Flash photography doesn’t harm seahorses – but don’t touch


Maarten De Brauwer, Curtin University; Benjamin John Saunders, Curtin University, and Tanika Cian Shalders, Curtin University

We all enjoy watching animals, whether they’re our own pets, birds in the garden, or elephants on a safari during our holidays. People take pictures during many of these wildlife encounters, but not all of these photographic episodes are harmless.

There is no shortage of stories where the quest for the perfect animal picture results in wildlife harassment. Just taking photos is believed to cause harm in some cases – flash photography is banned in many aquariums as a result.

But it’s not always clear how bright camera flashes affect eyes that are so different from our own. Our latest research, published in Nature Scientific Reports, shows that flash photography does not damage the eyes of seahorses, but touching seahorses and other fish can alter their behaviour.




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Look but don’t touch

In the ocean it is often easier to get close to your subject than on land. Slow-moving species such as seahorses rely on camouflage rather than flight responses. This makes it very easy for divers to approach within touching distance of the animals.

Previous research has shown that many divers cannot resist touching animals to encourage them to move so as to get a better shot. Additionally, the high-powered strobes used by keen underwater photographers frequently raise questions about the welfare of the animal being photographed. Do they cause eye damage or even blindness?

A researcher photographing a ghost pipefish.
© Luke Gordon

Aquariums all around the world have taken well-meaning precautionary action. Most of us will have seen the signs that prohibit the use of flash photography.

Similarly, a variety of guidelines and laws exist in the scuba-diving community. In the United Kingdom, flash photography is prohibited around seahorses. Dive centres around the world have guidelines that include prohibiting flash or limiting the number of flashes per fish.

While all these guidelines are well-intended, none are based on scientific research. Proof of any damage is lacking. Our research investigated the effects of flash photography on slow-moving fish using three different experiments.

What our research found

During the first experiment we tested how different fish react to the typical behaviour of scuba-diving photographers. The results showed very clearly that touching has a very strong effect on seahorses, frogfishes and ghost pipefishes. The fish moved much more, either by turning away from the diver, or by swimming away to escape the poorly behaving divers. Flash photography, on the other hand, had no more effect than the presence of a diver simply watching the fishes.

For slow-moving fishes, every extra movement they make means a huge expense of energy. In the wild, seahorses need to hunt almost non-stop due to their primitive digestive system, so frequent interruptions by divers could lead to chronic stress or malnutrition.

Researchers tested the effect of high-strobe flashes on frogfish.
Author provided

The goal of the second experiment was to test how seahorses react to flash without humans present. To do this we kept 36 West Australian seahorses (Hippocampus subelongatus) in the aquarium facility at Curtin University. During the experiment we fed the seahorses with artemia (“sea monkeys”) and tested for changes in their behaviour, including how successful seahorses were at catching their prey while being flashed with underwater camera strobes.




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An important caveat to this experiment: the underwater strobes we used were much stronger than the flashes of normal cameras or phones. The strobes were used at maximum strength, which is not usually done while photographing small animals at close range. So our results represent a worst-case scenario that is unlikely to happen in the real world.

The conclusive, yet somewhat surprising, result of this experiment was that even the highest flash treatment did not affect the feeding success of the seahorses. “Unflashed” seahorses spent just as much time hunting and catching prey as the flashed seahorses. These results are important, as they show that flashing a seahorse is not likely to change the short-term hunting success (or food intake) of seahorses.

Scuba divers should always avoid touching animals.
sanc0460/Flickr, CC BY

We only observed a difference in the highest flash treatment (four flashes per minute, for ten minutes). Seahorses in this group spent less time resting and sometimes showed “startled” reactions. These reactions looked like the start of an escape reaction, but since the seahorses were in an aquarium, escape was impossible. In the ocean or a large aquarium seahorses would simply move away, which would end the disturbance.

Our last experiment tested if seahorses indeed “go blind” by being exposed to strong flashes. In scientific lingo: we tested if flash photography caused any “pathomorphological” impacts. To do this we euthanised (following strict ethical protocols) some of the unflashed and highly flashed seahorses from the previous experiments. The eyes of the seahorses were then investigated to look for any potential damage.

The results? We found no effects in any of the variables we tested. After more than 4,600 flashes, we can confidently say that the seahorses in our experiments suffered no negative consequences to their visual system.

What this means for scuba divers

A potential explanation as to why flash has no negative impact is the ripple effect caused by sunlight focusing through waves or wavelets on a sunny day. These bands of light are of a very short duration, but very high intensity (up to 100 times stronger than without the ripple effect). Fish living in such conditions would have evolved to deal with such rapidly changing light conditions.

This of course raises the question: would our results be the same for deep-water species? That’s a question for another study, perhaps.




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So what does this mean for aquariums and scuba diving? We really should focus on not touching animals, rather than worrying about the flash.

Flash photography does not make seahorses blind or stop them from catching their prey. The strobes we used had a higher intensity than those usually used by aquarium visitors or divers, so it is highly unlikely that normal flashes will cause any damage. Touching, on the other hand, has a big effect on the well-being of marine life, so scuba divers should always keep their hands to themselves.The Conversation

Maarten De Brauwer, PhD-candidate in Marine Ecology, Curtin University; Benjamin John Saunders, Lecturer / Research fellow in Marine Ecology, Curtin University, and Tanika Cian Shalders, Marine Scientist, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Why we need some perspective on landscape photography in the Instagram age



File 20180726 106511 kp40cz.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Bardal, from Norwegian Sublime, Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, 2018.
Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk

Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, Queensland University of Technology

Thanks to the increasing accessibility of technology, many of us will try to capture the grandeur of the natural world with our phone cameras. One of the attractions is sharing images on social media and publicly staking our claim to that experience.

A quick glance at Instagram hashtags reveals over 90 million photos tagged #landscape, around 50 million #sunrise photos and over 180 million tagged #sunset. There are 40 million #trees, nearly 90 million #clouds and about 190 million #beach photos.

But our use of platforms such as Instagram is not only changing our relationship to nature (some people have even died taking selfies in perilous places), it is also changing how we frame and experience nature.

Earlier this year a man died falling off rocks in Western Australia in the pursuit of an image. And in July three social media personalities died after falling off a Canadian waterfall.

While such deaths are rare, many travellers and adventure seekers seem to be drawn towards more remote experiences of nature in lieu of the downtrodden tourist track, using Instagram as a source for visually inspiring and enticing sites. Police warn people to avoid an imminently crumbling cliff in New South Wales, while amateur photographers continue to ignore signs and fences.




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Just as nature can harm people, people can harm nature. Two of the social media personalities who died in Canada had spent a week in jail for violating US national park regulations. In Tasmania, professional photographers have warned of the damage that could be done to the environment by hordes of people chasing views they have seen on social media. And in Esperance, Western Australia, people are trying to figure out how to capitalise on an influx of visitors driven by its discovery by Instagram users.

As part of my research, I have looked at how we present experiences of nature through new technology and social media. Most photos share traits we might describe as “a social media aesthetic”. Think of leafy paths, mountain vistas, sunrises and sunsets – often with filters or the same kinds of photo composition.

Svalbard, from Norwegian Sublime, Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, 2018.
Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk

In my art-as-research project, the exhibition Norwegian Sublime, I used these “Instagram standards” to take photos at different locations in Norway, both well-known places such as Svalbard and less famous islands like Tomma of the Helgeland archipelago. Although they seem remote and difficult to get to, I deliberately chose places that were frequently visited and where tourism was controlled, as well as places that were literally right next to main thoroughfares, showing how the perfect picture of untouched mountain solitude can be at anyone’s fingertips. In fact, those less exotic sites around you might actually hide some of the most striking nature.

No location, from Norwegian Sublime, Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, 2018.
Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk

Together, the images link up art photography and the history of photography with diminutive tell-tale signs typical of iPhone and social media photography. I framed clouds with Instagram squares, referencing art photography and weather studies from the early 1900s. I gave aerial photography a contemporary twist by taking photos from the window of today’s commercial flights, forever shuttling tourists back and forth.

No location, from Norwegian Sublime, Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, 2018.
Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk

In other photos, I left those patches of surfaces that are difficult to photograph with a phone, such as reflective, wet leaves and shiny rocks, washed out and bleak. And even in the seemingly romantically remote locations I intentionally left speckled signs of people in the frame.

Voksenkollen, from Norwegian Sublime, Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, 2018.
Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk

Landscape photography is a diverse genre, encompassing a wide range of contemporary practice. Yet, for many, iconic figures such as American photographer Ansel Adams embody what landscape photography is. His technically advanced images of the grandeur of nature are perfectly framed snapshots of near-other-worldly, untouched environments.

The Tetons and the Snake River, Ansel Adams, 1942.
Wikimedia

In a similar way, when we share landscape photos on Instagram, we often seek to show the beautiful, the staged, or the perfectly composed. We applaud these images, through liking and sharing them. And, conceivably, we increasingly picture nature as a similarly idealised aesthetic experience. We end up with very little visual diversity in how we present – and chose to experience – nature.

Tomma, from Norwegian Sublime, Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, 2018.
Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk

Instagram ultimately boils down to two people – the one who took the picture and the viewer. Perhaps it’s time for us as Instagram photographers to think a bit more deeply about the less exotic, but no less enchanting, places around us. We should challenge what we take photos of, and how we present nature. Nature, after all, is more than #trees and #clouds.

The ConversationAnd, as Instagram viewers, we should think carefully about how we encourage different experiences of nature. Should we “like” the images and follow people and groups who clearly are pushing limits to both their own safety and the environment? Instagram is a fantastic social media tool to share the world – but it’s clear we need some perspective in using it.

Ellen Marie Saethre-McGuirk, Visiting Fellow (Assoc. Prof. Nord Univeristy), Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The world’s best wildlife photography reveals a fragile, beautiful realm


Mathew Berg, Deakin University and Jessica Williams, University of Melbourne

From a leopard slipping through a Mumbai alleyway to giant cuttlefish courting under the sea, the striking images featured in the current Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition are at once beautiful, technically astounding and, often, incredibly moving.

Before the widening rupture between humans and nature, creating images of animals was of the utmost importance: animals were among the first subject matter for painting. In his essay Why Look at Animals, the late and renowned art critic John Berger argues that animals “first entered the imagination as messengers and promises”.

Wildlife photography joins in this ancient representative tradition, giving new life to animals as symbols and storytellers for the natural world.

Nayan Khanolkar spent four months waiting for this shot of a leopard roaming the suburbs of Mumbai, which won the Urban category.
Supplied

Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the annual competition run by the Natural History Museum of London. From modest beginnings in 1965, with fewer than 400 entries, it has developed into one of the largest and most prestigious photographic competitions in the world.

This year, the competition received over 42,000 entries from almost 100 countries. From these, an international jury selected 100 images across 18 categories, constituting the touring exhibition. It’s currently being hosted, for the third time, at Geelong’s splendid National Wool Museum. This is the only Victorian venue to host the exhibition, under the direction of Padraic Fisher and senior curator Georgia Melville.

Willem Kruger snapped this dynamic action shot of a yellow-billed hornbill foraging for termites in South Africa.
Supplied

In Geelong, the images are complemented by The Dead Zoo, a subtle addition to the exhibition space of taxidermy displays drawn from the Wool Museum’s own collection. There’s also an ambient soundscape produced by Joel Carnegie, and the parallel Geelong by Nature exhibition, a local wildlife photography competition.

Both competitions underscore what a demanding pursuit wildlife photography can be, requiring an enormous commitment to capturing the perfect shot. Think long hours spent in freezing conditions, with a constant regime of pushups just to keep warm – a scenario endured by Andrew Parkinson while photographing mountain hares on a Scottish icefield!

Australian photographer Scott Portelli captured giant cuttlefish in his image Collective Courtship.
Supplied

This enthusiastic persistence is increasingly enabled by the proliferation of non-specialist equipment, such as smartphones and the GoPro camera, as used by Tim Laman – the overall winner of Photographer of the Year for his six-photo series Entwined Lives. Taking in a sweeping treetop view of the Indonesian rainforest, the vertigo-inducing portrait of an orangutan is spectacular.

Like many of the entries, the photograph’s grandeur is a culmination of artistry, originality and technical excellence. The visually sumptuous images are coupled with engaging tales of the exotic locations, and the supreme effort and persistence involved in their creation – along with a healthy dose of serendipity and great timing.

Tim Laman spent three days climbing fig trees in the Indonesian forest, placing remotely triggered GoPro cameras above the canopy.
Supplied

With a direct gaze that seems to reflect our own, Laman’s subject also conveys a sense of intimacy and solitary pathos; significant, perhaps, if one considers the endangered status of the Bornean orangutan.

With the growing accessibility of portable or remotely activated gear like the GoPro, there’s a sense of ongoing growth and democratisation of photography competitions. Through this, we are given scope for deeper immersion and understanding of a natural world subject to, and often imperilled by, the inexorable footprint of humanity.

After weeks of scouting, UK photograher Sam Hobson was able to gain the trust of a family of urban foxes.
Supplied

A case in point is the winner of one of the photojournalism categories, Australian Paul Hilton’s image of a mass of illegally hunted pangolins, seized before their intended export while frozen from Sumatra and laid out to thaw. Reminiscent of spiral seashells in an abstract, almost monochrome composition, the details of their tightly curled bodies emerge only on closer inspection.

It’s a striking image, but one with a tragic back-story. Few people, before seeing this exhibition, are likely to have even known what a pangolin is, and certainly not that these small, critically endangered mammals are the most-trafficked animals in the world.

Australian Paul Hilton won the Wildlife Photojournalist category with his image of some 4,000 smuggled pangolins.
Supplied

The combination of artistry and a strong environmental narrative is a recurring theme throughout the exhibition, and one that undoubtedly motivates the photographers themselves. Featured entrant Douglas Gimesy, another Australian photojournalist, cites changing people’s behaviour as a central driver for his projects.

In his tender image Caring for Joey, Gimesy underlines the ongoing issue of high-speed kangaroo road deaths on Kangaroo Island in the hope of advocating for improved governance and community awareness. It’s a sentiment that surely resonates with photographers and visitors to the exhibit alike, as they contemplate the wild theatre of our natural environment, and the diverse species that share in it.


The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition runs from January 15 to May 14 at the National Wool Museum in Geelong. It will then tour Australia.

The Conversation

Mathew Berg, Research Fellow, Deakin University and Jessica Williams, PhD researcher in networked art practices, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

iPhone Apps for Travel Photographers


The link below is to an article that takes a look a five iPhone apps for travel photography.

For more visit:
http://blog.travelworldpassport.com/5-essential-iphone-apps-for-travel-photographers/