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Fall Edition 2011

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Reef Photography - Part 3

Leafy dragon seahorse from the Florida Aquarium, Tampa.So now you've finished snapping pics of all your favorite corals and fish, and you're ready to begin posting them to WAMAS. You've read through Part 1 on taking focused pictures, and Part 2 on composing an attractive photo, and you're ready to start uploading. Not so fast! If cameras worked as well as the human eye, your pictures would appear true to life in color, brightness, composition, and focus, and you'd have a bunch of wonderful memories of the beauty of your reef. In reality though, your pictures almost certainly don't look exactly like what you saw when you were shooting, so you need to spend a few minutes tweaking the pictures on your computer. Adobe Photoshop is probably the most widely known post-processing application, but you don't need to buy something that expensive to get good results. I use Picasa's picture editing software for most of my post-processing, and that's what I'll refer to in this article. It's relatively easy to use, it's lightweight, and it's free.We spent a lot of time in Part 2 talking about how to frame your subject to make it look its best, using techniques like the rule of thirds, making sure the fish's eye is in sharp focus, leaving lead room in front of a fish, and avoiding distracting backgrounds. But sometimes, despite your best efforts, another fish wanders into view and messes up an otherwise great shot. Or the picture comes out a little bit too bright, or too dark, or the colors in your picture are just a bit off from real life. This is where post-processing, or photo editing, can come to the rescue.Photo editing software. As mentioned earlier, I've found the freeware Picasa program does fine for most of my simple photo editing. I don't use it to store or share photos online; I just use it for cropping and adjusting brightness, and sometimes to tweak colors or remove bubbles. There are plenty of other programs out these that work just as well or better, and if you already have a favorite it probably has very similar tools. The main Picasa tabs are "Basic Fixes", "Tuning", and "Effects", and are located on the left side of the screen.The Basic Fixes tab displayed here contains key functions like the Crop tool and the Retouch tool. The Lighting and Color buttons can be found on the Tuning tab. You can also call up the details of the photograph to determine what settings you used for shutter speed, aperture, etc. This can help you identify what camera setting are getting you good pics, and which ones aren't. I do the following steps with my photos, and will discuss each step in detail below: 1. Crop photo 2. Adjust brightness 3. Adjust color 4. Retouch photoCropping. Cropping, or reframing, is simply zooming in on a picture after you've already taken the shot. You can use this to make the subject appear closer and fill more of the frame, and bring out the details that you can't see on screen when the subject is so small. For this to be successful you need to set your camera to shoot pictures as large as possible. Most cameras will call this setting "image quality" or "file size", and you want something like "jpg fine" or "large". This is the original photo, and this is as close as I could zoom in. The subject of the photo is the male anthia with his friend, but you can't see him clearly because he's a small fish in a big photo. I want to be able to see more of the anthia and less of the background.Here's the same photo recropped. Now the anthia is clearly the center of attention, and you can make out the details of his face and markings much better.I've recropped the photo again to make all the tiny details visible.If you zoom in too much you can end up with a picture that's too grainy. I wouldn't crop much further than this.Cropping is also useful to recompose your photo to screen out those things that snuck into your photo and are distracting. Things like other fish, powerheads and plumbing, the waterline of the tank, and light reflections can all be cut from your picture by cropping.I turned off the pumps before taking this picture, causing the waterline to drop and the lights to become visible. A single crop removed the distracting horizontal splash of light.In this example the main subject is small, there's a powerhead and an extra fish in the picture, as well as lines from the opposite corner of the tank. A simple crop makes the subject more visible and literally cuts out all the distractions.Another example of using cropping to bring out the details of a tiny subject and make the background less noticeable.Brightness, Color, and Retouching. Adjusting the brightness levels in Picasa is usually as easy as clicking a single "magic wand" button and letting the software do the work for you. Sometimes I'll increase the shadows, the highlights, or both to make the subject stand out better. The fill light doesn't seem to work well, and makes pictures grainy if you use more than a tiny bit. The color tool here can help sometimes, but it's not the best feature. I get much better results by shooting with the camera in fluorescent lighting mode in the first place.Once I've corrected for brightness and color, if needed, I'll retouch the photo to eliminate bubbles or other specks in the picture. Again, a light touch is best and it's tough to try to fix a picture that's full of microbubbles. It's much better to turn the pumps off in the first place. I asked the staff at the Florida Aquarium to turn off their pumps, and they just stared at me for a really long time. So I ended up using the Retouch tool for a bunch of these pics.Here's an example of the whole process:- Start out with a well focused, well composed picture. - Crop the picture to make the fish take up more of the frame so it's easier to see.- Adjust the highlight and shadow levels.- Adjust the color, if necessary.- Touch up any spots.Original pictureCroppedHighlights and shadows both increased. This makes the subject brighter and the background darker.Removed a few bubbles on the right side of the picture with the Retouch tool.Saturation. A word or two of warning about adjusting saturation levels. It can be tempting to increase saturation levels during post-processing in order to get colors closer to what your eye sees. Almost everyone who tries this overdoes it, and ends up with pics that glow eerily and look completely unnatural. If you must tweak the saturation, restrain yourself to raising it only the tiniest amount. Conclusion. You don't need a fancy digital SLR and a bag full of lenses to take really nice reef pictures. The key to successful reef photography is taking lots of pictures and figuring out which settings work best. Apply the few basic techniques we've discussed in these articles, like getting a focused picture, some basic photo composition, and how to crop and balance your pictures. Good luck, and I hope to see your entries in the Picture of the Month contest!About the author. Jon Lazar is not a professional photographer. However, he has taken thousands of reef tank pictures and a couple of them turned out pretty good, so he's agreed to present a few pointers in a way that requires almost no understanding of photography at all.

Jon Lazar

Jon Lazar

 

Homemade Fish Food - Scott711

I have done a lot of reading on what food/ingredients are beneficial for both fish and coral. After gathering all of the information about quantity and quality of foods I came up with the following list of ingredients for my food:shrimpclamsscallopsoysterssquidmusselsmackerelaloe Verabloodwormsbrine shrimpbaby brinerotifers frozen/freeze driedPE mysis shrimpmysisprawn Roecyclopeezeoyster eggsspectrum small pelletsdecapsulated brine shrimpfreeze dried copepodsGolden Pearls 5-800 microns 6 different typesred gracilariabroccoliZoeZoecongarlic extractChromamax(super concentrated phytoplankton)3 different types of Noriseveral different types of aminos/omega fatty acids and vitamins

Chad

Chad

 

Marine Aquarium Disasters and How to Prevent Them (Part 2) - Scott L. Moore

THE ARTICLE: Major Pest InfestationsAsterina Starfish, Aiptasia, and FlatwormsMarine pests are numerous and some can cause a tank disaster. Coral eating nudibranches can wipe out corals very quickly.Mantis shrimp may eat small fish. Live rock often contains many interesting and beneficial hitchhikers but it can also import dangerous pests into a tank. The Asterina species with a bluish spot in the center will eat coralline algae. Acropora Red Bugs will kill expensive acropora corals. Flatworms and aptasia can also slowly kill many livestock. Some pest treatments, such as flatworm killers, will kill many flatworms thus causing a die off and ammonia spike. If the directions call for water changes after treatment then do them.Prevention: Quarantine of all livestock is the best way to prevent pests from entering a tank. For new tanks that have just been filled with live rock and have finished cycling, introduce livestock slowly into the tank, one fish at a time to see if they are susceptible to pests that arrived on your new live rock. Consider dipping corals to kill pests on them. Study potential pests ahead of time and be ready to react quickly if they appear. Pests, like blue spotted Asterina, can be eliminated by picking them out with tweezers before they become numerous. Predators of pests are usually not one hundred percent effective in a tank environment.Heaters Gone WildAquarium heaters generally do not have very sophisticated thermostats. On some heaters, the thermostat may malfunction causing the heater to cook the tank. Many tanks have had die-offs for this reason. There have also been cases where heaters with too low wattage were used and during the colder winter months the tanks got too cold causing a die off.Prevention: Choose quality heaters by getting good recommendations from experienced aquarists. Titanium heaters tend to be superior. Replace heaters at least every two years. Consider using 2 heaters in case one stops working. Heaters can be attached to more precise temperature controllers for greater safety. Chillers can also prevent malfunctioning heaters from cooking your tank. Choose heaters with adequate wattage. Five watts per gallon is plenty. Audible temperature alarms are relatively inexpensive.Glass Heater BreaksGlass heaters should never be removed from water when plugged in. Removing them for only a couple seconds can cause them to break and possibly electrocute you and everything in you tank. You may try this and notice that you can remove them without them breaking

Chad

Chad

 

Mixed Reef - Expanding Your DIY Horizons

A picture of an Arduino (mega 2560) card. Reefers seem to be almost any age, come from diverse backgrounds, and you might find one in any given professional field. One thing that we all seem to have in common is occasionally finding ourselves in a position where the ideal solution we are looking for cannot be found on store shelves. Of course, there also seems to be a desire to "just tinker with it" that we also seem to share.About six months ago I was researching do-it-yourself LED options to supplement and perhaps eventually replace my existing metal halide setups. I also figured as long I was going to use LEDs, it would be nice if I could simulate dusk and dawn. It was about this time that I ran across the mention of a little object called an Arduino. Now if you are like I was at the time, you are thinking "what the heck is that?" Well, it is a small electronic device that can use to accomplish just about anything you want using a combination of physically connecting things together and basic commands.Since I wanted something that I could use to more closely simulate a day, I set off on a quest to make an LED lighting controller.For full disclosure, when I started working with Arduinos, the concept and idea was beyond anything that I had attempted in my DIY career before, but by attacking it a little at a time, I found that it was not terribly difficult. If you are looking to expand your DIY repertoire, understand the basics of electrical components, then the potential for what you can accomplish is virtually unlimited.So with that, here are the basics:For my project, I chose to use an Arduino Mega, which has a lot of outputs and will cover just about any project you would ever want to do. There are smaller cards, from just the arduino bootloader uploaded onto a chip that you can integrate into your own integrated circuit card (a few dollars each, but lots of effort on your part) to some smaller, standalone chips like the Arduino Uno and Arduino Pro. The Arduino Uno (or older, but equivalent Duemilanove) is a good starting point and will run most things you will want to do.The little card may look intimidating, but really it breaks down to four main things: 1) either sensing or changing the position of a switch (digital inputs or outputs - the pins on the right) 2) measurement of sensors, such as temperature (analog inputs - the pins on the bottom) and 3) outputting a varied signal, like that used to dim an LED (PWM, outputs - the pins on the top left) and 4) some communication stuff that we won't use for this project (useful for running multiple devices).Setting the Arduino up to do the things that you want is accomplished by connecting it to your computer via a USB cable (the connector is under my index finger in the above picture). Free software provides a development environment for you to provide commands to the Arduino. For me, considering the programming part was the most intimidating part of the project, but if you break it down to the basics, it really is very simple. You just have to remember, it does EXACTLY what you tell it to. Nothing less. Nothing more.With that, let's talk about an example of how I would tell the Arduino to light an LED when a button is pressed.First, we need to set up the circuit (as an aside, I find that using a breadboard to set up a circuit is easiest to start). For this circuit, we need some wire, a button, a resistor, and we will use an LED that is already mounted on the Arduino board (at pin 13).The circuit:The resistor is just there to prevent a short directly from a voltage to ground and can be of any high value. I used 10 k ohm resisters I found at Radio Shack. OK, if you look at the circuit, you will see that normally, digital pin 22 is connected to ground (through the resistor), which means that normally, the Arduino will sense a low. However, if the switch is closed, then the pin will sense a high which will be used to turn the LED on. Notice how I said that: IF normal condition is true, LED is off. THEN... condition is true, LED is on.Lets look at how that would look in "Arduino language" (for the techies, Arudino language is loosely based on the programming language C). And don't worry... most of the text is my explanations.// Anytime the double slash (//) is used, // it means the stuff after it and on this line // will not read by the computer.// It is very useful for making notes to myself // about what my code does.// (so I can remember later!)// The first thing we need to do is some basic setup.// It is useful to use noun names for the pins we use.// If we name a pin, it is a constant that will not change.const int buttonPin = 22; // We just defined a variable (an integer or int in Arduino-ese)// the term const means we cannot change it later// the semi-colon needs to end most lines.// now, let's do it again for the LED pin const int LEDPin = 13;// Now we need a variable that will change, something// where we store the state of the button when we check it.// I initially stored it as a LOW since that is the normal // state for the LEDint buttonState = LOW;// OK, now we need to do some setup to tell the Arduino// what everything in the circuit is using the stardard // terminology. Everything inside the squiggly brackets {}// is run once when the arduino turns on.void setup(){ // First initialize the LEDpin as an output pinMode (LEDPin, OUTPUT); // Next initialize the buttonPin as an input pinMode (buttonPin, INPUT);}// Next we define the loop, or what the Arduino will do, // line by line, while it is onvoid loop(){ // First find out the state of the switch and assign it // to the variable we created for that purpose buttonState = digitalRead(buttonPin); // Now, based on the input, do something (note the // double equals (==) means "is it equal to" as opposed // to the single equals (=) which means "assign as" // if you accidentally use = in place of ==, the condition will // ALWAYS be true, because you just told it to be if (buttonPin == HIGH) { // this means the switch is closed, so the LED should be on digitalWrite (LEDPin, HIGH); } // And finally, we need to tell the Arduino what to do // with the LED if the switch is not closed. else { digitalWrite (LEDPin, LOW); }} See, that wasn't that bad, right?With just a few more commands you can connect a clock, a digital display and dim your LEDs however you see fit. Or if you want to get really fancy, you can add weather, seasonal day lengths, temperature based fan controllers or really anything else you want.Testing a six channel LED controller using a breadboard to simulate the LED array.A picture of the Arduino board and circuit soldered underneath a prototyping board that plugs directly into the Arduino and can be used to set up any type of circuit you can imagine.Intimidated, but a little intrigued, like I was? Read more, you can do it. Before you know it you will be using Arduino controllers for all kinds of household projects! Some reef projects that the arduino would be good for are: A DIY doser, light controller, reef controller, automatic feeder, and many more. If your mind isn't thinking about all the fun things that you can do with this, the website Hack N Mod has a list of 40 popular (non-reef) Arduino projects.Further information on Arduino can be found on their website www.arduino.cc, which contains a lot of tutorial, hardware, basic information, and forums that can be very useful in making your next project a reality! Also, don't be shy with asking me, I have completed a few of these projects now.

Chad

Chad

 

The "Who's Who" of WAMAS

Welcome to the "Who's Who of WAMAS"! The purpose of this column is to promote the social aspect of WAMAS. In this issue we have the pleasure of highlighting the personal sides of two of our fantastic sponsors!

treesprite

treesprite

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