Photographing dolphins

…and other potentially futile pastimes, like writing.

I was at sea yesterday, and someone forgot to inform the fates, so there were no storms, the long-line did not get stuck, no-one got stabbed or bitten or injected with excruciatingly painful toxin by the spines of a gurnard-perch (we caught three). We even got some fish and got home at a reasonable hour.

I know. My reputation, Iago, my reputation… Still, as in good fiction, it’s all about contrasts, not an even tenor (even if that tenor is soprano with terror and suspense) throughout, so a good day will lull the victi… uh, fisherman. Otherwise they’d all stay home and do macramé – a skill we secretly practice out there. Ask my hand-lines.

The scene was even uplifted by a pair of seals and a pod of dolphins cruising about. Neither set of animals were that interested in us or our fishing, but I ventured onto that piece of prime foolishness (which is very like being a success as an author) of trying to get pictures of them, with my little point-and-shoot camera.

This is a typical photograph of five dolphin.
disappeared Dolphin
(if you click on the picture your see it full-screen and almost make out where they were.) And if you liked that one I have another 300 just like it. The delay between pressing the button and the camera taking the pic, as well as your reaction speed, make this less than easy. It’s even worse when you try to anticipate where something you can’t see will pop up next. They were playing around, diving and twisting and even tail-flapping – principally to irritate the seals I suspect, but maybe just for fun. Because they didn’t swim in straight lines it made for lots of pictures of the wrong bit of ocean while just out of frame they were leaping in a graceful curve to splash back as you turned and clicked. In the pre-electronic camera days, when you had 36 shots and a fair bit of cost to developing the film, everyone but the rich or dedicated few took one or two snaps and gave up. You needed a motor-drive and great camera, and either vast luck, or years at sea (because we don’t see dolphin – or seals – every time).

Now of course it is different. Eventually, even I get something.
Not the best – a fraction of a second either way would have been better, but still a dolphin picture.

If I take my camera out every time I go to sea, and take enough pictures, I’ll get one, which, if not absolutely brilliant, will be pretty damn good.
And I will get lots of pictures of Nessie on holiday off Flinders Island.


No, really, she comes in every year to sample the delights of warmer water and dally a bit with her old beau, Cthulhu.

And between cuddles, Nessie and Cthulhu-babe are writing, and publishing Indy e-books. (Would I lie to you? Trust me. I’m an author. ‘Goldmann-Sucks, the vampire squid of my dreams’ was the title of Cthulhu’s erotic normal romance, and Nessie’s five-book steam-podunk trilogy rejoices in the title: “If you were a Plesiosaur my love” ) Now back in the bad old days, when the Elder gods of Publishing still ruled absolute, it was very like the 36 pictures and pay to get them developed, and poor N&C got nowhere, because neither of them kissed up well, and, besides, it was either the Elder gods way or Publish America, and the Elder Gods, for all they wished to destroy the universe and wipe out humanity as an idle aside, were not going to charge you for the privilege.

Now of course, with the advent of e-books they’ve been able put it up there, and, if they try often enough (take enough happy-snaps) they’ll find an audience. If they keep pushing, eventually they’re almost bound to get one which arrives at pretty close to the right moment, and is discovered by the right people, and they’ll do quite well (at least) out of self-publishing. If they give up, they won’t, but at least this decision no longer rests with the capricious Elder gods, and you CAN keep trying.

On the subject of financial success, as a good example of ‘how not to do statistics’ – I give you this. I know, from ‘The Grauniad’, not a reliable source, particularly about sf or writing. The reportage in that area seems of the level the paper that has the dog-sized cockroaches, Elvis on the check-out counter in Buttnagarrasett, Alaska, and images of the Virgin Mary miraculously appearing on crisps. You might even suspect it of being same reporters, except the skills of those in ‘The Guardian’ often seem markedly lower to me. Of course ‘Math’ is not obscenity to me, so perhaps that’s why the numbers quoted as if facts about authors here, really irritate me. The Authors Guild are responsible for the ‘statistics’ quoted.

Now there may be (or not) a great deal of truth in their members financial fate. (They are, as a group, heavily invested in worship and sacrifice to the Elder gods of Publishing. Their secret dark temples of radioactive imperial porphyry infest NYC. They gyrated and chanted in unison with Douglas Preston in his attempt to invoke the US Government to protect the Elder gods in their lairs of primal chaos from the thing they call ‘Amazon’). The figures tell us a great deal about those of their members who voluntarily self-select to supply information. For those, things are not going well. We have no real insight into how representative or how typical they are. This may well be the general picture, but one cannot tell. Some of them have even sullied their toenails in self-publishing.

However, there is deep comfort to be drawn in the fact that gender-based earning inequality has largely been eliminated with the survey also ‘revealing’ “that median income for male and female authors was “largely comparable” in 2014, with men earning a median of $8,250 and women $8,000. In 2009, male authors earned $12,250, compared to $10,500 for women.”

Yeah. A win. Equality by bringing everyone down.

Meanwhile, for a more positive data-set.

Edited to add – see this for more on Hugh Howey and the Data Guy’s report on earnings

Onwards. More pictures. More words.


  1. Dave,

    A few years ago during a Cape Cod visit, my wife and I went on a two hour whale watching cruise.

    I used a modern digital camera bridge camera and I had the camera in my hands for the entire cruise. Number of photos taken, 351. Number of photos that were keepers, one.

    And even the one keeper has the whale tail clipped a tiny bit.

    Yes, in the days of a maximum of 36 photos we were a lot more picky about shooting photos.

    If you have not done so, I suggest turning off the review photo setting on your camera, this seems to speed the process up a bit.

    And no, Cthulhu did not show up in any of the photos.

    1. The conclusion is obvious. Digital cameras are all that stands between a 3 hour cruise and a five year stint with Gilligan. You don’t see any digital cameras on the island, do you??

  2. For reasons known only to email, your column, when viewed in email, substitutes a line graph for the dolphin pictures. At first, I thought you were being particularly snarky about bad camera technique, or something, but decided to click on the Club, where I see the animals.

    1. Hmmm. Try clearing your temporary files, Pat. Most email systems send pictures as downloads, which end up in your temporary folder.

  3. Dear Dog, I envy you your life …

    Did you and Dorothy Grant coordinate? Howey’s Author Earnings Report shows indie + Amazon imprint taking 60% of units in Sept … is the Graun’s piece a response to that? As I heard on a video yesterday “coincidence is just God winking at you.”

    1. My life is mostly a product of taking opportunities most people thought silly and too risky (probably correctly in both cases), and making (sometimes with a lot of effort) them work somehow. Also the pictures show the times when taking pictures is possible, and you _want_ to remember that. It does not include the bits most people would not envy. We’re, by local standards, and even US standards, very poor, and that looks pretty, but it’s me collecting a month’s worth of protein. Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way :-).

      I suspect, yes, the Graun is a response to that, as the Grauniad is the mouthpiece of the publishing establishment. I think it was Dorothy who told me about the Howey report, but I had no idea she was posting about it :-). I will put in a link.

  4. The Guardian article is interesting. I wonder if the slide in income has been gradual or constant. My income crated about thirteen months ago. Nothing I can blame on Amazon, sales just flat tanked. They’ve just started picking up again, it’ll be interesting to see if that continues. If it does, I may start to believe we’re in a recovery.

  5. If I can get the time I’m going to analyze that Amazon data from AE to give me revenue to each author (by type of author/genre etc.) I suspect we’ll see some fascinating levels of income.

  6. As someone who is actually a professional photographer (yearbook photos! I’m very good at those), but who only owns a point-and-click camera, my advice is this: There’s a point where you’re pressing the button at which it has a slight catch, where the camera actually focuses. If you learn to focus and hold at that half-press, you can take pictures much quicker. And if you learn to have your finger moving as the good shot appears, you can get shots that nobody thinks you can get. (That particular reaction is literally a flash.)

    1. That’s actually by design. Although the cheaper the camera, the longer the delay.

      I just got back from the Reno Air Races, this being my second in a row and third time ever. I learned some lessons last year trying to shoot the races with my little Olympus point-and-shoot. (One lesson being that it was impossible to see the screen in the sun, so I used extended fingers as a sort of speed sight). The frustrations of that trip led me to invest in a good “Prosumer” grade DSLR (Cannon EOS Rebel T5) and the experience was worlds better.

      Faster response time, the ability to multiple at 3 frames per second, good lenses with stabilization, and more megapixels than you will ever need (so you can crop and zoom), all those benefits and more await.

      And if anyone wants to get one, ask me for an Amazon marketplace link….

    1. You’re either trying to extend a metaphor or… well, I’ve been diving for 51 years now. A little of that as a commercial diver, but a lot of time in the water. There are places and times where dolphin will come close, are common, and are not working when they see you. Not here, not often. I’ve been lucky enough to have that, in the water, twice. In tens of thousand of hours. Most of the time we see dolphin they’re working. So if you want to show how the hell you swim fast enough to get pictures then please do, I look forward to it. Secondly, dude, the water is 10 degrees C at the moment. I’m spending upward of 12 hours out there. To dive I wear a 7mm longjon and 7mm hooded jacket, and booties and gloves. In an ordinary 3 mil wetsuit you last about 5 minutes. In your skin you’d be frigging lucky not to drown. Typically we see the beasties for maybe 4-5 minutes as they pass. I can’t get into my suit in 5 minutes, and I’m not spending 12 hours of a working fishing trip in wetsuit just in case.

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