Storytime 19

blue crab Callinectes sapidus illuminated by waterproof flashlight
Our story this week hearkens back to an ancient time and forbidden land, the stuff of legends and lore, the mystical realm of Florida in the early 2000s. I mean, c’mon, these are photos we’re talking about – how far back do you think we can go?

In this case, it’s an old (relatively) collecting location for me, the docks on the Indian River Lagoon near one of the causeways. Here, I could lie on the docks with my face hovering just above the water and survey the bottom for interesting critters, and because of the subtropical environment, I was able to find plenty, though admittedly, this particular one can be found at least halfway up the east coast. Looking to do some esoteric experiments, I decided that I’d try a nighttime long exposure by the light of a waterproof flashlight, and sought out any likely subjects. I’d done the same with some of the grass shrimp that were abundant in the area, but they’re as close to transparent as possible and thus are very hard to make out in the resulting images. But this cooperative Atlantic blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) proved to work very nicely. I simply propped the light up at the right angle on the bottom, aiming into its face (or what passes for such with a crab – you define the edges if you like) and, somehow, stabilized the camera aiming straight down into the water.

[This part is actually a small mystery to me, because I don’t remember how I did it. I have the impression that the camera was anchored on the dock, but this doesn’t seem feasible. More likely was that the tripod was planted in the shallow water, with a lateral arm holding the camera a little away from the center – I’ve had a tripod where the center post could be removed and repositioned horizontally for decades, so this isn’t a stretch, but it still had to be pretty low. I’m honestly not sure.]

Perfect clarity was not going to be achieved, partially because of suspended sediment, but mostly because I was still shooting down through the gently rippling surface, so during the time exposure there would be distortion from that; overall, however, it wasn’t too bad. And then I added a small variation.

Atlantic blue crab Callinectus sapidus by flashlight and fill-flash
I had a couple of little slave strobes, handy for macro work, and while they weren’t waterproof themselves, a zip bag took care of that, and I simply triggered one with the test button through the bag while I held it underwater. I’d still done the long exposure by flashlight, but the strobe added a lot more light and a bit more accurate color. It also highlighted the bubbles on the surface, which answered one question that I had, which was whether or not I’d used one of the reverse-periscopes that I’d made to get a clear view through the surface; obviously not.

And for giggles, I’ll add in another photo taken at the same docks though probably not the same evening, another long exposure, but this time a selfie – I think I took it with the intention of sending it to my mother but never printed it. The light is a combination of moonlight and a streetlamp a few dozen meters away at the parking lot, and the exposure time was probably between ten and thirty seconds, so I had to hold still – there’s a faint hint of blurring to my face that tells me I wasn’t perfect at this, but then again, this is undoubtedly for the better.

The author during a long night exposure on the docks