If you paddle up the Kennedy Creek inlet, around the bend so that the lake is out of sight, you find yourself in the unusual position of paddling through an evergreen forest, tucked down in between steep, rocky hillsides. You must duck as you glide under the pair of downed pines that cross the mid-point of the inlet, and only a few boat lengths later you run out of navigable water, where Kennedy Creek proper meets the lake inlet and blocks it with a gravel bar.
This is where you get out, pulling the kayak up onto the gravel. The bar forms a barrier at this transitional point, a build up between the creek and it’s holes, and the depth of the inlet. And just beyond this barrier are the crayfish.
These little critters fill the creek, and especially so just beyond the barrier, where the creek pools. It’s a fairly big pool, big enough that I could float in it, or even submerge in it’s deepest point, where it drops to about three feet. I’ve been visiting this point for several years now, always with the intention of somehow photographing the resident crayfish population, but until now it hadn’t been possible.
But with the Olympus TG-3 point & shoot, that finally changed. In fact, when I bought the TG-3, this was one of the photographic targets that I had in mind’ it’s taken a few months to get around to it, waiting for the water to warm, waiting until I had the right morning to spend there. But the wait was well worth it.
When you first approach the pool, it’s easy to think that there’s nothing there. The crayfish blend in very well with their environment. Their color is a close match to the stones and sediment that line the creek bottom, and unless approached they often remain motionless, half-tucked under overhanging stones.
I always have to take a minute to relearn how to see them. Then, suddenly, crayfish shapes begin to appear everywhere, and I have no problem tracking them down. The photo above shows this, in a rough way – this was taken from beneath the water’s surface, which is different – the surface reflections are part of what helps hide them. But even as you look at this photo, you’re probably thinking you’ve found them all, until you realize there’s another one. And maybe another one after that.
Working with these guys once you find them is a challenge, as they are naturally fearful of any creature that enters their realm. And with good reason, as most interlopers are there trying to eat them! Raccoons, for example, love a good crayfish hole, and will sit on the edge catching and eating them in numbers. I’ve found evidence of it happening here, small piles of shells and dismembered crayfish pieces left behind.
So as I wade into the pool, crayfish jet away from me in all directions, seeking the shelter of deeper water & crawling under rocks. A few choose to stand their ground, unmoving, hoping that I won’t be able to see them. And a very few, such as the individual seen below, even choose to adopt a defensive stance. This guy reared up and bared his claws to the camera, remaining this way several minutes as I photographed him.
My usual method was to find secure footing, for the creek bottom is slippery and often unstable, before bending down and holding the camera underwater, where I’d extend my arms and advance it towards my subject in an effort to get a good photo without spooking them. The camera is smaller and less threatening than I am, so my keeping distance between it and my body, I was able to get a better success rate. Although to be fair, I looked silly as hell, and the position was often uncomfortable.
The TG-3 is equipped with both a regular built-in flash and a LED lightsource and I experimented with both. Inside the woods, the creek environment was too dark to work in without some form of artificial lighting; even at ISO 800 and with the in-camera lights, my shutter speeds were around 1/30 or 1/50.
I preferred the LED to the flash after testing both. Both sources are very directional and on-axis, and the flash pumps out more overall power, but I found that the LED was a somewhat softer light and the final effect was more pleasing.
It must be noted, however, that both the flash and the LED suffer very fast fall-off underwater. Underwater shooting is a wide-open, up close game, which is why you often see the pros using wide-angle or even fisheye lenses on their rigs. I had the lens fully zoomed out to take advantage of it’s f/2 aperture, and was getting the camera as physically close to my subjects as possible in order to get the most light on them.
Shooting from any distance, even just the few inch difference between the photo above and the photo below, results in a major loss of light, which is absorbed by the particles in the water, resulting in increased exposure times, muted colors, and an increasingly washed-out appearance.
The biggest issue with the TG-3 continues to be the screen angle. Standing above the water and looking down, once the camera is rotated more than about 45 degrees upwards, the display becomes invisible. So while shooting down on by subjects works well, trying to put the camera at their level and shoot across the environment, for more of a landscape feel, became a matter of guesswork and, finally, spray & pray.
The only solution to this problem would be to get into the water with a face mask and submerge behind the camera, so that I could continue to see the screen while working. In this case there isn’t much room to do that, and I’m convinced that having my entire body in the water with the camera would spook the crayfish into hiding entirely.
As a child, when visiting my grandparents my cousins and I would invariably end up down in the creek behind their house – creek always being pronounced as “crick” there. We’d build dams and we’d catch crayfish. My cousins were always better at catching them than I was – I was too slow, and to be honest I was fearful of being pinched by them.
All these years later, I’m still catching crayfish, although now with the camera. And I prefer it this way – it’s less stressful for the critters, and I get to come home with something to show for it.
Plus, did you see the size of the claws on some of these guy? They’re like mini-lobsters!