Regal Angelfish


Regal Angelfish, originally uploaded by BlueBeyond.

The Regal Angelfish, this one found at the Uepi dive site called BOTCH) Bottom Of The CHannel) is a fish I’ve been wanting to get a decent photo of for a long time.

It has beautiful colouring, and is not uncommon on coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific, but is quite shy and skittish. Its often found in crevices, and turns and runs at pretty much the first sign of a camera.

When you see one you get pretty much one chance.

For this image I saw the fish from a distance, so set up the camera and flash with normal settings. I captured a pretty good image, IMHO, but in the original there was a bit of backscatter. That was the price I paid to get the fish lit, so in Aperture I’ve used the blur brush to blur out the background to get rid of the backscatter.

The result is, I think, quite a pleasing image.

Pygmy Leatherjacket at Shiprock

These little fish (Pygmy Leatherjackets) are about the size of a fifty cent coin, and are gemerally quite timid. This one is a juvenile, with more pronounced orange spots.

Their basic defence strategy appears to be to look like some floating seaweed.

Shiprock, in Sydney’s south, is a great divesite for small life, and these pygmy leatherjackets are regularly spotted by keen eyed divers.

Chromodoris lochi on the Move


Chromodoris lochi on the Move, originally uploaded by BlueBeyond.

 

This small nudibranch (Chromodoris lochi) was found crawling along the finger of a sponge on a dive trip to Tawali in PNG.

Nudibranchs are perhaps the most photographed creature in the sea, due to the fact that stay still for photographers, and that they can be very attractive subjects.

The key to a good nudibranch photo, I believe, is to find a perspective that is interesting, and also to get a background (negative space) that complements the subjects, and at least doesn’t distract from it.

This is one of my personal favourites as it is shot from front on (not tops down) and has a non-distracting background. The left to right orientation gives the appearance of motion.

Additionally the rhinopores are sharp, and the depth-of-field provides a good blur (bokeh) through the rest of the image.

 

Diver & Elephant Ear Coral


Diver & Elephant Ear Coral, originally uploaded by BlueBeyond.

At Tawali in PNG’s Milne Bay Province, some of the dive sites featured some huge coral.

These elephant ear corals were so huge that I wanted to put a diver in the picture just to give a sense of scale. Of course the wide angle lens I was using (10.5mm fisheye) does exagerate that a little, but nonetheless it was a huge coral.

The clear blue water provided a nice negative spave.

Clown Anemone Fish


Clown Anemone Fish, originally uploaded by BlueBeyond.

Clown anemone fish are one of several species of anemone fish living in a mutualist form of symbiosis with anemones. Found throughout the tropical indo-pacific areas, these little critters are colourful and very photogenic.

This one was found on the house reef at Tawali, in PNG’s Milne Bay Province.

Blue Angels 6


Blue Angels 6, originally uploaded by BlueBeyond.

In 2008 we visited San Francisco. After our 14 hour flight, we checked into the Hotel California (really), and then decided to have a good walk down to the Bay.

We got there to masses of people, and found out that there was to be a display of the US Navy’s Blue Angels team.

It was an amazing show, and with the bright sunny conditions, I got away with handholding a 200mm zoom.

The Blue Angels are amazing. As you can see here, the tight flying formations at high speeds were amazing.

Mandarin Fish on Coral


Mandarin Fish on Coral, originally uploaded by BlueBeyond.

Made at the house reef at Tawali Resort, in PNG’s Milne Bay Province.

These beautiful fish are small, play in coral, and are generally found at dusk and dawn, and only if you know where to look.

Sometimes thought to be uncommon, the fact that we’ve seen them at the house reef at Tawali, and Tufi Wharf (the house reef at Tufi in PNG’s Oro Province) suggests to me that they may be more common, just hard to find!

Very cute, but hard to photograph, as they play around inside coral or other small areas.

This was shot with a 60mm macro lens on a Nikon D100 back in 2006.

The Eyes Have It


The Eyes Have It, originally uploaded by BlueBeyond.

The variety of Macro Life around Billy Ghizo Point, near Uepi, is amazing. On this dive site we found a variety of nudibranchs, pygmy seahorses, clingfish, and tiny, translucent shrimp like this.

I love the way the eyes are looking right at the camera!

Billy Ghizo’s Gorgonian Gardens

Brilliant growth of gorgonian fans and other soft and hard coral at Billy Ghizo Point, near Uepi.

I love the gorgonian growth at Uepi – its simply the best I’ve seen anywhere. In fact, to date, I’d say Uepi represents the best all round coral reef diving I’ve done anywhere.

Its probably because its so remote – to get there involves a small plane from Honiara to Seghe – an airport that consists of a bedded down coral runway and shack for a terminal building. From there you wander down to the edge of the lagoon and clamber onto a motorised canoe for the 40 minute trip across the lagoon. When you arrive at Uepi, a welcoming cool drink awaits!

Diving at Uepi is spectacular. Some great dives are literally right at the resort, and others are 10-20 minutes away. There are a couple of all day trips that are special, but most of the best diving is close.

Its the most relaxing, wonderful diving holiday location I could imagine.

Skull Cave in PNG’s Milne Bay


Skull Cave, originally uploaded by BlueBeyond.

One of the adventures of travel is that you often get to see some amazing sights.

This skull cave is one of two that are adjacent to each other in PNG’s Milne Bay area. It is an ancient cave that dates back to the headhunters who frequented the area.

To get there from Tawali, a dive resort we stayed at in 2006, you catch a boat, then do a short trek through the jungle. The guides, generally PNG nationals, then take you to the caves, and layout small candles to provide some ambient light. These caves are quite dark, although you don’t go more than 20-30m from the entrance.

It still amazes me just how many skulls there were there.

I also remember being quite amazed that as we returned to the boat, after visiting a nearby waterfall and lagoon, to find some locals had set up booths to sell some simple local wares. There were only a small handful of us, and communications in the area were quite basic. But the bush telegraph got the message through.

Thoughts on HDR Photography

As a photographer, how often have you looked at an image after downloading it from the camera (or even develop it) and wondered why it doesn’t look the same as the image you took?

All photographs are unrealistic representations of a reality that we as individuals see. There is no such thing as a photo that is 100% true to what any one individual would’ve seen.

For a start, the human eye doesn’t “see” in the split second (1/60th, 1/125th, etc) that is frozen when the camera sensor is exposed to light.

But more important is the fact our eyes can see way more tones of light – from pitch back to bright white – than a camera can. Therefore where we might see glorious detail in shadows, a camera will often see pitch black.

A relatively new technique in photography is known as high dynamic range or HDR. Used properly, this technique allows the photographer to create an image that has more realistic tones, and which better represents the colours of the real world.

HDR has established itself as a valid technique in landscape photography, and is making inroads into underwater photography. Personally, I am playing with both areas, and am already finding good results with topside stuff, with more work to do underwater.

Like many artistic techniques, HDR can be used to bring realistic colours and tones out, or it can be used to create unrealistic (but nonetheless artistic) images.

LayaboutConsider the following versions of one of my favourite images – Layabout – which I originally made in 2005 with a Nikon D100 SLR. Given the low dynamic range of this camera, the original image (Layabout, right) is nice, but a bit flat and dull.

With an image like this, basic colour correction in a photo editing program (I use Aperture and Photoshop) will bring more colours out, but there is work to do. Note also the dark shadows behind the boat.

Some photographers would argue that this is a realistic image, but I would argue that its not. The camera simply does not see as many levels of exposure (f-stops) as our eyes do. As we look around a scene in front of us, our eyes constantly adjust, seeing detail everywhere. A camera sees only the exposure of the entire scene at once. Correctly exposing for the most important part of the scene will often mean some detail is lost in the shadows, and some in the highlights.

Layabout in HDR. More realistic colours and saturation.The second image (Layabout in HDR, left) has been tonemapped using HDR techniques. With my workflow, the image started in Aperture and was then tonemapped in PhotoMatix. The colours and tones are far more realistic, and are much closer to the photographic vision that I had when originally making the image.

More detail is brought out, and the colours seem now to have more “pop”. Essentially, the HDR software looks at a three (or more) exposures of the same scene, and then picks the most appropriate exposure from the three images, pixel-by-pixel, and maps those together. The photograph can alter the HDR effect by the use a sliders that tell the software how to apply various levels of HDR strength, saturation, luminosity, and more, as well as determining white point, black point and gamma settings.

An HDR image is typically created by using three images of the same scene, shot at different exposures (typically 0, +2 and -2 EV). Some photographers will use more exposures to get fine detail in a complicated scene.

Another technique is to use a single RAW image. RAW images (NEF files in Nikon, CR2 in Canon, or similar) capture a lot of sensor data, and the HDR software can apply the settings, again pixel-by-pixel, by showing the most appropriate pixel for each image.

Layabout Reimagined. An artistic representation.The third image (Layabout Reimagined, right) has had far greater manipulation applied in the software than the second. This results in an HDR image that goes beyond realistic, and looks more like a painting than a photograph.

My personal approach is to create representations of the scenes I see, above and below water, in the most realistic way I can. So my personal preference from a photographic point of view is to create images like the second image.

That said, I am kind of blown away by the artistic potential of HDR techniques to create something different. I would not portray this as a realistic photograph. But its fun!

So I believe that for many photographers HDR will be a great way to really show the light of a scene. For some landscape, underwater, cityscape, travel and similar photography it has awesome potential.

I’ll be exploring HDR photography more and more. Please follow along with my Photo of the Day Gallery, where I will include regular HDR images from my portfolio. I’ll also be shooting with HDR as an end in mind, and trying to create new stuff that uses this wonderful technique.

For more information on HDR photography, read the great book A World in HDR by Trey Ratcliff (A World in HDR is also available as a Kindle edition ebook).