MCZ update

The MCZ project has now got twitter, Facebook and tumblr pages!
If you’re on any of these please do support the project and give us a follow or like.

https://www.facebook.com/MarineConservationZoneProject

https://twitter.com/MCZproject

http://mcz-project.tumblr.com

 

I’ve recently been on my first shoot for the project, which was a seasearch survey dive in Mounts bay. There’s now a blog post on the new tumblr page with more information and images from this shoot, but here’s a couple of images as a bit of a taster…

_DSC2311 (St Michael’s Mount, Penzance, this was the topside view of our dive site)

_DSC2351(Female cuckoo wrasse, and spiny starfish in the bottom of the frame too)

 

Thanks to everyone for all the support for the project so far, I really do appreciate it!

 

 

 

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Long overdue update & underwater river images

I have again been neglecting the blogging, but all quiet on the social media usually means I am ridiculously busy, rather than I haven’t been doing anything new.

The recent updates are that in a few days I will be a qualified Divemaster, which I have been spending most of the last few months training for. I also found out last week that I have been awarded an environmental bursary from the Royal Photographic Society, which is going to allow me to pursue and document a project which I feel very passionately about. I will be telling the story of the Marine Conservation Zones, and am so grateful for this opportunity to cover a subject I have been wanting to for so long. I will discuss this project further later on, when it gets underway in a month or so. I’m also off to China in 3 weeks, with my fellow recent graduates and a couple of our lecturers, to work on a collaborative project with a university in Beijing, and also teach some photography workshops. So, it’s all very exciting and busy!

However, the main purpose of this post was to share some images from a couple of months ago. I was commissioned by WWF-UK to document some underwater imagery of a particular chalk stream/river. I also had the pleasure of working alongside the awesome Andrew Parkinson, who had been commissioned to do the topside imagery, and who I must thank for recommending me for the project in the first place!

I won’t lie, I was pretty nervous about this project, because although I’m very comfotable working underwater, freshwater is an environment where I had limited experience, and the rules of underwater photography differ a little between freshwater and marine environments.

I was only shooting for a few days, but I think I still took around 3000 images! So obviously I can’t share them all but I would like to talk about a few.

The main trials I encountered at first was the finding of the species; various fish etc. Even when finding some of the fish, photographing them is a huge challenge in itself without the use of a pole camera. One of my set-ups was the image below, which involved the camera, in it’s housing, on a tripod where there were Trout upstream, the shutter set to interval, and myself on a bridge above, attempting to bait the Trout close to the camera with bread.

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This was the best shot I achieved with this set up and a bit of perseverance, the fish is visible but it’s not really what I was hoping for. So instead of wasting more time, this was abandoned, and other shots ensued…

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This shot of the banded demoiselle is one I had visualised since the recce of the site; watching these damselflies for a while you notice how they land for a little while on anything floating in the water, and as I was in the water, I tried stalking them. Most of the time this didn’t work, as they only settle for a minute, and flew off when I got too close, but I had one successful shot, which I am pretty happy with, especially considering it’s taken with a 10-17mm fisheye lens, so you can imagine how close I really had to be!

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Here’s a shot of Andy working in the river, behind the scenes kinda stuff! And yes, that’s him sat in the river with his rather expensive 600mm lens inches above the water…

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This is one of the more creative images I took, there’s a few more in this kind of style, conveying the “underwater Amazon” as this river had been aptly named. The reeds made a good subject, with their jagged shape, but actually most of the time I was shooting like this I couldn’t see the viewfinder, as I was holding the camera upwards, so it was a little hit and miss sometimes, and again a lot of preserving and repeating of the same shot.

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A last image for this post is this water crowfoot, shown from underwater. I was attempting to capture the reflection in the water level, reflections are great to work with, and I love the sheer amount of green in this particular shot! These flowers are common around habitats like this, and add a little colour to these underwater scenes.

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I will continue with the river work another day and share some more from this shoot, and there’s also a few different images on my website if anyone’s keen to see more – www.charlottesams.com

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Continuing this marine theme

Here’s some discoveries from the latest dive at the same site as the previous post, including 2 more species of nudibranch and a sea slug that I had requested a sighting of earlier in the week – what are the chances! I was definitely feeling very happy and privileged after this dive.

The first creature I saw actually provided some of the best shots, a new nudibranch for me, Polycera quadrilineata. These two shots vary to focus on the rhinophores, and then the branches upon it’s back. This was a little larger than most of the other nudibranchs sighted, probably around 3cm long, but the 105mm macro lens works wonderfully for highlighting this minute detail. This beautiful animal was fairly shallow and close to the shore, its amazing to think we have these creatures so close to home. 

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This nudibranch I believe is the same one featured in the last post, on a much smaller scale, as I’d estimate this one was just around 5mm long! I mistakenly intentifieded this nudibranch as a juvenile of a different species, but it was pointed out to me that the species is Ancula gibbosa, another new one for me. I particualrly like the green colours in the background. This nudi was actually floating around for a bit midwater until I took this shot, and as you can see it’s just about hanging onto the tendril of seaweed. _DSC9483

More sea hares! There was an area of about 1m squared which had a few within it, but unfortuntaley they all kept hiding behind this sea lettuce and weren’t the best photographic subject. However, I did manage to see one which was really tiny, as small as the nudibranchs, which was pretty cool. The one below I think was about 2cm long. _DSC9485

Another new species for me! Favorinus branchialis, a very prettily shaped nudibranch. We saw a few of these scattered around the site throughout the dive, but this was the best subject as was a little larger and on some more open seaweed. Though not as colourful as some, I like these types of nudibranchs with the cerata upon their backs. Other British species can look very similar to this shape but much brighter colours as well. _DSC9494

We also came across a Red Gurnard on the seabed, they actually almost crawl and feel they way along the sea floor, but generally are pretty static fish. This was no exception so I decided to take a few images to highlight the detail of it’s scales and the pattern near it’s mouth. These images haven’t had any lighting adjustments, and the fish are actually this fantastic bright red/orange colour, which, incidentally contrasts quite nicely against their blue eyes. _DSC9503 _DSC9499

I was swimming over some kelp and this thing causght my eye. It looked like a hydroid of sorts but was something I’d never seen at this dive site so swam down for  closer look. It was between lots of roots of kelp and I had fun trying to see through the seaweed fronds but this ‘thing’ really interested me, because it had started to move of its own accord, kind of like contracting each tentacle/branch slowly. So, I took a few images of it, in the hope of identifying it later. Later, I discovered it was a burrowing sea cucumber, Neothyonidium magnum, which was not what I expected, but very cool! I was battling with my surroundings and not getting the strobe arms tangled too much at this point so didn’t take many images but here’s one-

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And this next find was quite special. When reading an ID book a few days ago I came across the green sea slug, Elysia viridis. Despite having a fairly conventional form, I thought I’d would be awesome to see because it has iridescent spots along it’s body. On our way inwards from the dive I saw this slug upon some kelp, another tiny creature, about 2cm long. I took one shot, but before I could take another it let go of the kelp and started floating, not even free swimming, in the water. This resulted in me floating upside down for a few minutes, trying to circle this little slug that was gently moving around, and trying to focus on it with the camera too. I was very happy when I imported my images that I succeeded in taking some in focus! Also, in this instance I think the particles in the water work against the back background, and they look slightly like snowflakes. Though arguably, some people would have probably preferred I cloned them all out, I generally like to stick to as minimal editing as possible.

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(I know it’s called a green sea slug and this one isn’t totally green, but the colour can vary and I’m pretty sure I’ve identified it correctly)

One parting shot. In the shallows, just as I was beginning to get myself out the water, my buddy waved me over to the rocks nearby. I turned my camera and strobes back on, and there about 2m deep (if that), right next to the shore, was Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita, camouflaged on the rock. Most blenny’s have two little branched tentacles coming of their head, but this one only has one, similar to a crest. And, not to anthropomorphise, but the face on shot does make it look like it’s smiling.

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Isn’t the ocean awesome!?

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More amazing marine life

A quick bit of backstory… Before the last dive/shoot that I posted about, I had been (repeatedly) saying how I was requesting sightings of nudibranchs, sea hares and stalked jellyfish, purely because these are all quite awesome species in my opinion. If you read the previous post, you’ll see that we didn’t see any of these on my ‘wish list’, which was understandable, I thought it would be quite unusual to see them all in one dive, and still had fun anyway. So this dive, I wasn’t expecting any of those above species, just the more common sightings of wrasse and crabs etc.

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Therefore, after being underwater for about 5 minutes, when my dive buddy pointed out a nudibranch to me I was very excited. Especially because it was so big (for a nudibranch)! It was positioned in a particularly awkward place, meaning taking good photos was hard, and I’m aware this isn’t the greatest shot but I’m only using it for reference/ID here. This species is a sea lemon, Archidoris pseudoargus, and was about 3 inches long. 

_DSC07281We floated on a little further, and then happened across another nudibranch! More excitement! This one was much much smaller, about 2/3 cm long. It’s not the most creative image, but from it the species was identified as Acanthodoris pilosa. There were a few of these around at other spots, all very tiny and awkwardly positioned, but lovely to see so many. 

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Next came a pair of tompot blennies, hiding down a crevice between some rocks. (I know there’s only one in this photo but the other one is hiding just out of sight) These are a common fish to see, especially in this kind of habitat as they tend to like hiding out between rocks like this.

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When diving you tend to swim really slowly, and when I have a macro lens I naturally slow down even more because of the nature of the photography, and after the sightings of nudibranch previously I had my eyes geared up. So managed to spot a third species of nudibranch! Even smaller than the last ones there was a group of 3 or so, ranging from just under 1 cm to just under 2 cm (I think), which is the one I have images of here. Much prettier than the two previous species, this is Limacia clavigera, an orange-clubbed nudibranch. 

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After the nudibranch crawled away to spot where I couldn’t photograph it, we swam on, and out of the kelp alongside appears a sea hare! (Aplysia punctata) A smaller one than I’ve seen before, I guessed it was about 1.5 inches, and once illuminated properly by the strobes, the colour against the kelp was fantastic. This was the best subject to work with, being in an accessible place, and so I spent more time with it than anything else, allowing me the opportunity to try out some different techniques, and get a number of shots I was happy with.

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And if you were wondering…”These animals have been called ‘Sea Hares’ since classical times because of their resemblance – at least in European species – to a sitting hare.”

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By this point, I was extremely happy with all our sightings, though beginning to get more than a little uncomfortably cold. (70minute dive in 10 degrees water & a wetsuit – divers will be able to relate!) We turned back and after a few more minutes, my buddy waved me over, and what do you know.. there was a stalked jellyfish! (Lucernariopsis campunulata) It was getting a little ridiculous at this point, I honestly barely expected to see one of the species from my wish-list, let alone all 3 of them! I only managed a few shots of the stalked jellyfish before cold took over and I was struggling to work the camera, but here it is. Doesn’t look your typical jellyfish right…arguably almost like a minute squid in appearance. These creatures are about 1 inch long and act like an upside down jellyfish, attaching to kelp and seaweeds, and then having it’s tentacles facing upwards.

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Also, massive thanks to Matthew Thurlow for being my buddy on this dive and spotting some really cool creatures! I know this post has been more anecdotal than usual, but I just wanted to share my excitement for the whole dive rather than talking about the images as much. My next post shall be different. I plan on visiting this site again for another dive later this week, so fingers crossed for some more amazing marine life.

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www.charlottesams.com

 

April cornish marine life

So this is the first Cornish dive I’ve had this year, due to the storms creating little to none visibility up til recently. And the cold water was a bit of a shock at first, but I was determined to stick it out and get back into the swing of underwater photography.

Just a local shore dive out of Falmouth, the site often provides us with sights of dogfish and  rays, fairly large species that we surprisingly saw nothing of this dive. Nonetheless there is always something interesting to see underwater, so I had plenty of subjects to practice my photography on.

There are hundreds of anemones around this area, of varying species too, and their colours are absolutely amazing! The variation between them and the bright colours & patterns are really lovely; you could quite easily spend a whole dive focusing on photographing anemones.

I never do these triptych things, but in this instance it helps show a few different images all together, and you can see what I mean about the colours! These species are Dahlia anemones, Urticina felina.

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Painted topshells, Calliostoma zizyphinum, are often found washed up on beaches. They range a lot in colouration, and why I chose to include this shot was the fact that the foot is particularly visible and actually kind of matches the shell here. As you can see from the shot this one was clinging onto a piece of kelp, which is very common to see underwater. _DSC0664Along with sightings of a few shore crabs, an edible crab, and a very angry velvet swimming crab, we also happened across this spider crab, Maja squinado, who appeared to be feeding on something, it wasn’t clear what. The first shot here illustrates the fact that it’s feeding on something, and the second image I wanted to highlight the body of the crab more than anything, focusing on the leg here. Similar to decorator crabs, they have life actually growing and living upon them, you can see the flecks of sponges in these shots.

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Next is this snake pipefish, Entelurus aequoreus. I actually came across a juvenile of these in a rock pool the other day, and was confused for a while on the species as it’s visually quite different to the greater pipefish we often see around these parts, being much smoother and, unsurprisingly, snake-like. This first image shows how I very almost swam right past it, due to the camouflage within this particular seaweed. Spot the pipefish! The second shot simply shows what amazing and beautiful eyes they have.

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_DSC0675Finally is an image of one of the absolutely tiny prawn juveniles that we came across. The image doesn’t show perspective but you’ll have to believe me that this was only about 1.5 cm long. They were darting around like crazy, so this was one of only I think two shots that actually captured it in focus. With the dark background here the transparency of the body is visible, which as it ages will become ore opaque. From the patterns I’m pretty sure these were common prawn young, which will  develop into pretty purple and yellow striped crustaceans as they grow.

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So that’s all the images from this dive, all commonly sighted species, which could in fact be found either rock pooling or snorkelling should you fancy it in these lovely warm waters of 12 degrees!

Photos of 2013

I’m jumping on that bandwagon, and making one of those ‘my images from 2013’ type posts. We all do them, and lets face it, it’s a good way to see some of the best images from one year in one post.

I’ve not done one of these before, and I wasn’t sure whether to try have one image taken per month, or just 12 of the best. I’ve decided on a selection of the best, because for some of the first few months of early 2013 I was doing much more editing and video shooting rather than stills.

This has been a fantastic year for me personally, and a lot of wonderful first sightings, some of which will feature below. So here’s my chosen set, in chronological order, of some of the best wildlife photographs I have enjoyed taking this year:

1- Barn owl from Screech owl sanctuary (captive). A great day, and a lovely bird to be able to get close proximity to. Later on in the year I did photograph a wild barn owl, but the images were nowhere near as strong as this one. I do love backlighting. _DSC6077

 

2- Sea urchin. One very very cold dive. But a pretty cool subject!DSC_2443

 

3- Turnstone – the Outer Hebrides. A seriously awesome trip with some amazing people. _DSC8643

4- Purple Sandpiper. Another from the Hebrides trip, I definitely couldn’t narrow it down to just the one image! Other highlights of this trip was sightings of golden eagle, white tailed sea eagle, and wild snowy owl. Phenomenal. _DSC9493

5- Pomarine Skuas – the Outer Hebrides (again yes). The time I spent sat on this headland in the stormy weather was exhilarating, and one of my favourite moments from the week. _DSC8919

 

6- Fox cubs! My first sightings of wild cubs. _DSC0838

 

7- Juvenile cuttlefish. The first half of my year was much about birds, and other land based photography, the second half I began to focus on my underwater photography, which I have really loved. DSC_4004

 

8- Snorkelling with grey seals. This doesn’t really need explaining! _DSC1187

 

9- The Scylla & the James Eagan Layne shipwrecks. The beginnings of my project, this image is in fact the Eagan Layne but both were dived in the same day and were great dives. My love for this beautiful green tinge you get in British waters grows. DSC_4694

 

10- Compass Jellyfish. One of the more abstract images I took, focusing on the water surface instead. Jellyfish are beautiful subjects to work with. DSC_4294

 

11- Nudibranch, Coryphella browni. My first EVER nudibranch (sea slug) sighting! Extremely exciting. _DSC1453-1

 

12- Syracusa shipwreck. The project continues. DSC_4364

 

13- Obelia hydriod sample under the microscope. More recent project work. _DSC3610

 

I may have squeezed in 13 instead of 12 images, but they were all too important for me to cut out any! There was so many more events and photo-shoots I could have spoken about here, but I think this set gives the most balanced and varied representation of my year in wildlife photography!

www.charlottesams.com

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Happy 2014!

 

A Focus on Nature & Birds of Poole Harbour

This week, I was really excited about working with a team of other young conservationists/photographers/and general wildlife fans!

Connected by A Focus on Nature, our plan was to work together, and with Birds of Poole Harbour, documenting the various species and wildlife we saw on our boat trip around Brownsea Island and the harbour. Accompanied also with children from Stoughborough primary school on our morning boat adventure, our other task was to engage with the children in various activities that afternoon, relating to what we may have just seen and learned on the morning’s bird watching boat trip. However, this post will focus on images taken on the boat.

We were extremely lucky with the weather this day, it couldn’t have been more perfect for being out upon the water! The waters  could not have been calmer, and there was a gentle warmth from the sun, evading the clouds in the sky.

This first shot, although not wildlife, shows the beautiful misty, calm weather we had, and the view looking over towards sandbanks. _DSC3698-

This image is included for the humorous value, I’m pretty happy with the timing of it! (click on the image to view it larger) We had a lot of cormorant sightings throughout the trip, some of the children made a competition of seeing who could count the most of them!

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This is an image taken from the boat looking over towards the lagoon area on Brownsea island, with a huge flock of Avocet feeding and gathered in the shallow waters. Avocet are simply beautiful birds, I would have liked to have taken a close up of one of them but unfortunately there were just too far away. However what I do like about the images I did manage to take is that they display the habitats of the birds instead. _DSC3772-

A Northern Diver decided to pop up very close to us on the boat, and I was able to take these next two images. We wouldn’t have had this lovely pattern on the waters should the weather not been so calm. _DSC3916- _DSC3919-

Some more Avocet on the lagoon again, I love that the stillness of the waters creates such strong reflections of the various birds in this particular habitat. _DSC3791-

Another wonderful bird we saw a number of; the Spoonbill! This photograph is of a small group of them feeding, though there were many more than this in the area. Spoonbills are not the most common wading bird so this was an exciting sight for the children, and for myself too! _DSC3853-

And now for the absolute highlight of the boat trip! Some of us were treated to the sighting of a hunt and kill sequence, involving a Merlin and a flock of Dunlin. This was incredible to watch, I’d not seen anything like this before. The speed of the Merlin was so impressive, and as it whipped around this flock of a fair few Dunlin it was hard to track! The Merlin in this image is in the lower right corner, you can see here the Dunlin tried change direction multiple times to escape it. The group is slowly starting to break by this point, and spread out a little further._DSC3867-

The birds flew so high that I actually lost sight of them, but suddenly reappeared, and the Merlin had succeeded in picking one Dunlin off from the group. The chase continued again, with the Merlin and now just one Dunlin flying across the corner of the lagoon. This action continued again for possibly a couple of minutes, until the Dunlin flew over the reedbed, and we lost track of the pair. _DSC3875-

The Merlin soon materialised above the reeds, clutching within it’s talons the unfortunate now deceased Dunlin. I didn’t manage to capture this in a photograph, and the Merlin swiftly flew off. This whole sequence lasted really only a matter of minutes, a prime example of the Merlin’s expert hunting skills, and I am extremely happy that I was there to witness it!

So thank you to my fellow project team and everyone involved for a wonderful day!

 

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