Underwater Ballet

Underwater Ballet

My favorite time of year has come for scuba diving in Southern California.  During the months of August to October, it is not uncommon to see large schools of baitfish and lots of other animals feeding on them.  So with that in mind, I anticipated diving under the oil rigs and photographing the eco-palooza that I was sure was going on.  Unfortunately, the visibility was down a bit on the day I took the plunge, so the visions I had of swirling schools of anchovies laced with cormorants and sea lions was somewhat dimmed.  But then something unexpected and marvelous happened. Out of the dark water a form appeared against the sun that was shining dimly through the haze.

Free diver, Alasdair Boyd
Free diver, Alasdair

In fifty feet of water, a man swam by.  He was wearing no scuba, and seemed in no hurry to get back up to the surface.  He stopped for a moment while I took a few pictures.

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As he turned around and went toward the surface, it occurred to me how graceful the human form is when viewed in the slow motion of water.  The long fins and slow deliberate movements made a scene reminiscent of a ballet.

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To my utter delight, another free diver, John, joined the dance along with a couple of sea lions.  The scene could not have been more ethereal.  It is a Ballet I would attend again and again.

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As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
Grand Cayman, The Caribbean’s Sweet Spot

Grand Cayman, The Caribbean’s Sweet Spot

Each major diving destination has its “sweet spot;”  that delicious area that is rich in bio-diversity and like a decadent chocolate keeps you coming back for more.  You know what I mean. Indonesia has Raja Ampat, the Philippines has Anilao, and the Caribbean has the Cayman Islands.  Grand Cayman, in particular has so much to offer, it is like the creme brulee of the archipelago.

Green Sea Turtle feeding on a Sponge
Green Sea Turtle feeding on a Sponge

One of Grand Cayman’s attractions is the opportunity to scuba dive or snorkle with turtles. The turtles are protected under Cayman law and the turtle even appears on the Cayman Island’s flag, currency, and seal.  On the Northern tip of Grand Cayman, is a turtle farm where you can learn about turtles, and even wade into their habitat and pick them up.  There is also a snorkeling pond. Each year, turtles that are produced on the turtle farm are successfully released into the waters around the Cayman Islands helping to sustain the Island’s population.

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Scuba divers get to enjoy diving on the wreck of the Kittiwake, a popular artificial reef that was sunk off of Seven Mile Beach in 2011.  The wreck is shallow enough that snorkelers can also enjoy seeing the wreck.  Each dive is guided, and the area is strictly protected.

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Another popular activity that is taking place in the Cayman Islands is Lion fish Culling.  The Lion fish is an invasive species in the Caribbean and although they are a beautiful fish, they are rapidly depleting the native reef fish population.  The Lion fish has a voracious appetite and can reproduce every five days.  It can potentially lay 2 million eggs a year, and has no natural predators in the Atlantic.  I have heard it is delicious and there are organized Lion Fish Derby’s if you are interested in spearing them for yourself.  The Lion fish on the spears in the above image were fed to the fish in the picture.  Authorities are trying to teach grouper, sharks, tarpon and other large fish to prey on the Lion fish to help naturally control the population.

Sting Ray City
Sting Ray City

Perhaps one of the best things about Grand Cayman Island is Sting Ray City.  In the shallow waters of Grand Cayman’s North Sound is a bay where hundreds of sting rays gather to interact (and by interact, I mean get fed squid) with tourists.  Dozen’s of excursions are offered daily out to “Sting Ray City,” where you can snorkel with or wade in the shallow waters with the sting rays.  Most operations provide food for their customers to feed to the sting rays.  The sting rays are accustomed to many visitors every day and are not afraid to come up and give you a hug.

A Guide shows a tourist how to "hug" a sting ray
A Guide shows a tourist how to “hug” a sting ray

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The water around Grand Cayman is known as some of the clearest water in the world.  Scuba diving here is popular because of the beautiful scenery, topography, and warm Caribbean water.

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The coral is typical of that found in other parts of the Caribbean, but the blue water seems to be the truest blue of any in the world.

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There are plenty of little critters, too.  The beautiful Flamingo Tongue is a cowrie (snail) that can be found on the Gorgonians around the islands.  It has a plain yellow shell, but when its foot is extended and wrapped around the shell, you can see it’s beautiful spots and markings.

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One of my favorite critters that is plentiful around Grand Cayman Island is the Conch.  These large snails have the craziest eyes that they extend out from their shell so they can see where their next meal is.

Conch eye
Conch eye

One thing is certain; Grand Cayman has the best the Caribbean has to offer when it comes to enjoying the beautiful waters surrounding the island.  It is definitely a place where you get to have your cake and eat it too.

Please subscribe below!  I promise that I will protect your privacy and I will never sell or share your e-mail.

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As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
Five Life Hacks for Better Wide Angle Underwater Photography

Five Life Hacks for Better Wide Angle Underwater Photography

As a scuba diver in Southern California, I frequently get to dive in water that has low visibility.  This can be a challenge when shooting wide angle images.  In almost all conditions, underwater photographers must learn to cope with the phenomenon known as backscatter; that is, the reflection of light off particles in the water back into the camera’s lens.  Backscatter is much more prevalent in water with a lot of particulate, but it is present in nearly all underwater conditions. Fortunately, there are a few tricks to making beautiful images, even in poor conditions.

Slow it Down

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When you are not in bright, clear water, or when the sun is behind the clouds, or when you are too deep for the sun’s rays to penetrate to depth, try this little trick to saturate the image with ambient light:  slow down your shutter speed to 1/30th to 1/8th.  Since you are using strobes, this will do two things:  It will allow the ambient light to saturate the image, leaving you with blue (or green) water behind your subject, and the short burst of light from your strobes will “freeze” the subject so that it is in focus during the extended time the lens is open. Backscatter may be reduced as well, since the movement of the water may in effect, blur it away during that extended time.  The image above was taken with a shutter speed of 1/13th.  The color of the water, kelp and the snail are all more saturated than if the shutter had been open for a shorter time.

Turn Them In

Strobes turned toward the housing
Strobes turned toward the housing

One of the techniques that I use frequently when there is a subject that I want to light without lighting up the particles in the water on the sides, is to turn my strobes toward the subject. This works well for close focus wide angle shots.  In the image above, there is a shadow on the left hand side of the tube sponge.  It is coming from the right hand strobe, which is turned directly toward the sponge.  The reason for doing this is that the light from the strobe is landing directly on the subject, and not on the water to the sides where backscatter might ruin the image.  In addition, the angle of the light is less likely to bounce off particulate directly back into your lens, so again, less backscatter. The caveat is harsher shadows, but drama isn’t necessarily bad.

Down and Out

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Sometimes I have a large subject that needs to be lit all over.  The solution I used to light this coral head without getting backscatter was to place my strobes above my housing pointed slightly out and slightly down so that the entire coral head is lit, but the water above it only receives ambient light.

Pull It Back

Strobes too far forward caused too much backscatter on the sides of the image
Strobes too far forward caused too much backscatter on the sides of the image

The above image has a number of issues, but it illustrates the point that when the strobes are placed too far forward, the beam of light can reflect off the dome causing a great deal of backscatter on the sides of the image.  The solution to this problem is to pull the strobes back so that they are behind the handles of your housing.  In the image below, I did just that, reducing the amount of backscatter while lighting the entire scene.

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Wide Angle Snoot

Backscatter is reduced with a wide angle snoot
Backscatter is reduced with a wide angle snoot

If all else fails, there is still another trick up your sleeve, literally.  If you cut the sleeves off of an old wetsuit (a neoprene beer can cozy will work as well), and put them on the head of your strobes with about an inch of the sleeve overhanging the edge where the light comes out, you can reduce the amount of backscatter in your images.  This works especially well in poor visibility, and is suited to close focus wide angle shots.  In effect, you are reducing the angle of the beam coming from your strobes and directing it toward your subject. Sort of like a spot light. Less light is hitting the water, and a more direct beam of light is hitting your subject. Walla! Less backscatter.  Sometimes this technique works well when combined with a slow shutter speed.

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Although there are plenty of techniques to reduce backscatter in your images right out of the camera, it is always a bit of an issue even to the most seasoned underwater photographer.  A little particulate might look natural in some images, but if you really want to get rid of it all, it will need to be done in post processing.  Have a look at my tutorial, “Clean It Up!  Dealing with Backscatter” if you would like to learn more.

Please subscribe below!  I promise that I will protect your privacy and I will never sell or share your e-mail.

Email *
As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Diving in Southern California can be challenging, especially when conditions aren’t stellar.  But during the months from August to October, the Southern California coast boasts some of its best scuba diving conditions.  During these months the water is a bit warmer, typically clearer, and the bait fish come out in force.  I think the bait fish are probably the factor that makes all the rest of the diving spectacular.

Sea lions hunting sardines under the oil rig platform, Eureka
Sea lions hunting sardines under the oil rig platform, Eureka

When the sardines and anchovies start to school, the ocean becomes much more alive with activity.  These bait fish will congregate under places that have shade, such as under jettys, piers, oil rig platforms, and even kelp. Their shimmering sides reflect the light as they move, and they make the most interesting patterns, even appearing to communicate a message as they move through the water.

Bait fish schooling near Anacapa Island
Bait fish schooling near Anacapa Island look like they are pleading for peace!

But the fun part is the hunt.  It is amazing to see all the different animals that hunt sardines. Sea lions are numerous and playful.  I have observed a sea lion capture a fish, then use it like a ball, playing catch with another sea lion.  I even had one try to give me a fish once!

Sea lion hunting bait fish
Sea lion hunting bait fish

Sometimes, the bait fish will form a tight ball as other larger fish such as barracuda and bonito circle around, occasionally darting in to pick off a straggler.

bait fish cluster close together for protection against predators
bait fish cluster close together for protection against predators
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A bonito darts into the school for a snack

The most unique thing to see under water are the birds that swim down to catch an anchovie.  I have seen the cormorants as deep as 60 feet, hunting their prey.

A cormorant hunts for a meal
A cormorant hunts for a meal

They are a little shy of divers, but when they are in the heat of the hunt, they will often come face to face with us bubble blowers before they realize we are there.

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Scuba diving in the Autumn in Southern California has its perks.  As it is just now the beginning of August, I can hardly wait to see what this season will bring.

Please subscribe below!  I promise that I will protect your privacy and I will never sell or share your e-mail.

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As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.

 

A Whale of a Tale

A Whale of a Tale

Before I learned to scuba dive, I loved to snorkel.  Then I learned to dive and haven’t been snorkeling since, until last week.  Of all the experiences I have had underwater, this one rates right at the top: Snorkeling with Whale Sharks!

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Whale sharks are the largest of the sharks in the ocean, topping out at around 10 meters long, (35 feet).  They have huge mouths which they open wide to catch plankton and krill.  They are by far the largest living fish (non-mammal) on earth.  The whale shark doesn’t have teeth and is slow moving and harmless to humans.

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Whale sharks have been hunted by humans and were fished in this bay (Bahia de los Angeles, Northern Sea of Cortez) until recently, when the fishermen turned to the tourist trade.  It is much more lucrative for the villagers to conduct snorkeling tours of these beautiful animals than to fish them.  This is a good thing for the whale sharks, as they have recently been placed on the endangered list.

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There were many whale sharks out feeding when I was there, so I was able to interact with several of them.  They are not to be touched, nor should you get close to them as they are very large, and have a powerful tail that can injure swimmers.  I noticed that the large soft eye of one of these giants followed me and my camera.  It slowed down and watched me for a while and I was simply mesmerized by the intelligence glowing behind that eye.  I felt like I made a connection with the animal which was directly tied to my heart.  At that moment, I fell in love.

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This is an experience I will never forget, and hope to have again.  The whale shark is an amazing and majestic animal and will surely remain at the top of my underwater experiences for a lifetime.

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Please subscribe below!  I promise that I will protect your privacy and I will never sell or share your e-mail.

Email *
As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
Tutorial: Photographing Reef Fish

Tutorial: Photographing Reef Fish

One of the greatest pleasures that scuba diving yields for me is the opportunity to photograph fish and other aquatic animals.  I have learned a few tricks along the way and hope to share them with you in this tutorial that was published in Dive Photo Guide.  Click HERE to read the article.

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Please subscribe below!  I promise to never sell or share your email.

Email *

As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.

My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 and D2 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me
California Divin’

California Divin’

I love diving in California, so I have recycled this post from last year, with new images.  Please enjoy!

All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray

I’ve been for a dive, on a winter’s day.

I’ll be warm and dry, when I get back to L A,

But now I’m California divin’  on such a winter’s day.

I spend a good amount of time on this blog talking about the exotic animals I have seen all over the far reaches of the world.  But truly, I spend the majority of my diving time along the coast of California.  These temperate waters host some of the most interesting creatures in the world, and the topography is unique and beautiful.  One of the first things my non-diving friends ask is if it is green and murky in our California waters.  I am here to tell you, that the coast of California can rival the most pristine diving in the tropics.

Pink and Orange cup corals cover this pinnacle near Catalina Island
Pink and Orange cup corals cover this pinnacle near Catalina Island

The images above and below show some of the corals that can be found along the California coast.  Above are pink and orange cup corals covering a pinnacle at Farnsworth Banks near Catalina Island. The photo below shows part of a wall there called “Yellow Wall” and also shows some purple hydrocoral, which is found in just a few dive sites along the California coast.  These two images were taken just minutes apart, showing the diversity that can be found on just one site.

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Another gem of California diving are the oil rigs.  There are only a few rigs that divers can visit, and since there can be current and depths of up to 700 feet, the oil rigs are for advanced divers only. The structure under the oil rigs provides an artificial reef for hundreds of animals.  The structure is encrusted with life, and great schools of fish and sea lions enjoy life under the rigs as well.

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The site is well known for its wide angle potential, but there are a lot of tiny critters on the oil rigs as well.  Here is a bi-valve (clam) openly feeding.

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Lately, all of the islands and the water along the coast has been inhabited by tuna crabs, a small pelagic crab that swims in open water.  They are fun to see and a bit challenging to photograph.

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The Channel Islands are a favorite dive destination for local divers as well as world travelers.  Santa Barbara Island boasts a sea lion rookery where the young curious pups will come out to play around and with scuba divers.

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Other large animals that can be found there and several other dive sites include the torpedo ray, a ray that can deliver an electric shock, so no touching!

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Anacapa Island is loved by photographers for its macro subjects such as nudibranchs and amphipods.

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Catalina Island has a large population of blue-striped, orange gobies commonly called the blue banded goby.

Catalina Goby
Catalina Goby

Beautiful fish of all different colors can be found in dive sites all around Southern California, not to mention our own state marine fish, the Geribaldi

A Geribaldi and a red sculpin (rockfish or scorpion fish) look curiously at the diver with a camera.
A Geribaldi and a red Cabezon  look curiously at the diver with a camera.

But the one defining feature of diving in California is the beautiful kelp forests.  In many ways the kelp reminds me of a forest in a fairy tale.

The King's Forest

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The great thing about diving in California is it doesn’t matter if it’s Winter or Summer.  The diving is great year ’round.  The water is temperate and requires adequate protection.  I recommend a 7mm wetsuit in the Summer and late Fall, and a drysuit during the winter months.  And oh, how I love diving California in the Winter months.

California divin’ on such a winter’s day.

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Please subscribe below!  I promise that I will protect your privacy and I will never sell or share your e-mail.
Email *

As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.

My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
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