Photo Essay

Finding Nemo

Clownin' Around

Photographically, I'd been feeling a bit stale lately. You know, shooting the same stuff over and over again. So, I hit the refresh button and decided I'd have an adventure. I wanted to shoot something I'd never considered shooting before, something relatively novel yet challenging. Sea creatures... that's new. So I packed it up, filled the tank, grabbed a Starbucks and headed for the Newport Aquarium.

Before striking out, I did my reading. Wow... this kind of photography is fat with rules: 1) tripods not allowed, 2) flash not allowed, 3) slow shutter, lens wide open, lots of ISO, 4) shoot parallel to the glass, 5) avoid curved surfaces, 6) clean glass inside and out a must 7) avoid camera shake by pressing the lens against the glass, 8) wait for the subject to come to you, and 9) reflected light is your worst enemy; block it.

Even with this laundry list of dos and don'ts, I was in. I would call this adventure, 'Finding Nemo'.

I'd never been to Newport Aquarium before, so I drove down to the riverfront. River, water, fish. Yeah, that seemed like a logical starting point. I noticed some people hanging out in golf carts down by the river's edge. I approached and asked if they'd seen Nemo. The woman was apparently the alpha rider. She said they hadn't but did mention that another guy with a camera asked the same question earlier that day. Like any true explorer, I shielded my eyes from the afternoon glare and scanned the horizon for clues. I spotted a guy sitting on some cement risers and walked towards him with purpose. He went to shields, hiding behind his umbrella, thus blocking my advance. Really dude? Whatever!

Onward, up the embankment to the summit. A bit out of breath, I scanned the perimeter and spotted a clown making balloon characters to my left. I strolled over and asked him if he'd seen Nemo or the camera guy. He replied, "No. But for six fifty I can make either one". Then he said, "Actually, I think that's the camera guy over there". I said no to the balloon offer, thanked him, and headed off in Ansel's direction. I stood there for about 5 five minutes waiting for some sort of acknowledgment. He was completely oblivious. I mean 'really into his shoot' kind of oblivious. Annoyed, I finally snapped, "Excuse me sir. I'm looking for Nemo. Have you seen him"? Not moving an inch, and still looking through the viewfinder he replied, "Nope. Been looking since daybreak. Had to go to telephoto. Text me your cell and I'll let you know if I spot him".

Apparently, 'river, water, fish' was a bad idea. Next stop the tourist mall near the aquarium. I spotted a little boy wearing a red t-shirt and blue Crocs so I asked him if he'd seen Nemo. He said he just saw him swimming by a few minutes before. I asked him where and he pointed to a paned window. He tried sticking his head through an empty frame to see if Nemo was still there but no luck (getting his head through or finding Nemo). Next, I tried a dad who was juggling a toddler, a backpack, a sippy cup, a stroller, and two recycled shopping bags. When I said, "Excuse me sir, have you seen Nemo?" the toddler burst into tears. The dad said, "Don't worry son. We'll find Nemo", and whipped out his smartphone. Finally I asked a little girl with a starfish in her hand if she could help me find Nemo. She said she'd be happy to aid in the effort to 'find Nemo', dug around in her purse for a minute, pulled out two dollars and tossed it in somebody's hat on a nearby bench.

This was just getting silly. It was time to start looking for Nemo myself. I bought a ticket, walked in and followed the arrows.

Now, deep in the bowels of water world, I tapped on the aquarium glass asking several aquatic residents if they'd seen Nemo. By the look on their faces, I think some were insulted, like the, 'So what am I, chopped liver' kind of face. Some just looked at me and blinked. Others would swim frantically left and right like we were playing Pictionary and I was supposed to guess.Then there was this red alien looking thing with 10 white spikey deals sticking out all over his body. When I tapped on his glass, he started pointing in every compass point he could conjur. At some compass point, he started getting aggressive.

I left.

I looked in the jellyfish tanks. They were floating around in slow motion to piped in classical music. They hadn't seen Nemo either. To avoid squandering the music and Zen vibe, I sat down on an ergonomic bench in slow motion to regroup.

Next were the shark tanks and the stingray tanks and the alligator pit and the tropical rain forest, and the frog bog, and the cafeteria. So I stopped and ate. Only a few tanks, the gift shop and an exit ramp remained. I was about to give up all hope of finding Nemo, when I rounded a corner and there he was. I was sort of expecting a celestial welcome... you know... angelic hosts and at least one harp. But nothing; not a sound.

So I squared off like a cowboy on the streets of Laredo at high noon, just me and the clown fish. Shutter finger twitching, I leveled the camera and waited for Nemo to look me in the eye. Obviously, he had never been to Laredo because this absolutely didn't go down as I had envisioned it, The tank looked more like an Old West Shooting Gallery with Nemo bobbing up and down in the peach sea anemone and waving kelp. Game on Nemo I sneered and countered with 7 images per second. Much to my surprise, Nemo actually gave up one full frontal sporting an expression that absolutely screamed, "Ever consider reading the brochure lady"?

Smart ass fish.

What have I learned from this adventure? 1) Read the brochure, 2) nobody mentioned the bazillion scratches on the glass, 3) sitting with a level camera waiting for something to swim up and pose is a long, long wait, 4) an autofocus lens doesn't autofocus when it is pressed against the glass, 5) hunting for flat glass in a curved world is exhausting, 6) motion blur is the norm, 7) digital noise a given, 8) some reflected light actually adds to the beauty of an image (as you will see), 9) don't eat the cafeteria food, and finally, 10) shooting fish in an aquarium is not as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

Did I enjoy the adventure? Well yes I did.

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—The JPG team

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