It’s Electric.

Hopefully you’re all now humming the Electric slide, as that’s what I first think of when I hear “it’s electric.” However, today I’m not talking about an old dance move. I’m talking about the Pacific Electric Ray (or Torpedo Ray). Last month out at Santa Barbara Island we hit a deep reef before going to play with the sand dollars. I had my wide angle lens on and was greatly rewarded with an awesome ray sighting. While I was practicing wide angle and admiring the rare purple hydro-coral, Scott pulled Shane and I over to where he had come across the ray which was slowly moving along the wall as it scanned for prey. I had seen pictures of these rays before but never actually spotted one while diving, so I was extremely excited. It swam along seeming casual, but in reality was using its electric field to scan for possible prey. I’m sure it was annoyed by us crowding around it and shooting pictures, but oh well.. it was only for a few minutes. Scott posed for me as I tried to compose some shots. Here’s the results:

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!

Victorious on the Vandenberg.

Let me rewind a little before I jump into the next part of my recent Florida vacation. Last December I visited Key West for the first time, and we were supposed to dive the Vandenberg, but the dive was cancelled due to strong winds and high seas (does anyone else see a pattern here?). After returning with similar weather, I was so bummed when it looked like the dive was going to be scrapped…again. Waking up Wednesday morning knowing, that despite the rough seas, we were headed out to finally dive the Vandenberg!

The boat ride out was rough, no doubt about it. As I am prone to sea sickness I prepared, but even that wasn’t enough. I made it just about to the dive site, before having to lean over the side and dry heave. *sigh*

But we were there! Time to dive the Vandenberg. The boat tied off to the mooring buoy, dropped a line at about 15′ off the stern of the boat so that we could giant stride off the side of the boat and descend from the stern, traveling to the mooring under the water, vs battling the big waves and strong current. Seriously, this was the best idea ever. It made the descent and ascent so much easier.

Once off the boat (and feeling much better underwater, as usual). We descended into the rich blue water as the shipwreck slowly materialized below us. The current was ripping, but once we hit the wreck, we could hide in the lee of the current, blocked by the massive size of the Vandenberg. Unfortunately due to the turbulent water the viz was not as awesome as we had hoped, but still good, in the 30-40ft range. I had a blast with the 8mm fisheye lens on the wreck and my good buddy Kendra often made a perfect model. Sadly there were not as many fish on the wreck as I had hoped, we saw several large barracuda and a small school of another fish I didn’t know, but that was about it. Possibly the weather and current played a roll in the scarcity of life on the wreck.

While it was easy to jump off the ship, getting back on after each dive was “interesting”. It was a game of quickly move forward and hand the DM my camera, back off onto the down-line and remove fins. Shove arms through fin straps and move forward on the line to the ladder. Wait for a lull in the waves and grab ladder, then hang on for dear life as it bucked beneath you like a mechanical bull at a bad country bar. While fighting the ladder, attempt to hook feet into the first rung, also… becareful of the even larger rogue wave that causes you to face plant into the ladder. Once you get your feet in, scurry up as quickly as possible, sit down on the bench, remove gear. Breathe. Needless to say, we had a few bruises on the legs after this day.

Enjoy the photos! Next up… the meat of our vacation: The ATOCHA!

Vacation Time!

As per usual, my blog posts are late in coming, but better late than never, here we go! In the middle of June I traveled across the country to Key West for a week of relaxing in the warm humid sunshine, diving and treasure. Our trip was put on by the Mel Fisher group, with the main reason for the trip being two days of treasure diving along the treasure trails of the wreck of the Atocha. (sound interesting? click here for more info)

The week trip included lodging, reef dives, two days of treasure diving with the salvage crew, bbq, sunset cruise, museum tours and more.

Unfortunately our trip corresponded with the beginning of a big tropical storm, so Kendra and I arrived in Key West to wind, rain and high seas. This meant much of our diving was in jeopardy. (Enter big frown here).

We started the week off with a great welcome BBQ at the house (which by the way was GORGEOUS). We met the other awesome people in our group for the week and got prepped for what was ahead. Sadly, much of the prep meeting included “if” things calm down, and “hopefully” due to the unpredictable winds and the high seas. Right off the bat, our check out dives on some of the reefs off Key West was cancelled. Needing to get a check out dive in, they moved us over to the Florida Keys Community College Lagoon.

Tuesday morning we all geared up at the lagoon, which it turned out is pretty much like diving in California, only the water is warm. Green water, with a very silty bottom and poor visibility, the lagoon was fairly boring most of the time, but did offer me really good photo practice, attempting to remove backscatter from my shots with good strobe placement. Placed throughout the lagoon were different objects like a boat, a taxi, bicycle and barrels. The highlight of the dives, and in my opinion something that made the reef dive cancellation not a big bummer, was that they have several actual beams from the Atocha in the lagoon. It was pretty awesome to see and touch 400 year old wooden beams from a shipwreck that has yielded millions of dollors of treasure over the last 30 years.

After the lagoon dives, the rest of the day was open, so Kendra and I spent it wandering Key West, and well…. eating and drinking. As it turned out throughout the week we had quite alot of down time, and wandering the town helped fill it up. It was raining like crazy on the drive home and kept up through most of the afternoon. So much so, that streets around Key West were flooding. We discovered a couple pluses to the rain were, cooler weather and less people out and about to deal with!

Throughout the day our fingers were crossed for better weather on Wednesday, our day for the optional Vandenberg dives. The seas had been continually bad throughout the day but looked to be dropping. At the beginning of the evening we finally got some good news, the trusty dive operator Captains Corner was braving the 5′ seas and heading out to the Vandy in the morning!

Practicing back-scatter free portraits during the lagoon dive in 5-10ft viz!

Our tour of the lagoon included the many exciting sites, such as this bicycle, a boat, a taxi, some barrels and of course the Atocha ship beams

One of the few marine life sightings in the lagoon, I found this lobster chilling along the wall on our way back to the dock.

Part of the lagoon had an aeriator running along the bottom which made for a cool photo as the air bubbles rose up to the surface.

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.

Strobe for Sale…it’s TRUE!

That’s right folks, now is your chance to own a piece of history… Kelli’s strobe! Ha, as if I were that popular. But seriously, I am in fact selling my gently used Inon Z240 Type 4 strobe. This strobe was great, awesome, powerful and easy to use, the only reason I’m upgrading is I’m using the new Sea & Sea strobe with my job at Bluewater, and I hate to see my poor little Inon Strobe wasting away in storage. This baby wants to go diving!

Here’s the details:

Gently used Inon.. if you love reading my blog (and c’mon who doesn’t?!) you’d know I purchased it Feb 2011, so its practically still new! I was mostly teaching last year, so its only been used on a handful of trips and still looks great. It has a few cosmetic tiny scratches on the outside casing from use.

Brand new the strobe is $800.

To make things even better I’m including all the accessories, spare o-rings, grease AND the Inon fiber optic cable ($80), Ultralight Control Systems Inon adapter ($25) and a fantastic large red knob ($25) that makes it easy to adjust the strobe underwater.

Total for the package would be: $930

I’m asking a measly $700. That’s basically like getting $100 off and all the accessories for FREE!

If you’re interested please just leave a comment, or shoot me an email: kelnkelp@gmail.com

Now for Pictures:

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.

dSLR Adventures…

Back in April.. yes I know, that’s how far behind I am. So. Back in April, my boss let me borrow his Nikon D7000 camera with Sea & Sea housing and dual YS-110a strobes for a day of diving on the wreck of the Olympic barge (San Pedro, just outside the harbor) and the Oil Rigs. This was my first time using a dSLR underwater and I was a bit nervous. The rig is huge compared even to my Olympus EPL1, which I feel is on the big side, but he has it set up so perfectly that once in the water its nice and neutral. I was impressed by the ease that I was able to use it, and especially with the speed at which it can focus and take pictures, that is definitely something you can’t beat with any smaller type of camera. However… for the first time using a dSLR AND using two strobes, I would not have picked two advanced, deep dive sites. I didn’t feel like I was able to really just relax and mess around with the camera, the Olympic sits at about 110ft and the rigs extend as deep as you’d like to go.

He set me up with the Tokina 10-17 fisheye to practice wide angle, so there was another new thing added to the mix. I definitely had trouble keeping the strobes positioned far enough away and many of my pictures ended up with glare/ backscatter on the sides from the strobes. I also discovered upon importing my photos to my computer that just about every one of them was not really in focus. The dark, deep dives and the change from looking at an LCD to peering through a small viewfinder for the first time took its toll.

Despite having some technical difficulties, the first dive was fantastic. The Olympic sits just outside the San Pedro Harbor in an area that is not known for good visibility. We descended not expecting much, but were surpised with nearly 40ft viz on the wreck. It was fantastic, and the Olympic is a large barge with some great columns still intact, overall a very cool dive site. After that we motored over to the oil rigs, the highlight of the trip, only to find a ripping current (which by the way is not fun with a large camera rig!), and tons of stuff in the water mucking up with visibility. It was a pretty unanimous vote after that dive to head back and do a second dive off the wreck. The viz was not a good as dive #1, but still much better than the rigs, and no current. Overall I really liked using the dSLR, but would want my next attempt to be on a peaceful, easy, shallow dive.

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Published?! I say YES.

While I’ve been blabbing away here online, for the last two years, there is no one but myself to really look over or decide if my ramblings are worthwhile or just more mindless internet blabber. Not anymore! I have my first article up on another website. Its a short review of my test day with the new Olympus E-PM1 as I posted about back in March. I was able to test this camera and the Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens through Bluewater Photo, when we went out to Anacapa Island.

I was asked to write a short article about using the camera and the lens underwater and share some of my photographs for the Underwater Photography Guide, which I did, and they just published it. It feels pretty cool to have my writing up on a “real” website… and the gal that posts the articles referred to me as a “Photographer” which makes me feel distinguished…even though I’m not really.

If you want to check it out, go here: http://www.uwphotographyguide.com/olympus-e-pm1-underwater-review

Poke around some, the UWPG is a great website with tons of valuable information for underwater photographers!