October 12, 2006
By Andy Collins,
NOAA, NOS, NWHIMNM -
Education and Outreach Specialist
Sette Lead Fisherman Jonathan Saunders retrieves one of the baited epifauna traps.
busy day aboard the Sette. Like yesterday, the small boats were deployed
in the early morning, and then the ship retrieved the baited epifauna traps,
with the three strings of traps deployed the night before at 250, 150
100 meters. Several of the scientists stayed back from small boat field
operations today to continue processing and photographing their samples.
A few of them were busy until 1:30 AM last night trying to get just the
perfect shot of a hairy hermit crab, or a restless shrimp. All day, and
most of the night, the wet lab is humming with activity - scientists
sorting specimens, microscopes and macro photography setups everywhere, and
vials and plastic cups containing minute organisms spread across the
tables. It is a photographer’s dream, with strange subjects and expensive
gear at every turn.
Jody Martin’s photo setup.
to get just the right photo, the scientists go to great lengths to compose
their subjects. They each have different techniques, and “tricks” that they
use to get the perfect shot, and there is continuous discussion about what
works best, or what produces the least amount of distraction, and thus the
least amount of image cleanup later. Jody Martin likes to use a kind of dense
black felt on the bottom of his containers to offset his subjects from the
background. He shoots with a Nikon Digital SLR with a macro lens and stand-alone
synchronized flashes on either side. Jody’s setup works particularly well
for the larger organisms. Leslie Harris tends to focus more on the tiny critters,
and uses a zoom macro lens (1-5x or 100mm macro) with double macro flashes attached
to a vertically adjustable stand.
Her subjects are arranged on tiny Petri dishes with black, or sometimes white
plexiglass. On subjects that are barely visible she attaches a camera to
her Leica microscope. When her subjects are too three dimensional, and an
antennae, or hair extends out of the field of focus, she takes multiple images
of the same organism and digitally “stitches” them together later, using
several images to make one
Harris’ photo setup.
Sea Mckeon holding a special tray for photography.
Gustav Paulay and his graduate student Sea Mckeon use a
double flash, and macro assembly, like Jody Martin’s, but use porcelain dishware
painted with a matte black coating. Cory Pittman prefers the natural look
to the isolating quality of a flat black background.
Cory Pittman’s specialized sand tray,
and a nudibranch photo at bottom.
has cemented a type of artificial sand to the bottom of a dish in a narrow
single layer. According
to Cory, this produces more natural looking photos, and also prevents burrowing
organisms from hiding, since they cannot dig into the cemented sand. Finally,
and certainly most complex of all, Susan Middleton prefers to develop a
personal relationship with the organisms she photographs, sometimes
for the critter to become relaxed and pose for her. I swear I heard her
talking to her subject last night, an anemone crab that finally relaxed
to such a
degree that it was staring dead ahead, all pumped up like some kind of
Harley Davidson biker saddled up to a bar counter, the only thing missing
large mug of beer. The tentacles of the three anemones attached to its
back were extended in full glory, and despite being in a featureless
container it appeared comfortable, which is quite remarkable considering
that several hours ago it was 750 feet below the surface of the ocean.
One of Susan Middleton’s photo setups.
The scientists on this expedition spend so much time to get the perfect shot because the images are a big part of their data collection. The images will be used to assist identification, and may be included in reference books, scientific literature, and popular guides. The resolution of the images being captured is such that the structure of the fine hairs on a polychaete’s (worm) body can be studied later, or the form of a crab’s
claw, or the colors of an anemone crab’s eye stalks. Some of the organisms collected
cannot be identified immediately, and high-resolution photography provides a
mechanism for preserving natural color patterns, and even the form of a soft
bodied organism which may be lost, or altered in the preservation process. Freezing
or preserving in an alcohol or formalin solution often disturbs the natural appearance
of an organism. Color patterns, form, and even behavior can be important clues,
in addition to DNA analysis, of discerning one species from another. Although
color is not commonly used to discern species it can be an important feature
that helps to separate organisms, in addition to other physical or genetic factors.
In some marine animals, like hermit crabs, color is often used for definitive
identification in the field.
Stipes eye stalks of an anemone crab.
*All images and information from French Frigate Shoals are provided
courtesy of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument,
Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the Northwestern Hawaiian
Islands State Marine Refuge, and NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries
Science Center in accordance with permit numbers NWHIMNM-2006-015,
2006-01, 2006-017, and DLNR.NWHI06R021 and associated amendments.
on one of the following areas to follow the expedition.
activities of the ship: what research is being done that
day, what the weather is like, what's for dinner, etc.
or semi-daily personal journal entries by the particpants
in the expedition. These journals do not necessarily reflect
the positions of any of the agencies connected with this
Interviews with expedition participants, scientists,
vessel crew, educators, etc.
Highlights or special information such as interesting
discoveries or related research.