Ellenbogen films what the eye can’t see

There was a lot of talk about “swimming with the fishes” in Boston this summer as the trial of famed mobster “Whitey” Bulger got underway. But underwater photographer Keith Ellenbogen really was swimming with marine animals of an amazing sort.

For  New England Aquarium‘s 2013 ad campaign. Ellenbogen’s high-speed images of a lionfish, blacknose shark and a ballonfish were so riveting, Aquarium officials decided to broaden the campaign from print and web to include television. Ellenbogen is an incoming assistant professor in FIT’s photography department.

Ellenbogen made his name by filming not only what the eye sees but what it doesn’t. Using special cameras, he can slow down motion or speed it up. He can also provide lighting, shadow and contrast that the human eye would not normally be able to adapt to.

“Many of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring behaviors of the ocean’s creatures are simply too fast and too rare for the human eye to directly observe,” says Ellenbogen. He partnered with an MIT physicist and used a camera that’s employed to slow down the motion of Olympic athletes. “We realized that these awe-inspiring but nearly-invisible moments could be revealed through the lens of an ultra-high-speed camera.”

Tony LaCasse, director of media relations for the New England Aquarium, says that Ellenbogen’s  work helps to “present the mysterious world of the oceans and its creatures to a mass audience.”

On dry land this fall, Ellenbogen will be teaching introduction to photography,  research for senior design projects, and photography basics for non-majors.  It’s different terrain from the New England Aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank, home to the blacknose shark he filmed, as well as to 2,000 other animals including rays, eels, sea turtles and fishes.

Among the videos not used for the campaign, but available on the Aquarium website, shows a cuttlefish catching its prey.

Ellenbogen says his work and teaching “explores how we can use photography and videography to address environmental and social issues.  I believe in empowering students to explore their own creativity and point of view.”

To top things off, Ellenbogen gave a presentation at the Aquarium’s IMAX theater, showing the creatures and their behaviors as they were captured in slow motion (at 1,200 frames per second) for the ad campaign. Stills from the campaign are featured throughout Boston’s Park Street subway or “T” station.

MIT professor Allan Adams (l) and incoming FIT professor Keith Ellenbogen


All media used with permission

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