Shooting Jellies

My favorite photo op in the jelly fish department

My favorite photo op in the jelly fish department

I have often said that if I had to have an office with no window, I would want a huge aquarium of well-lit jellyfish.  They may not be cute and I can’t say they make me laugh, but there is something indescribably soothing about their movement through the water.

They also make for a fascinating photographic subject, if a difficult one.  I imagine if I were a diver, I might have less difficulty, but then I realize I would probably end up among an entire smack of jellyfish (yes, I googled to find out what you call a group of them–seems appropriate given what it feels like to be stung) and wide up with some fatal amount of jellyfish stings.  Plus, underwater shooting creates its own set of difficulties.

They always look upside down to me--I was tempted to rotate this photo

They always look upside down to me–I was tempted to rotate this photo

Fortunately, the Tennessee Aquarium offers far safer photo ops of a wide variety of jellies.  My personal favorites are the West Coast Sea Nettles when it comes to shooting.  They have lovely colors, they’re large and I tend to get a little less reflection off their tank since it’s flat and the lighting is relatively good.  Of course, it’s still a bit challenging to get a sharp photo.  Besides the thick glass between my lens and the jellies, the lighting is still dim and the amount of movement happening throughout the body of the jelly requires a relatively fast shutter speed.  At the same time, they are 3-dimensional, which means greater depth of field is required for a shot that has more than one small portion in focus.

By shooting this at ISO 10,000, I was able to use a 1/100 of a second shutter speed.  By shooting between 32-64mm focal length, I got better depth of field at an f/5.6 aperture.  The head of the jelly (if that’s what you call it) gets a bit fuzzy in the brightest parts–I’m not sure if that’s due to movement or the high ISO setting.  All-in-all, I’m impressed by the lack of noise at a 10,000 ISO setting–my 40D would have been noisier than this at 800 ISO.

Looking at the group of nettles together, I try to imagine what it would be like to encounter a large smack in the ocean

Looking at the group of nettles together, I try to imagine what it would be like to encounter a large smack in the ocean

I also managed to remember that my camera will shoot video as well.  Since it’s the movement of the jellies that fascinates me the most, I figured this was a good time to use them.  Unfortunately, just because my camera can shoot video doesn’t mean I can.  As this video demonstrates, I haven’t learned even the basics of how to get a decent video yet–although I do think I have good taste in background music ;-).  All in time, I suppose.

Next trip, I will take a macro lens to see if I can get some good shots of the smaller jellies and their cousins.  The Sea Walnut is little guy I particularly want to shoot–their bodies reflect light in such a way that it looks like colorful lightening is going off inside them.


Fright Night

Halloween is perhaps the most magical holiday there is.  After all, you get to transform yourself into a princess, a witch, a football player, a horse, or whatever your imagination can come up with.  People hand you goodies.  It’s suddenly socially acceptable to scare the pants off of everyone.  And best of all, you don’t have to struggle to figure out what to get in the way of gifts–candy comes in fantastic variety packs that pretty much provide something for everyone.

And, it’s at the best the time of year in the US–the leaves vibrant in the golden light of the sun and the air dry, crisp, and cool–refreshing as a dip in the ocean after a day on a hot beach.  And the harvest moon lighting the night sky with a brilliance not often seen in the summer time.

When you combine all that with bonfires, haunted mazes, s’mores, and scary story telling, there’s just no beating Halloween.

My husband and I have been debating on a costume for Tisen.  We’ve never costumed a dog before, but there’s an upcoming dog party.  I want to dress him as a cow.  Pat wants to dress him as a poodle.  Pat’s idea has two advantages:  first, there are no logistical issues involving an udder and boy-dog naughty bits; second, it’s funnier.  However, neither of us knows how to transform a pit bull into a poodle.

In the meantime, I’ve gotten into the spirit by volunteering at the annual “Acres of Darkness” event at the Audubon Society.

My job is to greet visitors at the entrance to the haunted woods and attempt to scare them with the history of how the woods became haunted, and then send them on their merry way into the pitch-black of the woods at the right time.

It’s a fun job.

Since the first weekend the event ran was a little slow, I took my camera and tripod out with me to see if I could get some pictures of the trail.  It was really dark, but with the ISO set on 25,600 (every time I type that it still blows my mind–I remember when people used to talk about 800 ISO film being really fast), I managed to capture a few images.  In fact, some of them were over exposed.

Capturing the glow-in-the-dark faces on the trees was easy enough–I could shoot them from my position at the entry to the haunted woods.  The rest of the images required walking through the haunted woods.  Since I couldn’t leave my post until after we closed for the night, I was wandering down an already dark trail turning off lights and stopping to shoot every once in a while.  Fortunately for me, the zombies and monsters has worn themselves out on all the earlier visitors, so I made it through the trail unmolested.  Unfortunately, that made for less exciting photos than I was hoping for.

More Shabby than Chic

The word “spa” is an evocative word that conjures images of crystalline pools with gurgling waterfalls and people passing by serenely in bath robes, faces covered in green mud, on their way to their next massage.

Since the spa in question was called a “hiking spa” and the hotel was described as a “country inn,” I figured I wasn’t going to get a scene out Sex and the City.  I was, however, somewhat startled by the condition of the hotel, which another guest later described aptly as “more shabby than chic.”  She also called the program a “hiking camp for adults.”

When we walked into the lobby, I was still smiling from having had such an enjoyable ride to the inn via Gramps shuttle service.  The dark and tired looking lobby was not enough to deter my enthusiasm.  What did give me pause was the guy at the front desk who wasn’t the most welcoming character.

Having read reviews on the website where people said the staff seemed like friends, I expected a more enthusiastic greeting.

Everything about the lobby was dingy.  Even the light bulbs seemed dingy, casting a sort of gloom over what should have been a very nice, lodge-like space.  It’s never good when the hotel lobby looks bad.  If the hotel isn’t investing in keeping the first impression good, it’s guaranteed they’re not investing in the rest of the property.

As we navigated the dim halls lined with stained carpet, a putrid colored light flashed around a corner.  When we turned a corner, we were thankful we didn’t have epilepsy because we both would have had seizures instantly.

It was just a fluorescent bulb gone bad in the little room with the ice machine, but it made me think of Joe vs the Volcano and the horrifying office he worked in.  It was the kind of thing you expect to see in a horror film right before an axe murderer jumps out from behind the innocent victim staring into the light.

All of this actually turned out to be a good thing.  I was mentally prepared for a room that made me wish I’d brought my own sheets.  By the time I opened the room door, my expectations were so lowered, I was pleasantly surprised by the homey looking quilt (although it did have a few tears) and the large space.

In spite of the poor lighting and my lack of a tripod, I had to take a few shots. ISO 1600 made that possible.  I’m astounded by the second and third photo.  02 is straight out of the camera while 03 is the same image post-processed using only basic adjustments in Aperture.  I’m impressed by the recovery of detail in the fan and window, which were over-exposed in the previous image.  It amazes me what my camera will record.  I’m also impressed by the lack of graininess in the photo.  With my old camera, I’d start to see grain at ISO 400.