Wall of Sharks, Thousands of Groupers & More in French Polynesia

Scott Gietler
A Photo Essay from Bluewater Photo's Fakarava & Rangiroa Workshop


A Wall of Sharks, Thousands of Spawning Grouper, Napolean Wrasse & More in French Polynesia

Photo Essay from Bluewater Photo's Fakarava and Rangiroa Workshop

Text and Photos By Scott Gietler


Blacktip sharks in Fakarava.



The Bluewater Photo workshop at Fakarava & Rangiroa this month was a huge success. The trip was timed for the annual Fakarava grouper spawning.  Not only did we find the thousands of spawning groupers we were looking for, but we found the infamous wall of sharks as well. There's nothing like swimming next to hundreds of gray reef sharks.

Fakarava was awesome, and Rangiroa was also great, with Silvertip sharks, barracuda, dolphins, and plenty of gray reef sharks.

I shot the photos below with a Nikon D7000 in Sea & Sea housing with dual YS-D1 strobes, and a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens.

We are running a trip to Fakarava and Rangiroa at the same time next year in late June / early July, timed again for the amazing grouper spawning. Please email info@bluewaterdivetravel.com for more info about this awesome trip!


Fakarava & Rangiroa Photo Essay


The wall of sharks in Fakarava. 108 sharks in this photo! We saw this school on several dives.


Napolean Wrasse in Fakarava. There were several Napoleans that hung out near our resort.


A school of fish under the restaurant pier in Fakarava.


A large school of groupers in Fakarava, getting ready to spawn.


Two eagle rays make a very close pass.


A feeding gray reef shark passes through a school of fish in Fakarava, taken during the grouper spawning. The fuseliers feed on the grouper eggs.


Another feeding gray reef shark in Fakarava. Shot by Carolyn Wang with the Nauticam Olympus E-M1 Housing.


Workshop guest Carolyn Wang models above a colorful reef in Fakarava, in shallow water.


Napolean Wrasse feeding in shallow water in Fakarava. This was a lucky shot - I didn't even know their mouth came out like that!


Napolean wrasse surveys the reef with a shark in the distance in Fakarva.


A gray reef shark swims above in Rangirao.


Shark and sunball in Rangiroa.


There's more than just sharks in French Polynesia.


Silvertip sharks and fish in Rangiroa.


Dolphins swim by in Rangiroa.


Barracuda school under a sunball in Rangiroa.



How to see with these sharks

Please contact Scott at scott@bluewaterdivetravel.com for more info on the best way to dive with these sharks in French Polynesia, including when to go, where to stay, and what gear to bring.


Where is the diving?

View our interactive French Polynesia scuba diving map to see exactly where these dives take place.



About the Author

Scott Gietler is the owner of Bluewater Photo, Bluewater Travel and the Underwater Photography Guide. He enjoys helping others learn underwater photography online, in the store and during international photo trips he attends with customers.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Anilao in Photos - A Must-Visit Destination

Scott Gietler & Brent Durand
Critters, Rare Sightings and Great Photos from the 4th Annual Bluewater Photo Workshop


Anilao in Photos - A Must-Visit Destination

Critters, Rare Sightings and Great Photos from the 4th Annual Bluewater Photo Workshop

By Scott Gietler and Brent Durand




Anilao has a way of capturing the attention of even the most veteran dive travelers. It might be dropping into the water on top of a rare critter, the setting sun igniting sparse clouds in electric pastel color as you roll off the bangka or the non-stop macro photo action of each dive.

Anilao is a destination that should be at the top of all critterheads' and macro photographers' wish list. Bluewater Photo knows this and has been hosting April/May workshops at Crystal Blue Resort the last 4 years.

I was fortunate to join Bluewater Photo owner, Scott Gietler, and Bluewater Photo Pro / CBR resort manager Mike Bartick, to help host this year's back-to-back 10 day workshops, each with fantastic guests enthusiastic to dive and shoot photos. I can confidently speak for everyone in saying we had a great time, learned a lot and captured many great images! The photos from all guests grew increasingly better throughout the trip regardless the experience level - no doubt a result of 4x long dives per day and applying freshly-learned photo techniques.

What did we see? Well, too many critters to keep track of, including Frogfish, Hairy Frogfish, Blue-Ringed Octos, Flamboyant & Pygmy Cuttlefish, Pipedragons, Robert / Ornate / Velvet Pipefish, Mantis Shrimp, Crabs, Sea Snakes, Bobbit Worms, Mimic and Wonderpus Octos, Squid, Gobies (including Hairy Gobies), Tiger, Harlequin and Bumblebee Shrimp, countless nudibranchs, cleaning stations, eels and much more.

Below is a small sampling of photos from Scott, myself and others.

- Brent



Upcoming Anilao Workshops

Anilao Fall 2014 Underwater Photo Workshop (Dec 7-14, 2014)

Anilao Spring 2015 Underwater Photo Workshop (Apr/May 2015)


Visit Anilao Anytime

If you can't make any of our annual workshops, Bluewater Travel can still help you book the perfect Anilao dive trip for yourself or a group of friends for the same or less than booking direct. We know Anilao better than anyone else and can advise where to stay, where to dive and when to go. We work with several of Anilao's best resorts.

For more info and to plan / book your trip, email Katie at Bluewater Travel.



2014 Photo Essay



Crab and Cardinalfish. Nikon D7000, Nikkor 105mm Lens, Sea & Sea Housing, 2x strobes.


Hairy Shrimp. Nikon D7000, Nikkor 105mm Lens, Nauticam SMC, Sea & Sea Housing, 2x strobes. Hairy shrimps started becoming popular last year. They are TINY! There are several different colors/species, some are tiny, some are specks.


Basket Star Shrimp. Nikon D7000, Nikkor 105mm Lens, Nauticam SMC, Sea & Sea Housing, 2x strobes.


Mating Mandarinfish. Nikon D7000, Nikkor 105mm Lens, Sea & Sea Housing, 2x strobes. Mandarin fish mate only at dusk, for about 1 second and then quickly drop back into the coral.


Clownfish and sunburst. Nikon D7000, Tokina 10-17 Lens, Sea & Sea Housing, 2x strobes. They are plenty of different clownfish & anemone species at most of the Anilao dive sites.


Wire Coral Goby. Canon 5D Mark3, Canon 100mm Lens, SubSee +10, Aquatica Housing, 2x strobes.


Coleman Shrimp. Canon 5D Mark3, Canon 100mm Lens, SubSee +10, Aquatica Housing, 2x strobes.


Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Canon 5D Mark3, Canon 100mm Lens, Aquatica Housing, 2x strobes. This species is found at several dive sites in Anilao.


Clownfish oxygenating eggs. Canon 5D Mark3, Canon 100mm Lens, SubSee +10, Aquatica Housing, 2x strobes.


Whip Coral Shrimp. Canon 5D Mark3, Canon 100mm Lens, SubSee +10, Aquatica Housing, 2x strobes.

anilao workshop underwater photos skeleton shrimp
Incredible skeleton shrimp photo, taken by our guest Antonella Giussani.
marine life behavior photo anilao
A "wow" behavor shot, captured by our guest Anthony Stevens with his new Nauticam E-M1 housing.
A pair of pipedragons, photo by Mike Bartick.


Trumpetfish getting cleaned by a wrasse

Tunicates and the sun. Anilao also has a lot of great wide-angle opportunities, including reefs swarming with anthias and corals.

Enjoying the Workshop




More Information on Anilao

For more information on resorts and when to go, or to book your next Anilao trip, visit Bluewater Travel's Anilao dive resort page.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Swimming with the Manatees in Crystal River

Scott Gietler
Nursing Calves, Intimate Portraits, Reflections and Crystal Clear Water!

Swimming with the Manatees in Crystal River

Nursing Calves, Intimate Portraits, Reflections and Crystal Clear Water!

Text by Scott Gietler
Photos by Scott Gietler, Kelli Dickinson, Katie Yonker, Brent Durand


Manatee in Crystal River



Swimming with the Manatees in Crystal River, Florida is an indescribable experience. These animals are big, adorable, curious, social, and can display a wide range of interesting behavior.

The manatees come into the springs area to stay warm when it gets cold in the Gulf of Mexico. In the winter, hundreds of them will huddle together in large groups on the bottom, in very shallow water. We visited the Manatees in early November, right before large number of Manatees (and large number of people) swim into the area. We saw many manatees and had many close encounters.

This is what we learned on our trip this past weekend, Nov 10th. We went out with Birds Underwater, who we recommend.


The area was not what we expected

We were expecting to be in the middle of nowhere, in a large area. The area we were in actually feels like a series of connected canals. The area is very residential, with houses lining all of the canals. You are basically right in the middle of a town. You will not feel like you are “in nature”, but you won’t care – the manatees are awesome.

There are more boats than you can ever imagine

Nothing could have prepared us for the number of boats that go out to swim with the manatees. There were dozens – and this was in low season. Trust me – you will not be alone on this trip. However, if you get a private boat with a small group, get out early, and swim away from the large groups (and trust us, there will be large groups around you), you can have some quality “manatee time”. The trip is completely worth it.

Manatees are big

Some manatees are big, really big. Even the babies are big. They truly seem like “sea cows”. They like to take short naps on the surface, and short naps on the bottom. They like to eat plants and algae on the bottom. They like to swim in small groups, swim alone, and come in contact with each other.

There are a lot of rules

There are a lot of rules, and for good reason. Before you swim with the manatees, you must watch a video that shows people grabbing manatees, chasing them, stepping on them or worse. It was awful. You are not supposed to chase a manatee, approach within 6ft of a resting manatee, swim down to a manatee that is resting or grab a manatee. We did not do these things, but we did see a couple people in the water grab and chase manatees. Unfortunately they were not caught, but there are quite a large number of wildlife officials and “manatee minders” who are out there to give people tickets. Of course we fully support this; otherwise things would be out of control. Splashing definitely startles manatees, we recommend trying not to splash at all with either your fins or arms.


Manatee in Crystal River

A photographer face-to-face with a manatee at the surface for a breath. Photo: Scott Gietler

Our advice

Definitely go on a weekday if possible - weekends can be a little crazy there. Leave as early as possible in the morning. There is no need to dive down or wear a weight belt, all of your manatee shots and interactions will be on the surface. They need to come to the surface and breathe every few minutes anyways. In fresh water, you will sink slightly even without weights. In early November, we all wore a full 3mm wetsuit and we were just fine warmth-wise. We did not try swimming with them later in the day, but that may be a good time also if there are fewer boats.

We did not take strobes, choosing to shoot with ambient light. Early in the morning you’ll need to turn your ISO up high. If the sun comes out, try to keep it to your back. They are big and come close, so choose a very wide lens. Also try to take a lot of video.

Shoulder season is a good time to go, either right before or right after high season (winter). During the winter there will be a lot of people - more than you can imagine. But the advantage is that the manatees will in the parts of the canals that have clearer water, in larger numbers.

Many manatee tour outfits will provide wetsuits and fins. We recommend bringing your own mask, snorkel and towel.

Manatee in Crystal River

A manatee yawns in front of the camera. Photo: Scott Gietler


Manatee in Crystal River

A manatee calf nursing with mom. Photo: Scott Gietler


Manatee in Crystal River

Another perspective of the nursing manatee calf. Photo: Katie Yonker


Manatee in Crystal River

Manatees develop algae growth on their backs near the springs, away from their summer home in the Gulf. Photo: Katie Yonker


Manatee in Crystal River

Kayakers explore crystal clear water in the Three Sisters Springs. Photo: Katie Yonker


Manatee in Crystal River

A split-shot at Three Sisters showing the clear blue water and rich greenery above. Photo: Katie Yonker


Manatee in Crystal River

Two manatees reflect near the surface. Photo: Kelli Dickinson


Manatee in Crystal River

The manatee calf approaches with its mother. Photo: Kelli Dickinson


Manatee in Crystal River

Mother and child, swimming by. Photo: Kelli Dickinson


Three Sisters Spring

Fish swim through the crystal clear water of Three Sisters Spring. Photo: Kelli Dickinson


Manatee in Crystal River

Portrait of a manatee near the surface. Photo: Brent Durand


Manatee in Crystal River

The personal connections with the manatees are the most rewarding part of the day. Photo: Brent Durand


Manatee in Crystal River

Manatees (often called Sea Cows) are actually graceful swimmers and can move rather quickly. Photo: Brent Durand


Three Sisters Spring

A snorkeler models for the camera in the clear water at Three Sisters. Photo: Brent Durand


Planning your Manatee trip

Email katie@bluewaterdivetravel.com to plan the best manatee trip ever. Katie knows the scene well and will help make sure you have the best experience with the least crowds. You can see some of her manatee photos in this article.


About the Author

Scott Gietler is the owner of the Underwater Photography Guide, Bluewater Photo and Bluewater Travel. He enjoys helping others learn underwater photography online, in the store, and during international photo trips that he attends with customers. Scott shoots with a Nikon D7000.


About the Photographers

Katie Yonker manages Bluewater Travel and shoots with a Panasonic GX-1. Visit Bluewater Travel and contact Katie for help planning the perfect dive trip.

Kelli Dickinson is the store manager for Bluewater Photo and shoots with an Olympus OM-D E-M5. Contact Kelli anytime for questions on purchasing or using your u/w photo gear.

Brent Durand is editor of the Underwater Photography Guide and shoots with a Canon 5D Mk3. Follow UWPG on Facebook and visit the site regularly for gear reviews, tutorials and u/w photo news.



Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



California Squid Run: A Photo Essay

Brent Durand
Walls of White Squid, Dashing to Attach to Mates and Massive Eggs Baskets in Southern California

California Squid Run - Amazing!

Walls of White Squid, Dashing to Attach to Mates and Massive Eggs Baskets in Southern California

Text by Brent Durand; Photos by Brent & Various Photographers


Squid Run



Southern California sees squid runs every few years, often found near sandy submarine canyons in La Jolla (San Diego) and Redondo Beach (Los Angeles). “Squid runs” are seen by divers when aggregations of market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) rise from the depths on a journey up to shallow water to mate, lay eggs (females) and then die.


Tens of Thousands of Squid

Imagine a few inquisitive squid approaching the beams of your dive lights, making shy eye contact. The number of squid grows and the energy level picks up. Three males dash towards a female, each with tentacles out in frantic contrast to the parallel lines of the growing wall of squid filling your vision. White everywhere, squid moving so thick you can't see beyond a couple feet but your ears tell you you've descended slightly down the canyon. As you grab your computer two squid are caught in your hand. The red tentacles of mating squid pulse in front of your mask and you have to swipe them away to check the camera LCD, trying to work with using squid bodies as natural strobe light diffusers. A target shrimp swims by, bouncing off of squid and trying to find the sand again. Eventually, it's time to swim up the sandy canyon wall to avoid entering deco and find some black water. But the squid follow, swarming both sides with a few brave squid staring at you as they lead the way up the slope. It wasn't until reaching 40ish feet that the crowd thinned out, totally dispersed by 30 feet. It's pretty exciting!


Squid Run

The tentacles of male squid turn red while mating with females in the midst of the rattling energy of the squid run. Photo: Brent Durand


"Walls of squid"

Mature market squid live at depths of around 1500 feet (460 meters) and are about a foot long (.3 meters). Their lifespan is 6-9 months, with mating happening upon maturation near the end of their lives.

Squid runs typically last a few days, however this most recent run lasted a month. I was diving at Vets in Redondo Beach checking out a report of an unusual amount of red octopus the night before and found about 10 squid, one of which was laying a “candle” (a capsule filled with up to 300 eggs that is then anchored to the ground with a long, sticky membrane). A week later the squid run was in full force and Southern California divers were on the scene to experience swimming through walls of squid for several more weeks. Really unprescedented and amazing!

Most of the action happened at a depth of 60ft - 80ft. Squid are most active at night, but there were also a good amount of squid present in the early morning hours.

Squid typically die 24 - 48 hours after laying eggs. This means that every night, hundreds or thousands of new squid joined the run.

Below are some of many photos captured during the squid run by local photographers.


Squid Run

Closeup of mating squid with red tentacles. Photo: Nirupam Nigam


Squid Run

A male squid grabs a female to begin mating. His tentacle have not yet turned red. Photo: Brent Durand


Squid Run

A squid wanders over an egg basket in the early evening before the action begins. Hundreds of huge baskets like this were created. Photo: Nirupam Nigam


Squid Run

A diver watches the squid run in amazement. There were often so many squid, you couldn't see.  Photo: Shane Spring


Squid Run

Another diver mesmerized by thousands of mating squid. Photo: Jeff Laity


Squid Run

A male squid preparing to mate with a female. Photo: Shane Spring


Squid Run

Many predators get in on the action during a squid run, including bat stars, bat rays, sheep crab, swell sharks and shrimp. Photo: Brent Durand


Squid Run

A target shrimp tries frantically to get away from an egg basket, only to get pushed around by yet more squid. Photo: Brent Durand


About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer with a rapidly growing portfolio of unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images. Brent is editor-in-chief of the Underwater Photography Guide. Make sure to follow UWPG on Facebook and Twitter for updates on everything underwater-photography.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



10 Amazing Photos from Friends of the Guide

Brent Durand
Underwater Photos you MUST SEE from Around the World this past Spring

10 Amazing Photos from Friends of the Guide

All Photos Taken this Spring: March - May, 2013

Feature by Brent Durand with photos by Various Artists (in no particular order). Commentary by UWPG publisher Scott Gietler



Welcome to UWPG's second collection of photos in the "Friends of the Guide" series. We received submissions from many photographers with great images shot this past spring, including wide-angle, macro, quick-action, rare critters and creative camera/lighting techniques. It was tough to select our favorite images and we hope these serve as inspiration for your next dive. I'm certainly inspired!


Amazing Underwater Photo #1

Harlequin Shrimp by Marco Maccarelli, Tulamben (Bali)

Unique, outstanding presentation of a commonly photographed macro subject. RAW file was verified - not done in photoshop!

harlequin shrimp

Harlequin Shrimp by Marco Maccarelli. Shot with homemade snoot. Canon 50D in Sea & Sea Housing, 1/250, F-14, Iso 100. Marco Maccarelli.



Amazing Underwater Photo #2

Catfish Tornado by Victor Tang, Jepun in Padany Bai (Bali)

Juvenile catfish are common, but this formation is a once in a lifetime find!


Catfish Tornado by Victor Tang. Nikon D300 in Seatool Housing, Twin Sea & Sea YS-D1 Strobes, Tokina 10-17 FIsheye at 17mm, ISO200, F9 at 1/80s. Wodepigu Water Pixel.



Amazing Underwater Photo #3

Spotted Xenia Coral Pipefish by Mike Bartick, Twin Rocks in Anilao (Philippines)

Gorgeous photo of an extremely rare and beautiful macro subject. The mushroom coral pipefish is more common.


Spotted xenia coral pipefish by Mike Bartick. While working with my guide, looking for solar powered Nudis in the Xenia coral, something neither of us had seen before appeared before us, a spotted xenia coral pipefish. The Siokunichthys herrei as confirmed by Dr. Gerry Alan, are both cryptic and fast moving which makes it a very tough subject to photograph. The subtle spots on its head helped them blend in so well that it was even hard to track with our eyes let alone frame it properly. Nikon D300s, Nikor 105mm, +5 Diopter, dual YS-D1 strobes low power. F18, 1/125. www.saltwaterphoto.com



Amazing Underwater Photo #4

Pelagic polychaete by Jeffrey Milisen, Kona (Hawaii)

Simply stunning. You never know what you will see on a black-water dive in Kona!


Pelagic polychaete by Jeffrey Milisen. A polychaete worm searches through the nighttime pelagic ocean for prey while on a blackwater dive offshore from Kona, Hawaii. Canon T1i, Ikelite housing/strobes, Canon 60mm, F/13 1/125 ISO 800. Milisen Photography



Amazing Underwater Photo #5

Dorado by Peter Allinson, Cancun (Mexico)

Also known as mahi-mahi - perfectly exposed and composed. Many photographers would love to have this photo on their wall.


Dorado by Peter Allinson. Shot while freediving on a marlin/dorado trip about 10 miles off the coast of Cancun, Mexico. Nikon D800E, Nikkor 16-35 @35mm, 1/320, F9, ISO 500, natural light. www.pallinsonimages.com



Amazing Underwater Photo #6

Polycera quadrilineata by Christian Skauge, Norway

A lovely nudibranch shot that really pops.


Nudibranch by Christian Skauge. A Polycera quadrilineata nudibranch posing at the edge of a kelp frond. Captured at the Nudibranch Safari at Gulen Dive Resort, Norway. Nikon D90 in Nauticam housing, 105 mm + 1.4x TC, 2 x Inon Z-240 strobes, 1/160 sec, f/29, ISO 250. www.scubapixel.com.



Amazing Underwater Photo #7

Pygmy Pipehorse by Ken Thongpila, Sydney (Australia)

It is difficult to show off such a well-camouflaged creature, but Ken's photo does it well.

pygmy pipehorse

Pygmy Pipehorse by Ken Thongpila. Pygmy Pipehorse is one of Sydney's rare critters. Very well camouflaged and very hard to spot. Bare Island, Botany Bay, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Canon 500D with Sea&Sea RDX-500 Housing, 2 x INON Z240 Strobes, 60mm Macro
F-13 1/100 ISO 200. www.aboutken.com and Underwater Macro Photographers.



Amazing Underwater Photo #8

Sweetlips School by Ludovic Galko-Rundgren, Raja Ampat (Indonesia)

Schooling sweetlips don't get much better than this. The photographer was most likely very calm and patient to capture such a shot.

fish school

Sweetlips School by Ludovic Galko-Rundgren. 40m down at the famous dive site Cape Kri, (Raja Ampat, Indonesia) a well tended sweetlip school was sitting on a bommie like books on a shelf.
EOS7D, Tokina10-17 lens, Nauticam NA7D housing + 2 Inon Z240 strobes
ISO 200 1/160 f/10.



Amazing Underwater Photo #9

Siqi by Wendy Capili-Wilkie, Palau

What an elegant photo! A great example of the creativity to be found in the pool.

model in pool

Siqi by Wendy Capili-Wilkie. I was just experimenting with model photography in the pool, and came up with this nice reflection and lighting.
Nikon D800 + Nikon 16-35mm at 16mm in Ikelite housing and dual Ikelite 160s
ISO 200 f14 1/200. Wendy on Flickr



Amazing Underwater Photo #10

"I've got my Eye on You" by Ron Watkins, California

I can't stop looking at this dramatic, well composed blue shark photo.

blue shark

Blue shark by Ron Watkins. Off the coast of Long Beach on the Sea Watch Shark Boat with Captain Chris Wade on the Bluewater Photo trip, we encountered this beautiful 9' Blue Shark.  My first time free diving with these majestic animals was surreal and lasted for about 30 minutes. F8, 1/200, ISO 200, 10-17mm, Single YS-250 Strobe. www.scubarews.com



Do you have what it takes?

The next Friends of the Guide photo essay will feature photos shot June - August, 2013. Email brent@uwphotographyguide.com with a link to your online portfolio for more details.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Ten Amazing Photos from Friends of the Guide

Brent Durand
10 Underwater Photos you MUST SEE from Around the World this past Winter

10 Amazing Underwater Photos 

Taken in Dec 2012, Jan/Feb 2013

Feature by Brent Durand with photos by Various Artists (in no particular order). Commentary by UWPG publisher Scott Gietler




If you're like me you love diving, traveling and new underwater photos. We publish many tutorials, tips and reviews at the Underwater Photography Guide to help improve our u/w photography and find inspiration for new images.

It's always "dive season" somewhere in the world, and this feature celebrates some inspiring images captured this past winter by ten incredible underwater photographers.

So where are you diving next? What is your next photo project? We want to see your amazing photos soon! - Brent


Amazing Underwater Photo #1

Tube Anemone by Kevin Lee, California

This anemone is simple but stunning macro. Perfectly lit, perfectly framed, just the right detail and depth of field.


Anemone by Kevin Lee.  Nikon D800, 60mm lens + 1.4x teleconverter, dual YS-D1 strobes, ReefNet fiber optic snoot. 1/250, F/32, iso 100. www.diverkevin.com



Amazing Underwater Photo #2

Turtle by Jeffrey Milsen, Hawaii

The front fin creates a great "leading line", and the sun-rays really make the shot. A simple wide-angle shot that keeps drawing you in"


Turtle & Reef by Jeffrey Milsen. "A Hawaiian green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) hovers over a reef inside Honaunau Marine Protected Area, Big Island." Canon T1i, Tokina 10-17, dual Ikelite DS-51 strobes. 1/160, F/8, iso 100. milisenphotography.yolasite.com



Amazing Underwater Photo #3

Anthias with parasite by Mark Strickland, Australia

Incredible natural history photograph, with perfect exposure and great bokeh.


Hawk Anthias with Parasite by Mark Strickland. "Hawk Anthias, Serranocirrhitus latus, with unwelcome companion, a parasitic isopod. Great Barrier Reef, Australia, Coral Sea, Pacific Ocean." Nikon D7000, Seacam housing, Nikon 70-180mm macro zoom. ISO 200, dual Ikelite 160 strobes. 1/125, F14. www.markstrickland.com



Amazing Underwater Photo #4

Humpbacks by Craig Dietrich, Socorro

Humpbacks are expected in Socorro in February topside, but this year many divers got a special treat underwater. Craig nailed the shot.

humpback whales

Humback Whales in Socorro by Craig Dietrich. "Humpback and her new baby calf. One of the greatest experiences of my dive career, just getting to see a glimpse of the interaction between mom and baby." Canon 7D, Tokina 10-17. 1/125, F9. www.dietrichunderwater.com



Amazing Underwater Photo #5

Leafy Sea Dragon by Ken Thongpila, Australia

Ken used just the right composition and depth of field to produce a winning leafy sea dragon shot.

leafy seadragon

Leafy Sea Dragon by Ken Thongpila. "I used 2 strobes to get the right balance on the eyes, looked for a clean background, then waited for unusual angles as the Sea Dragon moved around." Rapid Bay Jetty, South Australia. 1/100, F16. www.aboutken.com



Amazing Underwater Photo #6

Wolf Fish by Lill Haugen, Norway

Braving the cold waters of Norway, Lill captured a special moment with just the right expressions - two wolf fish truly in love.

blue eels

Wolf Fish by Lill Haugen. Diving in bad vis and fighting strong currents mid-winter in Oslo fjord in Norway can still be rewarding, especially when I came across this cute wolffish-couple in the Oslo fjord, at their breeding ground. Soon there will be eggs, which the MALE will protect for a few months while the female goes back to munching her favorite sea urchins and clams - and living life! Nikon D300, Nikon 12-24 mm, dual Inon z-240 strobes. 1/100, F16. www.lillhaugen.com



Amazing Underwater Photo #7

Filefish eye by Ron Watkins, Florida

Ron went for the artistic point of view on this fish, one that we all love to photograph and admire for its wonderful blue patterns.

filefish eye

Filefish eye by Ron Watkins. On a recent assignment in the Florida Keys after diving the Spiegel Grove, I dove Molassas Reef and decided to try macro photography. As soon as I hit the water and saw the 80+ Viz and healthy reefs teaming with life, I thought I had chosen the wrong lens. Making the most of it, I was photographing nudibranchs, fireworms and other small subjects when I noticed a scrawled filefish following me (pointed out by my buddy). I turned the Nikor 105mm to the fish and took several shots and angles of the colorful patterend eye. The resulting photo was taken with a Nikon D300 at F/16, 1/100 and ISO 200 with dual YS-250 Strobes. www.scubarews.com



Amazing Underwater Photo #8

Cenotes by Jo-ann WIlkins, Mexico

Diver, light beams and surface reflections all add up to a stunning wide-angle shot.

cavern scuba diver

Cenotes diver by Jo-Ann Wilkins. Exploring the Cenotes of Riviera Maya, Mexico. Nikon D800, Aquatica Housing. www.jaw-photo.com



Amazing Underwater Photo #9

Crocodile by Goran Butajla, Cuba

Crocs are not your everyday subject. They are dangerous, hard to find, and not easy to photograph without losing a finger. This photo has a dramatic close-up point of view, enhanced by the distinct sunbeams.


Crocodile by Goran Butajla. We found this crocodile during one of our trips to the lagoon, who hung around for photos before ending the session by swimming into deeper water. Jardines de la Reina, Cuba. 1/160, F10. www.scubalife.hr



Amazing Underwater Photo #10

Blue-ring Octopus by Marcello di Francesco, Philippines

Dramatic black-background photo of one of the most beautiful & deadly octopus.

blue-ringed octopus

Rings in the Night by Marcello di Francesco. A blue-ringed octopus hunting for prey at night, shot on Malapacua island in the Philippines. Canon 60D, 100mm lens. 1/250, F14, ISO 100. www.marcellodifrancesco.com



Do you have great photos from the spring (March - May 2013)?  We're accepting submissions for our next Friends of the Guide photo feature.  Email brent@uwphotographyguide.com for more details.


About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, underwater photographer and editor with the Underwater Photography Guide. You can follow UWPG on Facebook and also read Brent's featured article on shooting a Melibe Nudibranch congregation.



Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Photo Journey Through Southeast Sulawesi

Brent Durand
Critters, Reefscapes & Diving on the Pelagian Yacht

Photo Journey through Southeast Sulawesi

Critters, Reefscapes & Diving on the Pelagian Yacht

Compiled by Brent Durand, photos by Various Contributors


Photo: Wayne MacWilliams


Join us on an underwater photo essay featuring 'out of this world' diving in the outer reefs and surrounding atolls of the Tukang Besi islands, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia.  This is the heart of the coral triangle of undersea biodiversity.  Please enjoy the following photos taken by guests of Wakatobi Dive Resort & the Pelagian Yacht.


Cover photo: Squid

When the sun goes down, Desert, a sited visited by the Pelagian Dive Yacht, turns into a proverbial Fun House as nocturnal beasts like these reef squid come out and put on the 'night moves.' Dancing in the dark on the edge of your dive light’s illumination, they flash iridescent hues looking as if an electrical current is running through their body (see above photo).


Frogfish In The Sand


Photo: Saskia van Wijk (www.vakantiesmurf.nl). Canon 5D, Canon 100mm Macro, DS125 strobe. 1/60, F20, ISO 200.

Into mucking around? Pelagian is not without its collection of magical muck dives off the southeast peninsula of Sulawesi at Buton Island. If you are unfamiliar with the term muck diving, it is basically a treasure hunt for small and often highly cryptic critters hiding among the supporting columns of a pier or in debris - like this frogfish nestled, comfortably we assume, in the sandy bottom. Read all about Frogfish.


Blue-Ringed Octopus

Photo: Steve Rosenberg (ReefID.org). Nikon D300, 60mm lens

Located in front of a village known as Pasar Wajo, is a site called Cheeky Beach. Here Pelagian divers are often followed by local children watching from the surface with 'cheeky enthusiasm,' while they hunt for true treasures such as this amazing blue-ringed octopus.


Coleman Shrimp

Photo: Saskia van Wijk (www.vakantiesmurf.nl). Canon 5D, Canon 100mm Macro, DS125 strobe. 1/60, F25, ISO 200.

Located in front of a village known as Pasar Wajo, is a site called Cheeky Beach. The beauty of Cheeky Beach, and for that matter most muck sites, is that it can be dived repetitively rendering unique and different finds every time. And when it comes to 'finds' what's even more special about Cheeky Beach is that it is also a shrimp breeding ground for several of the more exotic species found in the Wakatobi region, like this Coleman shrimp.



Photo: Steve Rosenberg (ReefID.org). Nikon D300, 60mm lens

Vatican is a site aptly named for its abundance of cardinalfish. The site is filled with thousands of these colorful beauties, looking as if they are attending conclave. Belonging to the family Apogonidae, cardinalfish are typically nocturnal; they stay in the shadows by day and come out at night to feed. Also unique is that they are mouth brooders meaning they carry and incubate their eggs in the mouth.



Photo: Wayne MacWilliams

If the Mandarinfish is high on your list of must sees, Magic Pier, a Pelagian signature dive, is definitely in order. The pier is a concrete jetty built upon a shallow coral plateau on a slope starting at 5m to 8m and gently dropping down to 25m. The pier is home to an abundance of flamboyantly colored Mandarinfish, which are scarcely two inches long.


Mandarinfish Ménage-A-Trois

Photo: Richard Smith (www.oceanrealmimages.com). Nikon D2X, Nikon 105mm, Subal housing, dual Inon strobes.

It is at dusk that Mandarinfish become their most frisky, performing a beautiful courting dance, which ends with the release of sperm and eggs as they spawn in the water column above the bottom.

"The Wakatobi region has some of the most spectacular and biodiverse reefs in Asia. Visiting them aboard Pelagian ensures that you see them in style. The service, yacht and diving were all excellent."  - Richard Smith


Eel With Cleaner Shrimp

Photo: Wayne MacWilliams

Magic Pier does not begin and end with Mandarinfish. One of the many captivating sights you will find are subjects like this eel, which is having some dental hygiene done by a scarlet lady shrimp, identified by a vibrant red stripe intersected by a white line down its back.



Photo: Richard Smith (www.oceanrealmimages.com). Nikon D2X, 10.5mm fisheye lens, Subal housing, dual Inon strobes.

There are hundreds of miles of reefs to visit within the Pelagian's crusing range. These include the smaller eastern and southern islands of Moromaho and Runuma, the big reefs of Karang Kaledupa, and the fascinating critter haven of Buton island.

Southeast of Wangi Wangi is a stunning reef plateau called Metropolis featuring a great variety of hard and soft corals, bommies and endless stretches of hilly formations of staghorn corals. Frequently swept by currents, large schools of surgeonfish, barracudas, and triggerfish roam overhead.


Broadclub Cuttlefish with Photographer

Photo: Walt Stearns (www.underwaterjournal.com). Canon 7D, Tokina 10-17, dual YS-250 strobes. 1/200, F/9.

Muck diving isn’t all there is to Pelagian’s itinerary; the reefs are not without their share of fascinating and interesting creatures, like this broadclub cuttlefish.

"Wakatobi delivers on every front. For photographers the reefs are highly productive. Rarely do I find reefs so healthy and dense with coral coverage as those at Wakatobi, evidence of their strong conservation initiatives. While there is just about every weird and wonderful critter imaginable for macro photography, I spent most of my time shooting wide angle, it's that beautiful. And when it comes to services and accommodations, Wakatobi excels - from the exquisite villas and bungalows to the incredible food to never having to lift a finger once you arrive in Bali - Team Wakatobi attends to every detail. Wakatobi truly should be a must go for every diver, it's an experience you simply won't ever forget."  - Walt Stearns


Schooling Batfish

Photo: Walt Stearns (www.underwaterjournal.com). Canon 7D, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye,  dual YS-250 strobes. 1/160, F/6.3.

Running into a school of batfish always livens up a stunning reefscape. In addition to their beauty, a recent study suggests this comely fish may actually play a more critical role in reef ecology by eating seaweed that other herbivorous fish such as parrotfish and surgeonfish do not touch.


Pygmy Sea Horse

Photo: Mark Snyder (www.starknakedfish.com)

No mention of Wakatobi or the Pelagian Dive Yacht would be complete without pygmy seahorses. Pelagian cruises the heart of a region that is host to three of the prominent species – from the familiar Bargibant (shown here) to the Denise and Pontoh.


Pontoh Pygmy Seahorse

Photo: Richard Smith (www.oceanrealmimages.com). Nikon D2X, Nikon 105mm, Subal housing, dual Inon strobes.

One of the specialties of the Pelagian’s crew is finding the tiny, white Pontoh seahorse in their favorite habitat among the Halimeda algae. “Nowhere else are they [Pontoh species] so reliably encountered as here,” says marine biologist Richard Smith.


Chromodoris Leopardus Nudibranch

Photo: Richard Smith (www.oceanrealmimages.com). Nikon D2X, Nikon 105mm, Subal housing, dual Inon strobes.

The term ‘sea slug’ just doesn't do them justice. Nudibranchs in brilliant colors are a trademark of the Indo-pacific. Pelagian‘s eagle-eyed guides have no problem finding species like this Chromodoris leopardus nudibranch flaring its oral veil as it crawls about the bottom. Read more about photographing nudibranchs.


Pelagian Dive Yacht and Tender Boats

Photo: Shawn Levin

Diving from the Pelagian is conducted from tender boats each with its own dive guide. The daily routine comfortably fits in four 70-minute plus dives per day, including night dives.

With a full-time crew of 12, Pelagian offers truly personal attention that includes a dedicated cruise director and dive experience managers. Guests are able to choose between fully guided diving experiences or any appropriate level of support and advice to enhance an autonomous dive plan.


Southeast Sulawesi

Indonesia Map

Map: Google Maps


Pelagian’s Route


While seasons and weather conditions may dictate some itineraries, one thing is certain, each cruise will be a unique and special experience.

Diving on Pelagian has never been easier with frequent direct charter flights from Bali and a variety of itineraries from which to choose. Why not combine a cruise on Pelagian with a visit to Wakatobi Dive Resort for the best of both worlds?

To find out more about Pelagian’s cruise itineraries visit http://www.pelagian.wakatobi.com/.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Return to Tiger Beach

Steve Rosenberg
ReefID's Steve Rosenberg shares amazing photos from his recent return trip to Tiger Beach in the northern Bahamas.

Return To Tiger Beach

A photo essay from the northern Bahamas featuring sharks, sharks and more sharks!

By Steve Rosenberg



In January 2012, I made a return trip to Tiger Beach with Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures for another one of their incredible week-long shark adventures to the northern Bahamas. It had just been too long since my last shark adventure on the MV Shearwater. As a bonus, Andy Sallmon, who is an outstanding professional underwater photographer from Southern California, was on the boat. Between Jim and Andy you can’t help get but pick up some useful tips on shooting sharks. During the trip, Captain Mike mounted a Go Pro Camera on a remote controlled boat speed boat and enticed a couple of tiger sharks to try their hand at boating. Fortunately, Mike recovered the GoPro and Andy got some incredible images of the event.



Just another tiger shark at the surface. The crew persuaded some of the passengers to dangle their toes in the water off the dive platform. It worked great to get the tigers to open their mouths for a few awesome close-ups. 



The Adventure

The week started off a bit rough and windy. Jim elected to visit two shallow reefs before heading out to Tiger Beach. After one day of bad weather, the winds eased and the seas calmed down, making the entries and exits a piece of cake and the surface intervals between dives very comfortable. We spent a day with amazing shark interactions at Hammertime reef and Ginormous reef. There were plenty of opportunities to set up unusual photographs at the end of swim-throughs and atop indentations in the coral reef with sharks continually making fly-bys and swim-overs. We took advantage of the opportunity to allow some of the Caribbean reef sharks to pose with splashes of colorful sponges and lionfish. Despite a persistent wind and somewhat spotty visibility we had awesome close-up encounters with Caribbean reef sharks, lemon sharks, a tiger shark and a friendly Goliath Grouper.


Duck!... and if it occurs to you, press the shutter. This was actually one of those opportunities where you have to anticipate...



Later when we parked at Tiger Beach and after the wind had died down a bit, we were treated to more incredible photographic opportunities. The various sections of Tiger beach are only about 20 feet deep, but feature swarming lemon sharks, intermixed with visits from tigers measuring up to 18 feet in length. It's always an exhilarating experience to grab your camera at the swim step, duck your mask into the water and roll forward with 20 or 30 lemon sharks milling about the dive platform. The lemon sharks, measuring up to 10 feet in length, sport a toothy sinister smile and their sleek ‘fighter jet’ profiles make for awe-inspiring portraits. However, the tigers are the real "super models," measuring up to an incredible 18 feet in length. The tiger sharks deserve, and require, your constant attention. On this trip we were underwater with as many as eight tigers at a time.

As an underwater photographer I have had the good fortune to work on assignments shooting sharks all over the globe. Jim Abernethy runs a very professional “stick to the rules” operation that allows photographers and videographers one-of-a-kind encounters with a variety of large predators that are available nowhere else in the world. Passengers on his live-aboard boat, the Shearwater, are treated to Jim’s hands-on expertise in dealing with sharks and his awesome knowledge of photographing large predators. I can’t wait to go again for another unique shark adventure, always looking for those one of a kind images.


For a lot of reasons, especially when you are diving with sharks, it is a good idea to be constantly looking around in all directions. When you have good visibility, look for situations where you can put subjects in the background, whether its the boat, sharks or other other divers. It's is a good way to add the the dimension of depth to your pictures.



Underwater Photo Tips

The photo opportunities on one of Jim’s shark trips are so plentiful that you don’t have to rush and just take snap shots. The best advice that I can give you is to listen to Jim Abernethy. He is the kind of person who is genuinely excited about helping his passengers get extraordinary shots. That said, when you get underwater, take your time and try to visualize what a shot will look like. Anticipate the angle of your subject and what is going on in the negative space around your subject. Try to isolate the subject(s) and get them swimming toward the lens at an angle.

Get as close as possible to your subjects and work on getting upward angle. You will discover that the first part isn’t that difficult.  Of course, you won’t have the luxury of burying your face in the viewfinder. You really need to keep track of where the sharks are at all times, especially the tigers. Learn to anticipate when a picture is about to happen, pre-positioning your camera in front of you. Look into the viewfinder at the last moment, take the shot and then get back to looking around you to keep track of the rest of your subjects. When you dive with tigers its pretty much a matter of teamwork and everyone has to do their part.


Sheer boredom. I'm pretty sure sure that this Caribbean Reef shark was only yawning from sheer boredom. The troublesome thing was that I could see he was pretty empty and probably somewhat hungry.



This picture of a close-up of a lemon shark was taken with the idea of adding another layer to the image by using a camera angle that would include a second shark higher in the water column.



Lionfish with Caribbean Reef Shark. Unfortunately, there were many volitans lionfish on the reefs. I persuaded this one to pose patiently just off the reef, while we waited for a Caribbean Reef shark to swim into the frame. The key to this type of picture is patience!



When we were swimming around the shallow reefs sometimes these types of images kind of just happened. You just have to be ready with the right exposure already dialed in and take the image. You have to learn to anticipate what the image will look like through the viewfinder, being sure to look around the subject for unwanted body parts in the picture. Of course, I am talking about shark tails, stray fishes, etc (not pieces of divers) that would detract from the image.



Rush hour. Jim dumped us on one of the shallow reefs during the commute hour, enabling us to sit in traffic and get all makes and models of Caribbean Reef Sharks.



Getting toothy displays and wide open mouths is pretty much luck. However, if you take an occasional test shot to check exposure, etc. you will be much more likely to be able to successfully shoot from the hip when  a cool behavioral shot unfolds.



Tiger portrait. This is the type of shot where you want to try to anticipate the angle of the subject and use a camera angle that will give you an empty negative space around your subject. By getting close and using upward angles, you can isolate your subject to obtain pretty dramatic shots against open water backgrounds



Sharks on the reef. One of the techniques we used on the shallow reefs was to set up a picture with sponges in the foreground and then wait (and wait) for the  sharks to swim into the picture.



This was just a case of aiming the camera to get a couple of lemon sharks oriented properly in the frame and be conscious of excluding the other 38 lemon sharks (and their various body parts) from the picture.



This Goliath grouper with it's mouth open was one of those instances where you have to be ready for a shot and just take advantage when it unfolds in front of you. Just be careful not to get sucked in when it opens its mouth. I wonder if Jonah was an underwater photographer.



Pair of reef sharks. Look for situations where you can get subjects interacting in the frame. This opportunity of getting a pair of Caribbean reef sharks lined up in a parallel configuration seemed like a good idea (even while I was taking the picture).



About the Author

Steve has been a professional underwater photographer and photojournalist since 1980. He has produced eight travel guides for dive destinations, including The Hawaiian Islands, Cozumel, The Turks & Caicos, The Galapagos Islands, The Bahamas and Northern California, and has written hundreds articles for various U.S. publications on dive destinations, underwater photography, and marine biology. He has also produced numerous coffee table books on various destinations. Thousands of his images have appeared in books, magazines, and posters, as well as on stamps, advertising, and art work worldwide. He has also won more than 250 awards for his photography in international competitions, including a First Place Award in the prestigious Han Hass Competition in Austria. He received the Scuba Schools International Platinum Pro Certification for 5000 dives in 1996 and has been diving since the late 1960’s. He is an active member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Steve is a senior board member and contributing editor for ReefID.org.  He can be contacted at sgr@pacbell.net.



Further reading


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo and Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


Jim Lyle's Underwater Photo Adventure in Cozumel

Jim Lyle
The adventures of an underwater photographer at Scuba Club Cozumel, with many, many pictures!

Jim Lyle's Underwater Photo Adventure in Cozumel

The adventures of an underwater photographer at Scuba Club Cozumel, with many, many pictures!

by Jim Lyle





What follows is a Cozumel trip report. For more than twenty years, we have been returning to the island and staying at Scuba Club Cozumel, our home away from home. I’ve kept the narrative to a minimum and posted lots of pictures. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I did taking them. Buen provecho!

Our plane landed at the airport on Cozumel Island and we passed through Mexican immigration before patiently waiting by the carrousel for our luggage. The clothing bags came off first, followed by Deborah's scuba gear bag…hmmm, where's my gear bag? We waited and we waited. A young man, who was loading the bags on the belt, pointed at one bag and shrugged his shoulders. I shook my head. No, it isn't mine. How about this one, he indicated. No, not that one either. Bad news – there were no more bags to unload. Somewhere between LAX and CZM, my gear bag was in luggage limbo. I spoke to Continental's representative and we filled out a "delayed" luggage form. It seems to me a "lost" luggage form would have been more appropriate. The agent assured me that my bag would be on the next flight from Houston and delivered to my hotel.
We joined our friends on the Colectivo bus (by the way, rates have increased 25% since our last visit!) and, a short ride later, checked in to Scuba Club. Sofia greeted us with, "Welcome home!" and things didn't seem so bad. Deborah did a shore dive to check out her equipment while I moped in the room. Later that afternoon, when my bag failed to show up, I called the airport, only to learn everyone had gone home for the day. Drat!
What to do? I rented fins, BCD, and a regulator from the dive shop at SCC, but they only had "shortie" wetsuits. So I walked across the street and bought a 3 mm suit to cover my cheap Irish skin. The rental fins were full-foot and I was afraid of rubbing blisters, so I would wear a pair of socks to protect my feet. I then had enough equipment to get in the water. I assembled the camera and got everything ready for the next morning. Let's go diving!
Water temperature was 84 degrees F and visibility was approximately 100 feet.
Scuba Club Cozumel is our favorite resort. The hotel is semi-all-inclusive (room, diving, food. Drinks and tips are not included. We love the unlimited shore diving; being able to take a tank and go is a real plus. The staff is friendly and attentive. The food is wonderful. The accommodations are spacious, clean and full of ambience. They offer a "light" plan for people who would prefer to eat dinner in town. Free, wireless connection to the internet is available to those who need to check their email or the web. There are no telephones or televisions in the room (you can watch TV at home!). Eat, sleep, dive – it doesn't get any better than this.


Day One - Scuba II with Jesús, Deborah, Mel, Juanita, Chris and Walt


Dalila Reef

Very little current, sunny, warm, good visibility, great friends, lots of fish; it just doesn't get any better than this. On the other hand, I hated the rental fins – grumble, grumble. Jesús pointed out three turtles, we were buzzed by a pair of large permits, two nurse sharks were patient with the photographers, and our bottom time passed all too quickly.
"Salad." It's hard to show what the reef really looks like.
Hawksbill turtle (Eretmoschelys imbriocata) and friends.
Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)
Jesús on surface

Paradise Reef

We dropped on the sand and headed towards the shallows to look for seahorses; there's one. Jesús found a second one before we moved back onto the shallow reef structure. I heard Jesús' rattle and swam over to see that he had found. Woo hoo, it was a baby frogfish! Drat, I was not set up for macro photography. The best I could do is a picture of Betsy taking a picture of the tiny fish – can you see it? It's very small!
Betsy with tiny frogfish
French angelfish, intermediate stage (Pomcanthus paru)
Spotted scorpionfish (Scopaena plumieri)
Seahorse (Hippocampus reidi)
Channel clinging crab (Mitrax spinosissimus) with eggs tucked under her tail
When we returned to SCC, I spied one of the staff carrying a bag towards our room. Hey, that's mine! The gear bag that once was lost now was found. I was a very, very happy camper. I had my fins, my BCD, my regulator, and my booties. Life just gets better and better!
[As Chris and Walt geared up for the first dive of the day, Walt seemed to be having a hard time with his wetsuit. Chris, on the other hand, had on a baggy, yellow wetsuit that looked several times too big for her. Yep, they had each put on each other's wetsuit. Hey, guys, get a room! I told Chris I would not mention this; I lied.]


Day Two. Scuba II with Jesús, Deborah, Mel, Juanita, Chris and Walt


Palancar Horseshoe

The horseshoe is the middle of the Palancar Reef system. A statue of Christ used to stand here, but fell over several years ago and was removed to Chankanaab Park. A large concrete block is all that remains. The further south you go in the marine park, the larger the reefs are. Huge buttresses of coral, covered in sponges and corals are the principal draw, with many swim throughs penetrating the wall. This is a great place to practice wide angle photography. Although there are fewer fish to be seen on the deeper dives, turtles are common. Plus, at the end of the dive, you can move up to the shallow part of the reef for a long, long safety stop. On top of the reef, we found a nurse shark asleep under a ledge.
Note: Walt is a farrier – diving the "horseshoe" was appropriate.
Barred hamlet (Hypoplectrus puella)
Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

Punta Tunich

About halfway up the island, a rocky point juts out into the current; this is called Rocky Point or Punta Tunich. Even when the current is tame on the reefs further south, it speeds up as it passes the point and PT can be an E-ticket ride. Luckily, the currents were only moderate and we were able to duck out of the flow to take pictures. Tunich is also a fishy place with many schools of grunts and larger fish. One cavern towards the end of the reef is usually filled with glassy sweepers and often a large, green moray eel or grouper is hiding inside the cavern. A couple of octopus, more turtles, black groupers, filefish, and pairs of angelfish were highlights of this dive.
PS - Diving is so much better when you have your own gear!
Great barracuda (Sphyraena). I've never heard of a "less barracuda!"
What is everyone looking at? "Is that a shark?"
Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus).

Shore Dive

Betsy, Deborah, and I did a long, shore dive in front of the hotel. I found a cute, little bumblebee shrimp. Norbert Wu, a famous underwater photographer, once said, "Find a colorful background and wait for something to swim into the picture." Christmas tree worms don't swim, but this one was on a red encrusting sponge and I liked the contrast. Near the pyramid in front of Hotel Cozumel was a lone flying gurnard, walking across the bottom. We also found a sponge crab, a nice hermit crab, and two octopi before calling it a day.
Bumblebee shrimp (Gnathophyllum americanum). This shrimp is only 2 mm long! I shot this with my 50 mm Zuiko lens (100 mm film equivalent) and a SubSee 10X diopter). The image is a 50% crop. These shrimp are occasionally found on sea cumbers and quickly move out of sight. I way able to take only one image before the shrimp disappeared and as luck would have it, it was a keeper! Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.
Christmas tree worm (Spirobranchus giganteus). The red encrusting sponge makes a nice background.
Flying gurnard (Dactylopterus volitans). This strange fish "walks" on the bottom.
You can see the gurnard’s fins trailing along the side of the fish. When startled, the gurnard spreads its wings and flys away displaying a beautiful blue pattern.
Redeye sponge crab (Dromia erythropus). The crab carries around a sponge hat to hide from predators.
White speckled hermitcrab (Paguristes punticeps).
Caribbean reef octopus (Octopus briareus).

Day Three. Scuba II with Jesús, Deborah, Mel, Juanita, Chris and Walt


San Francisco Reef

The San Francisco Reef is, in my opinion, an underrated dive site. The reef is about 60 feet deep at the drop off and lies north of the southernmost reefs. As such, it is often done as a second dive. The reef has very nice structure, although not as large as Palancar. There's a wall, but it's not particularly steep, and there are lots of fish to see. While everyone else was looking into the reef, I spotted a large hawksbill turtle feeding on a sponge to photograph. Large groupers cruised down the reef but they like to tease photographers and stay just out of strobe range. Jesús pointed out a couple of juvenile spotted drum.
Rainbow parrotfish (Scarus guacamaia).
Betsy with hawksbill turtle.

Tormentos Reef

There are two parts to Tormentos, separated by a single, large sand dune. Tormentos gets deeper towards the end, so this is a good dive for nitrox. There are nice windows in the coral heads and many, colorful fish.
Margates (Haemulon album).
Queen angelfish (Holocanthus ciliaris). Why do some fish display such vivid colors? Sexual attraction? In any case, this one is a real beauty.


Betsy and I went to see El Presidente, the big barracuda that hangs out under the pier. While I burned pixels, Betsy worked her way up the iron shore looking for jawfish. The barracuda was very patient but wouldn't let me get too close to it. There's an artificial reef offshore made up of the old pier that was destroyed by hurricane Wilma; the gate from the hotel makes a nice backdrop for a school of grunts.
"El Presidente" – Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda).
School of grunts & iron gate (Haemulon sp).

Day Four – Scuba II with Jesús, et al


Palancar Gardens

WOW! What a wonderful dive. The magnificence of Palancar Gardens defies verbal description. Huge coral heads, the size of apartment houses, are covered in colorful sponges. A large school of baitfish hugged the wall while being watched by black groupers ready for lunch. There was almost no current on this dive and visibility was off the chart.
Black grouper and bait (Mycteroperca bonaci). This is my favorite picture of the trip!
Lesser electric ray (Narcine brasiliensis). Don't touch! Shocking.

Yocab Reef

A shallow reef, Yocab is home to many colorful fish. A huge grouper hung under the reef and allowed me to get up close and personal. It rained while we were doing our safety stop, but the sun came out on the way back to SCC.
Black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci).
Red hind (Epinephelus guttatus).


I put my 50mm macro lens on the camera and went out to play with the small stuff in front of the hotel.
"Yawn." Bluestriped grunt (Maemulon sciurus). Timing is everything.

Day Five – Scuba II with Jesús et al


Santa Rosa Wall

SR is always a crowd pleaser. The wall approaches vertical and there's structure on the top. At the end of the reef, you can cross the sand to another low lying reef with scattered coral heads and sponges. Large groupers were out in force on the wall and a very unconcerned turtle posed for the photographers at the end of the dive.



Yellowfin grouper (Mycteroperca venenosa).



Hawksbill (Eretmoshelys imbriocata). "Haven't I seen you here before?"



Villablanca (dive of the seven cables)

We only saw one of the seven cables on this dive. We spent a great deal of time looking for seahorses – found two, a yellow one and an orange one. As an added bonus, a large, green moray eel was hiding in a hole on the top of the reef.



Seahorse (peekaboo) (Hippocampus reidi).



Yellow seahorse.



We visited the artificial reef in front of the hotel to shoot fish faces and poke around looking for small stuff.


Roughhead blenny in worm shell (Acanthemblemaria aspera).



Day Six – Scuba II with Jesús et al. plus Dave and Mike





Colombia Deep 

Spectacular coral buttresses the size of apartment houses line the drop off. We started the dive on the southernmost pinnacle and traversed the sand gap to reach the rest of the reef. When we started to run out of bottom time, we moved up to the shallower reef to extend our time. A couple of southern stingrays were hunting in the sand along with a shadowing bar jack and a permit. A small turtle teased us on our safety stop, swimming slowly beneath us as we hung at fifteen feet.



Jesús with lionfish (Pterois volitans).



Colombia Shallows

Located inshore from Colombia Reef, the Shallows is a large, shallow area where large schools of snappers and grunts hang out between coral heads. Mike found a shark sleeping under the reef, but its head was inside the reef and I didn't go for a butt shot. A pair of turtles was feeding on the sand off the reef, as well as a pair of terminal male rainbow parrotfish (no, I wasn't able to get close enough to them for a photograph.) This was Chris and Walt's last dive of the week. I hope to see you next year!



School of Caesar grunts (Haemulon cabonarium) on Colombia. One fish just can't help but head the wrong way.



Mixed school of grunts on Colombia Shallows.



Another hawksbill. I never get tired of seeing turtles on the reef.




Betsy demonstrates technique and gets the shot. After seeing my "yawn" picture from before, she got a great image with three fish yawning at the same time. I'm green with envy.

Day Seven – Coral Diver with Ariel. Ed joined us after the departure of Chris/Walt


La Francesa

The northern end of Palancar Reef is called "the French lady" or La Francesa. Here, the reef is moderately high, but has no associated wall. On the open water side of the reef are great overhangs to search under for crabs, lobsters, groupers, etc. Ariel killed a couple of invasive lionfish and fed their carcasses to a splendid toadfish. A nice hawksbill turtle let me take its portrait. At one point I looked up and a free swimming green moray was up close and personal with Deborah. At that point the eel decided it liked my fins and smelled along the edges before swimming off, down the reef.



Green moray sniffing my fin. "Please don't bite me!"



El Paso de Cedral

The best place on the reef to see porkfish and often home to many groupers, Cedral is a short reef with a wonderful tunnel system under the reef that's fun to explore. After the end of the reef, we drifted over to Santa Rosa shallows.



Porkfish school (Anisotremus virginicus). Tastes like chicken?



Day Eight – Scuba II with Jesús, Mel, Juanita, Dave, Mike, George, Deborah and me


Bolones de Chankanaab

Bolones is offshore from Chankanaab Reef and consists of a sandy bottom interspersed with large coral heads. We were greeted by several large groupers that have learned that the dive guides will often kill lionfish and offer them to the large fish.



Deborah and grouper.



Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus) and busy body fish. "What cha doing? Taking a picture of the toadfish? How about me? Won't you take my picture, too?"



Chankanaab Reef

There are lots of large lobsters, big crabs, and many colorful fish on this reef. The current usually runs to the south due to an eddy created by the shoreline. This is a great dive site to find the endemic, splendid toadfish.



Splendid toadfish (Sanopus splendidus).




Last August, John found a yellow frogfish on a shore dive. Common elsewhere, it's rare to see any frogfish in Cozumel. We were able to locate the yellow frogfish on subsequent dives, but it was gone when we returned to the island two months later. Yesterday, on this trip, Betsy reported that she had found the elusive fish and offered to take us back to the spot where it was last seen. Upon arriving, we discovered the fish had moved. After a couple of minutes, Betsy spotted the frogfish doing its best imitation of a sponge, flat up against the side of a rock. Returning to the artificial reef in front of the hotel, Deborah found a Spanish lobster.



Longlur frogfish (Antennarius multiocellatus).



Day Nine – Scuba II with Jesús et al


Palancar Caves

There aren't any "caves" at this dive site, instead there are large passages through the coral heads with many exits and openings. The structure along the edge of the wall is fantastic, huge and colorful. We saw a turtle feeding many feet below our maximum depth, so I didn't get to take its picture. After the main reef, we moved up and across the sand to a shallow reef area and poked around until the end of the dive. A large barracuda was being cleaned by a juvenile Spanish hogfish and allowed me to get within strobe range.
Jesús, sponge and baitfish. I really like this picture! I think it's the curve of the baitfish over the sponge that gives it punch.

Las Palmas

Near the Fiesta American hotel, the current splits, with one part going south towards Chankanaab and the other part heading north. We dropped in on the north current and were blown in that direction and had to swim to stay on the drop off. There were schools of small bar jacks, feeding in the current and other fish, but it was almost impossible to stop and take pictures, the current was so strong. We swam over a large sandy area to get to the inshore side of Paradise where we looked, unsuccessfully for seahorses.


Betsy had signed up for the twilight/night boat and Deborah was resting, so I did an afternoon dive with Margaret.
Goldentail moray (Gymnothorax miliaris).
Lionfish (Pterois volitans). An invasive species that is threatening the reef ecology in the Carribean.

Day Ten – Scuba II with Jesús. My sister, Jana, and brother-in-law, Mike, joined us today!


Paso de Cedral Drop Off

Offshore from Paso de Cedral Reef, the drop off is a wild, current ride on top of the drop off into the deep blue. This is a great place to see turtles, sharks, large parrotfish, and many colorful fish. Unfortunately, I had failed to notice a smudge on the inside of my lens port and most of my pictures from today's dives aren't worth sharing. Part way through the dive, we moved over to Paso de Cedral Reef and made two dives out of one.

Paso de Cedral  

We had so much fun on the first dive, we voted to repeat the reef!
Channel clinging crab (Mitrax spinosissimus).


Deborah, Betsy, George, and I went a long way along the ironshore in search of the frogfish. It had moved from its last position, but Betsy found it again after some close inspection of the wall. On the way back, I spotted a needlefish just under the surface.
Houndfish (Tylosurus crocodilus).
Curved trumpet fish, ready to strike.

Day Eleven – Scuba II with Jesús et al


La Francesa

Today was Mike and Dave's last day, so we opted for a couple of shallower dives. This was our second visit to the "French Lady" on this vacation. On the first part of the reef is a tunnel that runs much of the length of the coral head. While there isn't much to see in the swim through, sunlight penetrating the reef gives the tunnel a religious aspect that's hard to describe and hard to photograph! We saw the big three, turtle, green moray, and nurse shark.
Green moray.
Nurse shark (Gingliomostoma cirratum) & shark sucker (Echeneis naucrates).

Paradise Reef

A good selection for Dave/Mike's last dive, Paradise offered a long, slow drift with lots of time to poke around and look for small stuff.
Patterns on a coral head.

Day twelve – Scuba II with Jesús, Jana, Mike, Deborah, Mel, Juanita, Betsy, George


Colombia Bricks

Another fabulous dive on the Colombia/Palancar reef system. A slow drift through the huge coral structures at the top of the drop off before moving up to the top of the reef to extend our bottom time. We saw only one turtle on this dive, very unusual for this dive site. I played with wide angle photography and my favorite yellow sponges.
Bluestriped grunt (Haemulon sciurus) eating a brittle star – Predation on the reef is hard to capture with a camera; either the action is too fast or too infrequent. This snapper had just grabbed a brittle star and was having a hard time getting it down!


This dive was a repeat of one we did the previous week. The huge grouper was still under the overhang about half way down the reef.
Black grouper (Myctoperca bonaci) showing off one of its color changes.


I put my macro lens on the camera and went to look for small stuff. There's a lot to see on a shore dive if you look closely.
Orangeclaw hermit crab (Calcinus tibicen).
Juvenile smooth trunkfish (Lactophrys triqueter) (50 mm Zuiko lens with SubSee 10X diopter).

Day Thirteen – Scuba II with Jesús


Bolones de Chankanaab

This was Mel and Juanita's last day of diving and they requested a return to Bolones. There were fewer groupers on this dive than there were last week, but lots of other colorful fish to keep everyone happy. There's a brown looking sponge on Bolones that turns a bright red-orange under strobe light, making for some nice wide angle shots that attempt to show what the reef looks like.
Erect ropesponge (Amphimedon compressa).

Chankanaab Reef

After a short surface interval, we dove on the normal Chankanaab Reef. A barracuda was being cleaned by some neon gobies and was not going to back away from the photographers. Too soon, we had to end our dive and ascend for a safety stop.
Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda).


After a nap, I did a shore dive in front of the hotel. Highlights of this dive were an arrow shrimp pretending to be a twig and a juvenile butterflyfish.
Arrow shrimp (Tozeuma carolinense). It is head down. You can see the white eye near the bottom of the critter.
Juvenile spotfin butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellatus).

Day Fourteen – Scuba II with Jana, Mike, Betsy, George, Deborah, Mark and Lu


Palancar Gardens

We returned to Palancar Gardens. I had hoped to find the school of baitfish that had been on the wall the previous week, but they were gone. A hogfish shadowed us as we slowly drifted down the reef. The school of jack that's been at the end of this dive for many years was still there. Several turtles delighted the divers and photographers.
Spanish hogfish (Lachnolaimus maximus).
School of horse-eye jacks (Caranx latus).
Betsy and turtle.




Jesús in the window. That sounds like a religious statement – "I have Jesus in my window."




Deborah and I spent a couple of hours in front of the hotel looking for small stuff.



File clam (Lima scabra). This file clam was at the same depth as the previous image where the tentacles are red. The theory is proven false.



Web burrfish (Chilomycterus antillarium).




Day Fifteen – Scuba II with Jesús et al


Santa Roda Wall

Santa Rosa is Jayne's "happy place." This dive was dedicated to her for her birthday next week. We were sorry she couldn't join us this August. After a huge group of divers passed us on the wall, we enjoyed a leisurely drift in and out of the coral formations before moving across the sand to the shallow, upper reef to extend our bottom time.
Jesús demonstrates perfect buoyancy inside the cave. "¿Donde están los otros?"


While Jesús paused to look for the yellow seahorse that we saw here the first week, I drifted further up the reef looking for the hole where the green moray eel was. Found it. A little turtle decided it needed to go to the surface and get some air just as we got to where it was feeding on sponges.
Diving hawksbill.
I took the afternoon off to work on this trip report and off-gas a little.


Day Sixteen – Scuba II with Jesús, Deborah, Betsy, George, Jana, Mike, Roger and Judy


Palancar Caves

We had a mild current and drifted along the wall for a while before moving up onto the shallower reef system. Only one turtle was seen and a single free swimming nurse shark was spotted in the distance. Still, a nice first dive for Roger and Judy.
Pair of balloonfish (Diodon holocanthus).


At this point, there aren’t many reefs that we haven't visited, some more than once. The big grouper wasn't in his usual place when we got to the cut out. Instead, a large grouper was lying on the sand and let us get close. After taking a few pictures, I move over to the reef to shoot some fish schooling images. It was then that the big grouper showed up and poised with his mouth open to be cleaned by a Spanish hogfish. We were treated to a turtle encounter – can't have too many of them – at the end of the dive.
Juvenile queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris).
"What kind of camera are you using?" 

Day Seventeen - Jesús was sent to the mainland to take a class in Scubapro equipment repair. Scuba II with Ariel et al


San Franciso

This was a good choice for Mike's introduction to Cozumel. The drop off isn't that deep, there's some vertical structure at the top of the wall, and shallower reef at the end to extend the bottom time. We saw a nurse shark, out for a morning swim, at the beginning of the dive. Unfortunately, the one turtle on this dive was out of sight before Mike got to see it.

Paradise Reef

Ariel chose to start the dive on the flats to look for seahorses. He didn't have to look for long, he pointed out four of them! My brother-in-law discovered a juvenile seahorse, black in color. There were some very tame permits riding the current on top of the reef, but I was sticking close to my son and didn't swim up to take any pictures; call me "Dad."

Day Eighteen – Scuba II with Ariel et al



The current was strong enough on this dive that I could not swim directly into it! We flew along, occasionally dropping behind the coral or an overhang to stop and wait for everyone. There was a green moray under a ledge and a couple of green turtles to take images of.
Lobster hotel.
Green turtle (Chelonia mydas). Green turtles are not common in Cozumel waters and are endangered by overfishing.

Ariel's Chankanaab

Ariel asked if it would be OK to dive a portion of Chankanaab that isn't normally dived. The first part of the dive consisted of a series of big coral heads that were closely spaced. This is a place to find Atlantic spadefish, but none were seen. Instead, a school of ceros tantalized this photographer by staying out of range. A large school of horseeye jacks was also too shy to get close to.
WA sponges and family.


While Deborah and Mike explored around the pier, I concentrated on some macro photography. There's a lot to see on a shore dive and a great place to play with your camera.
Odd couple. This image is strangely appealing. I think Norman Rockwell would approve.
A spotted moray being groomed by a banded coral shrimp. "A little off the top, please."

Day Nineteen – Scuba II with Jesús et al


Colombia Deep

What more can I say about Colombia Deep? Fantastic!
Colorful sponges on Colombia reef.

Colombia Shallows

Another slow drift over the shallow coral heads. Mike and I were given the close up by a small turtle.
School of grunts.


Night dive in front of the hotel with Mike. There was only one octopus out hunting, lots of sleeping parrotfish, and the odd eel or two.
Sleeping stoplight parrotfish (Sparisoma viride). What Larry, the cable guy, would look like if he were a fish.

Day Twenty – Scuba II with Jesús et al


Paso de Cedral

I remembered where the green moray eel was hiding a couple of weeks ago and was able to locate it for a couple of pictures before the rest of the photographers showed up. I took lots of pork fish pictures to short through later. Mike and Deborah went through the tunnel under the reef and played with a big lobster at the exit.
Porkfish. A school of porkfish has been in residence on Paso de Cedral for as long as I can remember.
Caribbean spiny lobster (Panuliris argus).

Paradise "Grass"

"Grass" is inshore of the reef at Paradise and consists of a sandy bottom with low vegetation. This is a great place to find seahorses – we saw six of the reclusive critters.
Slender filefish (Monacanthus tuckeri).
Seahorse. "Hey there, big boy, come here often?"
Too soon our vacation came to an end and we had to leave the gates of Scuba Club to head for the airport. Adios, Cozumel, regresaremos.

These are my favorite images from the trip. Which one do you think is the best? Are there any others that you like better?



Image 1 - Grouper and sliver sides.



Image 2 - Pair of squat anemone shrimp.


Image 3 - Turtle on Colombia?



Camera: Olympus E-330 in an Ikelite housing with dual Ikelite DS-125 strobes. Most images were shot with a Zuiko 14-54mm lens or a 50mm lens for macro. All images are copyrighted and may not be used without permission.


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Photo Essay: Port Hardy, British Columbia

Rand McMeins
Rand McMeins shares his underwater photos & tips from a recent trip to Port Hardy in British Columbia, Canada.

Port Hardy, British Columbia Underwater Photo Essay

By Rand McMeins



Port Hardy is located at the north end of Vancouver Island, and is an underwater photography paradise.  The waters off northern Vancouver Island feature amazing invertebrate life, wolf eels, and octopus. The dives also include walls covered with colorful anemones, a variety of sponges and starfish, and loads of fish including black rockfish, seals, and sea lions. Also, it is not uncommon to see killer whales on the surface.


Lions mane sea jelly & diver. Tokina 10-17mm FE lens, F4 @ 1/200th, ISO 200.


Dive sites visited

We did two dives at Race Rocks. This was on a day-boat out of Victoria, B.C. with Ogden Point Diver Centre. After diving there, we headed up to Port Hardy and did the balance of the diving there. The most well known site is Browning Wall. Without a doubt, the most beautiful wall I've ever dove anywhere. Wall-to-wall color, critters, and growth.


Underwater temps and visibility

The dives at Race Rocks out of Victoria were my first at that location. The boat Captain said that the vis was just about as good as it gets the day we dove. I'd put it around 30-40'.  Perhaps to 60' or more in Port Hardy. Water temps for both locations were in the mid 50's, but his can change quickly with an upwelling which we had on a few dives in Port Hardy.


Kelp greenling, anemones and orange peel nudibranch. Tokina 10-17mm FE lens, F6.3 @  1/125th, ISO 200.


Wolf eel. Nikon 105mm macro lens, F9 @ 1/200th, ISO 200.


Underwater photography opportunities

Race Rocks was a wide-angle dive for me. The Stellar sea lions are the main attraction and they have some big ones. Some were well over 2,000 lbs. I was first in on the first dive and was surrounded by about 100 of them for the first few minutes. They like to come from behind and bump your head. A high pucker-factor for sure.  The topography underwater is sparse. It featured some big boulders, but not much to see for growth so, other than some Seastars and Puget Sound king crab, not much. Both dives were with the sea lions, so no real opportunity to go explore.
    Port Hardy is great for both macro and wide-angle. A bounty of macro subjects. Shrimp, Nudis, Dorids, Skeleton shrimp, Gunnels, free swimming snails, and sea fleas. And of course the high dollar targets, Warbonetts, both decorated and Mosshead.
    And of course wide-angle. The walls are so beautiful. Every color imaginable, and so dense that there's no open space to place a finger to steady yourself. Subjects include wolf eels, Great Pacific Octopus, Lions' mane jellyfish, anemones as big as a dinner plate, sponges, and soft corals. There are huge Orange peel nudibranchs, some close to 2 feet long. Read about how to photograph nudibranchs. But be careful if you see a giant pacific octopus, the octopus may steal your camera rig.

    There are also kelp beds that serve as cover for Black Rockfish. The kelp is very photogenic on a sunny day.
    The fish life is a bit less as compared to the Caribbean for instance. But what's there makes for great photo ops. Small sculpins have the ability to change color to match their surroundings. Making for an endless variety of coloration on this single subject.
    A favorite of photographers is the Red Irish Lord. A very co-operative subject apparently having high confidence in its ability to blend in. Their eyes are a special treat when lit properly, since they are flecked with gold-colored bits.
    The very odd-shaped Grunt sculpin with a head that resembles a barnacle and a tail that looks like the feeding arm, as well as Ling Cod and Cabezon are favorites.


Orange peel nudibranch. Tokina 10-17mm FE lens, F4 @ 1/125th, ISO 200.


Gunnel. Nikon 105mm macro lens, F8 @ 1/200th, ISO 200.


Overall impressions of underwater photography at Port Hardy

The diving in Port Hardy I'd rate as world class. If you haven't dove there yet, it's got to be on anyone's bucket list that does temperate diving.  The kelp beds in California offer some beautiful scenery and would be my second choice, but even then, it's not even close to the diversity of color and critters in Port Hardy.
    Plus, the topside opportunities are ample. Whales, dolphins, sea lions, orcas, otters, deer, bears, and the grand bald eagles. We saw eagles in the trees on almost every dive.


Accomodations at Port Hardy

We dove with Dan Ferris in Port Hardy on the Mamro. We did three dives a day. It doesn't sound like that would fill a day but somehow, it usually did and the cold water takes its toll as well.

And yes, the timing of the dives is crucial, especially for underwater photographers. One of the reasons we've continued to dive with Dan Ferris on the Mamro. He's excellent at giving us that slack window. 

The currents in the area can be very strong, ranging from 1 knot all the way to 15+ knots.  Some of the best diving in the Port Hardy area can only be done at precise slack tide, and some are only for expert divers.  These strong currents are due to the large tidal swings, and a narrow channel between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. ~Editor


Nudibranch amongst the plumose anemones. Tokina 10-17mm FE lens, F3.5 @ 1/125th, ISO 200.


B&W sea flea. Nikon 105mm macro lens & SubSee +10 diopter, F13 @ 1/200th, ISO 200.


Underwater photography equipment

For this adventure, Rand used a Nikon D2x camera in a Subal D2 underwater housing, and 2 Inon Z220 strobes. All the wide-angle, except for the sea lions and topside shots (15mm for those) were with a Tokina 10-17 FE zoom behind the Zen mini dome. Macro shots were captured with the Nikon 105mm macro lens, the supermacro shots were taken utilizing the Nikon 105mm macro lens along with the Subsee +10 diopter.


Nudibranch confronts hermit crab.  F20 @ 1/200th, ISO 200.


Orca pod. 15mm Fisheye lens, F8 @ 1/200th, ISO 200


Anemones. Tokina 10-17mm FE lens, F3.5 @ 1/125th, ISO 200.


Underwater photography tips

The biggest challenge shooting wide-angle in cold water is the extra gear and weight you must wear. Turning over on your back to shoot up into the water column is no easy feat. Sometimes I feel like a cockroach trying to flip over, and I'm sure seeing my legs flailing and arms wind milling is not pretty.

The other issues are lack of ambient light at depth, and the amount of crud in the water. The light issue sometimes requires bumping up the ISO. Cameras that can do that and maintain low noise are a real asset.

My D2x is not one of them, so I kept my max ISO at 200.  The backscatter is an issue that can cause the best image of your life to hit the trash bin.

Two of the techniques that I've found pretty effective:

  • Shoot more reef than you normally would. Concentrate on lighting on a small area then allowing the light to fall off with just a touch of open water at the top of the frame can keep scatter to a minimum. Shooting with strobes into open water invites a really horrible result. By keeping your strobes tight or even just using one strobe will help as well. Try lighting the foreground subject from over the top of the dome port or off to one side, as this will help eliminate backscatter. You might also end up with a more pleasing result with using just a single strobe.
  • Get as close as possible to the subject and light only the subject.  I really enjoy using the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens with a Zen mini dome. This set-up allows me to get right on top of the subject and keep my strobes tight.



Black rockfish and Bull kelp. Tokina 10-17mm FE lens with ambient light, F5.6 @ 1/15th, ISO 200.


Sea flea on orange seapen. Nikon 105mm with Subsee +10 diopter, F16 @ 1/200th, ISO 200.


Stellar sea lion.  F2.8 @ 1/250th, ISO 200.


About the author

Rand McMeins is, at present, a PADI Dive master. Certified to dive in September of 2001, he bought his first digital camera in 2002; an Olympus C4040z 4 MP digital camera, housed in Light & Motion's Tetra housing with a single Sea & Sea YS90dx strobe. As of Spring of 2005, he's shooting with a Nikon D2X in a Subal underwater housing.

Rand lives and dives in the Northwest, which has provided him with ample opportunity to practice and improve his underwater photography skills. Although he enjoys a nice dive in warm water whenever the opportunity presents itself, the cold, green waters of the Pacific present some of the most beautiful and weird creatures one could ever hope to capture on digital media! 

Please visit Rand's website at Greenwater Images.


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