Andrew Trevor-Jones - Member profile

To many of us in the Australasian Fishes project, underwater photography has been a great personal challenge. As a hobby it can be both a provider of immense frustration and personal satisfaction, often at the same time. While the core business of the Australasian Fishes project is the capturing, identifying and geolocation of various fish species inhabiting Australia and New Zealand, it is more than simply a collection of fish snaps. Readers need only look at the Journal section for the regular reports of discoveries and unique observations the project produces each month so see some of the contributions the project is making.
A brief examination of observations further reveals that some participants are using their digital photography tools to create images which are underwater “art”. Several members take underwater photography seriously, and from their work, we gain both enjoyment and insight into the marine environment. In their work we not only see the fish, but also gaze the underwater environment in its enchanting and amazing best.
One project participant whose images reflect the unique world of macro-size fish is Andrew Trevor-Jones. His macro images, not only capture the region’s strangest fish but also gives us a view into a unique world which most of us rarely recognise. Andrew is ranked at #16 in the project, submitting almost 800 images so far. Through his lens, he allows you to enter a world of colour and sharp detail. Andrew gives us a window to the universe of the tiny, intricate and beautiful.
Like many in the project, Andrew’s interest in fish began at a very young age. His Dad was an avid freshwater aquarist but Andrew became interested in marine fishes by catching juvenile tropical marine fishes around Sydney and keeping them in his own aquaria. This sparked his interest, in particular, of tropical species. He recalls being a young member of the Marine Aquarium Research Institute of Australia for a number of years and was mentored by the likes of Rudie Kuiter. His interest in fishes and most things marine led to studies in Marine Biology at UNSW. He followed this interest to learn to SCUBA through the UNSW dive club. Once he experienced SCUBA he rarely snorkelled, except on holidays to pass the time between dives preferring to stay down with the fish and other organisms rather than just taking brief visits.
Andrew currently works in the Herpetology department at the Australian Museum validating frog calls for the FrogID app (another citizen science project). Before that he was working in the Museum’s Search & Discover area interacting with visitors and answering questions about wildlife, following a career in IT for 30 years.
Andrew has owned many cameras and now uses a Nikon D500. He shoots exclusively with Nikon cameras and lenses, both above and below the water, and is very pleased with the results. For housings, he has also been a loyal Ikelite customer, as he found them inexpensive and he needs to upgrade his housings each time he upgrades his camera.
An important driver of his upgrades has been to reduce shutter lag. With an SLR, there is almost no lag between the times you press the shutter button until the photograph is taken. Andrew notes early P & S cameras had terrible shutter lag telling us, “I used to joke that I’d press the shutter button and the fish would find a mate, they’d spawn and the eggs would hatch before the camera took the photograph.” Andrew admits that many of today’s P&S cameras have almost no shutter lag and the quality of the photographs is equal to that of an SLR.
Another driver for upgrading regards eyesight. In his world of the micro, eyesight is critical. Like many of us, Andrew first needed reading glasses in his early 40s and P&S cameras often require the photographer to frame the photograph by looking at the LCD on the back of the camera. He noted with an SLR you look through the viewfinder and see what the lens sees, and most SLR viewfinders have a diopter adjustment so he could adjust for his eyes.
Andrew has tried various eyesight magnification solutions, such as a “gauge reader” facemask, a bifocal type of mask, inexpensive hydrostatic lenses that were “stuck” on to the inside of the mask, at the lower part of the mask so vision straight head was not affected. These were good but if water got into the mask, they’d fall off. He next discovered that Mares made a mask you could order with lenses at the bottom in any diopter you wanted settling on +2.5 which worked best. He later learned about Oz Bob, an optometrist in Dee Why (Sydney) specialising in adding custom lenses to masks. He is currently using an Oz Bob mask with +2.5 magnification. His work demonstrate its effectiveness.
Today Andrew almost always shoots macro and uses a 60mm lens in a flat port. He shoots with dual strobes as he likes being in control of the lighting, especially the colour of the light. Shooting macro with strobes means that he not only has a small distance between the subject and the lens, so less water to absorb light, but there is also a short distance between the strobes and the subject so the light is barely changed by the water. Andrew advises that it is critical to get close to your tiny subjects, which means not only having the right equipment, and properly corrected vision, but also requires you to develop an understanding of the organisms you seek, and how they interact with their habitat.
Many years of hunting for newly settled tropical marine fish uniquely prepared Andrew for finding small and often cryptic subjects for photography. He thoroughly enjoys locating difficult to spot animals, in particular species of his favourite fish family, the Syngnathidae (seahorses, pipefishes and their relatives). His favourites include Leafy Seadragons and Pygmy Pipehorse, Idiotropiscis lumnitzeri. These fish are small (up to 55mm total length) and are rarely seen by divers because they can be quite cryptic. In fact, they were only first found in the late 1990s and described in 2004. Andrew's skill has allowed him to see as many as 25 on a single dive!
Andrew warns us that finding pygmy pipehorses, and pretty much any cryptic animal, takes practice and experience. He advises, “If you I have never seen one before, it is unlikely you will find one without assistance. The best way to learn how to find them is to dive with someone that can show them to you. The more you see, the better your eyes (and brain) become at spotting them. A lot of it comes down to non-conscious pattern recognition in your brain. I’m to the point now where I can spot one just by seeing its tail wrapped around an alga or just an eye looking out at me.
Another skill Andrew possess is recognising individual fish, over long periods of time. He says, “The more often you see a particular species the more familiar it becomes to your brain and the easier it is to spot. It works in much the same way as recognising people. The more often you see them, the more familiar they become to the point you don’t even have to think about who they are.” As a result, he develops long term relationships with his subjects, for example he has photographed an individual female Bigbelly Seahorse, who has occupied the same rock at Kurnell for the past seven years.
The project has benefited from Andrew’s focus on the small and unique. For example he has amassed a collection of long term photos of individual Weedy Seadragons. When he sees an individual he takes head shots from both sides to determine which individual he’s seen, due to the dot patterns on the snout. He also takes flank shots from both sides, as the flank pattern can be used for identification using software. Identifying individuals allows him to track them over time and especially following males with eggs, including length and number of broods.
This skill has importance to marine science as another favourite fish of Andrew’s is the Red-fingered Anglerfish, Porophryne erythrodactylus. This is another species that was only recently described (2014) and is rarely seen because its camouflage (shape and colour) resembles sponges. Like pygmy pipehorses, there is the thrill of finding them but an equal thrill of finding the same individual on subsequent dives. While an individual can sit it the same spot for weeks and even months they can move overnight to a spot 10s of metres away.
Andrew never dives without his camera and it is very rare that he takes no photographs. As a result he has accumulated many photographs. While time is an issue he tries to identify all images at least genus level. He uses Lightroom and uses the scientific name as a keyword. While he recognises most species, he has numerous reference books with the most commonly used book is “Coastal Fishes of South-Eastern Australia” by Rudie Kuiter. For unusual syngnathids he likes “Seahorses and Their Relatives” by Rudie Kuiter. Recognising that both books are a little old so he is careful to check for taxonomic changes using World Register of Marine Species, Australian Faunal Directory or even iNaturalist.
We encourage all participants to examine the current body of work Andrew has contributed to the project, as you will see creatures which you have never seen, but who have probably seen you. To really appreciate challenge, art and science of Andrew’s work, try to find images which also includes Andrew’s finger in the frame. From that you will gain some insight in to the degree of difficulty which had to be surmounted to deliver these images to Australasia Fishes.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted by markmcg markmcg, May 30, 2019 04:36

Comments

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Andrew - great effort!!!
I agree with your statement regarding pattern recognition

Posted by fiftygrit almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Fascinating post! Such a great story and you have really set the macro photography dream standard ATJ!
(Gotta get me one of those Oz Bob masks) ;D

Posted by henrick almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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🙂

Posted by markmcg almost 2 years ago (Flag)

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