Diving the California Oil Rigs
The Southern California Oil Rigs have long been a hidden gem for California's underwater photographers, but the word is slowly leaking out. With sea lions, mola mola, cormorants and huge schools of fish visiting at different times of year, the Oil Rigs can rival some of the world's best dive sites on a good day.
I'm going to show you some classic underwater scenes from the Oil Rigs, and share some times for getting good color, composition and exposure.
F11, 1/100th, ISO 250. Using a fisheye lens is a must for large subjects, if you want good colors. It lets you get closer to the subject. I use a 100 degree diffuser with my strobes. Keep your strobes wide, get low, get close, shoot up. My 180 degree viewfinder helps me compose carefully.
Sea Lion and diver. When shooting sea lions, I wait until the very right moment to take a shot, and try to follow the sea lion around with my eye on the viewfinder. Having a camera with a low shutter delay really helps. On the rigs I usually do not have to shoot blind, because I can get below the subjects.
F10, 1/80th, ISO 250. I always try to remind myself to shoot vertically (portrait style) 50% off the time. I need to do it more. To get fish in patterns like this, you often have to wait until they are being chased.
F10, 1/160th, ISO 320. I always try to get different compositions of subjects - the whole body, close-up of the head, far away, and top-down.
F9, 1/100th, ISO 250. Cormorant trying to catch a fish.
F13, 1/80th, ISO 250. The closer I get to my subject, the more I stop down my aperture so the photo will be sharp. I was lucky that F13 allowed me to get the octopus and Garibaldi in focus, any closer to the octopus and I would have needed to be at F16. Pull your strobes in and point them straight instead of outt when switching from schooling fish to close-focus subjects. Although I pulled my strobes in close, with close-focus wide angle shots like this you may still have dark areas in the lower center of the photo - the adjustment brush in Lightroom will help brighten these up.
F10, 1/125th, ISO 200. It always helps to have a diver in the photo, try to encourage your dive buddies to come into the picture. Read out underwater dive model tips
F9, 1/80th, ISO 320. Who says you have to shoot up? Here are more composition ideas
F13, 1/40th, ISO 200. When inside a school of fish, I try to breathe slowly or not breathe at all, and move very slowly, so the fish gradually get closer and closer to me. Here are more schooling fish tips.
F14, 1/100th, ISO 320. My dive model and I took turns taking photos of each other, and I stopped down to F14 to get the foreground and background in focus. I also had to pull my right strobe in close, to light the starfish which was close to my port.
F9, 1/125th, ISO 250. When shooting schools of fish, you often have to wait for the right moment when something scares the school, creating a sense of motion in the photo.
F10, 1/80th, ISO 250. Exposuring silvery fish properly can be very difficult, I try to take a test shot at a very close distance to the fish, and then I'll usually turn my strobes down 1 or 2 notches until the photo looks good. Taking all photos at the same (close) distance is key. I keep my strobes wide and pointing out slightly for silvery fish.
100% crop of above photo
Mola mola and diver, with a D7000. Mola mola need to be approached slowly and carefully, or they will quickly flee.
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