A Fish Tale: Prof’s Photo Earns Kudos in International Contest

A UT Dallas faculty member was recently recognized in an international photography contest for an underwater image he snapped of a rare magenta-colored, stone-faced tropical fish.

Each spring, the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science hosts an underwater photography contest open to amateur photographers around the globe. More than 700 photos from 20 countries were submitted to the 2012 contest. Photographs were judged by professional photographers and marine scientists in five categories: fish or marine animal portrait, macro, wide angle, student and best overall.

Photo by Rockford Draper

Dr. Rockford Draper

This picture of a paddle flap Rhinopias was taken by cell biology professor Rockford Draper, left. The photo was among the winners of an international underwater photography contest. More than 700 photos from 20 countries were submitted to the 2012 contest. This shot took second place in the fish or marine animal portrait category.

Dr. Rockford Draper, a UT Dallas professor who holds a joint appointment in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and the Department of Chemistry, took second place in the fish or marine animal portrait category for his photo of  a paddle flap Rhinopias, Rhinopias eschmeyeri.

Draper shot the photo while scuba diving with a group of photographers in about 30 feet of water near the northeast coast of Bali in Indonesia.

“The oceans of Indonesia are famous amongst scientists and photographers as some of the most biodiverse oceanic ecosystems in the world,” Draper said. “This particular type of fish is pretty rare, and I was hoping to see one. This was the first time I had ever seen one, and in fact, there were two of different species within 10 feet of each other.”

He photographed a second Rhinopias, whose distinctive features included colorful, feather-like tendrils protruding from its face and body.

Photo by Rockford Draper

Just feet away from the first Rhinopias, Draper snapped this shot of another species.

There are several species of Rhinopias, a type of scorpion fish, and they tend to lie in wait to ambush their prey. The two colorful fish Draper photographed were found in an area of grassy seaweed.

“These fish are so wildly colored; I don’t think they were camouflaging themselves with their color. I think they camouflage themselves by camouflaging their eyes,” Draper said, noting that in each photo, the fishes’ true eyes are not obvious. “Fish always look for eyes. If a prey species can’t see any eyes, it feels more comfortable.”

Draper has been a scuba diver for more than 35 years, and took up photography about five years ago. Several of his underwater images have been recognized in international amateur competitions.

“I just love the underwater environment, how alien and beautiful it is,” Draper said. “It’s the closest thing you can get to being on another planet without leaving Earth.”

While his interest in underwater photography is not scientifically related to his work as a cell biologist, Draper said many of the technical aspects of photography that he uses underwater relate to his research, and vice versa.

“As a cell biologist, I take a lot of images of cells,” he said. “In that situation, I’m taking pictures through a microscope, but the images still must be processed to some extent. With scientific images, we also make measurements, which I haven’t done with my underwater photographs, at least, not yet.

“But in all photography, scientific or otherwise, the photographer still needs a technical understanding of what a good image is and what to do with it, and in this way, these two areas of my life are connected,” Draper said.

Photo by Rockford Draper Photo by Rockford Draper
Draper’s shots include a fish within a fish. Here is a manta ray in action.

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