The Snappers in our Grouper

The Phoenix Islands "Greatest Hits" highlights continue...

#7: Photography and videography on a scientific expedition

We were fortunate to have several excellent professional and amateur photographers and videographers with us on this trip. You've heard directly from Brian Skerry, the award-winning National Geographic Magazine (NGM) photographer with us (see Brian's earlier posts here). But we also had Jeff Wildermuth with us, assisting Brian and making professional videos for the New England Aquarium and Conservation International.

Jeff Wildermuth, in action (Photo: R. Rotjan)

Jim Stringer is an excellent amateur photographer who has provided many of the photos posted on this site. In addition, Rob Barell and Sam Campbell (NAI'A) shot terrific, high-def video footage of the science-in-action, the reef denizens, and anything else in sight. Craig Cook was not only our MD; he is also an accomplished photographer and helped to capture the essence of our trip, as well as helped Les Kaufman take some scientific footage of coral fluorescence. It's quite likely that hundreds of thousands of photos were taken--I'm not a real photographer (neither pro nor high quality amateur), but I took over 3,000 shots! Add that to the impressive skills of Kate, Larry, Les, David, Greg, Stuart, Tuake, Tukabu, and Alan... and you get the idea. This trip was well documented by all of these photographers (snappers) on our trip (in our group-er). My apologies for the bad puns.

Our snappers, in action - L. Madin, S. Campbell, J. Stringer. (Photos: R. Rotjan)

So, speaking of snapper, what was the most photographed fish? My guess is the charismatic and in-your-face red snapper (Lutjanus bohar); they were everywhere! As for coral, my money is on Porites lobata (a lovely mounding coral present at most sites). David Obura might be the most photographed human; he is especially photogenic with a clipboard and transect tape in hand. Fairy terns might be the most photographed bird. But in truth - I have no idea. Even 2 weeks later, we're still compiling our photographs and sharing files. However, many of our images will be published in Aquarium publications, and shown on November 2 (lecture details here), so keep your eyes open. :-) You never know when you might recognize a Phoenix Islands photograph premiered here on this blog.

Snapper with snappers! (Photo: R. Rotjan)

Before this trip, I had no idea what it was like for Brian and Jeff, our professionals, to photograph a story in the field. I'll re-post some comments of Brian's here, since he says it best:

"Photographically, the challenges have been substantial. Even when all is perfect on these central pacific reefs, making great images can be difficult because fish are skittish and hard to get near. The nature of being on an expedition means we also move continually in order to collect scientific data, so each dive is in a new location. Without the chance to dive the same sites repeatedly and gain knowledge about subtle nuances, I must simply spend as much time in the water as possible and hope to find something especially interesting happening."

Brian and Jeff with gear on the boat; Brian contemplating unpacking the photo gear (Photos: R. Rotjan)

"For this assignment, I have 11 days to photograph underwater, quite a bit less than the 10-12 weeks I typically have for an NGM assignment. Still, I hope that the handful of key images I've produced so far and others I hope to make in the few days remaining will speak to the important story and illustrate the issues we are experiencing here I the central Pacific Ocean."
Brian is being modest--he may have only a handful of images that meet his extremely high standards, but we were all wowed at our first glimpse of his photos. He captures movement, texture, and energy that really demonstrates the wildness of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.

It was terrifying having the pro's photograph us, however! During our "Phoenix Islands Firsts" post, Tuake described what it felt like to be under the lights:

"I was a bit nervous to be photographed by the National Geographic People! I was finding it hard to breathe on my tank when Brian was taking pictures of me. Normally, I like to be underwater for the fun of diving. I felt relieved when Brian was telling me that he was done with me. I hoped that I had done what I was supposed to do as part of my Phoenix Islands mission. I count myself fortunate to be attached and learning from highly academic scientists who are on this marine expedition. This was indeed a first for me--to be photographed for a magazine story."

Multiple snappers - count 'em, three! (Photo: R. Rotjan)

As for me, I managed to avoid the camera most of the time and be a "snapper" in my own right.... taking photos for science and pleasure with no remorse (thank goodness for digital photography and large memory cards!). But if this post has you hoping for more information on the *real* snappers and groupers of the trip - and yes, I do mean the fish - stay tuned! Stuart and Les will be guest-blogging soon on the fishes hits of the trip. :-)



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