I have this vision in my head of the perfect jellyfish picture. Actually, it’s not just in my head. I’m not sure exactly where I saw it first, but I know it’s a picture from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s a single jellyfish with a long tail trailing off the edge of the picture… a solitary golden jellyfish on a royal blue field. I can’t find an example of that exact picture, but this shot by Declan McCullagh (website) gives you the idea.

I’ve wanted to take this picture ever since I learned of the jellyfish exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Unfortunately, the dim lighting utilized by these artistic jellyfish exhibits requires a tripod, and the rules on bringing a tripod are rather strict. You can only use one when it will not get in the way of other guests. Considering that the Monterey Bay Aquarium is packed weekdays during the school year with field trips, weekdays during the summer with tourists, and weekends year-round, it’s nearly impossible to find an appropriate time.

Anemone_closeBut the Seattle Aquarium has no such restrictions. I discovered to my delight this past weekend that tripods are allowed at any time–there’s no way I could have taken this shot without a tripod [click to enlarge]. I wouldn’t have discovered this for months if it weren’t for Heather’s trip up to Seattle this past week. With Sunday’s weather forecast for rain, we needed some kind of activity indoors. Since she has always wanted to see me take pictures, I thought the Aquarium would be a perfect Sunday morning destination.

[I have no idea why she wants to see me take pictures. It’s boring. I can sit in the same place for hours waiting for the right shot. In Guatemala, I spent two hours one afternoon taking pictures of a troop of spider monkeys in the trees directly above me. I only stopped because the pain in my neck from having a 6+ pound camera resting on my face became overwhelming. At the Seattle Aquarium, I spent 20 minutes taking pictures of the jellies. Heather stuck around for about five minutes before heading to the tidal pools to touch a starfish. She also blogged briefly about the trip.]

Jelly5And the Seattle aquarium has jellies. It’s a small exhibit, and the lighting scenario wasn’t quite as breathtaking as those at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The light bulbs were painfully obvious behind the red gel; it was the only jelly exhibit in the place, limiting my photographic flexibility; and the exhibit was designed as a walk-through, meaning my tripod camera was inconveniencing other guests who didn’t want to block my shot (making me feel guilty for sitting there for 20 minutes).

None of that mattered, of course. What mattered was light. For that exhibit, the ideal picture would be a black background with a glowing red jellyfish. The shutter speed for that picture was far too slow, however. Even the slow drifting of the jellies came out as a red blur. My only option was to include the illuminated red band in the picture.

I snapped 90 frames. They’re in a new Aquarium gallery on my photos site. They’re not perfect, but they look pretty damn cool.

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