Venus, the evening star, shows itself as a tiny smudge of white light tracking across a post-dusk sky above the landscape of northern Thailand. I shot this over a minute or so from the deck of a small hotel close to where I stayed in the countryside near Pai, in Mae Hong Son province. We had such delightful weather, with mild evenings and clear skies that made for great long-exposure photography- not that much of it turned out that well. I was trialling a mini-tripod called the Gorillapod, which is a flexible device about eighteen inches long with three stiff but bendy legs which can wrap around and grip almost anything you want them to. It’s a fantastic little device when you’re in a pinch or can’t carry a full tripod with you, and it holds the weight of an SLR well. For classical tripod photography, however, it’s a bit more impractical, as its short body means that to shoot from a position on the ground, you pretty much have to get prone on the ground with it to see through the viewfinder- and even then only with difficulty. It’ll definitely be coming on more trips with me- but not replacing my normal tripod for starlight work.
I can safely say I have never seen quite such a plethora of fish than that which I saw at Planet Rock on Saturday. I couldn’t begin to number them. In this small sliver of a shot you can see- what- three hundred? Five hundred? I haven’t even tried counting. And there was a solid three-dimensional wall of them, like a gigantic underwater swimming-pool jammed full. An immense living morass of sleek flitting fish. My only regret for the morning’s exploits was that a smudge in the middle of my underwater case on the inside of the glass ruined most of my shots. You’ll have to bear with me on the few that I’ll share here.
Here you can see Jan doing his thang. A graceful and experienced diver, Jan’s pretty much lost track of how many dives he’s done, but it’s over 2,000. Most of them here in Madang Harbour. He’s also a darn good underwater photographer and a true artist with Photoshop. When he puts his stuff up on RedBubble I’m sure buying some. Here’s an older shot of him cruising along the bottom of Madang Harbour, sans smudge and with a bit more light.
A pair of barracuda were gliding in a lazy circle like a pair of cruise missiles looking for something to bomb. They’re cool fish. Very benign to be close to, but with those maws they look like mean buggers. Like sharks they’re so streamlined and graceful. We had a shark out there on Planet Rock, too, but I didn’t get a photo. We only caught distant glimpses of him up near the surface, a big Grey Reefer, perhaps eight feet long, just that unmistakable silhouette up against the light. It’s a wonderfully eerie and humbling experience being close those ancient predators.
Overall, Planet Rock has to be one of my favourite dive sites, and I’m just sorry I wasn’t able to get a better range of photos out of my time there. I’d say next time, but sadly as my time in PNG draws to a close, that next time may be a very long way off…