Sunday, 23 March 2014

Slow Life

The most important living organisms that play the key functions in the biosphere might not seem exciting when it comes to motion. Plants, fungi, sponges, corals, plankton, and microorganisms make life on Earth possible and do all the hard biochemical job. Similarly to all living things, they are dynamic, mobile, and fundamentally have the same motion properties as us. They grow, reproduce, spread, move towards source of energy, and away from unfavorable conditions. However, their speeds happen to be out of sync with our narrow perception. Our brains are wired to comprehend and follow fast and dynamic events better, especially those very few that happen at speeds comparable to ours. In a world of blazingly fast predators and escaping prey events where it takes minutes, hours, or days to notice any changes are harder to grasp.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Polarized light vision and marine crustaceans

This is a real image of a marine amphipod without any fancy photoshop tricks. Understanding these diamond-like patterns will require knowledge about polarized light and the role of polarized vision in marine invertebrates.

   When light reaches our eyes we detect wavelength (color) and wave intensity (brightness) information. That is exactly what the brain needs to build a visual picture of the surrounding world. Yet a lot of other information is left out. UV and infrared parts of the spectrum are the most obvious examples. Well, technically the human retina is sensitive to UV, but the eye lens filters it out. That is why individuals missing eye lens, for example due to cataract surgery, can see UV light. Some parts of infrared waves can be sensed by the skin as heat, which is how we can estimate whether a frying pan is hot or not. These features, however, don’t make up for the limitation of our vision.

   Aside from having a very narrow spectral sensitivity we can’t detect light wave oscillation direction, which is another parameter of a wave in addition to wavelength and intensity. In the majority of cases each individual wave vibrates in a random orientation in a natural beam of light. This did not prevent many types of invertebrates, birds, and fish from finding another visual world by means of enabling themselves to sense additional dimension of light—polarization and its angle.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Fluorescent colors of the reef - why corals need colors

   Corals, like many representatives of marine life, are known to be strikingly colourful creatures. However, understanding the nature of those colours can be tricky. The most problematic part: there's no such thing as colour outside your head. Light differs in wavelength and those differences can be picked up by various receptors in the eye. Colours, in contrast, are born in the secondary visual cortex in the brain after a lot of information is processed. The brain decides how to render the information from the retina based on the context of the whole image. In other words, there's no easy correspondence between wavelength and colour. Every photographer is familiar with this concept as part of white balance correction.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

A fancy scorpionfish and some thoughts on photography of animals in captivity

This is a lacy scorpionfish (Rhinopias aphanes). It's extremely rare and I know only one diver with 5000+ logged dives who have seen this gorgeous creature in its natural habitat. I guess that makes me fortunate to be able to see it, at least in an aquarium.

Unfortunately for this psychedelic fish, its beauty makes it very desirable among aquarists. In addition, it is so confident in its perfect camouflage that it simply doesn't bother to hide and sits in the most visible place of the tank. Most likely it also doesn't try to hide in its natural environment either and divers just miss it.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Back from rainy Great Barrier Reef - some wildlife and macro/micro shots

    The Great Barrier Reef is renowned for amazing underwater sights... but the weather might seriously let you down. I spent most of the two-week long field trip indoors cursing the weather, yet managed to get a few shots.

The field trip took place at Heron island, which is a large coral cay. University of Queensland has a research station there.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

My new video: The hidden life in pond water

   It finally happened! I am publishing my second video about microscopic inhabitants of ponds. Also available on youtube. In this video you will see the invisible world from a perspective of a water flea. Mayfly nymphs, ostracodes, water mites, ciliates, and, of course, hydras make an appearance. Don't forget to turn on HD!

   This time I used macro lenses to get more angles and a better depth of field. In combination with microscopy footage, I believe, it works well. With the set of techniques I could show a more natural habitat, the kind of environment in which the invertebrates actually live. It's no longer flat, and the animals swim freely in water, interact, and sometimes get eaten alive.

   I made most of the filming in September, but was hoping to license the material to the wildlife movie studio that approached me. While things didn't work as planned, I got a lovely videography experience, and sold some short sequences to another studio for a project that is not announced yet. I am hoping to get some fresh material soon. This time I'm filming on an island on the Great Barrier Reef, and with plenty of cool tricks that I want to try. Besides, there's a lot of room for improving my skills.

   Cameras used: Canon EOS 7D and Sony NEX-7. Microscope: Zeiss Axioscope A1. Macro lens: mp-e 65 mm. Plus many additional tools.

   A lot of thanks to the friend who helped me to collect the material, build the equipment, maintain the animals alive, and generally keep me positive about the filming.

   Hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Divers vs reefs in Thailand

The picture above might look like something coming straight from my camera attached to my microscope, but don't be deceived. That's just bubble coral from the Indian Ocean and not even a macro shot.

   One of divers' mottoes is "take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but bubbles." But do divers really leave reefs unharmed? Being a biologist with reef conservation experience made me see my vacations differently. While everyone seems to come to tropical destinations to enjoy water activities, spend time on sunny beaches, and look at colorful fish and corals, I automatically start evaluating reef damage and looking for coral diseases. The last trip to Thailand made me question such things as whether or not conservation biologists are pessimistic in general or is it just me. I also started wondering if it's possible to come to a place without harming its environment, particularly if you are a diver.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Transparent water flea

   Most of small and microscopic invertebrates are transparent and sometimes make you feel that they are made out of glass. That fact makes taking pictures very difficult. In  case of this water flea, which happens to be Simocephalus vetulus, I spent 4 days by Photoshop manually stacking and stitching images and cursing all classes, orders, and families of crustaceans I could recall. No automatic software is capable of accomplishing this insane task. I find the combination of dark backgrounds and polarized light very spectacular for transparent animals in general, and though that at least one object deserved such attention. Hope it was worth it.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Seashell portals

  In my childhood I loved looking closely at seashells, being fascinated by the natural shapes. But it never occurred to me to look at them through the microscope. Admittedly, I didn't have such kind of devices back then=) I just came from a trip to Thailand where I spent some time on the least crowded beaches possible to pick up the tiniest shells I could find. After a month of searching I ended up with a small bunch of seashells, out of which I picked fewer than 10. Now I am posting some of the results I've got, but not all yet.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Microscopes vs macro lenses. More pictures of bryozoans and other stuff

   The difference between microscopes and macro lenses is not that significant at first glance. The optical principles are the same. What microscopes offer are complex illumination techniques, which can make transparent objects stand out for example, and comfortable systems to focus precisely and move the objects in different directions with a set of screws. In this post I am trying to show how the same object (bryozoan colony Cristatella) looks like under different magnifications and various setups.