Cruising Catalina.

Its always nice to escape with friends on a relaxing dive. Jessica and I hopped on a last minute boat out to Catalina for a couple of advanced dives, hitting some new sites I hadn’t had a chance to dive before. We started at Blue Caverns, though sadly were not pointed in the right direction and did not find the awesome large cavern. After that we spent a long dive at Bird Rock, one of my favorites with varied terrain. Lush kelp, a large wall drop off and shallow rocky reefs surround this low lying bird crap encrusted island. Lastly we dove Sea Fan Grotto with the small room with sea fans descending from ceiling. I enjoyed a really nice day of diving, and despite not really devoting the dives to photography came away with a few shots that I liked.

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Electric Encounter.

One of the diving best days on Farnsworth Banks, off the back side of Catalina Island – clear skies, warm weather and water, with visibility stretching on and on and on! Among the many wonders this large ocean pinnacle holds we enjoyed a sighting of a Pacific Electric Ray – or Torpedo Ray. This guy was lazily swimming along and allowed us to approach, swim near and snap a few pics. These guys usually hang out at Farnsworth, in deeper water and can offer a bit of a jolt if you get too close!

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Long Time.

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.

BB-Goby

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.

In the Nud(i).

Two weekends ago after our dive on the Midnight Hour, we headed over to a “secret” pinnacle spot that is a favorite of Sand Dollar Capt. George. I’d had a chance to dive this pinnacle before and it really is awesome. The visibility was still pretty good, but I wasn’t as worried about that, I was hunting nudibranchs. Unlike my day spent at Casino Point, this time I was not disappointed. The little slugs were everywhere, in all sizes, species and colors, swaying with the water as they clung to the rocks and plants on the pinnacle. I probably spent the full dive in about a 10′ square area on one side of the pinnacle, just moving from nudi to nudi as I looked for ones that were in good positions and places for photographing. I was able to play around with my strobes to try and create more creative lighting.

Of course I found a Spanish Shawl (Flabellina iodinea), a California Classic, and this baby was a big one. He was pretty much out in the open, allowing me to really frame him in a dynamic way, diagonally through the photo.

I found one of my favorite (because of the awesome blue color), Porter’s Chromodorid (Mexichromis porterae) which are vivid blue with two yellow stripes. Upon closer inspection I realized it was two, cuddled up with each other. I couldn’t quite get in there to be able to see the second guys’ head, but it was neat to see the two together.

I even came across a Hermissenda (Hermissenda crassicornis) chilling on a small kelp leaf.. the position you never see them in! It was facing away from me which was disappointing, but I figured it offered a good chance to try and practice a little back lighting through the kelp to highlight the little nudi. I lucked out as I started shooting the little guy turned towards me offering a nicely posed photo. The back-lighting plan didn’t work as well, but I think having one strobe behind the kelp did add to they way the kelp looks.

Lastly I got a nice classic shot of a San Diego Dorid (Diaulula sandiegensis) as he crawled across the weedy landscape.

Midnight again.

Last weekend I went back out on the Sand Dollar to the wreck of the Midnight Hour again. Jumping into the water we discovered there was a fairly good current ripping along the island. Unforunately one of group fell prey to this getting pulled away from the descent line into the deep green sea. (He was fine, just surfaced away from the boat, got a lift back from the little whaler and missed the nice wreck dive).

Once I descended to the sand at about 110ft the wreck swam into view. The visibility was pretty good and at depth the current had disappeared. The overall growth had not changed much, but you could tell people have still been cleaning the wreck. All of the netting around the bow of the ship was gone as was the piles and piles of dead squid that had been tangled inside. It was neat to see the wreck again, as its not a large ship, originally it was a squid fishing boat, you can easily swim around the whole wreck on the dive. This time I spent more time at the bow, and this time I had a wide angle lens. Unfortunately this time one of my strobes would not work…due to me putting in one battery upside down. (Remember always test your camera before getting in the water!)

Since it was pretty dark down there, and the single strobe wasn’t working well with the wide angle lens, I tried to do a couple longer shutter / no strobe shots which overall came out pretty well. Being so deep, it was a short dive, but a good one and a good start to what was a nice day of diving.

 

The Eyes Have it.

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.

One of two nudis that I saw all day, the Catalina Triopha

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.

Black Eyed Goby perching on rocks

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.

Close up of a Giant Spined Sea Star (Cropped from original)

Little Hermit crab out for an afternoon stroll.

Filling the Frame.

The second to last group of pictures from my photography adventure a couple weeks ago is of a tube anemone. I had my macro adapter with me and really wanted to work on some macro shots and practice with “filling the frame,” another one of Scott’s composition tips. I had a little trouble at first, not getting my camera to focus properly…that is until realizing I had messed with the settings on my camera and was not even in the mode I wanted to be. After taking a second to switch back into manual and check my exposure settings I tried again. This time everything worked right. After that I spent the next 15 minutes (at least!) huddled over this anemone trying to get a shot with it wide open, perfectly centered with its tendrils spreading out of the frame. Finally I got it…well its maybe not 100% in the center, but its pretty darn close!

I continued shooting, trying different angles, still working to fill the frame but also to see if a lower angle, or an off angle would create a more compelling image. I remembered the rules of trying to use the diagonal and ended up liking this next image…

What I really liked is how the inner tendrils of the anemone are more prevalent, carefully reaching up and out of the dark center. Once again, I had trouble not shifting any sandy bits as I knelt in the sand next to the small creature, but as a first time practice I’m okay with the small white spots of sand marring the dark center. If I really wanted to I’m sure I could take them out in photoshop, but I haven’t had the time.

After awhile I remembered I was underwater with a finite air supply, so I checked my gauges, surprised to find my air half gone and 30 minutes elapsed. Yikes! Looking around I also discovered that the rest of the group had moved on to other subjects, so I said goodbye to my anemone and swam up to shallower water in order to make the dive last a bit longer and to find another macro subject.

Welcome to Wide Angle.

Welcome to the beginning of my week of photo analysis!

We started Sunday morning by working on wide angle. The goal of the first dive was to get used to changing shutter speed in order to get the background properly exposed, then using the flash to light the subject. Flash position was not worked on as much this dive, we just kept in mind to try and keep it as far from the camera as possible to eliminate backscatter. I spent most of my dive with my feet in the air (perhaps time to start wearing my ankle weights), laying on the sand, or even on my back as I tried to get low and shoot up. With the 14-42mm lens on my EPL1, getting a real wide angle shot is difficult, but I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of backgrounds I was able to get. While many of my shots were plagued with backscatter on the first dive, where visibility was only between 10-20ft, I did end up with one photo that I really liked. There was just one problem… no subject. I found a large rock, that had some nice tall strands of kelp in the background and a school of blacksmith cruising mid water. I got down on the ground, twisting to get my camera angled up as much as possible (barely able to see my lcd screen), and tried to wait for the ever present Garibaldi or Sheephead to come swimming through, but alas, none came. It wasn’t until the second dive, when I watched Scott grab a small rock and bang it on the rock next to him, that I learned the ever valuable trick of attracting fish! Incredibly, several Garbaldi came zooming straight towards his camera as he banged away.

So back to dive one, here I sat, with no subject coming to visit me, so eventually I moved on. What I was left with though, was a really nice set up, and for once a properly exposed background! Had I waited a few more moments, hopefully the kelp would moved aside again and would not have been intruding on my foreground, but all in all I’d say a pretty good start to my wide angle adventures!

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Finally Farnsworth.

Its the dive site that everyone talks about… if you’re diving around Catalina, inevitably the question of, “so, have you dove Farnsworth?” will come up. It is a site I’ve yearned to get the chance to see, one of the only places I know around Southern California where you get hard corals…the famous Purple Hydrocoral. Truth to be told, its not actually even a true coral, its a hydroid, in the phylum Cnidaria – relative to jellyfish and anemones! Farnsworth Bank is a preserve for this slow growing animal, and its easy to see that it flourishes out there.

The Bank is found a little ways off shore from the backside of Catalina. It’s a large seamount that rises off the ocean floor (which is anywhere from 300-100 feet deep) up to about 50ft below the surface. There are several walls where it just drops away, as well as many gentler sloping faces. Over all the site is larger than can be fully explored in one trip…especially when I happen to have my camera and could easily spend all day within a few yards around the anchor chain!

I buddy-ed up with fellow photographer Carolyn, and while we are not the best of buddies in terms of sticking close and keeping in contact with each other, it worked out well as we were both not up for wandering super far, and wanted to practice our photo skills. We descended along the anchor chain looking down into the blue depths of some of the clearest water I’ve seen out here in California. Surprisingly though, as we reached about 30ft it started to get dark, as though we were approaching the seamount already. This was way to early and I quickly discovered that it was not land, but rather a huge and thick school of Blacksmith blocking our view. Slowly we descended below them and the view of Farnsworth began to form in the dark water below us.

This dive is different from so many around Southern California, as there is very little kelp. The makeup of the site is rocky, covered with anemones, very few urchin and just littered with the little clumps of Purple Hydrocoral. Lingcod, Garibaldi, Sheephead and the thick schools of Blacksmith surround the area. Eels and octopus can be found tucked away between the rocks, and of course my favorite, the little colorful nudibranchs seem to be everywhere!I spent the first dive slowly exploring and taking in the view. I found a huge (nearly 4 inches) lemon dorid nudibranch, as well as an awesome little hermissenda nudi perched nicely on a barnacle. Later, nestled beautifully in a grove of hyrdocoral was a large moray, just curiously poking out his head at me.

On the second dive I followed a large lingcod for a bit as he swam away then settled again, then practiced more with my landscape shots, attempting to expose the background and use my strobe to help light the darkened foreground correctly.

While I might not have wandered too far and really explored the area. I enjoyed two fantastic dives practicing my photography…finally getting a chance to try some wider landscape shots because of the better visibility. All too soon it was time to swim back up through the thick cloud of fish and back to the boat. I’ve definitely been bitten by the Farny bug, and look forward to getting to explore more of the site next time.

Finishing off the day, we motored around to the front side of the island and enjoyed a relaxing shallow dive off Eagle’s Nest. The visibility here was not a great as the first two dives, but it was still enjoyable and relaxing.