Photo bomb

Photo bomb

PDF Week 2/2016: Canon G12, 15.673mm (on 6.1-30.5mm lens), 1/125, f5, ISO 100, underwater housing and strobes.

Words of the photographer

Can a bad picture be a good one? Can even an un-deliberate, random shot be a photographic treasure? Does it matter what wildlife you portray and who's story you are telling photographically? Photo Discussion Friday is a forum that offers the freedom to reflect on our products and processes.

Let me answer above questions myself. No, it's not a good picture. It is not fine art. It is not even properly composed. In my books, this is still an important photo that deserves to be shared. Photos sometimes tell stories that were hidden to our eyes when we took them. They might offer that opportunity for a second look, a closer investigation. That lesson alone is worth sharing here.

This photo was taken in 2013 in Bali. It shows two Hypselodoris infucata, two nudibranchs, on a sponge. The photo was tagged with keywords a long time ago and quickly discarded as worthless - only to be rediscovered by myself this morning. The main subject is blurred, the second one partly cut. But there is something else. During night dives at home, I am used to tiny wiggly - and yes, creepy - worms, being attracted by my dive lights and I am sure I noticed what makes this photo special, retrospectively so. Can you spot the transparent animal? 

A classic photo bomb - that's what this picture is. It takes a while for the transparent critter to even be noticed. On a second glance it becomes more important and precious than the rest of the photo. This transparent animal challenges me. It is not a worm. My passion of branching taught me a lot about the classification and identification of marine life forms. It will never cease to excite and amaze me. I assume that not many people in the world can produce an identification for this species quickly and easily. 

The animal has two eyes, even in grooves that you can clearly see at the front, right behind a big, round mouth opening. The long structure in the middle of the body might be a spine, simply nerves, the stomach or all of it. My instinct first went with a Lancelet or a fish, maybe a larval stage of an eel. But then the tail rather reminds of a shrimp. Why did that animal bump into that orange sponge right in front of me and my camera several times. Obviously, it was quite busy and bright there already. Is it possible that the solution to the mystery creature lies in the photo that I took prior to that, namely of a Cryptic orange sponge shrimp? But where are the legs? Has the transparent animal been caught preying on sponge DNA or on sponge tissue used for camouflage?

As photographers we often have to question ourselves whether we are the ones taking pictures or if it is the other way around. Maybe it is the pictures that come to us in nature photography as well as in art. We sometimes have to wait and be patient, rather than hunt and rush for the big opportunity. We also sometimes have to be open to the unknown and unexpected - before and obviously also after the photo was taken. If you don't believe me: try to take a picture of a small but fast and transparent animal. Reach almost a full focus and do that with a slow and small sensor camera in between 10 to 20 metres of water with plenty of distraction factors.

For me, nudibranchs are my access to the marine ecosystem. They are telling stories that other marine organisms fail to share. They are normally very small [often the size of a pin head up to pea sized, hazelnut if you are lucky, peach sized up to water melon the few ones commonly known to a wider audience] but they normally don't swim away and don't sue you if you don't have a model release agreement with them. Everyone can take good pictures of nudibranchs. All you need is an ocean and a camera. Once you get to my stage of involvement, it might be a good idea to start blurring them out of your vision a bit and start focussing on less obvious beauty.

In marine animal documentation we can hardly ever be sure how special photos are because we might see what we observe but lack the ability to interpret the data. We simply have no recognition patterns and knowledge that we can connect the photography and our observations to. The general public might not be able to connect to that sort of pictures at all, give up before they even start. How confrontational on the other hand if I think that winning a world championship in any sports, a Hopman's Cup or being listed in the Guinness Book of Records is nothing too special. Let's not even talk about celebrity photos, or beauty portraits.

It is often a great feeling having photographed something exciting and new. Sharing this excitement is the tricky part. Does it really matter how rare an animal is that you managed to glorify in a picture? Does it matter how difficult it was to take the photo? Does it even matter if it is true? Maybe not. As much as other forms of achievements some photos only gain value when they are turned into entertainment with a lot of marketing, a lot of words and a lot of sensationalism.

I like the narrative of that sneaky critter. It doesn't represent much, has a slender, long body, big eyes, a big mouth and a long tail to be envied. Not much of a brain or any inner values to be pinned down. Not even hands and proper legs that could be put to use at or for work. This animal is the show piece of modern society, so to say, lacking privacy and proudly displaying a total transparency, nicely designed features. Maybe it tricks us and we simply don't see its cloths or pigments. What really counts is that, in all its simplicity, it manages to steal the lime light from nudibranchs for a moment.

In photography we have to bear in mind that blurry pictures don't win a medal, most of the time. In nature documentation honesty and a true representation matter if you ask me. Let's just not forget that there are as many truths as there are people. And the most important truth and enjoyment is yours!

Feel free to discuss the photo or the animals. 


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