Goodbye Old Friend.

Ripped from my face.

Gone before I could react,

The sea ate my mask.

It was a rough morning on Monday, when I tried to finish off an OW class on the beach after a series of unfortunate events that cut our diving short on Sunday. Apparently the universe was not done throwing curveballs, and Monday went from a calm quite morning, to rough chaos fairly quickly.

First, I managed to pop my wetsuit heater while gently massaging it, as specified on the directions to make the heat last a little longer, then we had some difficulties on entering the water. The predicted 2-3′ swell was rolling in, however if was coming in between periods of much larger swell, that seemed to be growing with the rising sun. My student and I got stuck in the surf zone while he worked to get his fins on, I struggled with the float. Turns out a hole in the casing made for a perfect escape route for my rope and the anchor, and when I looked back to assist my student I saw the rope no longer in the float, sinking into the foamy water in front of me. I tried to keep an eye on its location and as I moved forward to try and grab it, another set started to roll in. Facing the shore as I looked for the rope, a wave broke behind me so perfectly that it swept my head and snatched my good old Aqualung mask clean from my face. I had a moments thought of, gee my face feels weird, before I realized it was due to the fact that I no longer had a mask on! I looked down and floundered my hands around but no luck…my trusty old mask with its nice blue snorkel and neoprene strap had slipped beneath the sea. Disheartened, I helped my student climb out of the water, and we watched the waves (getting bigger and bigger) for a few minutes… managed to recover the rope and anchor, which stayed in close to shore, but had no sign of my mask. My poor lost little mask. What a pity.

Its a risk you take with beach diving, especially out here in California where the swell can rip gear from you in an instant. So far I had been lucky, but I knew it was a matter of time before I would end up sacrificing something to the deep blue sea. Perhaps, the gods will see fit to allow a friend to happen across it nestled in the sand, and we will one day be reunited, but for now, I think its time to start looking at masks, and join the world of newer, slimmer, less nerdy looking facial accessories.

Sleep well my friend, perhaps an octopus will curl up in you tonight.

Pea Soup.

Saturday morning, I excitedly drove down to Long Beach to board the Sundiver Express bound for the oil rigs, one of my favorite places to dive in Southern California. As I’ve mentioned previously (here) the rigs are unique because of their three dimensionality. There’s no bottom, and the entire structure is covered with life, so you can dive along, across, up, down and around each beam and support. I’ve been on two trips previously, both of which were fantastic with great visibility, and calm seas. As we motored out to the rigs, the day appeared to be just like before, the sun was shining and the sea was flat as a pancake. Unfortunately, once we’d plunged off the boat and into the water, we discovered that the ocean was not going to be as clear as the cloudless sky. There was a ton of crap floating along, mucking up the visibility and choking out all the light at depth. Unfortunate, but not the end of the world.

This was my first real chance to use my new strobe that I had recently purchased, so regardless of the viz, I was eager to test it out. Overall the strobe worked beautifully…it fired properly, and I found that by loosening my clamps a bit I could easily move and reposition the strobe as needed. The auto focus on the camera can still be finicky, especially in the low light we had at depth, and when using the close up lens I discovered that there is a pretty small window of focus available which can make it trickier to get the focus locked. However I feel that with time, I’ll get better at it. Despite having some focus trouble in the beginning I really do love the new close up lens, the shorter depth of field really helps your subject pop out in the picture, and the ability to get a more true macro is fantastic.

The upper 50′ of the Eureka rig had been stripped last August when I last dove the oil rigs, but slowly life is starting to come back. One little critter than has come back and is thriving are the Hermissenda crassicornis, a beautiful and easily identifiable opalescent nudibranch with brown and orange cerata covering its back. Its got two oral tentacles that extend like probes off the front, and of course the two rhinophores that stick up like rabbit ears on the top of its head. Between the two rhinophores is a bright orange stripe that runs the length of its body bordered by an electric blue stripe on either side. These guys were everywhere, which made exploring the stripped section of the oil rig rather exciting. I also came across two other nudi’s; a San Diego Dorid (who had his head stuck into some coral making him impossible to photograph well, and a couple¬†Triopha maculate, though none of my shots came out in focus.

The second dive, while still fairly poor visibility, was really a trip. There were a group of sea lions lounging on the rig near where the boat dropped us off, and apparently our group was very exciting. Throughout the entire dive we had several sea lions diving down and around us before darting back up to the surface. It was fantastic and aggravating at the same time. They were great to see, and fun to watch, but trying to get a picture of one is darn near impossible because of the speed. Half the time they were gone before I even had a chance to move the camera, and more often my camera would not focus in time. I did manage (mostly luck I’m sure) to snap one shot in focus as a sea lion zoomed towards me.

His large, comical eyes are nicely in focus and he’s staring right at the camera. Add in a bit of a current wanting to pull us all off the rig structure and out into the sea made for a bit of a struggle when trying to keep the camera steady and pull of some macro shots.

Despite the poor viz, as always diving the oil rigs was a blast, and I thoroughly enjoyed practicing with my new set up. I’m really looking forward to more chances to hone my skills and start to really improve my photography skills now that I have the gear that will allow me to do so! Here’s to many more posts with better and better photography as the year progresses!

Exciting Times Ahead.

Around Christmas time I took some of my hard earned scuba instruction cash and bought myself a nice new fancy camera. Finally taking the leap away from basic point and shoot, but not quite ready to plunge into the depths of dSLR, primarily due to costs… I picked up the Olympus EPL-1, the latest (at the time…) of their PEN series camera and the associated Olympus OEM housing. I played around with the camera a bit over the holidays while home, and dry in Phoenix and was quite happy with the results. The results were definitely a step up from my good old point and shoot, noticeably better in resolution and the color settings. The camera handled lower light better than a point and shoot, and all in all it was easy to use, easy to get comfortable with.

I plunged into the ocean for the first time with camera and housing for the January Wreck Weekend with Eco Dive Center. We traveled down to dive off the wreck of the Yukon, and I took the new PEN down with me. I had no strobes yet, and new that headed deep into the California water meant that I was going to run into some problems…low light means difficulty focusing and having to push to a very high ISO resulting in lots of grain in the images. I could not get it to whitebalance at depth because of the lack of light down there, but it worked well around 50 feet. The video I shot in the previous post was with the PEN, and overall I’m happy with it, no video lights or nothing it worked pretty well. I was able to get off several decent shots, especially happy that even with the lack of light, I could shoot wide open and get a high enough f/stop to actually get photos in focus! (Not to mention how excited I am to be able to pick and choose aperture and shutter speed…its been a long time my friends).

Now that some time has passed, I’ve taught a little more, got a small bonus at work and helped out with writing some blurbs for the dive shop’s website I suddenly found myself rolling in the dough. With that burning a hole in my pocket I sprang into action, and after some research at a couple places, and trying to decide if it would be worth it to wait a couple weeks and order overseas to save about $50 (and deciding it would not be) I placed an order with BackScatter.com for the next step to my set up! Hopefully within the next week I’ll find a lovely box in the mail complete with an Ultralight tray and arm set up to attach my new Inon Z240 strobe and the Olympus macro adaptor and a nice new Inon close up lens. The great thing with the design of the Olympus housing, is that this lens will thread onto the adaptor, then I can easily pop the adaptor on and off the housing while diving, creating a very versatile system offering a near wide angle ability (lens starts at 14mm…which is not really that wide, but its still better than my point and shoot!) with a quick switch to macro capabilities.

I’m very excited for this new system, and was impressed with BackScatter’s level of service, Craig my salesperson was very knowledgeable, and helped me make a couple decisions that will allow the extra flexibility and save money (like picking up the macro adapter, vs waiting to buy a newer and more expensive macro lens that Olympus will be releasing later). Of course, he also talked me into getting the next strobe up from what I was originally looking at, going with the Z240 over the D-2000…because purely, it has more power, and I will be happier with it in the long run. Also important, the strobe will allow me to grow, and if I do ever decide to pick up an SLR, that strobe will work well and provide the power I will want with a higher end camera. Craig also included an underwater photography book, valued at $40 for free, because he said it was a good book and that I would probably find it useful. Here’s hoping, and thanks!

I should hopefully receive my gear sometime next week, which will be right in time to be real smart and test it out on a nice advanced, deep dive! I’m off to the oil rigs again on Saturday February 12th and can’t wait to see if I can finally get a few decent pics of some of the rig structure and macro of the amazing abundance of corals and anemones, brittle stars and countless fish that reside on the rigs. Wish me luck, and check back for my results in a few weeks!!