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How a dying jellyfish saved our day

Participating in a photoshoot-competition is a challenge not to be taken lightly. The most important rule in preparing: you need A plan. This was made clear to me when I joined the yearly Dutch ‘PEN OMD photo Experience’ for the first time. If you want to have any chance of winning, or even to be noticed, you need to work out a detailed modus operandi. What subject, what sort of lighting, which lens to mount and above all: what composition do you have in mind? As an amateur photographer I decided to go for the experience and forget about the planning part. The outcome was no surprise: I enjoyed myself, had a terrific dive in the Grevelingen, made a few random pictures and got the t-shirt. Fine.

Paul Koopman • PEN E-PL5 • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 8 mm 1:2.8 
• PT-EP10  • 2 x Inon 2000

Last year I decided to take a different approach. Given the level of competition I didn't give myself much chance of winning though. But I thought: Hey! I’ve got a unique selling point called Lara, my blond, blue-eyed daughter, eleven years old! I directed her into the water with a fishing net, plunged my E-PL5 domeport and two Inon strobes half way under the surface and voilà, there it was: a 50/50 photo. To my surprise I became second in the competition, mainly because the jury thought my photo was original. I was loaded with compliments, got the price (another t-shirt) and walked home, too big for my boots and filled with ambition.
This year, I dreamed, it should happen! I visualised the whole thing (which seems to help) and worked out a masterplan with Lara. I would take post at the seabed, close to something interesting like a seastar or lobster that are both abundant in the Netherlands. Lara would then swim down, to be captured on daddy’s CMOS-sensor. 'Is that A plan, or is that A plan?' we chuckled. Alas! Lara didn’t manage the diving part of the plan. So my unique selling point went down the drain. I had to think of something else – but ended with no plan at all.


Paul Koopman • PEN E-PL5 • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 8 mm 1:2.8 
•  PT-EP10  • 2 x Inon 2000

In a nutshell, this is what happened. I decided to go for stone slimefish at the divesite Strijenham (Tholen). Stonefish are beautiful creatures, but I took the wrong lens to capture them. Believe me, an 8 mm Zuiko and tiny fish don’t make a good match. So I decided to fall back on my 50/50 plan: a picture half underwater with the watchtower of Scharendijke above, buddy Pim Valk in between. Plan C failed, I couldn’t get all parts together nicely. Pim and I decided to go for a wreck dive and find a nice Star Wars like composition with his fierce lightsword: Plan D. We had to abandon that plan, however, because we learned visibility at the given wreck was less then one metre.

Paul Koopman • PEN E-PL5 • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 8 mm 1:2.8 
• PT-EP10 • 2 x Inon 2000

Finally we gave up and started our photoshoot without any plan. 'No Plan!', we sighed, realising what this meant. But then, after just a few minutes and no deeper then three metres we found our saviour. A mushroom jellyfish, peacefully lying at the seabed. Apparently it was close to passing away, as some crabs were already savouring its tentacles. But with the sunbeams coming from behind, casting a halo over this Shakespearean dying-scene, it was too good to be true. I signalled Pim a huge OK, saying: this is it! We took our time with our poor jelly friend, adjusting strobes, lighting, aperture and shutter speed, until we were satisfied. The jellyfish couldn’t care less, but we were close to euphoria.

Paul Koopman • PEN E-PL5 • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 8 mm 1:2.8 
• PT-EP10 • flash 2 x Inon 2000

A few hours later we sent in the picture – you could only submit one unique shot in this competiton, without cropping or photoshopping. 'Did you execute your plan?' Karin Brussaard asked, the kind lady that organised this sixth Olympus shootout. We giggled. 'Plan? What plan? Our plan was: let's have no plan at all!'. And guess what? Same evening we won the first prize!

Author and photographer: Paul Koopman