A Garibaldi protecting the nest of eggs as another passes in front.
Moments later the passerby was angrily chased away.
Farnsworth Banks, Catalina Island, CA
Hello dear readers! There are apparently some of you that haven’t given up hope in light of my silence over the last few months… there seems to be an average of a whopping 3 views per day with weird spikes like 112 views on Sunday, April 7th. Perhaps that was because I was supposed to dive, but it was cancelled for weather. Regardless, thanks to the faithful, I hope to earn your readership back as I plunge forward once more.
I apologize for the silence… its been a combination of things that have kept me from updating, namely Ironman training. What’s that you ask? Just a small little race of insanity that has completely overidden my life. (you can read all about my previous IM adventure here). Due to the IM training I’ve been in the water only a handful of times this year, and I’m surely missing it. We’re 10 weeks out from the race and things are ramping up. Work has been super busy as everyone starts gearing up for their summer holidays, however this little blog, and my joy of sharing my underwater photography activities has always been in the back of my mind. I have a little catch up to play, and I hope that I can get a few posts up here over these next 10 weeks, to revive this little site and keep sharing my favorites! Here’s a little sneak peek of what’s ahead…. so for now, hello! Goodbye! I promise it won’t be so long next time.
This Blue Banded Goby was hanging out at Casino Point in Catalina. I used a Sola 800 Photo light with the red light on to be able to sneak up on him. Took this on a day I was out diving solo testing three new lenses for the store. It was a perfect day, with great visibility, calm conditions and lots of little fishes for my macro tests.
Two weekends ago I went out with Bluewater Photo on the Peace dive boat to Anacapa and Santa Cruz Island. It was a great day, though we had a lot of wind and some building swell, so we got stuck at one site for the final two dives. This however was not a bad thing. There was a pretty decent current ripping down the island and the kelp was laying down which made the diving actually more adventurous seeming. One the first dive at Landing Cove Point Rob and I were nearing our turnaround time when I passed another friend underwater who looked at us, then threw his arms wide, followed by taking one hand in a swimming motion forward. Truthfully I had no idea what he was trying to say. Bat Ray? Huge Eel? Curious though we continued on for a bit more as I kept my gaze sweeping back and forth along the sand for something huge. Then out of no where it swam by. The largest fish I have ever seen. Immediately it clicked into place… arms wide, huge… swimming motion, fish… huge fish: Giant Black Sea Bass.
These graceful giants were hunted nearly to extinction in the 60’s and 70’s until they were protected under law in 1982. Since then the populations have slowly been recovering and small fish have had a chance to grow large. This fish swam right by us gliding with the current, then disappeared into the kelp. We waited for a few minutes hoping he would return, but then had to turn around and head back to the boat. On the second dive, we headed straight for the sighting spot then slowly moved up and down with fingers crossed. Again, the fish emerged, two of them this time, swimming down current then later back up past us. These three fish were giantic. The first solo fish was larger than me, and the two swimming together slightly smaller, but still at least 5ft long. It was impressive and incredible. Unfortunately they did not swim close enough to me for a good picture, but Scott, owner of Bluewater and my boss got some great video and a good picture. Take a look!
I know now why people are so elated to see these guys, and just how tiny in comparison the young bass were that I saw back in October. I nearly dropped my regulator from excitement and I totally flooded my mask from smiling so huge, which also probably explains why I didn’t get any good pictures!
A couple weekends ago I went out to Casino Point on Catalina with two friends for the sole purpose of just doing several relaxing dives and practicing some macro photography. I was using two strobes again, something I’m still getting used to, and had two different cameras to try out, my olympus and the new Panasonic GX1. I really enjoyed using the Panasonic, trying these new cameras really reminds me how much has advanced since I bought my Oly two and half years ago. The focus speed on the GX1 was amazing, and the LCD is really bright, crisp and detailed. The only drawback I found with the camera and kit lens is that the lens does not focus very close so it was difficult for getting good close macro shots.
The point was busy as usual with lots of people diving and students learning to dive. That meant that many areas of the dive park dropped to cloudy 5′ visibility due to the number of inexperienced fins causing the sand to billow up and into the water. This is to be expected here, which is why I wanted to focus on macro. I was hoping to hit some of the deeper sections and hunt for nudibranchs, but it seemed there were none to be found. I saw only two nudi’s on all three dives, only one of which I could actually photograph.
I focused instead on trying to sneak up on the tiny gobies, and got a good shot of a black eyed goby, and an okay shot of a blue banded, which are even harder to sneak up on. I saw two bat rays, that swam off before we could get close, and lots of large sheep head and bass.
The highlight of the day for me was a very patient young halibut (i think) who allowed me to swim up in front of him and take picture after picture. He even stayed chill when I put on my macro lens and moved in closer and closer. I think at one point I even bumped into him and all he did was flutter up a bit then settle back down. I left with a nice shot of his eyes up close that I was really happy with.
Over all it was a pleasant day of diving, especially now that the water is warming up into the 60’s and the air temps are moving into the high 70’s. Summer is here and its looking to be beautiful.
One of the really great things to see out here in Southern California are the Giant Sea Bass. These huge fish, swim lazily in the water, moving slowing with long casual flicks of their tail. Often easily recognizable by their size and large black spots, they were over fished in the 1950’s and 60’s making them also an elusive find these days. After protection laws were put in place and fishing stopped the Giant Sea Bass has been making a come back.
Every time we dive certain sites, like Goat Harbor, we’re told that the Sea Bass typically can be found there. These days I am often with students and end up in the sandy shallows away from the deeper water the fish enjoy, and up until Saturday I had not had been lucky enough to glimpse one of these large fish.
Saturday we went out with Eco Dive Center on the Bat Ray to clean up parts of the wreck of the Star of Scotland in Santa Monica Bay. I was filming the group as they searched for fishing line, old lures, trash, discarded nets and more and removed them carefully to help make the wreck a cleaner and safer dive site. This wreck is also known to be home to several Giant Sea Bass, so once again I was hopeful. Towards the end of the dive, such hope was rewarded. I happened upon the whole school of GSB!! Unfortunately I didn’t get a great picture, and didn’t get too close to one, but check out the shot below. I count 10. Yep 10 just hanging out about 10 feet above the wreck! Love it. No spots on these guys, the biggest was only about 4-5ft, the rest around 3-4ft, but still an awesome sight!
Jumping back under the water, even though I’ve been landlocked for the last couple weeks, here are another couple photos from my last dive out at Anacapa. I had been working on capturing more macro and closeups, so for these I was set up with the camera a bit zoomed in and my strobe fairly close to the lens as was swimming back to the boat. This rockfish (I think) swam up and decided to try and take a bite out of my strobe. I caught him just as he was headed up towards my strobe for the second time, and I loved what came out. He’s framed oddly, with much of the fish cut off but his eye is perfectly in focus, staring me down. The bright rim draws your attention then the empty black pupil just sucks you in! I also really like the texture on his skin and the mottled colors of his face that really stand out in this image.
The other fishy face I captured was from a kelp bass that kept swimming around me. I really like his disapproving face as he eyes me. I was also really happy that his little pointy teeth were lit from my strobe and are nicely defined in the picture.
On the fourth dive at Fishbowl Point there were a ton of Painted Greenlings sitting on rocks, enjoying darting just out of frame each time I tried to snap a shot of one. I managed two decent shots, the first as I was trying to approach and get on the same level as the fish for a face on shot (he swam off before I could get into postion, so I’m a little above). Its not great as I missed the focus on his face/eyes, but rather got the little fringe bits on the top of his head perfectly illuminated and in focus! Ha.
The second, was pretty much luck. I had a couple of these type of shots this day. For this one, I was trying to get nearer and nearer to a greenling when he took off, then swam right in front of my camera. Without hesitation I clicked the shutter, and managed to capture, in focus, half of him as he swam past my lens!
The last picture of this series really gets up close and personal. I was practicing with macro and found a VERY lazy scorpionfish laying on a group of rocks. He allowed me to get super close with my macro lens and snap a couple shots. I inched closer and closer, working to to get a nicely centered face on shot. Eventually I did and I love this one. Its a little busy, if I could have blocked the strobe a little more so that just the front of his face was lit with the rest of the fish dropping more into black I think it would be even more dynamic, but for first time practice, I’ll take it. You can really see the character of the fish when he’s up this close; the grumpy face, slightly smirking at the camera as if he knows something I don’t. Though really, who knows… scorpionfish could be rather polite and classy folk.
At the end of the second dive, I was headed back to the boat when I happened across a large school of fish. Realizing that I was too far away for my strobe to really work, I tried to quickly adjust settings as if exposing just for the background, while also keeping in mind the moving subjects… ie: not a very slow shutter speed or I’d just get a bunch of blurs. I took a few shots, then started to move toward the schooling fish adjusting my strobe as far out from the camera as possible, hoping to get near enough to illuminate some of the school, but also eliminate backscatter.
This plan definitely helped, though of course as soon as I started swimming toward the school then turned away, so instead of getting a massive group of fish swimming at me, I now had them swimming away from me. I was able to get close enough for my strobe to catch some of the fish which definitely helps to add definition and make the fish pop from the blue background, but I still could have been closer. For a first time, and random run in I think I did pretty well. In addition, I tried to remember some of the “rules” of composition from Scott and attempted to fill the frame with the fish, but also use the diagonal. I think the last picture worked the best in that respect, as I was able to line up the fish coming into the frame from the upper right and exiting the frame almost in the lower left. Just a tiny little tilt would have really made it pop with the diagonal, but just like everything there’s always room for improvement!