It’s called technical diving. It’s what you do when you have been using a tank on your back for long and you want a different experience. Also it’s useful to swim in tight spots like a cave, which is the true purpose. For a few days I dove with a sidemount diver. And after all that time, I finally managed to get a good shot of Armand and his tank setup. We were headed into shore and I was trailing him. As I looked up the waves breaking above made the perfect frame and I got this image. At the time I realized how well matched we were. He had much more experience. But we were both photo enthusiasts and we could stay down more than an hour on a tank. He didn’t mind lingering over a subject to get more than one image. Yeah it was a lot of fun for those few days. I wouldn’t mind myself to dive alone and photograph at leisure. But it’s against the rules to dive without a buddy. So I don’t. And this makes everyone else, who knows how I feel about rules, happier.
I do admit to getting lost the other day. The water was murky. I estimate that visibility was 15 feet. It only took a few seconds of separation to make it hard to see my two buddies. We were at the midpoint turnaround time in the dive. I shot an image, looked up, and realized that my two buddies were not to be seen. No panic. I started back along the path we had come from. I figured it was time to turn around. I admit I was not panicked. I shot my images, watched my air, and arrived at the 3 minute decompression rope right as my buddies appeared from the murk. I promised not to get separated again. On the very next dive the inexperienced member of our group ran out of air and I was right there to share air and get him home to safety. Yes, yes… it’s important ‘never to leave your wingman.’ It also helps not to panic in the face of danger. This time my other buddy was lost in the murk and I waited till he surfaced and was safe.
I have begun to know where things are around the resort we have frequented. There is a fan coral at about 65 feet depth. Follow the reef north and you will encounter it. I have been there several times. It’s the only one around this area. Lighting is tricky as I have been disappointed with many images I shot. The key is the diffuse bounce lighting. It gives the coral a clean natural color and a pleasing glow. I’m not showing the failures all of which had some defect. But there are a lot of images that did not make the cut. I’m glad I got to come back.
Now that I recognize the anatomy, I can say that it’s a nudibranch. I would otherwise I would have called it a snail. It was slowly moving along the bottom all stretched out and vulnerable. It’s soft bodied and seemingly unprotected. I have to credit Farid on seeing it. He is the best finder. I’m always missing things. And to think he wears glasses but doesn’t wear them when we dive. I have to ask him next time, whether he is wearing prescription lens on his mask. I found out that they make them but I don’t actually know if he uses a pair. He sure does find some great things.
I was shooting with flash during a daylight dive. The afternoon sun was setting. I followed the big guy under a piece of coral. it was my fairly typical tail end shot. He turned just enough that I got his eye. The other fish was just there on the image when I processed it. I never saw it when I shot the original. And furthermore, I never saw the little colorful nudibranch tucked under the right fin of the big guy. Serendipity!
I liked this image. As I shot it I knew it would be good. Sometimes (and I usually don’t) it’s good to look up. I’m usually getting an overexposed image. But here the silhouette is rather interesting.
There is a branch of diving called free diving. It means you use a mask and long stiff fins. You dive without a tank and go to some fairly deep depths. It’s sure different and not yet on my radar. Groups of free divers come to this resort and I am always fascinated watching them. Well, actually I see them walking around but have not seen them in the water until now. They always have a float and there is a rope with a weight hanging beneath so the divers can follow a line down. Otherwise I don’t know too much of the sport except what they describe on the ‘net. And no, it’s not that it costs nothing and is really free.
I periodically get email from some of my silent readers. You know who you are. Carol, in particular asked me to change subjects gently cajoling that she was waterlogged. I apologize and will switch from sea to land in a few days. One of patients recently came with dive photos that I had taken. He’d looked me up on the ‘net. It’s got me worried about making any political misstatements and getting into trouble. (By the way all you folks who read me are welcome, really, to comment and let me know you’re there. The feedback helps.)
For example: We have recently taken on a group of Chinese nurses. They speak English but it is as a second language. I insulted one unintentionally in the OR. The light was dim so I asked for a candle. (It was a joke. Get it?) You’re doing serious surgery here. And to ask for a candle was just to break up the tension. There’s usually a pause and … then a nervous laugh. (Am I really serious?) The Chinese nurse thought that I had said ‘condom.’ Honest, I did not mispronounce ‘candle.’ The Filipino nurses all laughed and later corrected the Chinese nurse (I am Chinese American, by the way.) but the insult had been made. Really, it’s hard to defend against candle. Maybe she’s never seen a candle? So you must forgive me if I refrain from commenting about the Middle East too much these days. There’s a lot of political turmoil. Being misunderstood seems to have been a habit with me. And if the wrong people (paranoia?) read me, I could be deported. Yeah, they do that too. (They disallow beheading these days… it seems they can’t find qualified swordsman.)
One more example and this happened in Maine: My patients often need to be shaved before surgery. We do it at the last second to try to limit infection. One day I finished the shave and made a sound like I was blowing away the hair. (It’s a joke!) I did this through my scrub mask. I later had to defend a complaint from the circulating nurse that I had removed my mask in the OR and had broken sterile rules. The nurse ( a male) had his back to me when I made the sound. I know it and he did too. But still I managed to misfire. Some days you believe you are working with idiots.
This incident actually occurred before my night dive experience. The instructor was a bit of a crazy guy. He suddenly lurched and shot his hand into the coral. Out he came with a puffer. I got some shots. I was too excited to white balance and expose properly. But you get the idea. And that’s not my wrist bracelet. The girl we were with wouldn’t let go and she took the terrified puffer all the way back to shore before she released him. As I said, I believe they are puffed on water, hence the squishy feeling when you hold them. I didn’t want to do it, but they sort of thrust it into my hand.
The wrasse is a small fish that thrives on cleaning other fish. It is a beneficial service so the wrasse doesn’t seem become a meal for other fish. I have seen them work on many different fish. It’s just hard to capture an image. They are so small. But I have seen it done, so I wait for an opportunity. I got a bunch of shots of this cleaning session. And I got the moray with it’s teeth out. Yes, this was a shot worth imagining. I’m glad to have caught it.
There are thousands of different ones. We were down at about 90 feet. At this depth, color is almost monotone. It’s funny because my eye still sees color or at least I imagine color. When I get home and post process, it is amazing how much color is missing. Here’s where it is imperative to use flash. The problem is that my mind thinks faster than I can change settings. Flash requires changing back to daylight white balance setting. Well this critter doesn’t move quickly so I had a chance to get some shots. There is a strong tendency to overexpose. All too often the exposure is not quite right so I am thankful that digital gives me the opportunity to shoot more than one image.
I make the assumption that this is a mouth. It could be the nether end of the alimentary canal. Or I could be wrong in assigning a name to the structure. Anyway, it’s what Farid and I concluded. For all the times we see anemones this structure is usually well hidden. I had always considered anemone a coral but it is indeed an animal. And like many things under the sea it stings.
This guy took up residence right by the stairs everyone uses to get into the water. He lay there among the rocks for about three days in plain sight. To look from the surface above he looked like a white piece of pollution someone had discarded. Scores of divers passed him without realizing he was right there, twelve inches below. And I would have missed him too if my dive buddy had not been eagle eyed. Though he was white his coloration did blend rather well with the surrounding rocks.
You swim along and look for movement under the coral. The light is bad but the point and shoot cameras often surprise me. I assume, but I cannot be sure, this is an octopus. It looks like tentacles to me. As soon as I got this image, it moved away under the coral. I was just lucky that I spotted the motion. I’ll say it again. These critters are very shy and hard to spot. Every time you see one, you feel it’s special.
I apologize for not having the name before I posted the picture. It retracts into the coral when threatened. And it is bright and colorful. But it’s darned hard to find and photograph. And it certainly looks like a tasty morsel. I imagine that the color is a warning. So far, I have learned that you don’t touch anything. Most things have a bite or a sting. And need I mention that they don’t call it ‘fire coral’ because of the color. With all the detail you can see, this is a pretty nice shot. Most of the other times I have images with far less detail… far less. What nature designs is sometimes pretty amazing.
It looks like it’s all cooked up and ready to eat. Or, maybe it’s part of why they call it the Red Sea? I can understand why I don’t see anything like this during the day. It would be too tempting to pass up. You realize that the color red fades as you dive deeper. But that doesn’t mean that the animals don’t have red color.
You see a lot of interesting things and sometimes I don’t. I missed this one until I was post processing. Whoa! There’s a chunk missing from the frontal lobe. He doesn’t seem to be any worse for the striking appearance. I found this image but definitely didn’t take it because of the defect. To make it even more crazy, a few days later, I got the same fish. The defect is hard to duplicate. And with all the fish in the ocean who would ever have expected to run into the same fish again. I have a habit of shooting whatever will pose for me. So I did and here he is again and again. Fascinating.
I don’t have the book yet. It may or may not be thus named. It is colorful and skittish. I found one on the reef and was able to follow it. It’s the best I could do. From a rear angle, I like it when I can get a view of the cornea and see the fisheye bulge. Yeah it’s cool. Anyway the spotted pattern makes me think this is as a perforated fish. And the green top?…it’s as though some buff was customizing his sports car and tricked out the finish to make it standout. To be sure this little guy swims about the reef like everyone wants to eat him.
I showed one of these recently as an “I don’t know what this is, you guess.” My dive buddy told me it was a “fiddle” star but he just had trouble with the pronunciation since the book confirmed what he said, sort of…. They come in a variety. They have feet that attach to the coral. They come out at night and move pretty because you definitely don’t see them in the daytime. They spread out and look very delicate. There is one that looks like an unkempt weed but it is definitely animal.
The biggest urge I have to avoid is staging the image. Well, maybe once or twice… but mostly I just shoot as is. Of course with the fishies it’s not possible to stage anything. But starfish?…don’t you just want to move them around to make a better image. No? I really don’t do it. But it sure tempts me sometimes. I think that to see the starfish lounging in nature is more natural than seeing all the arms symmetrically displayed.
There are spiky urchins aplenty on the reef. Less common are the pencil urchins, obviously named because their spikes are the diameter of pencils. I almost passed this collector urchin except that my flashlight picked up the brilliant color. Later the book showed and named it for me. Yes, they pick up debris and cover themselves, hence the name, collector. As I said I thought it was plant not animal the first time I looked.
I have seen these creatures infrequently and usually singly. We were swimming along and I found four – the fourth is just above on the coral and out of view. Maybe they were gathered to mate. They have rhino horns in the front and the frond in the back is for breathing. I read it somewhere. You want to have both ends in focus when you shoot. And I didn’t know there’s a footpod. Once again the first time you get an image you feel so lucky. After that you try for the classic image. No, I didn’t Photoshop and clone these three together.
Here’s a trick! I saw it done twice in the same week. Catch a puffer fish in your bare hand. I have to say that as fast as I can swim with fins on, and I’m no slouch, it’s safe to say that the smallest fish is faster than me. And the other question I think I can now answer is what does a puffer puff? So we’re on a night dive. Suddenly to my right there’s a diver holding a puffer in his hand. Later he told me that they don’t move if you shine your light on them. I guess it’s like the proverbial deer in the headlights. This diver was a goofy young kid whom I had marked as ‘stay away,’ he’s not yet completely safe in the water. So I was surprised by his boldness. And what do they puff? Well there’s no air, so it would have to be water. Aha! Yes, he did feel squishy. Why puff?… to make them too large a bite to eat. Yup, more fun facts.
On one night dive a senior diver asked if I would object to him carrying a speargun. He and the dive instructor got one each before the end of the dive. No I didn’t get the shot (of spearing). For goodness sake, it’s in the dark. My big regret is that there are two less fish to see in the ocean. It’s illegal to hunt but legal to have a speargun for protection. Ah!? We’re back to the fear of sharks in the ocean at night. Actually I had a conversation with several colleagues last night and they were in fact afraid of the water for that reason. At some point I will have a shark encounter, but it’s not got me worried. I have plenty of life insurance? …and it beats getting hit by a car.
These fish are not too common on the reef. Somewhere I will have the name. Actually I was shown a book with all the names and pictures of the fish in the Red Sea. I’ll have my hands on it in about a month. If I‘ll soon have the book, why shoot the fish? It’s like why come to New York to see the Statue of Liberty? And there’s a fair amount of challenge in getting the image. Once again the conditions have to be good. I’m better now at anticipating good light. Here it’s as though I have a great bounce flash exposure. An added bonus was there were two, yup two! It would make sense, you have to have a boy and a girl to… but the rare fish on the reef are usually swimming alone. As rare as they may be, once you see one, it seems that I encountered another fairly frequently for a few days.
Well sharks have them, right? Anyway, I read somewhere that the profile, side on view of the fish – head to tail – was like a catalog shot. If you’re doing a fish guidebook, that’s what you want to shoot. And to get an image worth keeping, you need a head on view. Someone also said that fish see the big camera pointed at them and think that big photographer is coming to eat them. As a result most of my images are tail end where I’m chasing as the fish swim frantically from my camera. Profile images result from shooting as the fish turns out to avoid me. But every once in a while I get an image face on into me. And even less often is the lighting, focus, and exposure are good enough to be satisfying. Hey, remember this is a point and shoot camera.