Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

New Zealand: kelp in surf at Bluff

with 36 comments

On February 24th we stopped at Stirling Point in Bluff, the southernmost town on the South Island. The bull kelp (Durvillaea antarctica or D. poha) swayed back and forth as the waves rolled in and the water flowed quickly out again. The movement fascinated me to the point that I took over 200 pictures of it in a quest for the ultimately compelling configuration. I don’t think there is an ultimately compelling configuration, but here’s a view of the swirling kelp photographed at 1/640th of a second.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 9, 2017 at 4:50 AM

36 Responses

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  1. Love your photo! The kelp looks like homemade egg noodles:-)


    April 9, 2017 at 4:56 AM

    • I thought about pasta too. Pasta for giants, in a rolling boil.


      April 9, 2017 at 5:46 AM

      • The foaming surf could pass for boiling water. I should have done a video clip so you could see the movement of both the water and the kelp.

        Steve Schwartzman

        April 9, 2017 at 7:25 AM

        • Ah yes. Something to add to your next trip.


          April 9, 2017 at 7:44 AM

          • Today marks one month since we returned, and we still haven’t fully recovered.

            Steve Schwartzman

            April 9, 2017 at 8:02 AM

            • Oh dear. No one ever mentions travel recovery time on the beautiful tourism brochures! Perhaps they should.


              April 9, 2017 at 9:24 AM

              • I don’t think you’ll ever see that caveat on a tourist brochure. The fatigue was partly my fault for driving so far and visiting so many places, but we accomplished a lot.

                Steve Schwartzman

                April 9, 2017 at 9:36 AM

    • Like you, I thought about egg noodles as soon as I saw the kelp.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 9, 2017 at 7:23 AM

  2. Excellent photo.


    April 9, 2017 at 5:05 AM

  3. Giant, indeed. It doesn’t seem at all overwhelmed by the size of the rocks, which is a pretty good indicator of how large it is. It looks rather like piles of fire hose washing around in the surf.

    At one time, I would have laughed at the thought of taking two hundred pictures of something. I haven’t done that yet, but now I understand it. Yesterday, the friend I’m visiting said, “Do you think you have enough pictures of that flower?” And I said, “I’m not sure.”


    April 9, 2017 at 7:31 AM

    • Another good metaphor: I can see a fire hose.

      Digital photography, along with the continuing decline in the price and the increasing capacity of hard drives, has led us to a place where there’s little reason not to take a lot of pictures. For many of the photographs I took of the moving kelp, I had the camera on high-speed continuous mode so I could get consecutive pictures a fraction of a second apart. Even a fraction of a second was enough for the kelp and the water to have moved a good deal.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 9, 2017 at 7:55 AM

  4. Accept me as part of the 200+ photos of one subject club!

    I thought of food too, but my thoughts were, “Are all kelps/seaweeds edible?” and if so, ‘is it tough? Would one have to dice it, or maybe eat that particular one like jerky?”

    All this talk about food, I think it’s time to break my fast!

    • Your welcome kit is on its way to you as a new member of the 200+ Club.

      I didn’t know the answer to your question so I searched. At


      I found this statement: “All seaweed is edible, though some are more nutritional and palatable than others, and some can cause stomach upset. Brown seaweeds such as bull kelp, giant kelp, and alaria fistulosa consist of carbohydrates that cannot be digested. These seaweeds still have value as seasoning agents, food wrapping, and a source of fibre and vitamins.”

      Then came three warnings:

      Although all seaweed is edible, the blue-green algae found in freshwater lakes and streams is very poisonous.

      Seaweeds can concentrate undesirable metals (lead, cadmium, copper). Avoid seaweeds from heavily populated centers or industrial areas.

      Seaweed washed/found on the shoreline may be rotting.

      ¡Feliz desayuno!

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 9, 2017 at 8:00 AM

      • wow! thank you so much for being my very own personal research assistant! you’re hired! I will stay clear of brownish or questionable seaweed but look forward to experimentinng if I find any on the coast in another week.

        i’ll be rio napo bound this week, going deeper into the upper amazon and look forward to learning more about that area.

        thanks for granting me the membership! i will probably use that card a lot next week – especially trying to photograph ranas at night!

        • You’re welcome. Happy trip to Río Napa and the Amazon. I don’t envy your photographing ranas at night; in the day is hard enough.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 9, 2017 at 10:13 PM

  5. I know what you mean, as you were there and saw this up close and personal, but I have to say, as someone who didn’t get that chance, this photograph is pretty darn compelling. I don’t know whether it’s due to the angle at which you took this shot, but the long view with the sharply receding perspective brings an incredible sense of movement to this still shot. Not easy to achieve, I would think. Kudos.

    Susan Scheid

    April 9, 2017 at 9:27 AM

    • If you haven’t been to New Zealand (or even if you have), it’s a great place to visit.

      Thanks for your kudos. Of the many pictures I took of the swaying kelp, I settled on showing this one because it includes the adjacent rocks; a lot of the other photographs frame the kelp more abstractly (you know me with my abstractions). I’m pleased to hear that you get a sense of movement from this image.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 9, 2017 at 9:44 AM

  6. Beautiful. Saffron noodles.


    April 9, 2017 at 12:55 PM

  7. Great image Steve, my garden would love it! 😃


    April 9, 2017 at 1:57 PM

  8. Suddenly I’m craving pappardelle with beurre noisette. I see others here are having the same problem. Shame on you for showing us this when we’re peckish. 😉


    April 9, 2017 at 10:48 PM

  9. The size of the kelp straps always amazes me – this is just seaweed, but on a giant scale. The colours you have caught in this are wonderful!

    anna warren portfolio

    April 10, 2017 at 2:53 AM

    • You can see why I was inspired to take over 200 pictures of this, because of the colors as well as the shapes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 10, 2017 at 6:07 AM

  10. Interesting pic! I myself might have just gone the lazy route and videorecorded a few minutes worth. Later, I’d do playback and screenshot the one or more that I liked the best and posted it (them). I also thought of mostly egg noodles, and fleetingly, fire hoses. Just out of curiosity, know how wide and thick those “noodles” might be?


    April 10, 2017 at 2:41 PM

    • Interesting enough that I took a whole lot of pictures of the seaweed. Afterwards I was sorry not to have taken a video so people could see how the seaweed swayed in the waves. On the other hand the resolution of my still camera is much greater than the resolution of a video frame, so my full-size still images have a lot more information in them.

      I wish I knew how to answer your question about the width and thickness of the “noodles.” I was never close enough to examine any, but for the width I’m guessing about a foot. I looked online but didn’t find any measurements.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 10, 2017 at 4:04 PM

      • Found info at http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/seaweed/page-3. “Bull kelp … The seaweed grows to 10 metres in length and can live for 10 years.” More info, but not about width or thickness at https://www.niwa.co.nz/static/web/MarineIdentificationGuidesandFactSheets/Beautiful_Browns_Ver1-2016-NIWA.pdf (p9). If anyone knew a New Zealander, might ask that person to measure some of the kelp width & thickness. Maybe contact someone in NZ who wrote about bull kelp.

        As for the many pix you took, you could set aside some prospectives to create a slide show. In the video, you can set for frame duration and transition/dissolve, maybe simulating movement. (Your pic time stamps and also image relation might be good guide.)


        April 12, 2017 at 6:47 AM

        • I had the same experience as you: I’d found measurements of the length but not of the width or thickness.

          Your suggestion for a slide show that simulates movement is interesting. It reminds me of what people did before movies existed, like putting consecutive drawings on the pages of a blank book and then using a finger to let the pages flip by in rapid succession.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 12, 2017 at 7:48 AM

          • In a chapter by Cameron Hay (1994) in a book entitled “Biology of Economic Algae”, there are detailed measurements for several different species of Durvillaea, including measurements of stipe length, width, circumference, thickness of the honeycomb tissue in D. antarctica, width of individual divided parts of the thallus (described as “whip-like thongs”). These measurements vary depending on whether the thalli are in the most wave-exposed sites or areas with somewhat less wave action.

            wendy nelson

            April 20, 2017 at 11:11 PM

            • Thanks for your reference to that book. It’s interesting that the amount of exposure to waves affects the dimensions.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 21, 2017 at 5:41 PM

  11. […] From:   New Zealand: kelp in surf at Bluff […]

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