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!

14mm, F8, 1/60

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.

Dolphin Frenzy.

The second large group of dolphins heads east as we near Catalina Island.

Last Sunday I was aboard the dive boat Mr. C, headed out to Catalina Island to complete weekend two of the Open Water course I was teaching. Finally, unlike the previous couple of weekends, we had perfectly calm seas, though the skies were overcast with rain possible in the afternoon. Not long after exiting the harbor we ran across a rare, and amazing sight. Dolphins. This was not the usual 4-5 cruisers surfing along the surge of water pushed ahead of the bow of the boat. No, ahead of us were hundreds of dolphins that seemed to be making a beeline across the vast seas for some unknown purpose. They were all cruising at a decent speed, popping up out of the water before sliding back in and popping out again. Our boat was traveling just a little faster than they were and we caught up to them, then slowly moved through the crowd. It was incredible to watch the pod of dolphins all moving along as a giant unit. With no camera on hand, I grabbed my iphone to snag a couple of pictures and a short video. This was definitely not something I had ever seen before, and to top it off we ran across another large pod doing the same thing in the opposite direction as we neared Catalina later in the morning. It was fantastic!

Weather Forecasts.

Just as you can never judge a book by its cover, you really cannot judge a day by the weather forecast. At least not here in Southern California. Today’s forecast was rain, and lots of it, starting around 5am. This meant I woke with misgivings about having to spend the day on a dive boat off Catalina teaching a young boy how to Scuba Dive. Surely enough it did start raining a little after 5:00am, as I was tossing my gear into the car to drive down to San Pedro. I must have driven south just ahead of the storm, because I had a clear road the whole way down, but as I began setting up my gear on the boat the rain started. A few minutes later it was nearly a downpour, however after about 20 minutes it began to slacken. By the time the dive boat pulled away from the dock at 7 am the rain had stopped, and even patches of blue sky were beginning to show as the sun rose.

As we motored out of the harbor, the Police Patrol boat pulled alongside us, and I saw the wordless communication between them and our captain. It went something like, policeman points out to sea and shakes his head. Our captain looks out and nods. Policeman makes a large up and down waving signal with his hand (think the motion you make when you stick your hand out of the window of a moving car). He then shakes his head in disbelief, our captain shrugs and smiles. Translate that, and here’s what I got: Policeman, “you can’t seriously be headed out there are you? Captain, “of course, we’re going diving.” Policeman, “but the swells are HUGE, you’re really going to cross the channel?!” Captain, “yep, no sweat”. I had taken my sea sickness medicine, so I wasn’t too worried, but boy was I in for a surprise.

The swells were worse than I had anticipated, and my single dose of Bonine was NOT going to cut it. About halfway across the channel, after nearly an hour of incessant ups and downs and rocking and watching the tanks sway and strain against their bungees with every roll of the boat my stomach began to get queasy. My poor little ten year old student, didn’t last that long. He got queasy and lost his breakfast while I was trying to keep it together. Carlos and Tony helped me get him out towards the back of the boat where we stayed the remainder of the trip out. He felt worse and worse as the trip continued, but could not throw up again. I on the otherhand had no trouble on that account. This was by far my worst channel crossing ever, and I ended up losing it twice, with long, painful dry heaves since my two pieces of toast had long since digested. After that I stood with my student watching the horizon, praying that we’d hit a time warp and magically appear at Catalina Island. We weren’t alone either, there were 7 others that rotated through the back of the boat blowing chunks. All in all about a third of the boat was not handling the trip out well. I would guess the other third was alseep, in an attempt to avoid a twisted stomach and the final third are the lucky bunch that have hardened stomachs, or just didn’t get to that point of no return.

Blissfully though we reached the island and settled into Geiger Cove where it was calm and peaceful with barely a movement from the boat. After some warm water and crackers, my student and I suited up and began the long day of working through the final 3 dives for his Open Water certification. Here is where the weather forecast lost its validity. Once we were at the island and out of the larger swells, I noticed that it was sunny out. The rainclouds had moved on, and we were looking at fairly cloudless skies and minimal wind. It was chilly, yes, but over all the weather turned out to be beautiful. The sun stuck around all day, with the exception of one short moment when another small front rolled through clouding up the sky and misting briefly. After that it was back to calm, sunny skies. The ocean water was still on the warm side with bottom temperature around 58 degrees, positively balmy for Southern California!

My student rocked out through his three dives, finishing up all of his open water requirements for certification. After feeling so miserable in the morning, his energy and confidence came right back when he was able to descend to the bottom and swim around with me looking for seashells and fish. He rocked on his skills, showing me with ease that he had them mastered, he even had no issues with oral inflation of the BCD underwater, or removing and replacing his mask. The ride back to the mainland was a little bumpy, but over all much smoother, and much more of the boat passengers disappeared beneath the deck to sleep through the crossing. My little student and his mother both passed out for most of the ride back, and I too snuck in a little nap to help avoid any queasiness lingering from the morning crossing.

Despite the rough start to the morning, and the painful channel crossing, the day overall ended up being quite wonderful. I felt so great that my student was able to complete all of his requirements, and I know he was so excited about diving at the end of the day. I loved seeing the joy in his eyes when we swam around exploring the ocean bottom and hope that he sticks with it as he will definitely become a great diver.

Scubapalooza!

Its been a long time coming, but here it is, the Catalina, Casino Point Scubapalooza recap! On June 19-20th Richard and I got up at the crack of dawn (literally, it was still dark when I pulled out of my apartment complex) to catch the Long Beach Catalina Express to catch the 6:15AM boat. I literally mean catch. Thanks to poor google directions and being about half awake I managed to miss two exits, get turned around, end up almost back in San Pedro, making it onto the boat with less than 5 minutes to spare.

We got to Avalon around 8:00am, had some delicious breakfast at Joes diner, checked into the hotel then went off in search of Scuba Luv to pick up a pair of Nitrox tanks. We had decided to dive nitrox that weekend, because our plan was to get as many dives in as possible. Nitrox would allow us to dive more, because we’d be absorbing less nitrogen (Why its Great!). We discovered just how long the walk around the harbor from the boat to Casino Point can really seem!

The weather was sunny and warm, and the water is calm. I discovered how to use the stairs at low tide, where you can’t easily wade into the water, because they end before you get wet! A gentle fall on your side splashes you into the ocean without hitting the bottom and tearing up the grasses and reef! We dove to the right, we dove to the left, we dove down into the depths finding the glass bottom boat, the swim platform, both the Jacques Cousteau and La Cruzado Plaques! In the middle we took a long lunch break with some delicious pasta (funny how hungry you get while diving!) Then it was back in the water, where the diving was great, the viz was good, not the best though, but still good. As night  fell we relaxed watching the sun set before donning our gear one last time for a night dive.

A warm shower, and delicious fancy meal and a few drinks, we headed back to the hotel where Richard promptly fell asleep, snoring from the other side of the room. I watched part of a movie on my computer then it was off to dreamland myself. The next morning it was new tanks, we didn’t feel like paying the extra cash for nitrox and decided since it was day two and we weren’t doing as many dives, we’d just do air…hell, we could sleep on the boat on the way home. In retrospect, I would have dove nitrox… it was amazing just how tired you are after 5 dives! It’d definitely worth the extra cash. Diving was good again and we explored further on each side of the park, revisiting several parts we had liked the day before. We ended a little early so we could rinse off, change and pack up the gear. A large root beer float was a nice ending to the day before piling back onto the Catalina Express and reality on the mainland.

Check out our adventure!

In the ocean, tears aren’t very salty.

Today was Labor Day which marked the “Team Fun Dive Day” with Eco Dive Center. I’d been looking forward to the day of diving with only the folks who work at and for the shop. We all met up on the Sand Dollar dive boat for a later than usual (9am vs 7am) departure to Catalina for two dives and some skills assessment. Since Shane and I have been finishing up our IDC program before the big IE (Instructor Exam) next weekend we had several things to take care of including our open water presentations (basically teaching two skills as you would in the ocean for new scuba divers), a deep skills assessment practice, an Adventures in Diving program skill demonstration and a rescue briefing and skill demo.

The day was chilly and grey as we pulled out of the harbor, and into the rough ocean swells. Thankfully Bryan had given me a triptone before we left, as I was out of my nausea medicine; that surely made my day better! During the ride out we briefed our first presentation, went over the Discover Scuba Diving workshop and briefing and we completed our Rescue workshop briefing. With everything going on the ride over went quickly and soon we were pulling up to the Island and donning gear. Prior to jumping into our first dive the whole group did a snorkel/swim  for Ron and Beth (the owners) as a way to document swim skills. After that it was onto dive #1.

And boy was that water COLD today. I should give you a quick history before I go into this next part… the day before, Sunday, I participated in a ‘little’ race around disneyland – the Disney Half Marathon. A simple 13.1 mile run that left me with sore and achy muscles. Overall I was not as sore as I had expected which was great.  However I had a quick realization that cold water diving and sore muscles are not a good combination. As soon as we got to depth, the cold caused my already sore muscles to stiffen and ache. My computer says the temperature was only 55 degrees, but it felt much colder that that.

Shane, William and I completed our deep assessment, the tour portion for the DSD workshop then explored the wall on the dive site for awhile. There were nudibranchs everywhere (I think I saw at least 7 Hermissenda!). Once we had reached the level of remaining air we had decided upon we found a clear sandy patch to finish the dive with our Open Water Diver skills presentations. Both skills went smoothly; I had partial mask flood and clear followed by alternate air source use and ascent. I caught the problems William threw in, resolved them and we successfully checked that off our list. If that could have been the final dive, it would have been a great day.

We were the last ones out of the water, and quickly got into the boat and had some delicious homemade chili (I swear that stuff warms your soul after diving!) while heading over towards the USC Wrigley/Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber where Ron had managed to get us a sneak peak. This was pretty awesome. The chamber is much larger than I anticipated, and I really enjoyed listening to the brief introduction to how the hyperbaric chamber functions. Tomorrow night is the monthly dive club and the gentleman from the chamber is actually coming to talk to us, so I will have to take notes and write up a recap of the meeting!

Despite being warm from the chili, and having enjoyed the quick trip to the chamber, I was feeling tired and for one of those rare times in my life, I just wanted to crawl into a bunk on the boat and skip the next dive. However, I knew we had skills to complete that were required to finish our IDC (Instructor Development Course), but deep inside I was not feeling the second dive into the cold water, and was not looking forward to my crash course with a DPV (diver propulsion vehicle). You see, the skill that William had selected for our Adventures in Diving workshop was the DPV. I’ve never really had an interest in them, I like to dive slowly and look for small creatures and cruising along with a DPV you speed right past everything, plus theres no way to take a camera with you, so I had never used one before. I took a deep breath, told myself it would be fine and I’d learn a new skill, who knows maybe I’d discover I really liked DPV diving. So I donned my gear and leapt off the boat. I tried to figure out the DPV while William got in the water but couldn’t get it to turn on. William quickly pointed out the switch you pull back to activate it, and gave a quick briefing on how the triggers worked to make it go. After a final warning to watch out for anything hanging off your BCD (guages, octo, compass, slates, etc) we began our descent. Again the water was cold, but whatever I’m used to that these days.

Once we were down it was off we go with the DPV. Shane and William started to glide away and I hesitantly pushed down on my trigger. I swear the thing leapt in my arms; there was much more power than I expected. The back end bounced up into my chest area and I tried to correct it as I started moving down, then up, then down…I could not get the thing to glide straight. My arms were bent a little and as I tried to keep it level it bounced up into my chest again and then there was a thudding sound. Alarmed I let go of the trigger and looked down to find my nice new ($100) compass stuck inside the propeller cage with its retractor cord wrapped around the propeller. Fan-fucking-tastic. I do apologize for the profanity, but that is literally what went through my mind. I looked down at the compass and the now useless DPV and basically lost it. William looked back to see why I was not up with him and Shane (who were both gliding along effortlessly…) and I signaled harshly that I was not okay, then pointing at the DPV to tell him I broke it. He swam over as I was trying to unwind my compass and failing miserably. Seeing it stuck in there, and the trouble I had in trying to get the damn thing to just go straight threw me over the edge and I started to cry. I felt that William was probably a little annoyed (though he would never let that show, I know I would be in if I were his situation) and I had just cost us lots of time. He couldn’t get it unstuck from the propeller so he took the broken DPV as I silently tried to compose myself.

Things only seemed to get worse. I have this issue that once the waterworks start flowing its REALLY hard to shut them off. Any small thing that may have set them off gets compounded in my head as I start to think of something else and something else and the next thing I know I’m bawling over some completely different and unrelated aspect of life. Being 60 feet underwater didn’t change that one bit. I signaled to William to keep his DPV, that I wanted to swim. I had zero desire to try again, every time I caught sight of my poor compass stuck in the propeller a new wave of tears began. When I thought of trying the DPV again all that went through my mind was, “what else was going to get stuck in the next one? My slates? my BCD buckle strap? Maybe my low pressure inflator or my gauges”. It was unnerving and I didn’t want to deal with it. I clearly remember the moment where I wanted to look William in the eye, point to myself, twist my hand back in forth in the water in the classic ‘not ok’ signal and end the dive. I was done, I wanted to get out of the water, out of my scuba gear, avoid everyone on the boat and hide in my bunk. I had failed the DPV and could not do it. I didn’t want to try again, I was upset and starting to freak out. However, some rational part of my brain tried to calm me down with the reminder that I HAD to finish off the skills. I needed to do this as a part of my class and I would be more upset later if I didn’t. So when William asked if I were OK, I looked right back at him, tears still streaming down my face, and signed OK nice and boldly. Then he handed me his DPV. Ugh. I took it, knowing that if I were going to be okay, I was going to have to do the DPV part of the dive too. A couple more deep breaths (don’t even ask me about my air consumption on this dive… I didn’t even care. Lets just say I surfaced with the same amount of air left in my tank at the end of both dives but the first dive was to 64ft for 50 minutes and the second dive was to 59 ft for 34 minutes. You do the math) then I cautiously depressed the trigger. I won’t lie, I barely had myself under control as I tried to  keep the DPV steady and move through the water. I kept going down, then over correcting and going up, etc. A couple times I just stopped using the DPV and started kicking along pretending. Unfortunately I got caught and questions were raised over whether I was having trouble making the DPV start. Unable to voice my complaint, I hastily wrote on my slate that, no, the DPV was functioning fine, I just HATED using it.

Slowly I managed to get the hang of it, and keeping my arms completely straight and more stiff I had better control but I was still on edge. I figured out that I could depress the trigger really lightly and the DPV would barely spin into action meaning I could go super slow and be in control. I demonstrated my turns, banking to the left in a big circle then to the right. Afterwards the desire to be out of the water grew strong again and I wrote on my slate to William asking if we could just do our Open Water skills and I could return to the boat with the broken DPV allowing him and Shane to enjoy and finish the dive. I also noticed at this point that, 18 minutes into the dive, I only had 1000 PSI left in my tank. Oops, whatever. We found a clear spot, I started to keep my breathing under control and we did the skills. Its funny how quickly you can regain composure and go into work mode when you have to. I am comfortable with the Open Water skills, and I knew that I would be upset at myself if this little tizzy I had gotten into caused me to miss the hidden problem, or make a mistake, so I focused as hard as I could. This part of the dive went smoothly and then we surfaced. I was clear headed after being in focus mode for the teaching presentation and thankfully had been able to stop the waterworks prior to that. I made a point to turn as I surfaced, facing away from William and Shane, cracked my mask to rinse my face and eyes in hope that they couldn’t tell I was a bit of a mess. (I’m sure they noticed underwater, my mask is clear so it would have been hard to hide the tears when William was so close helping with the DPV and skills, but he never brought it up – thankfully).

We were far from the boat so we used the DPVs to cruise back more quickly, Shane and William had control and  I held onto Shane’s ankle feeling like a useless little child as we cruised along. A few more tears leaked out but I quickly stopped them before they escalated again. I was feeling anxious about getting back on the boat because I knew it would go one of two ways. 1) I would be a mess, someone would mention that I looked like I had been crying, or William would bring up something about the dive which would set me off again and then embarrassment would seal the deal and I would have a hard time regaining composure, let alone finishing off the workshop with our debriefing. Or, 2) I would get myself under control, get my “all is good” mask firmly in place, and plaster a smile on my face when needed. No one would bring up the incident right away and I would be okay. Thankfully it was the latter which occurred. I pulled off my mask as I made the last couple kicks to the boat to rinse my face again, and clean out the snot (my nose also starts running when I cry, and I had a nice little gooey collection in my mask, yum). Before getting back on the boat we did the Rescue workshop which was cake and gave me more time to fully calm down. Once we got back on the boat, I got out of my gear, disassembled and put it away, and was able to shower with minimal small talk. The shower was extremely refreshing and calming. Afterwards I was myself again, and we finished off our debriefing, went over the incident with the DPV, which William handled wonderfully, I never felt a pang of possible waterworks. Afterwards we stayed up on the top deck chatting as the boat slowly made it’s way back to the mainland.

Overall I did have a good day, the weather was warm and sunny at the Island and I did well with my IDC requirements and feel confident about the test next weekend. It was great to be out with just the folks from Eco Dive and as I write this and look back on that second dive and I am somewhat proud that I was able to keep myself under control despite my emotional side running wild. It somewhat makes me smile because I remember thinking that I was at the beginning of a panicked diver situation and I had a strong moment when I wanted to let it happen. I don’t know if it was some strong will or just the thought of how embarrassed I would be if I panicked on the day when everyone on the boat was a dive professional, but I was able to breathe, let the tears just flow into my mask and move on. Today was the first time I had to clear my mask, not because ocean water leaked in. I also learned that in the ocean, tears don’t taste that salty.