Word and Image

Red Sea

Stats

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Selfie. It’s a wrap. I’m not bragging. It’s been an incredible journey.

Dives: 399 –  Minutes: 25877 – Hours: 431 – Images this year: 21834 – Total four years: >50,000 images

I have logged 399 dives. Darn, just one short of 400. I did not log early dives nor training dives. That would be about six months until I got a dive computer. Some dives were short, maybe 30 minutes. And the longest was in excess of 100 minutes, 109 on a recent dive. I got better at air management. The average dive was about 64 min. This year I dove a lot and took 21, 834 images with a Canon G7. I have used a Canon G11, two Canon G12’s, and three Canon S100’s. Basically, I used three housings. I have two strobes. Redundancy was a must. Saudi has very limited access to equipment and supplies. All my stuff was largely brought from the US. I traveled with extra everything – batteries, memory cards. I always had a flashlight for unexpected night dives. I often had an extra camera housing – just in case. I have had about any camera problem you can think about. So be prepared. Everything fails. It’s a bit like wedding photography. You have two of everything. It’s a rule. Something always happens. I saved my buddy the other day. His memory card was full. I have forgotten to load my memory card. It’s better than forgetting to turn on your oxygen. But, I’ve done that too. (Ask your buddy to turn you on.)

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There were three fantasy things I wanted to do in life. Dive. Fly. (I flew with a buddy in a Bell 47 helicopter.) And parachute. Two out of three ain’t bad. And I got to do both extensively. I’d have liked to have done one more night dive. And there are pictures in my head that I never got to image. Four years on the reef and I still saw something new on the last dive. I went into the water never expecting to make statistics. Fun, learning, pushing my personal limits – when the fork in the road came, I took it.


Follow up

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It took two days to go from not too much to see, to eyes and mouth. We actually returned to the same spot. This is a neat trick – to return. It’s not easy. Everything looks similar. In the forest one tree looks about the same as any other. Here’s how I figured it out. I used my dive computer. I saw we were at 50 feet and about twenty minutes in the dive. So, we retraced our path. It worked! Tomorrow the eggs will be hatched. We know this from the last find. Once hatched, the tiny fish will be chaos and I would never get an image. And, we weren’t waiting to see the hatching. Too bad.

I imagine being there to image the hatching. It would indeed be a rare and special thing to witness. That would be for someone way more OCD than I can admit to being. But… No! It’s not my day job and I don’t have the time. But at least for the next diver, it’s about two days to eyes, and one more to hatching.


Eggs

Damsel fish lay eggs and the guard them. This one moved in and brushed against me as I swam by. I knew it was guarding something. Eggs! It was too early. Nothing had developed yet. The eggs are tiny. You need very high magnification. How high? Enough that I can’t see the eggs by myself. I wear glasses now. There are no corrective lens in my mask. So I shoot and then wait to see what’s on my computer. I am fascinated that I can technically get images like this. And even more special is that finding this is so rare!


Dumb Move Buddy

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I never said I wouldn’t post another fish. I just said, “last dive.” This is one weird shy fish. Weird or shy? Both. Picasso trigger fish, the coloration inspired its name. It swims on the reef and usually is speeding away from my camera. So, I was just a second late to shoot a feather duster worm. And this fish flashes past my vision and burrowed into the coral crevice. What the…? I never knew the stripes on the back were raised. And I bet you did not either. I poked him. …sorry! And he burrowed farther. He did not bolt! In this case he would have had to back out. Do fish have a gear for reverse?


Missed

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Today (a few weeks back) was my last dive for a while. So there will be no more wondrous finds for a bit. I have quite the treasury of images by now. And yet, there seems to always be that one elusive image…. This is a popcorn shrimp. It was nestled in the middle of an anemone. It was there for an instant. Amr got these shots with my camera. I’d have had a go. But it was gone. I’d have never seen it myself. Are you seeing this? After he focused and pointed it out, it was still a challenge to see. It blends in. It does not want to be eaten. It doesn’t care that all I want is a picture. Just hold still for a second. Please!

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Is it my image? If you shoot it but did not find it, is it yours? Is the challenge the hunt or the shot? Technically it came from my camera. But no, the shot is not mine. I credit my dive buddy and give thanks. We found it together. He was gracious on my last dive. A good friend. Thanks.


Closeup Please

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Cave cleaner shrimp, my first! How? I never knew! But there we were. I was beckoned. I would never see this. So instead, Amr took my camera, shot the image, and pointed to my screen. Ah! It was shadowed and tiny. There’s no way I’d ever have noticed it. Once found, it was a matter of technical prowess. And I was given an opportunity to practice. With enough tries, eventually you can get a reasonable “wow” shot. So, I did.

img_6101The darn thing is transparent! My buddies were busy with another subject. I got plenty of time with this shrimp. He did not move away. He turned left. He turned right. And he stayed put! Shot after shot, my camera, the focus, the light – it all came together. Nailed it! Success! Seeing the picture you take it for granted. And when I look back, I will nod and say mission accomplished. But the thrill of getting such a nice shot! Savor the moment. Yes! I did this. Me! I can do this stuff too!


Challenged – Tiny!

 

 

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I love a challenge. I like to go to the edge technically and have to struggle to get the image. You would think that point and shoot. Anyone can press the shutter and get whatever. You do it with your iPhone all the time. Right place right time, it’s mostly about being in position. Having a phone makes it easy to catch breaking news. But what if you actually had to work to get the image. It’s not as simple to press the shutter. I had about thirty tries. And, I was inadequate to the task.

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The first image is not my shot. Amr. Suffice to say that my effort was lacking. I had two tries in two dives. I was at the limit of my present skill. I’ll get better, just not today. Remember, the current is pushing, breathing makes you shake, the subject is too small to really see, and no one is patiently letting you just shoot. Hey, we have a limit to air and bottom time! If you can imagine a tiny piece of lint, then this nudibranch was about that size. I could not see the details of it with my bare vision. Any movement and you have a focus problem. And I did. A lot! So it is Amr’s image that shows up my technical learning curve. I can get better. There is always a higher bar. Steadying your hand is easy. Just rest it on the coral. Then try not to let your body sway in the current. It helps if you can hold your breath too. Try to put it all together. There’s the trick!


Flying

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Gold spotted flatworm. There is a front end. And they fly. Why not? Mostly they move very slowly. But on this occasion it was flying. I missed my chance once before. This time I followed it. And after a lot of trying, I got a couple shots. It’s not perfect which is why you come back. Life is about trying and trying. Hey! I got something. It’s not perfect. I keep trying. It’s what gets me back in the water.

img_5610The spots? See? They are raised bumps. It does move purposefully in the water. It undulates. It was flying when I noticed it. I did not play with the wildlife this time. I did wave my hand a bit to keep it elevated while I got my shots.


New

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I see new stuff infrequently now. My buddy kindly pointed this nudibranch out. At first I did not see what he was pointing to. Yes, I wear glasses. Don’t make fun. I don’t wear them underwater. But I see pretty good without them. How do you miss something so colorful as this? Easy! It’s easy to miss. There is a lot going on underwater. Countless times I have returned to discover things sitting on my computer that were never in the shot when I pressed the shutter. Laugh if you want. I saw something new. And that always is a good thing.


Parasite

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I was just practicing. This was an unintentional find. I have seen parasites attached to the is fish before. Truthfully, I did not see the parasite back then. It was pointed out to me. This time I was just taking a picture of this tiny tiny fish. Really! And there were not one but two parasites attached. Ok, that’s special in my book. One was bad, but two, it seems that this is very bad luck for this poor fish. And once again, this was a discovery I made while editing. Yes, serendipity.


Eyes

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Ok. Be impressed. Even a blind squirrel gets a nut (sometimes). Yes! My dive buddy saw the eggs. She did not have a lens to photograph them. The other two of us did. We shot. I was singularly unimpressed. The eggs had been laid on a white PVC pipe. The guardian parents was buzzing us. The current was moving me about and the visibility was near zero. It was murky! I closed my eyes, adjusted my settings, and pointed and shot. I could not get a high high mage shot. But the image magnified shows eggs and eyes. At least that is my story. And, I’m sticking with it. This made my day.


Prehistoric

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Look how menacing he appears. I’ve lots of shots of this guy (or his brothers). But this one was horror movie scary. The teeth! My! “The better to eat you with grandma.” I’d would have to say that you see this guy and you move in for a shot. He’s fair game because he will sit still long enough for me to set up. Move in a little closer. It’s not a snapshot. Ah! Perfect! Thanks for posing. Yes, he looks like a prehistoric monster of the deep. In real life he is shy and swims away from me if I am too close.


Wreck Dive

We dove on a wreck. A large ship had sunk and was now a hot spot to dive and explore. It’s not my cup of tea. There’s nothing picturesque or too much interesting. And the scale is too large to get a clear shot of the whole wreck. The twisted metal covered in coral is not bursting with image opportunities. Color balance is awful. Hey? Am I complaining too much? A day diving is a day better then work. Right? The back end has the propeller. Duh? One propeller and a very large rudder. Really, it was a large ship propelled by a single rudder and prop. How large? Well, I got a diver swimming through. That is what gives you some comparative scale. We did not go inside. That’s dangerous. If you are trapped inside,  you are toast. This was for fun, not for danger. So it was fine to get an overview. Been there, I probably won’t elect to do it again.


Fortune Cookie

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It reminds me of… This was serendipity. As in, I was trying to get something and this is what happened when I closed my eyes and pressed the shutter. All of the sudden my skills went south. I was having trouble focusing. It happens. I got anxious. Imagine? It’s just me. What’s to be anxious about? Anyway, for a while I could not focus on any of the giant clams. Maybe they were having a laugh on me? But then, I did come away with some good shots. I’m used to most shots being pretty good. Nope. I had a lot of out of focus shots. But whoa! Look at this! It’s striking. Painterly. I am proud of this shot. And you would never get me to admit that this was completely fortuitous. I just closed my eyes, pressed the shutter, and hoped for the best. Yup, uh huh.


Bite me! – It bit me!

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I was attacked. I’ve shown you an encounter in a previous post. I was roughly in the same area photographing a couple subjects. This guy (I’m not sure he’s the same as the other) started attacking my close up lens. Ok! Get a picture. I did. Then he came back again and again. He attacked my goggles.

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Finally, he took a nip of me. (yes, look close, he left a red mark). Ouch! I did not notice any source for the attack. There were no eggs or juvenile fish around. I was surprised and promptly beat off his attack with my dive stick. Yes a sword fight under the sea. Jules wrote to tell me that they are territorial. All this time, I have seen this species often and no one ever attacked me. Yes, I was sure surprised!

 


Caveat!

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Available light has a soft appearance different than the look of a strobe. The majority of professional style images are all done with strobe lighting. Smartphone photos by far are the most dominant images posted to Flickr. This was a throwback day.

Sometimes things go to hell. I have had all sorts of problems underwater. The first worry is that salt water will leak into and damage your gear. Yup! Been there done that. Fried two cameras and counting… one strobe…. Fortunately, the strobe main body is waterproofed. So, the batteries fried not the $400 strobe. Dive computer – o ring failure – check, yes. Forgot my memory card on one dive… yes, stupid!

Things breakdown. It will happen. Be prepared. Have a backup plan. My buddy forgot to charge his batteries. I had spares to loan him.

The latest calamity? The wire that connects my strobe to the camera sheared. It’s a fiber optic system that simply broke apart. At the beginning of the dive…it’s always right when you are in the water and at the beginning of the dive. I even have a back-up camera – (did not have it that day).

So? There has been only one dive I recall when I did not have a camera. Otherwise, you improvise. I love it when my advice rhymes. I went available natural light. I haven’t done this in ages. You have to white balance every ten feet deeper you go. And there are a bunch of settings to adjust. I did it on the fly and it only took a minute to recall all that I needed to do. Saved! Well, it was enough for me to come away with images. You know? Make lemonade when they give you lemons. I tested and experimented. It’s a learning experience when things breakdown. Yes! I could take a sharp highly magnified image. The main difference is that your odds are better when everything is working. But you can still get something. So it was not a wasted dive. I learned something today.

So? What caveat? It’s about backup storage. It’s enough to strike fear. Do you worry about losing all your images on your phone? Have you heard of the cloud? Do you remember floppy disks? Or VHS tape. Did you ever see a Betamax player. 8 track tape?

The New York Times published a very earnest article by a so called expert who advised – use Google cloud. It’s advice. And therein lies the caveat. All that other technology became obsolete and discarded. Floppy disks are coasters. There are no readers, so they are toast. Companies come and go. Kodak! Did you ever think that the great “Yellow father” would be an historical footnote? Ever hear of a platinum print?

Pardon me Mr NYT. Fine and dandy, but at least let me have redundant back up on an external drive that I own and control. Google forever?! Do/did you Yahoo? I zen too, but I want my photos to be preserved. Zen will live on; will my photos? They say my blog will be on the net forever. I’ve got my posts on word and the images on my hard drive. Paradoxically, anything you wish would go away will follow you forever too. Like old girl friends…did I say that?


Juvenile

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This is a juvenile. Little fish got to start somewhere. Tiny! He was lethargic. So I got shots! It wasn’t easy. But, you knew that?! Tiny, I could hardly follow him in my close up lens. I’m still a work in progress. I’m getting better but there was a lot of pressure. I was diving with two excellent photographers. Neither had their cameras. So they were finding subjects and graciously pointing them out to me. Get the shot! Don’t disappoint. I did not find this fish nor see it until it was pointed out. So, it was a challenge to get an image that would please the experts. I usually come away with something. Pressure, you rise to the occasion or…not. I’m a lucky guy…mostly.


Red

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Stonefish are not bright red. They are bright red. How? Well, the light is filtered and red color fades as you go deeper under the sea. A flash will bring out what would otherwise be a dull colored fish and make it really stand out. Under the sea it actually looks pretty dull.

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Sometimes the stonefish is really pretty ugly. And color can do it no improvement. This guy was posturing. He lifted his head as I took his pic. So I got a bit of pink. He did not intentionally pose for me. He wasn’t warning me off. Stonefish are pretty mellow. Both fish are very easy to miss. They don’t move. The human eye is sensitive to movement. It’s about survival. Something moving is a potential threat. These fish just lie still and blend into the surrounding coral. It’s worth a picture anytime we see one. It’s so nice that they pose for me.


Too Much – TMI

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TMI – too much information – too close. I sent this image to my daughter. She commented, “What is it? Show me the whole thing.” There’s a balance. You need context. But I’d like to just publish a single image. Choose. Which one? Ah! Well, that becomes a matter of choice. But which? I guess consider the difference between a snapshot versus a photograph. I’m still a camera person. Right tool? There’s no argument that most of all images are smart phone productions – too easy and convenient to ignore. I’m a long way from point and shoot. Set up takes time. I moved up along the scale. And yet there is a large group above me who finds my set up to be inadequate. There’s always someone better. Meanwhile, I like what I’m doing. I’ll stick to my day job for a bit longer. It’s still a hobby for me.

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With digital you are not limited to shooting a single image. Fire away. Memory card and battery power are your limiting factors. You can shoot hundreds of images and discard them later. The point is not quantity; it’s quality. Lately I don’t press the shutter as I think to myself, “It’s not a picture.”


Better – Better?

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When I started taking pictures underwater, I was immediately rewarded. I got some very nice images. Looking back, you’d almost laugh. I look at the new divers with their cameras and smile. They do not understand the learning curve. You come back with something. It’s digital. You get an image. It’s poorly framed and the color balance and …. It’s just not that easy. Then you get camera envy. A better camera will get you a better chance to get a better result. Dream on. There is a price for success. The best photographers have thousands of dollars invested. It comes down to controlling the light and getting what you want when you want it. Control. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful with less. I have worked my way up. I’m using a more sophisticated set up than before. I would love to drive a Porsche but Toyota gets me there too.You look good getting there but what’s the point if you can’t drive the car fast anyway.

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Christmas tree worms – I used to struggle to get an image. Now I am so close up that I see the individual parts of the animal. Then I can concentrate on composition…. Yes, at a certain point it makes sense to upgrade. But equipment will only do so much. It comes down to the right tool for the right job. But you can still do the job, if you understand your tools. A friend of mine said that a screw driver is a hammer if you don’t have a hammer in your toolbox. Maybe. But it’s nice to have a hammer if you need one. These days my craftsmanship get me an image that requires little post production manipulation. Yes, somewhere along the way I got better.


Another dive…another turtle

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It was a great dive.  And, don’t be spoiled. You don’t see a turtle often. Hey! It’s a big ocean. Turtles are around but hard to get close enough to photograph unless they are not moving – hardly ever. Mostly they are swimming along sedately. They do not want company. And as fast as I swim I cannot keep up. But in a burst of speed I was able to reach it and get a couple shots properly exposed. Priceless! My dive buddy said, “Wait, they circle.” I’m not sure the turtle got the message. Gee, I can still swim fast sometimes. Got ‘em!

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Electric Ray

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It’s a young one. You would not know. But I know. It’s small. It has a double tail fin and was trying to avoid me. He swam by and I got a very nice close up of his eye. Some things are fortuitous. It’s not as though I can tell him to pose for me. One dive buddy was not coming. Too deep and his nose and ears hurt. The other was not impressed. He’s seen one before. Not me! You don’t see an electric ray often enough to be bored. He was active and I was chasing. No the charge is not harmful. I did not touch it to test this theory.

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Meanwhile we had an encounter I will not forget. I got to look him straight in the eye! I’ll bet he was not thrilled.


Large Dragon

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This is a first for me. And my dive buddy pointed it out and did not take a picture. He’s seen it. Oh my! That’s the name – large dragon. It’s in my handy dandy book. So you have not seen it here before. I was pretty excited. Every dive has a signature picture. Some dives have more than one. And some dives have none. This was an outstanding dive! Something new! And I even got good images. Yeah, I pretty thrilled. You don’t get high detail easily. You can crop post production in Photoshop. But that is sort of unfair. My ground dry land photography is cropped in camera. So why not underwater? At high magnification, everything, including this diver’s had, shakes more. So it is hard to compose, focus, and shoot. I’m already good. I’m trying to get better.

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And this was a real thrill. Go ahead, yawn. But this was a great dive for me!


Cataract

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A one eyed fish? Is it a cataract? All I can tell you is that there is no fish surgeon in the sea. Fascinating. It’s not that he’s got his eye closed and he’s winking at you. Fish do not have eye lids. This is problematic when you want to get some “shut eye.” But then again I’m not sure they sleep. Anyway, it’s an odd observation. Fishes with disabilities, do they have rights?