommend coming to the Underwater Tribe workshop in April.  Mike and Luca will just be teaching, they wont dive with their cameras, their focus will be on you.

I will be blogging about some techniques and tips over the next few weeks leading up to our Photo Competition that might be of help to some of you. They might also be useful for the experienced photographers out there as well, as a good photographer is always learning – I find myself learning to shoot all over again after a few years of being ‘dry.’  My first post will be about Bracketing, and will be coming soon…

 

Photo Critiquing at NAD

The Diveguides doing group critiquing at the end of a days shooting.

The Asshole Fish and his friends.

Purple Coral Crab, room-mate of Mr Assholefish

The Purple Coral Crab, (Trapezia serenei).

The last few days I have been spending several hours diving in the same place freezing my ass off looking for this stupid fish, that I have named the asshole fish.  The asshole fish lives in Seriatopora Corals from 1m to 10m depth and I hate him.
He gets his name because he has some kind of attention deficit disorder and he cant sit still.  Everytime you get him in focus he moves to a slightly different position where he ends up with a piece of the beautiful coral getting in the way of an important detail, so then you have to wait for him to come back to that spot again – or try repositioning the camera to get him in his new location.  Or as inevitably happens you decide not to reposition and wait.  And wait.  Keep waiting. Notice that he’s in a great position so its worth moving.  You move to the other side of the coral.  He promptly moves back to where you were.  Asshole fish.

You go back to your original place and decide to wait for him to move around his mini territory, hopefully returning to his sitting place that is sharply in focus whilst you’re just waiting

Mr Assholefish and Mrs Assholefisch.  Laughing from the other side of the coral.
The Redhead Coral Goby cannot sit still and is very annoying to photograph.

for him to pop in, you make a deal with him in your head ‘just come here little fishy, i’ll get the shot i want and i’ll leave you alone, we’ll all be happy then,  pleaaaaaasssssseeeee‘  Of course he jumps back into the prime position you want him in, but just for long enough to seemingly laugh… then go off again chasing his mate.   Yes there are two asshole fish in one piece of coral.  It’s taken you 30mins to realise this.

So now you have Mr Assholefish and Mrs Assholefisch (she’s German) sitting in the other side of the piece of coral, laughing at you.  You hold your nerve and wait. maybe pee a little to alleviate the boredom.

As your mind wanders you start to notice the other denziens that share the coral with Mr Assholefish and Mrs Assholefisch. There are the beautiful Coral Crabs (Trapezia sp.) which occasionally pinch Mr Asshole fish when he gets too close.  They also protect the corals from Crown of Thorns Starfish, such is their commensal relationship.  There also seemed to be some kind of snapping shrimp, who also didn’t like Mr Assholefish and Mrs Assholefisch.

As your eyes begin to strain through the viewfinder,  you look up to observe the coral as a whole – you notice 4 or 5 pairs of orange eyes looking at you.  The Assholefish family have babies.  Baby Assholefish are generally bullied by the adult fish if they go anywhere near the safety provided by the centre of the coral, so they are forced to live out on the tips, where it is coincidentally easier to take pictures.  But do not forget they are assholefish and it is in their DNA to be, well, assholefish.

Baby Assholefish!
Juvenile Redhead Coral Gobies choosing to look away at the exact moment you pull the trigger.

These juveniles will dart back and forth and generally infuriate you, this time because they are too small for he 100mm prime, but if you put the dioptre on there then you are too close and you scare them away. Grrrr!

So, if you want to see the assholefish and friends they are on most divesites, but please be careful with the corals – choose a coral head that has been damaged in the past and has a ‘window’ to the inside. Just in case you are staying elsewhere, the Assholefish normally goes by the name: Redhead Coral Goby (Page 325 in the Reef Fish ID book).

Cymothoa exigua, Bent’s favourite Critter

So, after the English Football team got there ass (arse) whooped by Sweden last night I thought to myself ‘what would Bent do?’ The answer was not hard to find, as our favourite Swede/Dane hybrid loves parasites and all things small and disgusting.
I headed out on a dive with Stenly, Joni, Johan, Indra, Abner and importantly Rockles came along as part of his training to join the dive team.  Obviously Parasites on fish aren’t hard to find in Lembeh but the boys enjoy any excuse to go out taking pictures themselves, and Rockles and Johan seem to be having some kind of bro-mance. It’s very sweet.

Anyway, here are the pictures I got of the meanest parasite of them all… Cymothoa exigua – The tongue eater!