Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Painted Ponies

Greg and I went to a talk put on by the Underwater British Columbia Photographic Society (UBCPS) last week. It was by Dr. Amanda Vincent where she discussed the ongoing work of Project Seahorse. I had met Dr. Vincent a couple of years ago at another conference and she is a wealth of information about world wide conservation efforts and is well connected to both the scientific and conservation communities. She is well spoken, generally upbeat, and just a pleasure to listen to. And, she happens to know a thing or two about seahorses. We had just been looking at some of our Solomons photographs and remembered that we never really got an ID on these little guys. Over time, they have just got cuter and cuter. So we printed out a couple of images and took them with us to the talk. How handy is that.

Talking to Amanda, she thought they might be Hippocampus colemani, a relatively newly identified species (the 34th in fact) named after Neville Coleman that is found at Lord Howe Island in Australia. So far, we're not convinced but then again, we're not exactly seahorse experts. Amanda also said they may have about 2 other species that they are looking at adding and it might be one of those. And would we mind sending in our photographs in to help with the identification? I have a couple of good photographs of them. Greg has a bunch of great photographs of them from all different angles that are still "in the archives", perfect for a good ID analysis. Good thing we didn't delete them. Maybe that's why we keep the extra 5,000 marginal photographs that we do. You never know when you'll need to identify a new species ...... It could happen!

I've been thinking about this as we've been cataloguing our photographs into Lightroom. Some of our photos are not "the best of the best" so why even bother keeping them? I try to be brutal and delete the less than mediocre ones, but sometimes it's just fun to review all of the images in a particular dive and have it bring back the memories of the dive itself. Sometimes you'll find things in a photograph that you didn't realize was there. Sometimes it allows you to see a "different side" of a particular fish. Sometimes it helps someone else decide whether that was a yellow fin or a yellow line species. Sometimes, the crappy ones can be made into a great web photograph that will never be printed on paper.

And now, just what I needed, I have another excuse - sometimes you can help identify a new species!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong with this picture?

Is this like a fish out of water or what? But this is the new Jan and Greg.

Here we are. We've left Hawaii and are in the sunny climes of North Vancouver, BC. Look at that beautiful blue sky in that photo! Vancouver is certainly that place they were talking about when they said "when it's nice it's really really nice, but when it's *not* nice, it's awful".

I love being back here amongst friends and family. The ocean and the mountains are right there and the trees are a beautiful blanket over the land. (Well, that is when they haven't been blown down by huge wind storms, but I digress).

We have settled in a furnished apartment and have been looking for jobs and real estate. It must be nicer here because real estate is more expensive than Kona. The good news is that there is more of a range so there is hope for us. Our house in Kona is still on the market and we have friends staying in it to make sure it remains "ship shape" and ready for instant sale should that one special person come by to see it. The other good thing is that there is more of a range of jobs here as well. It's life in the big city.

We have found the "butt" in Sydney and may one day make it back to the dangers on the reef with the other kids.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sometimes the magic works ....

To get good underwater photos, you need to have a top of the line DSLR camera in a housing cause everyone knows those point and shoots don't work. To get great underwater photos, you need to have the finest quality lenses or the light doesn't transmit properly. To get great underwater photos, you must have at least a 6 mega pixel camera or the image quality is crap. To get great underwater photos, you need to have at least 2 strobes cause you get too many shadows with just one. To get great underwater photos, you must be using a Canon camera because everyone knows they're better and all the pro's use them.

Sarcasm is life. I think the first thing you need, is to be underwater with a camera in your hand. I find that helps alot. But often no matter what you have in your hand, you'll either get a great (underwater) shot or you won't. To quote a famous Indian Chief or two, "Sometimes the magic works ... and sometimes it doesn't".

Greg and I went diving for fun the other day and I took my housed camera. I hadn't had it in the water here for a long time so I just put on the old trusty 60mm which is so easy to shoot with and gets great shots without really trying. On the first dive, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. First my right strobe stopped working after 3 test shots on a fried egg nudibranch. Guess those fully charged batteries had been sitting on the shelf too long. Then I lost my favourite hair glove. Then I realized I forgot to set my computer for Nitrox so I wasn't going to get my additional time at depth. I tried to get some behaviour shots of a rock mover wrasse and took too many in a row and missed the "great" shot. We reached the pinnacle at G.A. and the viper moray was way out of his hole in perfect position for a shot. Then my focus light ran out of juice. No way will my camera or my eyes focus on black in black. I leave and bang for Greg to come over and shine his light on him so I can focus. When we get back he's completely disappeared into his hole. I start sensing a theme - the magic is not working. Greg finds cool shrimp we've never seen before and even though I don't have the exact right lens, I try for a proof/mediocre shot. They disappear when I bring my camera up and my computer now has a deco stop required. I decide to shoot some fish shots on the safety stop over the arch and my left strobe stops recharging. Not only is there no magic, but she hates me.

When we surface, I think that I should take the sign from the gods and just skip the 2nd dive of the day. Why bother diving if you don't have a camera to take photos with. But we take the batteries out of Greg's GPS and put in his backups and then take the batteries out of my GPS and put in the used ones from my backup light and now I at least have strobes. I wonder if I remember how to dive without a hair glove?

A friend tells us about a pregnant frogfish so we decide to investigate. Couldn't get any worse right? We find her right away and she is beautiful. She's a gorgeous forest green colour with pink spots and is fat fat fat. She is also accompanied by a smaller yellow male frogfish who really wants to get close. We watch as he leaves his spot about 8 inches away from her and starts nudging her around and shaking his body. She temporarily rises from her spot to turn around and her belly is all saggy and she is "low to the ground" and looks rather crabby that she has to move at all. She settles back down and the male is right on her tail. She has a gelatinous mass attached to her tail by a thread which contains ...... ? She seems head heavy and her tail is floating up all the time where the male is still fussing. I read later that this is "standard pregnant frogfish" posture as she prepares to eject an egg sack which she may do several times. The male will fertilize the "egg raft" once it is out.

Frogfish are one of my favourite underwater subjects - they don't move and they look out of focus even in real life so its easy to get a decent shot. But I have a field day with her colours and with the 2 in 1 frame bonus, and the gelatinous sack proves difficult to capture. I leave for awhile and tour around but come back just to watch more and take more photos. They are posed perfectly together now - the happy pregnant couple. My computer approaches deco, but this time I'm really on air and so must leave. Neither my camera nor my strobes have run out of battery life.

Sometimes the magic works ...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Shades of Grey - Part 2

"Liar Liar Pants on Fire." Somehow that still didn't make me feel any better. So I immediately called Visa and told them I would be disputing the charge. We talked about the situation and they categorized it as "Poor Quality of Product or Services" and told me that the entire charge would be taken off my bill until the issue was resolved. Now I was starting to feel a little better.
There were two days of Jewish holidays where Radio Active Deals was closed, so I couldn't call them until Friday. I spoke to "Henry", the customer service manager. Going to the dentist (and I hate going to the dentist) is more fun than talking to Henry. The entire phone call took just about 1/2 hour where I was told:
a) It was not a grey market camera
b) It was a US model that was just manufactured on a different manufacturing line
c) It had US electricity plugs and had english menus so it couldn't possibly be a Japanese model
d) Nikon would definitely service grey market camera bodies
e) It came with a 1 year warranty and was otherwise exactly the same as a US model so why did I care anyway?

He very much wanted me to "open" the package and take the camera out and use it. Ostensibly so that I could see it was "just a regular D200 camera". He was very upset with me that I would not open it up. Eventually, he told me he would send me the Cancellation/Return Form via email, but I think it was only because I told him I had already disputed the charge with my credit card company. I filled out the form and faxed it back to them. On Monday, I received another form via email that contained my RMA number to use to ship it back.
It only cost me $32.05 in postage and insurance to send it back. I also paid for a signature confirmation .... not because I didn't trust them of course.

About 2 weeks later, I received a letter from Visa informing me that the credit I received was less than the original charge. This was due to "non-refundable fees charged by the merchant, such as shipping and handling fees", and if I felt I was entitled to the difference, I should contact the merchant directly. Peachy. There's that "going to the dentist" butterflies in the stomach feeling again. I have to call and talk to Henry again. I decide to just play it direct. I have a very quick and precise conversation this time:
- "You didn't send me what I ordered"
- "Yes we did"
- "Are you going to refund the $401.33 difference to me"
- "No, we don't refund shipping charges and we keep 15% restocking fee as per our corporate policy"
- "Thank you, good-bye".
Moments later I'm talking to Matia, a Financial Service Advisor at Visa. She's never heard of a grey market before and doesn't know much about cameras. I don't know what state she's talking to me from or what time zone she's in, but it's late afternoon in Hawaii which means she's working the really late shift somewhere else. I explain the situation and tell her that I have photos of the box to prove that it was a grey market version. She tells me to "hold one moment please".
The hold muzak plays the Carpenters. At least one whole song, seemed like more. Matia comes back on the line and says "Mrs. MeGoffin?" And now there is music to my ears. "We will be refunding the additional $401.33 to your card today and will attempt to charge it to the merchants account for payment. You should receive the confirmation letter in 3 to 5 days. Is there anything else I can help you with today?"

I think I re-learned again, at least for awhile anyway, that if it seems too good to be true, it is. I learned that sales people will tell a bald faced lie in order to make a sale. (I always knew they would stretch the truth or not answer a question you did not ask directly, but a bald faced lie was over the top for me). And I learned what a "reputable dealer" means and that they are worthwhile to deal with, even if you "could" order it from somewhere else. The point of the story is then - perhaps you can learn my lessons vicariously and not have to learn them on your own.

P.S. Happy Ending #2 - I received my new D200 (US model) in the mail from Ritz Camera on June 6. The happy brown UPS bus still goes beep beep beep backwards down the driveway.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Shades of Grey - Part 1

I have cam'itis. No, it's not a transmitted disease so you're OK. I spent alot of time on boats while growing up on the waters of the Gulf Islands and Sunshine Coast in BC. We had a great boat - The Blue Doll. But we would always stare wistfully at the bigger, better, newer, flashier boats than ours and dreamed of "upgrading". My Dad called that foot'itis - you always wanted one larger than the one you had or just bought. I have a Nikon D100 camera and had been staring wistfully at the D200.
It's such a popular camera, that Nikon manufacturing hasn't been able to keep up with the demand and all of the shops were "out of stock" for months. I found a small shop online called Radio Active Deals that said they had some in stock. So I called them up and talked to "Allen" and verified that it was a US model camera and not a grey market version.
What's a grey market version you ask? Well, it simply means that the camera (or lens or whathave you) was not brought into the country by a Nikon authorized distributor, but by someone else. In bypassing the distributor, the item can be sold much cheaper. Nikon USA has taken a particularly strong stance in this area and will not warranty or service a grey market item under any circumstances. You can't pay them any amount of money large enough to service it. Sometimes, that's OK. But for little ol me on an island at least 2500 miles from the nearest camera service center, I want to be able to send it to Nikon USA and say "fix it". Now.
So Allen says "Yes, of course it's a US model camera". I say "Are you sure?" and he confirms that it is. "Well, how come you are the only folks in town with some in stock?" and he says, "Well, because we're a smaller shop and don't have the turnover that the larger places do, and we have only 2 left so you should order it right now". {Oh my gawd do people really expect that sales crap to work?}
So I tell him that I need to think about it and will call back which makes him very happy. I wait 1/2 hour and talk to Greg and decide that I'll go for it and order one. But I'll reverify that it's REALLY a US model before ordering. I call back and ask for Allen and ask him again about it being a US model which he confirms. I ask if it comes with a 1 year warranty from Nikon and he confirms this and then get's mad at me for not believing him. "We're not like those other New York shops - we pride ourselves on our integrity and customer services".
So I give him the credit card number and order it. With an extra battery. And wait anxiously for the tracking information to arrive in email. I watch and watch as UPS wings my new toy across the ocean to my doorstep. On Tuesday April 18, 2006 I wait at home for the magic brown bus to beep beep beep backwards down my driveway. I open the package and pull out the yellow box and ... and ... and ... it's a grey market version. The side of the box is covered in Japanese characters and it says D200(J) above the serial number.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Why decide now when you can decide later?

That's always been my motto as it turns out, but it's only been lately that I could put it into words. I like to have options and not be tied down. If I'm given an either/or decision, it becomes my personal mission to figure out how to have both. That way I can have my cake and eat it too. All I need to do is figure out how to not gain "weight".

It's been many years now that I've thought about various ways of sharing knowledge about underwater photography or really just photography in general. It's not in my nature to pontificate - quite the opposite. But I've thought a blog as a teaching and sharing method about the subject would be a great way to start and the idea just finally came to the forefront. I hope to get several people involved and who knows what it will lead to. So stay tuned!

And let's go take somemore photos!