Some samples from the last couple of days in the shed photographing seaweed. It has been long slow work with regular collections of fresh seawater and new experiments.
On the whole the results are getting there given the scale and unspectacular nature of the two algae I am working with; Caulerpa geminata (the green one) and Pterocladiella (the red one). But although the shots are looking good there is less emphasis on the beauty of the actual seaweed than I would like but I am sure that will be more than made up for as the project goes on.
I am also playing with some colour grading but the final prints may end up being very large scale black and whites.
The shot of both algae in the clear bottle is a reference to the recently announced Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary (Read more on Stuff) with the curved green line of Caulerpa geminata representing the line of submarine volcanos which run up next to the Kermadec Trench – within the protection of the bottle.
With the exciting discovery of the Kermadec seaweeds in Wellington I am going to go small scale and work from the home studio to be closer to a ready source of fresh seawater. So I am converting the garden shed to a photographic studio for a while.
Yes – I am going to experiment with weed in the garden shed! A teenage boys dream job. The twitter jokes will be flowing my way.
Back to the 50litre fish tank I used for proof of concept. It seems tiny after the 900 litre tank at the university.
And moving the project has the added advantage of making me clean the shed!
As I mentioned in a previous post the are only two seaweeds that can be found here in Wellington that also can be found at the Kermadecs. Because I hope to show some works from this project in the Kermadec exhibition it was important I included them in the photographs.
One of the pair, Caulerpa geminata, was easy to find – it is relatively common and I found some literally across the road from my house in Breaker Bay. The catch – although it is the same genus and looks the same as another Kermadec algae, it is strictly speaking a different species- and I am a detail freak! I will use it but really want to find the other Kermadec seaweed – Pterocladiella.
So the search began …
With the help of Dr Nelson at NIWA I was able to narrow down the search area to a spot just outside the Taputeranga Marine Reserve on Wellington’s South Coast but it still took multiple visits and a couple of weeks before I found my elusive wee friend – Pterocladiella.
So I now have a very small amount of Pterocladiella, ID confirmed by the NIWA expert and under lock and key in the storage tank.
New challenge: Both are very small. I will be leaving the big tank and going back to macro scale to capture these. At least I will be able to easily keep them in seawater at this scale.
The other new challenge: The are both pretty boring looking (Pterocladiella in particular).
The Weed Project is starting to come together with some good experiments in the big tank with Bull Kelp (Durvillaea antarctica) or Rimurapa to use it’s Maori name.
There have been a lot of learnings along the way:
The kelp is super robust and looks fresh even after a while on the beach and has the added bonus that it doesn’t cloud the water too quickly.
It doesn’t seem to mind fresh water too much (some weeds bleach and leach colour very quickly) making it practical to shoot in the big tank. Obviously that is a good thing with such a big algae
It takes on a magical quality under the studio lights. Almost skin-like which I will explore further
I have also refined my aqua set building using fibreglass concrete-look planters and plastics painted with textured paint. I am wanting to keep the sets very minimalist, monochromatic and man-made to shift the weed into a total new context.
Although I still envisage the final prints will be black and white here is a sample of some of the raw files from the shoot.
On the “Weed” project I am lucky enough to be working with some fantastic scientists and advisors including New Zealand’s pre-eminent expert in seaweeds – Dr Wendy Nelson.
Wendy is Principal Scientist – Marine Biology and Programme Leader – Marine Biological Resources at NIWA. Her book NZ Seaweeds an illustrated guide (ISBN: 978-0-9876688-1-3)has become indispensable in identifying my algae discoveries.
Because I intend the first showing of this project to be part of a Kermadec exhibition in April I am am very keen to make sure I am including seaweed from that region in the project. With Wendy’s help I have been able to track down the only seaweed from the Kermadecs that can be found in Wellington, Pterocladiella, and one other, Caulerpa geminata, which looks the same as another Kermadec algae (the Kermadecs is C. racemose – same genus but different species).
She has also been a great source on tips on keeping algae happy while I transport, store and photograph it. I never would have found Pterocladiella without her help.
Thanks for all your help Wendy.
Some other good seaweed reads:
South Pacific Reef Plants
Diane Scullion Littler & Mark Masterton Littler
I haven’t been focussing on composition at this stage – just learning how various weeds behave and what different moods I can create with the lighting.
On the whole this have been pretty successful … well even failure is just discovering was not to do it I guess.
I can definitely overcome the 15mm glass to make the subject look like it isn’t underwater if I want. Some weeds float and some don’t. I suspect I am getting more sinking because I am using fresh water. The large tank is at the university so it is impractical to fill it with 900 litres of seawater regularly. Some of the weeds cloud the water quite quickly so I need to change it regularly. I suspect some of the weed is behaving differently because of the difference of buoyancy between fresh and salt water.
It is amazing, but not surprising, how differently the weed behaves underwater. The humble Sea Lettuce (Ulva pertusa) goes from being like a clump of snot out of the water to being a delicate and translucent element in the photos (it’s the bright green one in these photos).
Low environmental impact approach
I am trying to maintain a low environmental impact approach on this project. Gathering most seaweed off the beach directly after large swells and only taking what I need. Where possible all materials are returned to the source. Most will be collected in Breaker Bay Wellington and obviously nothing from the nearby Taputeranga Marine Reserve.
I hope to shoot some incidental marine subjects (e.g. anemones) and these will be shot in a small marine tank in my home studio (within 50m of the point of collection. These will be collected with great care and returned asap.
I am using a set of Nikon Speedlights (flashes) to light everything. They give me complete control and help to keep reflections to a minimum. They have the added bonus of reducing the amount of mains electricity on what is a times a wet set. From previous projects (Lilly was a nice girl) I have developed a set of light modifiers and techniques that work very well on this project too. I have made a set of gobos and barn doors for the speedlights using card and straws. I get the best results if I avoid any lights hitting the front glass of the tank – if all the light hitting the lens is coming to it through the front glass there will be no reflections (he said crossing his fingers)
Remember I am not working on composition yet. Nice to see the ability to get dark a moody or white and contemporary. I have tested using my home-made lens with a glass from a camera that is 100 years old which give a wonderful softness to the shot.
After a bit of patient searching (thanks to NIWA, Wgtn Marine Education Centre et al for your help) I managed to find a large fish tank for sale on TradeMe. $500 instead of the thousands I was quoted to get one made.
Basically one metre cubed it literally weighs one tonne when filled. So after a massive cleaning operation and the construction of a very heavy duty base for it, the first nervous fill happened outside – whew – no leaks!
Massey have found me a storeroom with a concrete floor, no windows and a sink which I can use as a studio for a while. The glass is 15mm thick and very green which looks cool but may make it harder to give the illusion that the subject is not underwater – next step is large scale lighting tests.