Saudi is a beautiful country? Hot desert sand, no rain, every day over 100 degrees, strict religious rules… yes, uniquely totalitarian. Good?! Hmmm… let’s say I am happy to be home again. Did I mention everything stops for “prayer time” five times a day?
Dave learned to dive in Saudi. His sister joined us and we adventured together. They did their first night dive together with me. Scared of the dark? Nah, they were just holding hands because…. Yes, Jules had to wear an abaya! It’s a man’s world in Saudi.
No matter what, my kids can say they visited Saudi and experienced the culture for a brief time. I feel fortunate to have given them this opportunity. What memories!
Night dive! This was the moment when I realized that diving in the dark dark ocean with sharks somewhere about was not so scary as the result of obtaining a worthy night image. This was the moment that opened my mind to the concept. “Fish on a platter” I was hooked and enjoyed and sought night dives whenever I could.
The holy grail of night diving around where we dove in the Red Sea? The Spanish dancer. You can see them. Lots of night divers have seen them. Right! But, it’s a rare sight. They look like the skirt of a Spanish dancer – duh! Beautiful! They are very large nudibranch. Not too sexy, huh? But the holy grail nonetheless. The feather star is also a coral that will shrink if the light hits it. You see them only on night dives. And you flash photo them. A flashlight will cause them to shrink. And the last animal with the tentacles was definitely a one-time shot for me. I was with Farid in the southern site we sometimes dove. Ugly and monstrous it spooked me and fascinated me at the same time. Whoa!
It’s interesting that looking at an image, I can recall the circumstances and location I took the shot. At other times I have completely forgotten the image until it showed up again in Lightroom. Memory is funny. It’s amazing what triggers memory recall. I especially like the images where, “I took that?” pops into my head.
During Ramadan everything (schedule) is turned upside down. Night dives! The guys would show up to break fast. Eat. Then dive. Yay! They did two or three! Night dives! Unfortunately, I was not privy to the schedule. No one ever tells you, nor do they bother to invite you. Ah well, I caught on to the rumor and showed up. The group all brought food to the communal break fast meal. They graciously fed me. (Free food!) We hung out way past sunset into night time. What the…? We were waiting for the late arrival of a friend. He was a thin guy whose wet (elastic) suit hung limply over his scrawny figure. He chain-smoked until he put his tank on and the regulator into his mouth. Yeah, nothing happens (explosion). It’s compressed air, not oxygen. I got to be his dive buddy. Oh great!? At the very end of the dive, after the decompression stop, when we were swimming in toward the pier, at the very last second; he pulled up short and started taking pictures like mad. It was a hermit crab on the bottom in ten foot of water. Yeah, sometimes your dive buddy has his moments.
Confusing picture? The hermit crab has green eyes. There are antennae. He has covered himself with shells in order to confuse you and to camouflage himself better. See?
This was the quintessential image that “hooked” (ha ha) me on night dives. Night dive? Sharks are out there in the dark?!! No. They don’t like the light. They think it’s a big eye; they don’t come near night divers. Hmmm? Who had a conversation with a shark and found that info out? I consider that bright flashing light a dinner bell, “Come one, come all, dinner is served!”
My first night dive during my “advanced” course was totally forgettable. I wasn’t allowed to take my camera. Drat! And double drat! We didn’t see much. It’s surprising how boring things are when you don’t carry a camera. But this image was taken during a boat dive and a night dive. We actually had a guy on the boat who was afraid of the dark and didn’t go into the water. Funny. But near the end of our dive, there it was – a stonefish on a platter. My! Everything was right (including the stars!) – I got this shot. Perfect! Well, for me it was so special to see this as I edited. Wow! You might be jaded and fail to see the difficulties that all culminated in this image. Me? I was just so impressed with everything that came together in that fraction of a second. What an image! Night dive? I was there ever after. We did not do many. It was not a thing that folks wanted to much wait around to do. Generally, we did a couple day dives and then moved along with our day activities. It was even rare to do a third day dive. I’d have gone (diving) morning till night. I appreciated the special moments and that they could end any time. Alas!
I wrote this post in my head and then never put it to paper. Someone I know laughs. I have no blank paper in my villa. I have, maybe, a pen and I don’t think there is a pencil. And, I’d dearly like to have a ruler. I needed to measure my bed mattress. Who knew? There are king and super king bed sheets. One does not fit the other. And I was put out that my sheets were too short. Yeah, so I measured. My hand span is roughly 9 inches. It’s a nice number to know. But this ain’t horseshoes. And the difference in sheet size is not so large. Anyway, it’s standard king. I got a measuring tape from the hospital. We use it to measure baby head sizes. I will parenthetically add, that tape is free too. I was shocked to actually buy a roll of adhesive tape (not related to measuring tape) in the drug store. Really?! They charge that much? No wonder medical costs are out of control.
So, meandering along the bottom on a night dive this puffer appeared out of the dark. …Lots of people hate the dark. And night dives seem to bring out the fears in even more detail. After all, monsters of the deep come out of the dark and eat whole ships! Oh my! But mostly I think “JAWS” the movie is a lingering memory. Shark! Attack! And even if you never saw the movie, there’s plenty of limbs and life injuries around the world with unwary unfortunate swimmers. If it’s any consolation, sharks like fatty seals. They get few meals. So when they taste human, there’s not enough fat, they spit you out. It’s nice to know you don’t pass the taste test. So mostly you don’t get eaten. I dunno, I think the very bright LED light is calling sharks to dinner, “Here sharky. Here sharky. Dinner!” And if you are ever on a night dive with me, and, my light goes out, “Well, dinner is served. Him (the diver next to me), not me…” Yes, be afraid… be very afraid.
Anyway, this poor puffer – white spotted puffer – was just down along the bottom. And it’s not common enough to see that I pass an opportunity to take a picture. And as I shot I saw something in its mouth. Was it eating another fish? Nope. A hook. A shiny reflection, the darned thing was embedded and would stay for the rest of his life. Now if he would only let me help…. Yeah, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you…”
Boy oh boy! Some dives you see hermit crab and some dives you see cuttlefish. I saw babie cuttlefish! They were very shy! And I saw this guy at the end of the dive. It made my dive. He was not able to get away and I got plenty of good stuff. He changes color and camouflage.
It’s quite fast. The babies don’t do as well or as quickly. But big ones have to start somewhere. There is a crescent under the eye. Or it that an eyelid? And you can see the pigment sacs which allow the animal to change quickly. Finally, there is ink. Squirt it and it confuses the predator. It works. One did and it confused me and I could not acquire the target again. As long as you see it moving, you can keep photographing. But if it stays still, then it is pretty hard to see. The human eye is way more sensitive to movement. Survival! It’s genetic! Science! Hurray!
It’s summer. Summer is defined by the equinox, or, by the babies that abound in the sea. It’s a baby cuttlefish. (Check the last post) I was practicing my newfound technique of annoying all the urchins. Cuttlefish babies hide beneath. And then I am constantly amazed what shows up in my image. I’m old…vision could be better. Ask my kids, they could regale you with tales… Yes! A little tiny fish was there on the rock next to him. Unexpected finds happen. Here, I got two fish. I grant that the detail is lacking. And you are less than impressed. They eyes on the fish at least give you some reference. The cuttlefish looks like a little gray blob. And, I assure you, that is exactly how he wants you not to notice him.
The problem with things that camouflage well, is that there is not much to capture on your image. There’s no eye to really see. But if you imagine how much fun it is to discover one underwater it would sure help this post. It helps to know where to look and what to look for. So first, I discovered – just now – that urchins are the big protectors of small creatures. Urchins are chicken too, as in the sense of being timid, not as in, “tastes like chicken.” Moving the urchins around annoys them. Sorry! But it also allows me to see what is hiding nearby. You can’t do this with shrimp. They are way too skittish.
But the purpose of the camouflage is that you don’t see them. Standing still is a key to that. I suppose there is also something to be said for, “Don’t let ‘em see you blink.” I don’t see eyes (theirs) too well. If I did know all of this, it would be really easy to miss this tiny creature and mistake it for debris. The juveniles are not that good at all of this. So they stay for a while and move off like a shot. I got two shots of two different baby cuttlefish. And the third got away. That percentage of success gave me very few choices in deciding which pictures to post…. All of them!
Not the music man, the puffer fish. It’s a spiky puffer. The secret to night diving is that the light is brilliant. The new LED lights are very bright. There is a rule. Do not shine your light in someone’s eyes. No they won’t go blind. But they will not be able to see. Same difference? But it’s terribly rude. Fish have the same problem. And as far as I see (see, ha, pun?) they have no pupils to regulate the light. So it is playing with the wildlife once again (sorry, kids – mine). They don’t read here so I get away with stuff… You shine your light into their eyes. They are blinded. And you can take your pictures.
You could also pull on their tail. (another big no no!) And then they puff up. With what? Air? Helium? What? … water, silly, yup, water! Duh! Well, it took me a minute too. I did not ask, but still, it was a matter of common sense. When they expand – blow up! – they are bigger. The spikes are sharp – like rose thorns. And then Mr Puffer is not so appetizing as he is so intimidating. The problem is that if you are the size of a basketball your fins do not propel you well. So, it’s Catch 22. You move slowly away and I get to take lots of pictures. It works!. The things we do in the dark are amazing. And this is all just between us. I don’t need animal rights guys hounding me.
Happy 4th of July. No fireworks for me to shoot. I guess I will have to make do with another day of diving….
Crab, lobster, and shrimp all love to hide. Not love, survival. They naturally don’t want to be eaten. And it’s true, because I don’t see them much on the reef. On this dive I was queasy. Bad pizza or current pushing me around, who knows? But I was thinking ahead to dry land and settling my stomach. My dive buddy pointed. And usually it’s obvious – the subject. He was wide angle and helpless to shoot this. The crab was in a hole. This means that the focus was going to be hell. The camera focuses on the closest nearest subject. No face recognition here! And then if you point your camera into the hole, your strobe will not fit too. I need a ring flash here. They do not make one underwater. Serendipity! Luck! Lots of it! Persistence! And time! The crab and I played peek a boo. I’d shine the light. He’d move. So I shined in one spot and waited for him to move into the field of my camera and strobe. It worked…till he caught on and moved away and under another coral to be lost to this poor photographer. Bye! I wasn’t going to eat you…promise!… heart crossed and hope to die….
The don’t like white light. Great! Tell me after the dive. I learned this on my own, thank you very much. My buddy found it, three in fact. He did not bother to chase down the little one. He tells me this afterward! The first one was impossible. Everything was against me. Current, backscatter, and shyness (the lobster’s). Everyone loves to eat lobster. He knows it too.
Racial consciousness? You know that a one time in Maine lobster was fed to the workers for dinner. And they objected. There are signs saying that lobster could not be served more than twice a week. I paraphrase but that is the gist. Ugly. I was afraid to touch it. It reminds me of a roach. I hate them too. My book names three different lobsters with the same color markings so take your pick. Lobster! No claws! Funny. The lobster has no claws, the best eating part according to my friends who eat them. And the shrimp around here have claws. Go figure?
Shy but not too bright. A pun. The poor guy would hide from the light but as soon as it was off he’d poke his head out again. They also say that lobsters have a brain the size of a roach. Fine. But roaches are a whole lot smarter. I never got a clear shot at any roach in my house. And they are big too. Remember Raid – Roach Motel – roaches check in and don’t check out? It was a box with roach allure and glue to hold the insect. On night the box shook. I thought we’d caught a mouse. Nope, a big roach came out of the box, shook off his legs, and continued on across the floor. They fly too! But that’s another story. But if you’ve never seen a grown man dive for the floor when a roach dive bombed… no, it wasn’t me.
Green eyed dancing shrimp. Hard to photograph. Yup. It’s a fact. Everyone loves to eat shrimp and they seem to know this. So they hide all day and come out only at night and even then they hide under the coral. Their eyes reflect your flashlight. So it’s easy to find them. They are small. And so the auto focus on my camera hunts. It does not often deliver the desired results. So when it happens, that is bliss. Wow. Perfect. He stayed around for me to get his picture. There were many shrimp this night. But this was the guy who made my night and my album. Details. Everything has to come together just so. And if not, then there is a blank space waiting to be filled when I finally find the right subject.
Those guys in the last post – the ones taking their night dive specialty – one of them found this at the dive platform. I find the tiny ones. You’ve seen my pictures. No matter. The guy pointed this out with his light. I knew immediately what it was. It’s nothing to look at – a gnarly shell moving on the bottom. But large! How large? The size of my fist. Well, maybe I exaggerate a bit. But it was large. This is nice. It’s a lot easier to see the crab. And so I got a nice shot or two.
A crab this large is not seen much on the reef during the day. And if it already has a shell, why does it carry around a second shell on its back? Meanwhile it’s my mission to photograph all the hermit crabs I come across. In order to do so you have to turn them over. That would be messing with the wildlife. Sorry kids….
This guy has been on the reef at the dive platform for a couple years now. It lives in a big tubular hole that is deep. How deep? Very. It is known to spring on its prey. Lightning fast. The blow of the claws stuns and kills its prey. And it will inflict serious harm on me. At least that is what I have been told. So I am very careful. Yup, trust me. I’m careful. Right. And please don’t laugh. I really am. So I never get close in the daytime. I’ve tried. No luck. Not too much.
He builds a cover and stays in his hole until night. I annoy him by opening the hole and rolling a piece of coral inside. He has to clean up and push it out. Then I grab a shot. The problem is that he’s a gray white crab in the same color sand. It’s darn hard to get a proper exposure. Snow pictures that should look white, they look gray. Yes, yes, compensate. I still have trouble. The night dive and strobe were much better.
The last time around, I was pushed to the side by Aseri. He was shooting video. Big camera and major bright video lights. Ah! So the crab does not know what to do in the bright lights. Like a deer in the headlights, it seems that it is blinded. And it just stays still and does not retreat. Fine. So this time around, no Aseri. He was with another diver. And I shot and shot. And then I tried to get in close. Oh! Stupid! It springs! And fast! Though I have never seen it in action, I believe the You Tubes. And then I wanted to macro the eyes and the mouth. Yes, the lion’s den and the lion’s mouth. Stupid? I made my settings. The current was pushing me around. Steadied myself. He stayed right there. I’ve got my flashlight on him. Can’t see, can’t focus. Remember? And now I move in closer and closer.
My hand is on the camera. Right hand. I’m left handed. The shutter is on the right. I’m thinking that if he strikes he’ll most likely hit the camera and not my hand. But at least it’s not my operating hand(left). Stupid stuff you think about when you are about to do something no one would recommend. Ah! But I got in close. I could have gone closer. But for now, that was pretty brave of me.
Hey! There are no whites to the eye of a shrimp. Yes, it has two claws. They bend the rules and definitions a lot. There were black spots. And if you will look those spots and the eyes swiveled with my movement. So, stupid, he was watching you. Me. Next time, if there is one, I’ll try to macro even closer. Or, not!
Not his name but its name. Get it. Why? I don’t know. I’m happy enough to know and remember the name. He’s cute. Tiny fins and he flits. I know. Birds flit. But this fishie does too. He’s skittish and does not like me approaching. He’s got good taste. Or, he tastes good? Ugh. Bad joke. Sorry. At night we found him! Asleep! We, because you never dive without a buddy and he (my buddy) found it. I have such good friends who show me things. At the same time we were in ‘deco’ mode. I was a bit worried. He was not. We survived. And my other dive buddy, Amr, may never know the truth of this night. He’s my safety conscience. Yes, indeed, it’s good to have a conscience. And on this dive we used all the air in my tank. Well, I was responsible for using it all. Not him. Yup the very last breath. 90+ minutes of dive time.
Oh! So the fishie was sleeping. Why? And out in the open? But he did not move and I was all over him with my strobe and lights and flash and all. Got a nice shot. He posed!
I found this one. I was following my dive buddy to shallower water. The long antennae are the tipoff. They reflect the flashlight. You may shoot a series and only one shot will do. Fortunately the shrimp was cooperative and I got this with the claws open.
Never put your camera away early. Another rule I follow. As we were headed home to shore, I looked in one more hole. There was a brightly colored crab. One shot only, and the exposure and focus were kind. There’s no name in the guidebook. I chased to get one more shot. The other side of the hole had two spiny urchins guarding. I could glimpse the crab, but no shot, no way. I’ve been spiked by an urchin. Once was more than enough. The crab was very shy and never put in a new appearance.
I have been told there are no sea snakes here. It makes sense. Snakes breath air. This was a spotted eel. He was going along the bottom when we found him. I was stuck. I had just caught another puffer in my left hand. I had my camera in the right. That left me with no way to adjust the camera. And I needed another hand for the flashlight. Yes I could have used help from the octopus. This is a very rare find. The kids saw one in December but we only got a small part of the body – no head shot.
Spooky. There is a type of diving, which I love. It’s night diving. Fish come out at night when they think danger is less than during the day. These fish were swarming on the bottom. They weren’t headed anywhere. They turned toward the flashlight. So I got a head on view. I can say it was spooky to see them just going nowhere. What were they doing? You never see them during the day. So where do so many fish hide? I have questions. Meanwhile it’s a strange encounter. And if you’re afraid of the dark…
David doesn’t mind if I mention his name. He got dive lessons and in three days he was open water qualified. He’s a good swimmer. And he is not one to panic underwater. My daughter was immediately protective of him because she worried that I was not quite reliable as an underwater coach. For some reason, they thought I would put him at risk for injury. I skied with them without limits; they survived. So? Ok, ok, I tend to be casual about general things and I only really sweat the details. It seems the kids know me too well.On the very first day of independent diving, I persuaded the kids to do a night dive. My daughter (no first names, please, so now it’s “J”) had done it before and didn’t care to do it. (She’s also afraid of the dark?) Somehow we were there at the dive resort right at sunset. I hadn’t intended to do a night dive. But jeezzz, we’re here… not my fault. It gets dark early here too. So she agreed and we went. Dave wanted to try; he was curious. It was chilly at dusk so the kids wanted to go early before dark until David mentioned that the big fish feed at dusk. It was plenty dark when we hit the water for what was agreed to be a 30 minute night dive.
And it was 60 minutes later when we emerged. The kids didn’t want to come up at 30 minutes! We had had a very wonderful experience. Every dive has one great moment. Ours came when J saw a hermit crab hauling its shell on a coral outcrop. We/she photographed the crab that I would never have seen except for J’s excellent vision.My memorable moment came earlier. I had briefed the kids on how to swim underwater and the safety involved in the dark. They both knew to stick close to me. It was more of an admonishment from J for me not to swim away from them. I led, they followed, and when I turned to be sure they were close behind they were there swimming arm and arm, flashlights swinging in all directions trying to avoid/scare off predators. They refused to get separated and so held one another close. Touching! My wife told me they weren’t getting along so well at Xmas. There’s nothing like a little terror to bring out true feelings.
On our night dive I swam across this school. They were clustered on the bottom and swam away from my light. The squirming mass was a bit spooky, creepy if you must know. There was something about this closely pack of squirming fish that made me think of eels. They stuck close to the bottom. I would have to say that I don’t recognize them from my daylight dives. Until now I have not seen fish so closely packed like this.
Here’s one that I haven’t seen before. My last night dive was so much fun I couldn’t wait to do it again. This pufferfish has been a unique find. I now know there are three kinds – pufferfish, masked, and spiked. This one looks the most unusual, almost bizarre and cartoonish. I imagine the spikes to be like thorns on a tree. And then I wonder why nature evolved this way.
Wrong! Reading helps. This is a porcupine fish also called blowfish but apparently are related to but are not pufferfish. It turns out that the spike erect as the fish blows up. So far I have only seen this fish with its spikes up. As a puffer or blow fish, I had imagined them inflated like a balloon with its spikes out on all sides. Wrong again, I guess.