Award Winning!

I submitted my eight photos to the SoCal Shootout after the amazing weekend full of diving in the middle of September. To recap, i spent three solid days diving off the Los Angeles coast with probably the best conditions I have ever seen. It was amazing. I realize I am WAY behind in updating you all on my dive adventures, but instead of starting back at the beginning and moving forward through time, I’m going to jump ahead to the results of the contest. They were announced last week and much to my surprise and excitement I got third place in two different categories! Shooting on my new OM-D, a mirrorless camera I had to compete in the “Open” categories with all the big gun dSLR folks, so placing at all made me really happy. The first was a third place in the Wide Angle category with my photo of a female sheephead on one of the oil rigs off the coast of long beach. If you read my previous post, you can see just what amazing visibility we experienced that day. It was incredible.

The second picture that I placed with was in the Portrait category. I was swimming back to the boat after one of the dives off Santa Barbara Island when this huge lobster came cruising up from below. My guess, it was startled from a hidey hole by someone or something, and we crossed paths at just a perfect time. He shot past me into a growth of kelp and disappeared. Intrigued, I followed and found him clinging to a strand of kelp, upside down, just hanging there. The colors and the way he clung to the  strands of kelp. I really liked it because the lobster stands out, since you never find lobster in the kelp, and the blues of the water, greens of the kelp and reds in the lobster create a bold palette. Apparently the judges liked it too!

I came away from that weekend of diving with many good images, but these two were definitely my favorites, which furthered my excitement that they were chosen as winners. I’m working to get the rest of the pictures from that weekend up and shared with everyone, followed by a day of diving at Casino Point with a couple of the nice macro lenses for the micro four-thirds cameras and my latest adventure, another night dive (2) on the wreck of the Palawan… deep in the Redondo Bay. Too much diving and too little time to sit in front of a computer!

Here Be Giants.

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!

Two huge Black Sea Bass swim past Scott on our final dive of the day.

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!

The unpredictable California waters.

Diving in California, as I’ve learned over these past four years, can be completely unpredictable. Even if you pull up at a dive site that appears calm and clear on the surface, that is not necessarily what you will find on the bottom. Last weekend I went out with a previous student of mine, a young girl of 12, for some guided dives on the Spectre. We were hoping for Anacapa Island, but strong currents and swell on one side and winds and chop on the other drove us over to San Clemente. We were still facing similar challenges there, but the larger island allowed a bit more refuge for us to anchor and and find a decent spot. The first place we pulled up to was Sandstone Point. Remember that site name, it says a lot about what we found on the bottom. The water was pretty calm up top, deep blue and looking down it appeared that we could see nearly to the bottom 30 feet below. Kelp was up, mostly, which was a good sign. Gearing up and dropping in I started to realize that the bottom was moving. The further we descended the weirder it got until we hit the soup. The bottom was moving because there was so much surge washing everything back and forth. Remember the dive site name? The bottom was completely sand and sandstone, with thick patches of kelp so as the surge pushed through, all the sand was kicked up creating a thick soup with visibility of about 5-10ft in places. The dive also had the feel of a desert sand storm. There was sand in the water, the surge was like the wind whipping around us and all the critters had disappeared. It felt oddly barren down there. Despite the poor conditions, we still enjoyed the dive, exploring around as the different patches of kelp would slowly materialize in front of us.

Isabel handled the soupy mess wonderfully, floating back and forth with the surge and still having a blast despite the conditions!

The next two dives offered rocky bottom, which dramatically improved the overall visibility. We hit Red Bluff first, and while there was still a bit of surge, it was a world of difference from the first dive. Wide open bottom with nearly zero kelp and large rocky boulders made this a great site for exploring and hunting down nudibranch and other good macro subjects. It would have been a perfect site for me to settle in a few key spots and really practice my photography, but I was leading the dive, not just out on my own. I did however put a plan into action to allow myself a chance to get a few photo practice moments. I brought my old little canon point and shoot for Isabel to use while diving. It gave her something to focus on, and just as I had hoped as soon as she started clicking away at the shutter she would pause on something which gave me small windows to find a subject and practice a bit before we’d move on. She had a blast with the camera, and watching her chase down fish and hang upside down trying to get a picture of a sea star reminded me of the first time I took a camera under the water. I also was reminded of how easily having that camera in hand makes a person forget about things like sticking close to a buddy. We had gone beach diving the day before with no cameras, and she was right next to me the entire time. Once she got that camera in hand though, there would be times I would look up, and she’d be further away chasing down a fish, or peering in a hole in a rock.

There was still a bit of surge, but the rocky floor at Red Bluff kelp the viz clearer. Isabel really got a chance to practice with my camera during the second dive

After Red Bluff we hit up Dropoff Reef, which was great. There was a little bit of sand getting kicked up, but overall the water was clear and visibility was great. This site was littered with nudibranchs which made me wish I had brought my macro lens, but I enjoyed getting as close as I could with just my standard set up. The decent visibility also allowed me to practice some wide angle, though I’m still having trouble illuminating a diver coming over the reef… probably because they are too far away, or I need that second strobe to light them while my first is lighting the reef…. oh well. My little camera malfunctioned on this dive (it is getting old) and wouldn’t turn on for Isabel, but she enjoyed spending the time peering in and under all the rocky ledges as we swam out and back along the dropoff. I tried to keep moving on this dive so she wouldn’t be bored of sitting in one place and we got to see a nice big chunk of the reef. On our way back we ran into Matt and his two students as they swam around for the fun tour portion of the dive after finishing skills.

Matt leads his students over to the reef, enjoying the nice visibility.

Lastly we headed back to Sandstone Point. This time we ended up on the eastern side where the surge was still fairly strong, but the bottom was rockier which meant MUCH better visibility. Four dives in a day is tiring, and that fourth dip in the California waters is chilly even though the temperatures stay the same. We wandered around the kelp enjoying the better visibility, and watching the abundance of fish zoom around. It was no longer a deserted wasteland, but rather teeming with life. Lobsters came out from their rocky hidey holes and one group of divers happened upon a bat ray… unfortunately though it was not us. As Isabel’s tank drew lower we headed back to the boat, slowly ascending through the kelp for our safety stop, and watching the mass of divers (mostly students) that had collected on the bottom just below us. Then it was back on the surface and up on the boat for the last time of the day.

With less surge on the far side of the same dive site, the visibility increased dramatically and all the fish came back!

Overall it was a fantastic day of diving. You may have noticed from the pictures that young Isabel is truly a rockstar. She did all four dives with no gloves, no vest or hood! She claimed that she was not cold, though I did catch her start to shiver towards the end of the fourth dive. What I found great about leading her on the dives was the opportunity it gave me to practice shooting people, as I had her swimming right with me the whole time, a perfect photo subject.


Time for your close up.

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.

Painted Faces.

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!

School’s Out.

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!

Glowing Goby.

This picture is my favorite from the dives. I managed to get up close and personal with a black eyed goby and for once he didn’t dart away. Practicing with just zooming in to allow a closer shot without getting too close to a flighty subject, I was able to sneak up to a group of gobies and snap a few pictures. While most of them were either a little too late or not quite in focus or well composed, this one stood out to me. The little goby rested on a weedy covered rock and kept moving around, but not far, as I approached. I was able to capture this shot just after he touched down, and truthfully I lucked out a bit with the framing. He’s not amputated at all (phew!) and his face and eyes are nice and crisp in focus with the shallow depth of field dropping off along his body. What I particularly like, is how my strobe illuminated him… it looks like he just swallowed a lightning bug and is being lit up from the inside out! One of the pluses for my new camera is that with a high pixel resolution I’m able to actually crop pictures and still maintain a good quality image. So, I also cropped this shot down to just the goby’s head, and it remained crisp and looks cool, really bringing out that inner illumination that I like. Enjoy!

Fishy Faces.

The next two photos to share, from now two weeks ago are two closer shots of fish. While neither are award winners, i like to think they both portray a little of the fishes character. The first, a kelp rockfish, perches knowingly upon a rock surveying all around him. He eyes me warily, but holds his ground. Whether it’s nerves of steel or that he’s just to lazy to swim off he allows me to get close and snap a few shots. The blurred background helps him stand out, though I do with the image was a bit sharper. Next time, faster shutter speed.

After him, we have a juvenile Rockfish. Scott pointed this little guy out to me and at first I wasn’t sure what he was because of how distinct the stripes and coloring were and primarily due to the lack of the typical cherry red lips. He was hoovering above a sea urchin, and I tried to shoot up from below the urchin, but I couldn’t get an angle I really liked, so I opted for a more standard fish ID shot making sure to keep the whole fish in the frame and a little bit of leading room in front of him. I was rather impressed at how unafraid he seemed, especially for such a little fish. He hoovered around the urchin, slowly turning ’round and ’round and keeping an eye on me as much as possible. He finally skittered off, but not before I was able to get one decent shot right as he turned my way.