It’s a nudibranch. This was the last subject I photographed in the Red Sea. Last dive in September 2016. This is one I have not seen before. How nice to see something new? The dive was like any other – uneventful. I knew it was the last dive. It came and went without fanfare. I have not dived since. I think I will dive again someday. Meanwhile, I have a lot of expensive equipment waiting for that day.
I realize that most people will not necessarily appreciate this image. Let me explain it. It is of a diver wearing his tank on his hip – Armand. It’s a style of diving to allow the diver not to bump things if he were wearing his tank on his back. We are approaching the landing dock, hence the waves. There is action with serenity. I appreciate the moment in which the dive is ending and the next to come. Peace.
I learned this trick in the last months I dove in the Red Sea. Hermit crabs. They live in shells. I would see shells as we dove. I turned them over and waited. If there was a crab, it emerged to turn it’s house back – right side up. My dive buddies would laugh at me. No crab on the reef was safe from me. Mostly I would get or not get a satisfactory shot. Everyone else lost interest and stopped taking pictures of the crabs. I persisted. Look!
Eggs! Not once, but more than once. Actually, it happened more. But, in this instance you can see that the crab is in the act of laying its eggs. I think.
At least that’s my story and I’m stickin’ with it. You should be impressed. This was not easy. Really? The timing !!! I was there, I will readily admit purely fortuitously. But there!!
Okay, back to diving… I’m editing some images for a presentation next March. Ha! I was never known for advance planning. But…. So, I’m looking through roughly 60,000 dive images. Many, most, are not any good. You take a lot and most are out of focus or poorly exposed. Got it? I’m looking over a night dive. The exposure is awful. But? Well, I ratcheted up the exposure and lo and behold… not one, but, at least four shrimp! I’m lucky to see one. But four! They like to hide behind urchins. Protective? I can count four. This is a complete surprise to me. I must have edited when I finished the dive. I guess? I don’t remember. Meanwhile, serendipity, I found something new. I know you might not be impressed. The Planet Earth series is full of amazing shots. We see amazing shots day in and day out. I’m just an advanced amateur. I am humbled to get these shots and to have had the opportunity to do so. Hey! Four shrimp, one shot! They are notoriously shy. You should know. You’d eat them if they were on your plate. They know this too!
See through! Yeah! Try to spot this one. And they are small. And they are skittish. So, it’s very fortunate to see one. Now, try to get a picture. Damn! It seems that the flash does not trigger a retreat. Every once in a while, I get to see one. Focus! It’s the hardest thing to do. How do you focus on a transparent animal? Yeah, it was hard. I’d shoot and shoot and shoot. Some, a few (images) would turn out decent. Most were throw away images. Remember I’m shooting through water and moving in 3D – up, down, sideways – in the current. Yeah, it’s hard enough if I’m standing on dry land. Oh, remember to get all of your settings right. The flash had to be set manually – guessing at the right light settings. Oh yeah! Easy as pie?!!
The last few months I dove in the Red Sea there was not a single (that I could find) hermit crab safe from me. Turn over the shell, wait, the legs and head would poke out to right the upside-down shell. They’d do it over and over. I just had to hang around long enough to wait to get the perfect shot. My dive buddies were swimming away. I would linger to the last second. The shot includes the eyes and the antennae in focus. You only get a moment. Once, I got a “mama” hermit crab with eggs. That was special. I think even my buddies were impressed. The crabs are only mere fractions of an inch big. Yes! Small! I’m used to shooting under (time) pressure. Traditionally, my companions are always moving on to something else as I linger behind. Yup, the Poky Little Puppy.
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.
Follow your buddy, shoot what they shoot. My friend Marie has the ability to find great “shit.” And she breathes slow! Way slow! She can get an hour and a half from a single tank. Newbies get about thirty minutes. I got an hour. After I learned to breathe more slowly and rhythmically from her (by watching her) I could get way more dive time. And more pictures! Meanwhile, she was taking pics of the male fish (see the teeth) with eggs in their mouth. And I did too! Yay! I once saw a fern in Jamaica whose leaves shrink when touched – sort of like scrunching up when a rain drop would hit. Coral does too – some types – as in you can write things in the coral. But once one coral shrinks the whole lot seems to follow. So, it’s a trick to write letters in the shrinking coral. Good luck.
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?
I realize it’s not a good image. But it’s a good memory. Farid and I were swimming parallel to the reef. That would be north south. We are supposed to be able to navigate underwater. After all north south is south north going backward. Ha! It’s one way or the other. Keep the reef to your right or left shoulder. Done! Ah! No! If you swim into a cove you can swim in a circle and be right back where you started. Get it? We didn’t. I had a great laugh when Farid surfaced to see where the hell we were. Oh! I missed it too. I was just following the “leader.” Rays? Out in the “blue” were three rays just moving along the reef. Beautiful. We couldn’t get close. They swam effortlessly away from us. The “blue?” In the deep, with no reference for navigation, up, down and sideways, it’s all the same. You can be lost or disoriented so easily. We joked. Sudan is to our west and in the “blue.” Don’t go to Sudan.
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’ve posted this before. Amr, a senior photographer and dive buddy shot/made a poster of it. It hung as an admonishment at the dive center. The Saudis are pigs. Ha, they don’t eat pork. Pig is a relative term I suppose. Someone (maybe not Saudi) destroyed this coral. They knocked it over. It looked like “shit” after it was destroyed. It was out about 15 minutes from the pier at 65 feet. It was beautiful and gorgeous once upon a time. Then someone came along and messed it up forever and for everyone else to come. Bastards!
I got some “art” shots. Unintentional! Really! The kissing fish? It’s a true picture. I was swimming over a rise in the coral. Voila! They were kissing. It lasted for a single frame. No! No Photoshop! No one believes me. It’s too easy to manipulate an image. But! Yup! Kissing! Omar blew bubbles. He liked Jules. So, he latched on to us and did a few dives with us. He was showing off his skill at the decompression stop. Bubbles! Free diver. There are guys who dive without tanks. Free divers – duh?! They hang weights from a float and dive to depths. Hey, it’s something to do when you have mastered basic diving skills. This diver was waiting for his compatriots. I got my balletic shot. Beautiful.
White salamander. It’s big and looks just like it shows on the internet. It was in the conservatory at the museum. Imagine that. Honest, it was (there).
Shrimp! Alas, it was in an aquarium. It’s striking how much glass will degrade the image. When I shot through water directly it was so much better. But… it’s fish again. Yay!
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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?
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!
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.
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.
The 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!
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.
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!
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.
The 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.
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.