Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Adam & Jodies wedding

The Battersea Barge has a great location on the Thames next to THE power station built of 26 million bricks. It is a long time since I photographed a wedding but as a special for John and Paula being Jodie's parents and who's wedding I photographed in 1977 I agreed to do it, so with some trepidation I turn up with a D300 an F6 loaded with HP5 and an F3 sporting an 8mm fisheye. Inside the boat the ceremony was excellent with no mention of the god word. Once the register had been signed we were whisked off to Battersea park where it immediately began raining cats and dogs, but with the black and white cameras some moody shots were obtained. The party was great with lots of drinking and dancing and a great time was had by all!

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Bahamas debriefed

It has been over a month now since returning from the Bahamas shoot, and thinking back it was a remarkable experience. 
The bbc natural history unit have sunk a boat off  Stuart's Cove at the western end of Nassau.  The decommissioned tug had to be cleaned and scrubbed before being sunk, explosives expert David Jones had the job of overseeing the sinking. There were a number of cameras bolted to the ship to record the actual event, two of these were trashed. Much to everyones amazement the ship landed perfectly bolt upright on the sea bed, which just what was wanted. The location was carefully selected to be sheltered from hurricanes and also fairly shallow at 14 metres. After a year there is a profuse growth of algae and a wide assortment of marine life growing on the hull. It lies on a white sandy bottom in a slight hollow between coral reefs. the sandy sea bed is carpeted with Flat-Top Bristle Brush algae (Penicillus pyriformis), between these swim Goat Fish attended by usually 2 or 3 smaller silvery fish who stick with the Goat Fish hoping it will kick up morsels of food.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Tiputini blog 15th April 2008

Up at dawn, had a cold shower in the very pleasant cabin in the Tiputini research station. Breakfast is from 6.30 to 7.00, and consisted of bacon and eggs with bread and cereal. There must be 30 or 40 people here, students and working biologists. The first objective of the day was to photograph a large tree with enormous buttress roots. The buttresses were covered with small epiphytes, some climbing plants lie flat to the bark and make beautiful patterns against the lichens. Morley noticed a terrestial flatworm crawling along a buttress wall. I set up the HD camera on it, as it had stopped moving. As i waited for it  to start off again I was distracted by a large cricket that looks superficially like a stick insect. The head appears stretched in an absurdly comic way, so I proceed to take stills using my Zeiss luminar 40mm, which enables big close ups with astonishing detail. After several attempts and checking the image on my camera screen I feel satisfied with the result, and walk back to the Terrestial flatworm, of course it has cleverley buggared off! I search all around the area as it could not have gone far, and I was about to give up when I notice a ball of yellow slime wrapped around a stick with bits of dead leaf sticking to it, yes it is the flatworm! What a brilliant disguise, it must have sensed my presence and adopted this remarkable attempt at concealment. I unravel it from the stick and place it back on the buttress in order to film it. Again it sits there motionless, so I wander off to look at a remarkable termite colony. There is a fallen tree trunk with a cut end lying parallel to the laboratory building. From a crack in the wood a steady stream of workers and soldier termites are collecting on a small area of wood surface, here the larger workers are gnawing into what looks like a microbial crust, the soldiers with their long snouts are standing guard. These make great subjects for filming so I deploy a number of different techniques including the 5mm endoscope that I have with me. This small area next to the lab has all sorts of interesting subjects, including a leaf hopper attended by ants presumably being rewarded by honeydew secretions, also Morley filmed some amazing Heliconis butterfly courtship display. I finally get back to the terrestial flatworm and of course it is gone. Kelly Swing the director of the research station gave us a Peripatus, a strange missing link animal that has its own phylum which sits somewhere between Annelids and Arthropods. It has a worm like body with hundreds of legs, a head with eyes and antennae and a very elegant walking motion. I was getting a fantastic close up shot as it walked through frame when Morley said watch out for the Trumpet bird behind you, and in an instant the Peripatus was plucked from the log and was descending  into the bird's stomach!

Lunch was at midday, and here Maricella offered to let us photograph her baby turtles ( Podocnemis unifilis ), she has been rearing the eggs in a hatchery with the eventual release back into the wild. Also she takes blood samples for DNA sequencing back at the lab in Quito. The hatchlings still have their egg tooth protruding from the front of the beak, and when placed on a white surface for photography they don't want to hang about. So there is endless wrangling the little chaps into position for a picture. This is all fairly exhausting so it is time for a siesta back at the cabin. Suppertime is at seven, and we have an interesting conversation with a group of primatologists about the evolution on primates and the evidence for a common ancestor back n the Oligocene.

A night walk along the Matapalo trail begins around 8.30, and I am cursing the decision to bring the HD camera along with the still equipment. The night is hot and sweaty and I am being eaten alive by mosquitos, Morley hears a frog call that he thinks might be Rheibo guttatus,  so we proceed off the track into dense primary forest following the bird like high pitched rasping call. We enter an area of steep sided gullies, and Morley sensibly uses the old Huaorani method of breaking banches of trees to guide us back in case we get lost. Of course we are soon distracted, firstly by a dung beetle sitting on a leaf and then a giant bush cricket with incredibly spiny front legs. We decide to return to the path, and I am disorientated and would have gone in completely the wrong direction, showing how easy it is to get lost, so the Huaorani method convinces me that we are going in the right direction. Back on the path I notice an enormous Ctenid spider sitting on a fern frond hanging over the path. It just shows how easy it would be to brush against vegetation and have it crawl into ones clothing. I set up the video camera and can see that it is eating a large Scolopendramorph centipede. Getting close to such a large spider in the dark is fairly scary, but the dramatic footage makes it worth it

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Lost a couple of days blog, working too hard! Went into Nassau with DJ, found the aquarium shop where it had a notice not to leave your fish in the car as you might boil them! Coffee at Starbucks and then on to the airport to extend the car hire by a couple of days. When I got back to Stuarts Cove diving, Peter Scoones was there helping Mike to get the HD camera working. They all went off diving me and  Peter chatting over a veggie burger. He told me the story of how he filmed the Coelocanth in the harbour of the Comoros islands for life on earth. Apparently he had been filming a volcanic eruption, and got back to his hotel at around 3.am. Before being abl;e to sleep someone rushed into the hotel saying that there was a live Coelocanth in the harbour. As I am sure you all know the Coelocanth has been dubbed a living fossil from the age of Dinosaurs. This is because it belongs to a family of fish call the Crossopteridgia, which were considered to have become extinct at the end of the Mesozoic era. So 65 million years later stories emerged of fishermen in the comoros island catching a bizarre type of fish in their nets, and the first time these were examined by a biologist they wre amazed to find themselves in the presence of a denizen from ancient times. Back to the story and Peter only has 3and a half minutes of film left in his 16mm camera. He jumps into the harbour and finds that the fish which id=s about 2 metres in length has been wrapped in chains beneath a group of boats. He decides to free it and although it is alive it is very weak, he wanted to lead it into open water for filming by holding its lobe fins, but sadly the chains had cut into them, so he carefully  holds the mouth, at which point it bit him! Probably the first and last person to ever be bitten by a Coelocanth, as we will probably be extinct before them! The rest is history as people around the globe saw for the first time a living Coelocanth in Attenboroughs "life on earth." 

Friday, 25 July 2008

Snorkelling the wreck

Up at seven, went for a swim in the sea just as the sun was coming up. The others went off to film James having a diving lesson in the pool. I headed off towards Stuarts Cove, and had an interesting dive round the headland. There is still some ancient forest here which is now a reserve also archaeologists have found evidence of the first sttlers in the the Bahamas which date to around 1500 years ago. When I arrived at Stuarts Cove Adriana met me at the gate and thought I was a tourist which was vaguely amusing. I soon set off back to Lyford Cay in search of a hardware shop, where I bought various containers for plankton samples and a large tarpaulin as Adraiana was paranoid about her carpet. the others turned up as I got back and we all got ready fgor the afternoon dive on the wreck. We headed out on a hard boat for about 5 minutes. David Jones the diving officer briefed the two rebreather divers and the trainee James, while being fimed on DVcam (Scot)with a sound recordis (Simon). Dougi was feeding James soundbites, while Miranda was sheltering from the sun. The DV cam housing leak indicator was playing up so there were a few false starts but eventually things settled down. Got in a gorgeous snorkel session, looking at the sunken boat from above, tried to touch the top which was about 10 metres but got within two feet of it before I had to give up, later with practice I was able to touch the wreck. On the way back deployed the plankton nets, got some good samples but unfortunately most were dead by the time the boat had docked. This is a problem that needs overcoming, so tomorrow will attempt to bring em back alive using aerators.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Setting up at Stuart Coves Dive Bahamas

Mike Pitts makes a brill cup of tea, after a light breakfast set off with Dave Wright to Stuarts Cove. Driving on the left in ight hand drive car is quite tricky, anyway made it ok. The dive centre is like something from a James Bond movie (Thunderball, Casino Royale was filmed here). The equipment seems to survived the flight so spent the day settong up ready for filming.

The flight

Woke up at 4.00 am and after a scant breakfast of banana and cereal was picked up by a car at 4.45. John Chambers  had already been picked up and we set off along the M4 to heathrow. There were 60 cases to load up onto skycap trolleys. Once at the check in desk I almost had kittens when the BA person said the maximum weight for each case was 35kg, luckily Neil Lucas persuaded them that the agreed limit was 50kg. Big relief once on the plane watched the movie Cold Mountain and fell asleep. Arriving in the Bahamas to a balmy heat was most pleasant. I was driving one of the hire cars and to my horror couldn't find the gear shift, ventually got to our accomodation, I was sharing a house with Neil, Jon and Mike. Went for a meal up the road, took ages to be served and they forgot Neils altogether!

tuesday 22 July 2008

Finished packing late afternoon, afteral most giving myself a hernia putting my microscope cases into the back of a Kia Carens, I set off for the Natural History Unit in Bristol. Arrived there about 6.00pm and left my 6 cases with all the other crews equipment. Finding Martin Dorns and Hilary's house was quite a challenge but once there was treated to a really tasty supper prepared by Martin. Left for the Victoria Square hotel quite late, but was in bed by 11.30.

Monday, 21 July 2008


Plankton fiming can be complicated so a shitload of equipment has to be bubblewrapped, packed and ready to use at the other end. The objectives are to film a wide variety of plankters including a Chaetognath predation sequence. Also known as Arrow worms these torpedo shaped predators have been found as fossils among the Chengjiang fauna of China, which is a lower Cambrian 520 million years old lagerstatten deposit. The extant species look remarkably similar to their fossil counterparts, so it will be exciting to film such ancient predatory behaviour.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The countdown has begun, and every waking minute is devoted to organising , cleaning and generally preparing for the forthcoming expedition. I had the last of my jabs today including rabies and hepatitis B, interestingly in the surgery waiting room was a 2006 National Geographic magazine with a fascinating article about ANTS, written and photographed by Mark W Moffett. Many of the shots were taken in Ecuador, and the variety of forms and behaviour is unbelievable.

I had a lucky break last tuesday morning, as I had dicovered that my HD video camera lens was damaged and unusable. I drove straight to JVC headquarters in Neasden, and was surprised to find it a secure site, which needed a prior appointment, luckily I remembered the name of the chief engineer, so when I asked on the phone I was met at the gate by Voz, who took me into their repair area and promptly gave me a coffee. Here he confirmed that my lens was kaput, and it needed repair. He gave me the number of a company called Pyser SGI at Edenbridge in Kent, I set off straight away having on the way a delicious Italian coffee and Panini in Oxted. When I arrived Chris Powell told me I needed a part from Germany which he immediately ordered over the phone, it is now two days later and the repair is complete and the lens will hopefully be delivered tomorrow - that what I call service.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Ecuador expedition 2008

Once the decision has been made to launch an expedition a set of underused gears in the mind slowly grind into action. The lead up is a minefield of micro decision making, as one knows from bitter experience that the omission of one thing can lead to problems. So by imagining scenarios and identifying clear objectives a list of actions and useful bits and pieces is put together.

The Victorian science ethic was one of " observe and deduce ", which I admire greatly as it helped to spawn the great ideas of Darwin and Wallace. Since then not much has changed with that fundamental idea, except for the marvellous technology that we now have at our fingertips. So my role as a scientific photographer and cameraman is inspired by the famous quote" Record and Digitise ",

The plan is to visit Ecuador for a month, firstly a short tri[p to Toachi Pilaton hydroelectric project which is cloudforest habitat, followed by the biosphere reserve at Yasuni.I will be travelling with my friend and coworker Dr Morley Read, and if the technology works as it should will deliver a running account via blogger.com of our progress in the field.