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Flying Octopuses - comments on the proliferation of these images


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#1 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 12:12 AM

[EDIT - this post has been moved to a new thread by moderator]

[After seeing Ron's pictures in this thread, Alex added these comments on an issue that's being brewing for some time.]

I am aware that octopuses do swim. I have seen both mimic and wonderpus swimming. But we are suddenly seeing lots and lots of these shots coming from Lembeh. And in most of them the octopus are not swimming but instead seemingly sinking back to the seabed with their legs in the air. And this makes me concerned that they have been encouraged up into the water and are now drifting down.

I think it all started with Michael Aw's winning image in the BBC Wildlife Photographer Of The Year 2006. His image was stunning and when I first saw it I was bowled over.
http://www.michaelaw...ildlife2006.htm.

Michael says that he spent a great deal of time with the octopus and says it was swimming naturally. Maybe it was. Although most of the underwater photography community think differently. Who knows?

Anyway, to some extent that is not really the point. Michael's high profile success and the eye catching nature of the shot has caused many to want to emulate it. And over the last 18 months I have seen many, many shots like this. All from Lembeh.

What concerns me is that photographers have been pressuring the diveguides in Lembeh to "create" this opportunity for them. And now it has become standard practice. And as a photographer you might not even know it was going on. Diveguide disappears into the murk, guest hears banging on tank, diveguide points to freeswimming octopus, guest takes photographs, diveguide gets a healthy tip. That said, I am not blaming the guides - we drive this behaviour.

To look at the bigger picture - is lifting an octopus really a big crime? Maybe not. And I guess my long reply and rant has really been triggered because I am seeing these shots repeatedly now (rather than at your particular example). Also many underwater photographers have commented to me that they feel similarly about these mid-water benthic octopus images.

Curiously little has been said before for fear of people putting it down to personal issues with Michael Aw! I feel free to comment because I actually get on well with Michael. So I am sorry for hi-jacking your thread, I think that this one has been bubbling under for some time.

I guess I wanted to post something against these shots in general before they become the new inflated pufferfish of underwater photography. There is no issue in the copying or wish to emulate a well known image. Everyone does this. The problem is when this process is causing diveguides or photographers to repeated harass marine life.

Alex

[also edited by Alex]

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#2 Ron Boyes

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 04:57 PM

Hi Alex,
Guilty as charged.
I turned around and the dive guide showed me the falling octo, I suspect you are correct that the critter was "helped" although I didn't actually see it.
As for Michael's image I had not seen that before, therefore was not trying to copy it.
Lembeh was quiet and I think this puts a lot of pressure on the guides to show something, I agree with you that the guides are becoming more aggressive towards the marine life than was the case several years ago.
I shall be returning in August and will pay close attention to way the guides are treating the marine life and will do my bit to persuade them against this practice.

Thank you for bringing this to my attention.
Regards
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#3 Drew

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 11:06 PM

Ron
Thanks for the clarification. I know Alex was not citing you as a culprit but took the opportunity to bring up a very valid discussion on shot mimicking. As many newer photographers look at the work of other more published photographer's work, a bit of inspiration drawn from their work is inevitable.
Michael Aw is not the only one to have that shot. William Tan has a similar shot of a soaring mimic or wonderpus octopus (the image escapes me now) in one of his books. I think the point of whether these shots were coerced is only one side of the issue. The other part is whether the shooter can claim it to be naturally occurring.
Obviously, if a guide does it without the photog knowing, he would think it's natural. However, there had to be one photographer who went to a guide and said, this is the shot I'm looking for or want. I mean the guides at Lembeh, especially during the Larry Smith era were very manipulative with subjects. I've had to stop them from moving stargazers or rhinopias or frog fish. As a video guy, I've always enjoy watching the flambouyant cuttlefish hunt and that can be 'arranged' by either pushing a prey closer to the cuttlefish or even knocking something out first.
It does beg to ask, if falling octopuses were that common and natural, how come we only started seeing them in the last few years? Is it coincidental to the age of the internet? As Ron pointed out, shots of a benthic octopus on the sand are common. I suspect as more and more digital shooters shoot the same shots, the urge to create more interesting shots is pushing photographers to go further to get 'unique' shots. And this trend will likely not stop unfortunately.

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#4 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 01:09 AM

Hi guys.

First, thanks Ron for the clarification. And I do apologise again for hi-jacking the previous thread - and thanks to Drew for splitting this into a new thread. Much better.

These images have been becoming more and more common and I felt it was time to say something. As I said above I have no problem with the emulation of images. I think it is something that all photographers do - see images that they like and draw inspiration from them. The issue is when this emulation is promoting the harassment of the animal - like inflating a puffer or lifting the octopus.

The trouble with the octopus situtation is that it is possible that they could be swimming naturally. As it is possible for a puffer to inflate naturally. And up and to now every photographer who has been questioned about their flying octopuses claims they were natural. Like you many probably believed that it was as the octopus was in mid-water when the guide showed them.

However, as Drew correctly points out this must have started with some photographer encouraging the guides to do this in the first place. In fact probably several photographers for it to become a widespread activity.

We had a similar image in the Wetpixel/DivePhotoGuide Our World Underwater International Comp 2008. It was an image that was debated in great detail and we actually communicated with the photographer about it. In that image the octopus was actually hunting and you can see it has a crab in its mouth. It is also in a swimming pose, rather than the free-fall pose. So in that case without evidence to the contrary we felt the image was natural and it is included in the results.

Alex

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#5 DeanB

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 01:17 AM

Okay not Octopus, but my own feeling of professional ethics was tested when filming Some perch the other day. I was getting a few sequences of these vivacious fish when I spotted one lying down on the floor, still but alive, as I approached it, it darted off swimming strangely and suddenly dropped back to the floor rolling over. I guess it had a buoyancy bladder problem or deformity as it wasn't injured.

Well for a moment I looked around for any Pike in the area with the thought of a nice predation shot that has eluded me for so long. I could grab this slow swiimmer and present it to the Pike then film the outcome... Then I stopped...."What the fook am I thinking" I thought this is something I've always been against, so i waved goodbye to my little wobbly friend and swam off.. If he was to be eaten then it would be left to chance...Not to me and my ongoing mission to get that shot !!!! Shame on me :rolleyes:

Keep it real and feel the reward of capturing natural behaviour as it should be, natural...even if it takes, like, forever the satisfaction will be immense :D

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#6 Drew

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 02:26 AM

Dean I think your example wouldn't be frowned upon. I think everyone in natural history shooting has used a dead fish to get the predation shot.
However, as photography gets broader, the competition to get better and better shots becomes heated.
Obviously some things like pelagic fish cannot be easily manipulated. Shots like Felipe Barrio's and Doug Perrine of sharks in baitballs are all natural and a testament to their skill and that tad bit of luck dedication allows. However macro critters are more vulnerable but most easily accessible. Otherwise you would not have so many resorts and liveaboards in a small area like Lembeh.
We're already seeing a plethora of images of crustaceans on unnatural backgrounds (Boxer crabs come to mind). Now to many photographers who don't know natural habitats or behavior, thus when they are shown a critter by a guide, they take the shot without much thought. If unbeknownst to them, the guide played kungfu rod stick to get the subject to perform, how much responsibility does the photographer bear? Not everyone is a walking marine biologist or walking encyclopedia.
I've seen dive guides bring food to lure mimic octopus out for shots. Often to encourage an octopus to come out of a hole, the 'infamous' steel rod is used to go UNDER the octopus and cut off the escape hatch, making it bolt out of the hole in search of another. The problem with octopus are that with the gangly arms, it looks so darn gorgeous pretty much doing anything. So a shot like flying octopi draws praise, without much analysis to HOW it was taken. While I do agree that the dive guides are driven to do all sorts of things to please the diving client, the operators should also encourage them not to do things like that. Unfortunately, the reality is that when $$$ talk, morals walk and you really can't blame them.
So for those who don't want to fall into the trap of taking a shot that is set up without your knowledge, it pays to do a little homework and apply a bit of common sense. If you're in a popular dive spot and see 20 rare nudibranchs lined up or my favorite, a starfish on a fan, you're pretty safe in assuming it's not natural. This is especially true if you enter competitions where the rules stipulate no manipulation. Some smart Alex will see it and call it. :rolleyes:
This is not to discourage people from posting pics. I realize that people have varying tolerances on what is harassment as it is a huge grey area. That's why discussions like these tend to go nowhere... but are important nonetheless to bring up.

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#7 Steve Williams

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 04:21 AM

If you're in a popular dive spot and see 20 rare nudibranchs lined up or my favorite, a starfish on a fan, you're pretty safe in assuming it's not natural. :D

I'm completely with you on the subject of manipulation. I do think though we can get on some dangerous ground if we're not careful. The ocean continually teaches us we aren't nearly as smart a species as we think we are. Do we know that mimics don't freeswim? or how much they swim ? I get uncomfortable when we call someone's reputation into question on the internet. If you read Michael's website he talks like he watched his subject for hours if not days and saw a lot of different behaviors. If he's truthful and I don't know him, it would make it at least possible the shot was "real". I just get concerned when we talk in absolutes about the ocean. Here is a shot of your favorite I took years ago, night dive, no one else around for miles and I didn't put him there. :rolleyes:

crownfan.jpg

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#8 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 04:51 AM

Fair point, Steve.

I agree that these discussions are best when they are not personal. If they get lowered into name calling and finger pointing then the more important wider issues are lost.

Regarding the mimics I said right at the top "I have seen both mimic and wonderpus swimming" and regarding Michael Aw's image that is why I provided a link to his website - so that you could read his words on the encounter. I think the problem is that his image has been widely celebrated and published, and now it is being widely emulated - with the situation being recreated via harassment.

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#9 ScubaSpen

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 05:21 AM

The only thing I have to say is that alot of of the guides in Thailand have these sticks and they are refered to as "Lembeh sticks", even here, and everyone knows what they are used for.

Personally I think they should be banned, a finger is good enough to point out stuff, as for manipulation , don't get me started on what devastation I see here.

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#10 bruceterrill

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 05:29 AM

Hi Alex and Drew,

You two have given me a really good old giggle and I thank you for that... :)
It's kinda like slap-stick to come out and belt a bloke over the head with a big lump of wood,
and then spend the next ten minutes trying to calm him down with politically correct rhetoric...Please stop tip-toeing around. You know that these poor octopuses are getting molested and either the guides stop
bloody well doing it or the photogs stop paying them their huge tips.
Now lets get fair dinkum here. A guide throwing an octopus in the air or collecting nudibranchs for his client
is akin to a monkey getting taught how to bang rocks together for a banana reward. The ONLY reason that
these guides are displaying the critters as such, is because the photogs want it for their pics!
So lets stop pointing the finger at the guides and let the blame rest at the feet of those who are really to blame...photographers and photographic competitions.
Big money competitions are getting more and more demanding and to enter to win, you need to supply images that are 'out of the ordinary'. And I will go so far as to blame those wealthy souls who have plenty
of time and money to spend/waste on guides and their 'tips' so that they will perform for their "bananas"...
Get rid of the big prize money and gifts and then see how many people can be bothered?
My pet hates are the 'idle rich' and divers who molest critters... :rolleyes:

Good thread boys, but please, put your boots on and start kickin' heads... :D

Bruce... :D

Edited by bruceterrill, 10 March 2008 - 05:29 AM.


#11 tdpriest

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 05:40 AM

I had never noticed a stick until a year ago. I have never seen one used EXCEPT to move a sea-fan or some unsuspecting creature.

My opinion doesn't count, because I was accused of breaking coral last year, but I am worried about the stick habit.

My solution (harking back to my gripes at the weekend elsewhere in the forums): manipulate the image, not the animals (but preferably not either, and admit in in the caption)!

Tim

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#12 Steve Williams

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 05:45 AM

Yep, agree completely Alex. It was just that after reading my buddy Drew's comments I was uncomfortable. I also realized I had an image up on Flickr that some might believe wasn't truthful, that bothered me. When we paint with a broad brush we invariably get some on the varnish. I carry a rod too, in Arizona we call them Fiji sticks. I use it as a mini monopod but never touch the reef. When we start to single out equipment as the cause of problems we get more stupid rules like "You can't wear gloves". Education is the dominant answer for the long term. People are the problem and people have to be the solution. So thanks for making us aware of the dive guides trying to make us happy. I don't dive with guides very often and hadn't ever thought about it.

This week's POTW should be interesting. :rolleyes:

Steve

Edited by williamshs, 10 March 2008 - 05:48 AM.

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#13 Drew

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 06:41 AM

Steve, I do think I'd better clarify my words so there are no misunderstandings. Off the top of my head, I've spent over 30 hrs in the water observing mimics and wonderpus in the last 8 years, a lot more if I count the 90s. I've seen them swim into water columns to escape as I'm sure many have, and also freeswimming for the heck of it. That means nothing really. However with a 85% confidence interval, the chances of getting that shot with a sunball is pretty darn low. But we've gone to war on less evidence :rolleyes:
What Alex and I are both saying is that 1 or 2 lucky images has now snowballed into a plethora of copycats, often due to harassment, to get a similar shot. Not claiming to be an expert of anything, just weighing the odds.
As for your COT on the fan, looking at your pic, the fan is pretty close to the reef and COT do scurry around. My reference of starfish on a fan is a vertical fan on the side of a wall with only one stem connected to the ground(unlike your fan which seems to be overgrowing into the reef). Now what are the chances a starfish manages to climb up a fan like that (and we've seen pics like that in mags)?
You are right that it's easy to get hysterical and blame rods, gloves, fins etc for the damage when just plain ol' inconsideration is the real culprit.

Bruce
Alex wears CrocsRX (I think he's endorsed :D) and I'm not a boot fan myself. Seriously though, this thread is not about sullying anyone's reputation but just a discussion about how far people will go to emulate a certain shot and the problems it brings. If and when people find octopus flying around, feel free to take shots. However, the drive to find them motivates some people to push the envelope for octopus encouragement, something that the new generation of uw photographers shouldn't be doing anymore. I've seen divers who rip up coral and prod a subject to get the shot they want. With someone like that, there's no telling them it's not nice. Furthermore, if it's not competitions, it's selling the pic to magazines and such or even just trying to impress the folks at the local bar.
Motivations aside, the result is bad news for subjects like octopus.

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#14 DeanB

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 08:51 AM

Dean I think your example wouldn't be frowned upon. I think everyone in natural history shooting has used a dead fish to get the predation shot.


My point was it wasn't dead.... :rolleyes: Just a bit under the weather.....

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#15 Drew

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 09:04 AM

Ah then you broke the sacred wildlife cinematographer rule # XX1:
Never leave a good predation bait situation. :rolleyes: You didn't need to present it... just wait around for something to eat it :D
I'll going to tell Frothygills about this.

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#16 John Bantin

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 09:32 AM

Thank goodness the habit of tossing a handful of pigmy seahorses into open water a photographing the resulting ballet has not caught on!

(Note for those not party to this joke : IT'S A JOKE!)

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#17 DeanB

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 10:20 AM

Ah then you broke the sacred wildlife cinematographer rule # XX1:
Never leave a good predation bait situation. :D You didn't need to present it... just wait around for something to eat it :)
I'll going to tell Frothygills about this.


Way ahead of you.. we were watching it.. swimming and dropping for a good 10-15mins in the hope of a passing pike.. but it was the end of the dive, end of the evening and my buddy was freezing his.....Off...So had to surface, this is when my ethics were tested as time was running out.. :D

Frothygills :rolleyes: is this your personal name for Alistair....?

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#18 Drew

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Posted 11 March 2008 - 03:27 AM

Actually Alex, a ball park figure... how pervasive is this problem? I mean I've seen maybe 2 or 3 so far. How many have you seen? It's better to nip this in the butt before it becomes a real problem.
I do find it funny that when I saw David Doubilet's pegasus seamoth with a sunball in his book, I wondered how many would copy that? I do think mimics are cooler than seamoths though and probably deemed the more beautiful subject.

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#19 Scuba_SI

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Posted 12 March 2008 - 03:36 AM

I just published one in Asian Geo. :)

Wasn't touched, grabbed or poked. Took it before i saw Mr Aw's pic. His is pretty cool though, althogu from teh stories i've heard about his behaviour who knows how he got it! :

I think an image of a free swimming octo is far less harmful to nature than open mouth shark shots that everyone keeps taking.

This whole manipulation thing is a little silly, many who say it's AWful to touch also eat calamari or octopus.

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#20 Drew

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Posted 12 March 2008 - 05:08 AM

Natural free swimming is different from tossed up and falling down. Perhaps you enjoy being tossed up and down in Franny's dress but a bit of anthropomorphizing is due here. The eating vs poking them argument is weak and without parallels. You eat them for sustenance, you poke them for a pic to keep or sell. Sure you could argue you need the pic to survive. However, that would mean the threshold of natural shots are now into the manipulated subject, which makes make respect the picture much less.
Problem is I already don't respect you much for leaving the party to go home... now you want me to go further down for this? :)

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