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.

 

New Tricks

Menacing yet living peacefully with so many fish

Menacing yet living peacefully with so many fish

The Secret Reef display at the Tennessee Aquarium is yet another place where one can easily lose track of time.  The tank extends from the top to the bottom of the Ocean Journey building with ramps that lead visitors deeper and deeper until you end on the ground floor with the reef over your head.

This provides ample viewing opportunities to see animals at all depths of the tank.  If the sea turtle happens to be surfacing for air, you can see it at the top.  If it happens to be eating, you’ll see it a couple floors down, and if it decides to take a nap, you might also see it on the bottom.  If you’re really lucky, you’ll get to see it at all the levels.

The sharks seem to float through the center of the tank, mostly.  They are the most ferocious looking of the creatures in the tank, yet they float docilely by the rest of the members of the community.  I have to imagine that they don’t eat their neighbors–the aquarium couldn’t afford to keep replacing them.  My theory is that even a species that’s been around since the time of the dinosaurs can learn new tricks when its well fed.

My other favorite residents are the two green sea turtles.  Stewie is a giant–or at least he looks giant compared to the size of the rest of the inhabitants.  Every time he floats into view I think of the Disc World series by Terry Pratchett.  For those of you who are not geeks, this is a sci-fi/fantasy series of books that take place on a planet that rides on the backs of 4 elephants who are, in turn, riding on the back of a giant sea turtle who swims through space.  Presumably he’s much larger than Stewie.

Stewie swims out of the shadows, giving us a clear view of his stout tail

Stewie swims out of the shadows, giving us a clear view of his stout tail

Doesn't Stewie look like he could carry a planet through space?

Doesn’t Stewie look like he could carry a planet through space?

When I see Stewie, I find myself thinking perhaps it is not completely preposterous that a planet might be propelled through space on the back of a sea turtle.  Although, the books are, of course, tongue-in-cheek.

Stewie poses briefly

Stewie poses briefly

The other sea turtle bopping about in the secret reef tank is Oscar.  Oscar has a bit of a story.  The first time we ever saw Oscar, he was wedged under a rock at the bottom of the tank and appeared to be dead.  Apparently visitors report a dead sea turtle in the tank every time Oscar takes a nap (which is a daily occurrence).

In reality, Oscar was rescued following a collision with a boat.  He lost most of his back flippers and ended up with air trapped under his shell.  As a result, he floats abnormally for a sea turtle.  So, he wedges his head under a rock and his rear-end floats toward the top, looking very odd indeed.  Fortunately for Oscar, he’s doing quite well at the Tennessee Aquarium and has quite the fan club.

Who says you can’t teach an old turtle new tricks?

Stewie turns slowly having noticed food

Stewie turns slowly having noticed food

Poppin’ Penguins

These guys played statue for me

These guys played statue for me

I love penguins.  I suspect this started in childhood.  Mr. Popper’s Penguins was one of my favorite stories.  I fantasized for weeks about how to build a giant ice sculpture for the penguins I wanted to live in our basement.

Imagine my surprise when I saw my first live penguin display and there was no ice.  Seems penguins do just fine without it–at least the species in the aquariums and zoos I’ve been to.  The important ingredient seems to be making sure they have a place to swim.

My adult fantasy has nothing to do with taking penguins home with me (taking care of a dog is enough responsibility), but with getting a great shot of one of them popping out of the water.

It fascinates me how they can build up so much speed underwater in a relatively short distance that when they decide to beach, they can propel themselves straight up into the air and land on their feet.  It’s the equivalent to flaring a hang glider to land, except that they are moving in the opposite direction of gravity and through the resistance of water.

Alas, the penguins do not accommodate me.  In all of my visits to the Tennessee Aquarium, I have either been behind crowds of children and couldn’t get an angle on a popping penguin or the penguins weren’t popping.  On our latest visit, they weren’t popping.

One of the few penguins in the water glided along slowly

One of the few penguins in the water glided along slowly

Rather than demonstrating their underwater and water-exiting talents, they swam rather lazily like they’d just eaten and were afraid of getting a cramp.  They waddled about in their penguin waddle way and made noises at each other up on the surface.  This was amusing in and of itself.

Moving awkwardly across the surface

Moving awkwardly across the surface

Any of the young penguins that had recently hatched the last time we visited had either become full-fledged, and undistinguishable, adults, or been sent elsewhere.  Gone were the rock nests and none of the penguins were stealing rocks from others.  They were, however, stealing fish.

They cackled at each other and sword-fought with their beaks, although no one actually tried to land a jab.  They seem to be arguing about the rations each bird was entitled to from their recently served meal.  From the looks of them, there’s plenty of food to go around.

This guy really wants all the fish

This guy really wants all the fish

I particularly enjoyed watching one getting ready to enter the water.  He waddled over to the edge, slowly raised a foot like he was going to do a dramatic dive into the water, and then hopped down to a lower ledge that was all of 3 inches below the water line.  Apparently he wasn’t up for a swim yet, but felt like wading.

This guy thought long and hard before deciding to get closer to the waters edge

This guy thought long and hard before deciding to get closer to the waters edge

Making a less than dramatic entrance into the water, this guy plopped instead of popped

Making a less than dramatic entrance into the water, this guy plopped instead of popped

One of these days I’m going to take a day off when all the kids are in school and go sit myself in front of the penguins all day long until I catch one of those little men in tuxedos popping out of the water.

In the meantime, I might have to go re-read Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

 

Open Mouths

Continuing our visit to the Tennessee Aquarium, I discovered a topic I never expected to write a blog post about.  Let’s talk about mouths for a moment, shall we?

Some mouths are terrifying.  Think Jaws.  Think Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Now, think Alligator.  Not so very different, in my book, than thinking about being bitten by a dinosaur.  After all, the American Alligator actually did live with the dinosaurs.

Even sleeping the alligator looks menacing

Even sleeping the alligator looks menacing

The relatively small Alligator that lives in a rather cushy environment in the Tennessee Aquarium by Alligator standards (I should think), chose a rather interesting spot to hang out for an afternoon nap.  The only thing that would have made his choice of places to sleep better would have been if the glass would have been antiglare.  Since I can’t imagine the aquarium staff has been training the alligator to nap where it can be viewed up close, I’m guessing this little nook was designed to be exactly what an alligator looks for when it comes to nap nooks to increase the odds that visitors would get to admire this guy’s teeth up close.  They sure are white.  There is something disturbing about an animal whose teeth are so prominent they don’t fit inside its mouth when it’s closed.

I think this might be as close to cuddling as alligators get

I think this might be as close to cuddling as alligators get

Catfish are another creature that has a scary mouth.  They also co-habitated with T-Rex.  Perhaps I have stumbled upon a pattern?  While the teeth of a catfish may not be so prominent or sharp as the alligator’s, there is just something downright menacing about the way their mouth looks to me.  It comes as no surprise that there are several types of catfish who have been rumored to kill people (although not substantiated).  This catfish was enormous.  While not even close to the top of the scale for big catfish, he seemed big enough to swallow a small child whole.  I don’t think this catfish actually has any interest in eating small children, fortunately.  His markings make me think of my dog, making him a whole lot cuter than most catfish.

This guy doesn't look so scary with his back turned

This guy doesn’t look so scary with his back turned

The next in our series of mouths is a crazy turtle.  An alligator snapping turtle, to be exact.  Unfortunately, his lure doesn’t show in the shot (through thick glass), but this guy hangs out with his mouth open and wiggles a lure that is part of his tongue to attract fish.  An underwater fisherman.  I’m just guessing, but I suspect this guy may be even older than the alligator–he looks like a rock.

So frozen people stop to ask if he's dead, this guy waits for imaginary fish to swim by

So frozen people stop to ask if he’s dead, this guy waits for imaginary fish to swim by

I don’t recall the name of the next open-mouth participant in today’s post.  I assume he is gathering something edible by filtering the water, but he kept swimming around with checks billowing like sails.  I missed a shot of the inside of his mouth reflecting light and shimmering like a silver bowl.  He just glided by with his billowing mouth below his paddle of a nose looking some sort of bizarre submarine.

If this doesn't speak to the diversity of the planet, I don't know what does

If this doesn’t speak to the diversity of the planet, I don’t know what does

This guy's cheeks puff out as he takes in water while swimming with a wide open mouth

This guy’s cheeks puff out as he takes in water while swimming with a wide open mouth

 

In the end, I was the one who left open-mouthed.

Otters and Smiles

This playful otter had quite a routine established--he used every inch of his tank that simulated a rushing river

This playful otter had quite a routine established–he used every inch of his tank that simulated a rushing river

There are certain things in life that make it impossible not to smile.  A toddler laughing.  A dog wagging like mad.  An amazing sunset.  And otters.

Who can possibly watch otters at play without smiling?

The Tennessee Aquarium has otters in their River Journey display.  I have been to the aquarium at least a dozen times in the past year and a half.  The otters have always been sleeping.  Otters sleeping are cute, but not quite so provocative of a smile as when they’re playing.  Discovering they were wide awake and having a ball on our recent visit with friends was quite a joy for me.

One might think the otter needed a rest, but he really was looking for a diving board

One might think the otter needed a rest, but he really was looking for a diving board

The Otter takes a spinning leap as he makes a dramatic dive back into the water

The Otter takes a spinning leap as he makes a dramatic dive back into the water

This might have been a great time to switch over to the video mode on my camera.  But, alas, I keep forgetting it will shoot video.  So, I have created a video from a series of rapid fire stills instead.  I didn’t actually shoot with the intention of making a video, so there are gaps.  The biggest gap is that I missed when they were swimming upside down.  How is it that otters can swim upside down as easily as right side up?   According to the National Geographic website, they can close their ears and noses.  I imagine that would be a big advantage during graceful rolls and swirls through the water.

The first time I thought I saw a river otter in the wild was in Colorado.  As it turned out, it was a beaver.  When it smacked its flat tail against the water at us, I realized my mistake.  In retrospect, a sea otter would be closer to the size of a beaver than a river otter, so I really should have known it was a beaver.  Seeing a beaver was pretty exciting, but I’ve always wanted to see wild otters at play.  So far, the closest I’ve come is when we saw river otters in a mountain lake near Mt. Hood in Oregon last fall.  They were fun to watch, but we were a bit far away to get to see much besides their heads when they would pop back to the surface after diving for fish.

The only pair of wild river otters I've ever seen taking a break from fishing in Oregon

The only pair of wild river otters I’ve ever seen taking a break from fishing in Oregon

River Otters are one of the many creatures I envy.  They are perfectly equipped for their lifestyle.  They have all the special features they need to not just survive through cold winters and hot summers, but to thrive in them.  They embrace their lifestyle with verve and frolic through life.

Of course, there are downsides.  For one, they are apparently very vulnerable to environmental pollutants.  For another, that warm, waterproof coat is something humans want to have.  They had disappeared from much of the country as a result.  Fortunately, through reintroduction and habitat management, they’ve made quite the comeback and are even considered a nuisance in some localized areas.  However, there are still many parts of the country that have very few river otters.  These must be the parts of the country I usually go hiking in.  I keep hoping, though.

 

Sharing Wonder

I think it was a Tulip Snail--whatever it was called, it was beautiful reflected against the glass

I think it was a Tulip Snail–whatever it was called, it was beautiful reflected against the glass

Why is it that going to the same old places seems like a special treat when sharing it with someone for the first time?  While our friends were visiting after Christmas, we took them on a whirlwind tour of the Tennessee Aquarium.

These little guys are so fascinating to watch, I can’t imagine what soulless person could harvest them

The ever-changing colors of the seahorses as they move through the tank makes for great camouflage

The ever-changing colors of the seahorses as they move through the tank makes for great camouflage

I haven’t been to the aquarium for a few months now, but I really thought I’d seen everything there was to see there.  Yet, seeing it with someone new always makes me look more closely.  I go into the experience with nervous anticipation–I want my friends to be wowed.  I want to feel the pride of a “native” about the really cool things my chosen town has to offer.  I don’t know if this is because, in part, I feel guilty about having moved away and I want my friends to understand what is so attractive about this place.  But, honestly, I felt the same way taking visitors to interesting places in Columbus.  I don’t know what it is about a town that makes a person identify with it.  Is it just the desire to show someone a good time?  Or is there really some underlying insecurity that makes me feel like if they think the aquarium is lame, I’m also lame because I love it?  I think about going out to eat with people who recommend a restaurant and choking down barely edible food with a smile because I like these people and I feel like it would somehow be a personal insult to them if I admitted that I hated food they loved.  What I don’t quite get is why we care (excuse me for presuming I’m not the only one who does).  Some people prefer chocolate ice cream while others prefer vanilla.  It’s not a comment on someone’s value as a human being.  Yet, it’s so much more fun to share something with someone when they really enjoy it than when they just fake it.

I don't remember if these are pipe fish or not, but they were easy to walk by without noticing

I don’t remember if these are pipe fish or not, but they were easy to walk by without noticing

I’m happy to report Georgia and George genuinely enjoyed the aquarium–they made it more fun for us, too.  Their fascination with the floating jelly fishes made me appreciate the jellies all over again.  Their enthusiasm about the river and ocean tanks made me see it like it was the first time.  Georgia’s willingness to touch a sturgeon had me dipping my arm into the tank right along side her.  They don’t have scales like other fish–they feel very smooth.

We also caught part of a Ranger Rick show that featured a bird I’ve never seen before–a Trumpeter Hornbill.  For those of you who do not remember Ranger Rick, he was a cartoon raccoon and the name of a children’s magazine about nature.  The aquarium has Ranger Rick shows for children, but I didn’t see many kids in the audience.  The most amazing thing the Hornbill did was catch a grape in mid-air that was tossed just a few feet in front of it.  They need better lighting for photos, but it was still pretty cool.

The Trumpeter Hornbill catches a grape in a mid-air maneuver that seems impossible

The Trumpeter Hornbill catches a grape in a mid-air maneuver that seems impossible

The Trumpeter Hornbill returns to its handler after flying across the room

The Trumpeter Hornbill returns to its handler after flying across the room

The Next Parade

Well, it’s that time again:  the next Christmas parade.  If the Mainx24 parade was challenging with it’s bright daylight, the Starlight (aka Street light) Parade was even more with its very dark setting.

With my 5D Mark III on a tripod with a ball head attachment that also allows for panning, I was able to pan with the parade.  This is the only way I was able to get anything in focus.

I started out with a non-panning shot of the crowd in front of the Tennessee Aquarium.

In honor the celebration, the Aquarium displayed candy-cane-stripped lights

In honor the celebration, the Aquarium displayed candy-cane-stripped lights

The Tennessee Aquarium has glass pyramids on its 3 separate buildings.  The two buildings in the image each have two lighted edges.  From some angles, you can see all four lighted edges.  From other angles (like the view from our balcony), one of the lighted edges disappears behind the front glass surface.

This is a fun phenomena when walking along the riverfront.  If you start at the West end of Renaissance park, all four edges are visible.  As you walk East, the one edge gradually disappears from view.  I have thought about putting a mark on the sidewalk at the point where the one edge disappears completely.  I might be the only one who notices.

The crowd was getting pretty excited by the time the parade started.  People kept surging into the street to see what was coming.

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What was coming was a fire engine, fortunately with its sirens silenced.

The Howard High School marching band soon followed.  They had also marched in the Mainx24 parade.  I found myself wondering if they have a shortage of funding for band uniforms–their drum corps was wearing matching sweatshirts and beanie caps.

They stood in front of us for a long time, waiting for the traffic in front of them to make the turn ahead at slow speed.  The drum corps continued to drum a beat and the rest of the band swayed in time.  The young man to the left seemed to be grooving.  It was fun to watch.

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While the band waited to move on, the horn section swayed to the beat of the drum corps

The same dog shelters that were at the Mainx24 parade were also at the Starlight Parade.  However, they opted for more vehicles and fewer dogs.  What they lacked in numbers, they made up for in size.

A giant inflatable dog made up for the lack of live dogs--hopefully they all got adopted

A giant inflatable dog made up for the lack of live dogs–hopefully they all got adopted

Instead of mini-cheerleaders, this parade had twirlers.  I’ll share some photos of individual twirlers later, but this was their float with the tiny-tot-twirlers riding and waving instead of twirling.  I imagine this was a wise decision.

To avoid chaos, the tiniest of the twirlers traveled on a trailer

To avoid chaos, the tiniest of the twirlers traveled on a trailer

A group of girl scouts walked by next.  they all wore red pajamas and santa hats.  Most of them seemed to be busy talking amongst themselves, but one girl scout gave me a long smile while I panned with her.

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While the rest of the girls scouts chatted, one girl scout smiles for the camera

Through all of this, Tisen clung to Pat’s side at the curb while I kneeled in the street shooting.  Doesn’t seem like he likes parades much.

Tisen kept giving me "when are we leaving" look

Tisen kept giving me “when are we leaving” look