I wouldn’t have anticipated that a day at the aquarium would have yielded much by way of interesting photography. Indoor photographs are sketchy at best, what with low, artificial light as a starting point. Add to that the limited options you get for creativity in a museum-like environment where everything is on display, add hordes of inconveniently moving people who always seem to be pooling around what you’re interested in, and of course the glare of any other ambient light that comes off the glass of the displays themselves, and you have yourself a recipe for leave-your-camera-at-home.
The aquarium in Melbourne, however, turned out to be an enjoyable little jaunt from a photographic perspective. Their displays are thoughtfully mounted, with lots of creativity and a certain amount of flair. In fact, I’d highly rate it as a place to check out, especially with a family.
More to the point, some of the exhibits they have are just downright weird. I mean, underwater stuff is always a little odd (nudibranchs, anyone?), but some of these fishy things are right off the charts.
These guys, for example, are somewhere between alien and angelic, beautiful silver flanks gleaming against that deep blue backdrop, and those wacky streamers trailing out behind them. I mean, really- is that practical guys? I would’ve thought they’d have gotten tangled in seaweed or something. And don’t tell me you’re going to be better at getting away from predators. But man they look cool.
Also, who knew Melbourne aquarium had acquired Son of Cthulhu? Actually it’s a cuttlefish, probosci-facing, but the UV toplights give it an extra-terrestrial hue, and those coiled appendages… man…
I’ve no idea what this guy is either, but he was pretty big, and pretty slow, so it was kinda fun getting up nice and close and getting some detailed shots of his face. After all, they say a portrait is all in the eyes.
This one I do know- it’s a Lionfish, and one of my favourite fish in the ocean. I’ve shot them plenty of times in the past while diving- and I have to say, give me a choice between an aquarium, or out in the open sea, I’ll take the latter every day, first for the thrill of the dive, and second for the challenge of trying to manage a complex piece of photographic equipment under seventy feet of water without drowning. I love the Lionfish in part for their gorgeous plumage and bright colours, and in part because they are lethargic, floating around with the drifting currents, and therefore very easy to photograph. This one was no exception, and I was able to get a nice shot despite the thick glass.
There are some stunning images out there of the jellyfish enclosure at the Baltimore aquarium, and unfortunately Melbourne’s display by no means matches what is available out there. The tanks here had quite a bit of stuff in them too- various jellyfish sheddings, as far as I could ascertain- but I did enjoy capturing this one against the deep blue backdrop. It’s not the sharpest shot around, but the lighting in some of these areas was seriously low.
The nautilus, pictured here, traditionally lives at considerable depths below sea level. About the size of a basketball, they’re some of the ocean’s weirder inhabitants. That giant, lifeless eye and the moustachioed appendages scrabbling up front do it for me. They are, however, pretty awesome in their oddity. I’m not sure if this tank really felt like home for them, but it’s the only time I’ve seen them up close. Definitely giving off a Cthulhu vibe here too.
[Incidentally, given that this is probably the only time I'm ever going to reference Cthulhu in my blog (and I've now managed three times in one post)- can you believe that the automated spellchecker on my MacBook actually recognises 'Cthulhu' (four)- even while refusing to recognize the American-English spelling of recognise.]
This stingray makes me happy. Every time I see it, it just looks like it’s giving one big happy smile to the camera. Seriously, I can’t look at it without smiling myself. I hope it was genuinely having a lovely day.
The high point (possibly low point) of the aquarium, as with many, was the reef environment, complete with sharks galore. There were a bunch of reef sharks- variously tipped- as well as lemon sharks, grey nurse sharks, leopard sharks and a few others. I like sharks. I didn’t use to. They used to terrify me. The mere thought of them. Then I actually dived with them a bunch of times. I have a deep, deep respect for them. But I admire their beauty in a way I never thought I would. And as long as they’re the more harmless types, such as reef sharks and lemon sharks, they don’t freak me out.
Put me in the water with a bull shark, and that’s another story.
Photographing the curved glass wall of the final display gave some fun optics when combined with the wide end of my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8, and I got some interesting images coming back to me.
Incidentally, I shot using available light throughout (no flash), on my Canon EOS 5D- now starting to become a bit of a dinosaur in the DSLR lexicon, but despite being 7 years old, still holds its own as both a classic, and a top-end performance camera. The high-ISO end of things isn’t necessarily the best, so it does struggle in the sorts of low-light conditions I was shooting on this particular day- I’d say I was pushing it towards its limits- but all in all I was pretty pleased with how it worked out.
I shot using my EF 16-35mm f/2.8 wide-angle lens- still the best piece of glass I’ve ever purchased- and the super-cheap EF 50mm f/1.8, an ultra-lightweight plastic-fantastic of a lens, but with a faint macro function and a nice intermediate focal length still a very usable lens in low-light conditions, when racked all the way open at the 1.8 end of the spectrum.