I’m back, Baby!!

Its been a long winter… I’ve been busy at work, busy traveling, busy going home for the holiday and so many other excuses as to why my last post was October 10th! Three long months of silence on the airwaves is unacceptable! But here I am, putting words to screen and making a goal to be more determined to keep posting as I keep diving. Its my new New Year’s Resolution since my original one was accomplished already, and unexpectedly (but more on that in a couple of weeks).

It’s not that I did not dive at all over the past three months, on the contrary, I went to Florida for a week, and among other adventures had two very surge filled and not so great dives, then later I rescued a sea turtle (again… more later!) I’ve been teaching, and had an awesome class a few weeks ago. So while I haven’t been in the water with my camera much this winter sadly, I’ve been enjoying our unseasonably warm and calm weather this year. Starting next month I’ll be diving more, and really focusing on my photography, the fruits of which I’ll be sharing up here, along with my diving adventures!

For now though, I was given a Nikon D300 to practice my photography, with the assignment of shooting birds, as they are a topside animal that can help with my underwater photography, working on capturing them in the air, just like a swimming fish, and they are skitterish, so approaching can be difficult. Not to mention the main reason… it gives me a goal to just get out and shoot and shoot…to work on composition, exposure and all over photography skills.

Last weekend I went out to the Malibu lagoon, but unfortunately I got out a little late so missed the beautiful “golden hour” on the water (not really an hour… only a few minutes usually!) However, I really enjoyed just being out “hunting” birds. I came away with a few photographs I like, and more importantly I realized just how peaceful it is to head away from the hustle of the city and sit in the sand watching the pelicans for a few hours. In addition I got to see some bird behavior I’d never seen before… like the pelicans stretching as they settle in for the night, crazy!

So, a belated Happy New Year, and hope everyone’s year has been going well and that you are all out going diving!! The water has been great, the visibility clear and the weather warm! Keep an eye out, next weekend (Feb 5th) I’m hitting the oil rigs again… it’s been too long! I’m hoping the great visibility we’ve been seeing at the islands sticks around and I can have a couple of great dives, and more chance to practice photographing the rigs.

More Macro.

I spent a little time messing around with back lighting and macro practice on a Red Gorgonian. I positioned my strobe as far in front of my camera as I could, aiming it back towards the lens. I then was able to position the camera in front of this gorgonian covered in polyps with the strobe now behind it. This configuration created the dark centers and nice bright flower looking polyps along the edges.

Later, I wanted to see just how close I could get, and tried taking several shots of a bat star’s skin. I was impressed to see the detail, and the different colors that make up its skin. The rough looking orange section and the transparent purple bits. The photo isn’t amazing, but I love seeing these creatures super closer!

Hello Harbor Seal.

At the end of the third dive as I was headed back to the boat I saw something dart through the kelp ahead of me. Rounding a corner of one of the rock channels I saw a harbor seal laying in the sand. He looked up, saw me and darted away before I could get a picture. Excited because I haven’t seen a harbor seal under the water while diving as of yet, I continued on to the boat. As I neared the anchor chain, macro lens put away and camera set as wide as possible, just in case, I came across him again! He was slithering along the bottom, nose in the sand looking for something to dig up and eat I expect. Either not hearing me or just ignoring my presence he continued along before darting away again after a few minutes.

Surprisingly, he kept coming back! As one point he swam over and settled into the sand right in front of me, watching me fumble with my camera, hoping to  get it into position and snap a decent shot. He never settled quite long enough for me to take a couple shots, so it was either you got it or you don’t type of situation. I was excited about this shot, though in order to have the background exposed properly I had the shutter speed set too slow to capture the seal crisply. The strobe froze him in place, but the longer shutter speed allowed him to blur after the strobe had fired. Next time, I ought to open up the aperture so that I can stop down the shutter speed in hopes of still having a well exposed background and a nice crisp critter!

One last try, before needing to give up and head back to the boat, but I guess I got too close (seriously was worried as I inched nearer and nearer that he might try to bite my camera or myself, but he just sat there watching me) and my flash was a little over powerful, he even had to squint!

Overall I found it incredible how inquisitive this guy was, and how huge! The seals always seem smaller compared to the sea lions, and they are a little bit, but they are still pretty huge! I got to sit and watch this guy cruise around the kelp and dig in the sand. I watched him chase a fish nearly catching it. It was incredible. Just wish the viz had been a little clearer, and the surge a little less so that there would be less sand and particles floating around in the water!

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!

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.

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!