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You are here: /main/research expeditions/CReefs 2006/journals/Day 5

Day 5
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.
Sette Lead Fisherman Jonathan Saunders retrieves one of the baited epifauna traps.

Another 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 and 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 little 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.
Jody Martin’s photo setup.

In order 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,
Leslie Harris' photo setup.
Leslie Harris’ photo setup.
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 complete picture.
Sea Mckeon holding a special tray for photography.
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.
Cory Pittman’s specialized sand tray, and a nudibranch photo at bottom.

 

 





Cory 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 waiting hours 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 was the 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 plexiglass 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.
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
Stipes eye stalks of an anemone crab.
Stipes eye stalks of an anemone crab.
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.


 

*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.

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