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Full Article: Time is Perfection: the Launch of the Socorro Vortex

The Price of Perfection is Time

It is often said good things come to those who wait, but sometimes the wait can be a bit longer than expected. The Pelagic Fleet team knows this feeling all too well. The Fleet’s newest addition, the Socorro Vortex was scheduled to make her maiden voyage last month to Revillagigedo, Mexico; however, due to delays in an extensive retrofitting project the luxury liveaboard is now set to depart on March 10. 

 

Socorro Vortex | 2019 from Pelagic Fleet on Vimeo.

 

In a striking video, Pelagic Fleet’s CEO, Jorge Hauser, acknowledges that perfection takes time and comes at a price. As an underwater photographer and ocean conservationist, Hauser understands the disappointment that can come with delays, but also assures everyone that the wait is well worth it.

 

The Magic of Revillagigedo

Once complete, the Socorro Vortex will be amongst the finest liveaboards in the world, with an enviable itinerary to experience some of the world’s most revered dive sites in North America’s largest marine protected area. As most avid divers know, Revillagigedo, a remote archipelago, boasts a treasure trove of marine life within its domain. Dive trips to the archipelago are nothing short of magical. Marine life encounters consist of false killer whales, bottlenose dolphins, whale sharks, hammerheads, manta rays and much more.

 

Designed for Life in the Lap of Luxury

When your entire day revolves around eating, sleeping, and diving, it doesn’t hurt to do so in the utmost style. The Vortex has been designed to accommodate far more guests than it will actually ever host, providing those lucky few with a great deal of privacy and a real sense of exclusivity. 

Renowned designer, Peter Hughes, explained how the team could have easily added four more staterooms, but opted for quality over quantity. For the past year, the dive industry legend has been overseeing the retrofitting project. Hughes’ lengthy and successful career of building and designing boats for the dive industry is brought the Pelagic Fleet to team up with him. In fact, he was recently awarded for his “Distinguished Service” to the dive industry at the NOGI’s awards ceremony, which is part of the annual scuba diving trade show - DEMA.

 

Enticing New Features

Originally a formidable Canadian Coast Guard vessel constructed almost thirty years ago, the Vortex will feature a floor-level jacuzzi on its top deck, an open-air bar, and a gourmet dining area for 14 guests. The team has outfitted the 140-foot aluminum hull ship with details most liveaboards often overlook, such as proper lighting, space, and the finest materials.

The Vortex boasts some impressive features. While mechanical details of the vessel may not interest those more focused on ocean and wildlife; most will take notice when some of those features translate into more time spent underwater.

Time Saved is Time Diving!

Equipped with two brand new MTU 12V4000 2,750-horsepower engines worth $1 million dollars and a Rolls Royce transmission, the Socorro Vortex will be one of the world’s fastest liveaboards to Revillagigedo. With a top speed of 21 knots and a cruising speed of 14 knots the Vortex will reach Socorro in ~18 hours, as opposed to the 25 hour average. Those extra hours saved equates to a few more dives that would not have been possible on a slower boat. And for anyone that has been diving in Revi, the idea of a few more dives is quite an exciting prospect!

  

It’s clear that this labor of love will be worth the wait. While the crew could have cut corners to meet its deadline, it should comfort future guests that they have not sacrificed their brand’s standards. In fact, with the Vortex, Pelagic Fleet is sure to set a brand new standard for luxury dive liveaboards!

 

Full Article: Fisheyed in Fakarava - Premiere Shark Diving

While in French Polynesia with my fiancée Lisa for a Moorea humpback trip, I knew that, no matter what else we did, we needed to do some diving in Fakarava. I had seen the photos and heard the stories of this UNESCO biosphere reserve - with massive walls of grey sharks, and its protected water teeming with fish. It was rumored to be almost untouched and undeveloped above-water, having so far avoided the massive Western-style development and resorts which have spread so rampantly throughout French Polynesia’s more popular islands. 

I ended up doing 6 days of diving on Fakarava – 12 dives over five days in the North Pass and three dives over one day in the South Pass. It was a spectacularly beautiful island above and below water, and we had some very memorable dives. 

Dive Sites

Fakarava is a large atoll, meaning it’s basically a very thin island wrapped around a large lagoon. There are two passes from the ocean into the lagoon; the North Pass (Passe Garuae) and the South Pass (Passe Tumakohua). The North Pass is massive, at 1600 m across, and is located by the main town of Rotoava and the airport. The South Pass is quite a bit smaller, at 200 m across, and is located at the opposite end of the lagoon, close to 40 miles/64 km away from the North. It is much more remote. 

In the North Pass, the dive centers run morning two-tank dives, and some run an afternoon dive as well. The morning dives followed this pattern: one dive on the outer reef, either to Ohutu (East side) or Maiuru (West side), followed by one dive drifting into the pass. The first dive was during the end of the outgoing current, when mantas could be spotted coming to the reef to be cleaned, while the second dive was either at slack tide or at the start of the incoming current. The incoming current is when the visibility in the pass is best, and also the best time to see huge amounts of gray reef sharks. 

North Pass (Passe Garuae)

When we were there, there was a full moon, and the currents were less predictable than normal (both for magnitude and timing). I did my first day with Dive Spirit, and we were in a small group of 5 plus the dive guide. The first dive we went out looking for slack tide, but the tide was still going out, so we dropped down to 90 feet on the outer reef and watched for mantas. It was nice and relaxed, and we saw three mantas, but none came up to visit us. 

The second dive we dropped down onto the slope to the East of the pass, and as we made our way towards the pass we were surrounded by grey sharks on all sides, though the visibility was not the best. We were also deep enough that I could not get below the sharks to shoot upwards, so I got some downwards shots.

 

Fisheye Shooting

I did manage to get a few upwards shots, but only of lone sharks. I got into some decent positions to get some good shark portraits, but the sharks always turned before I could get close enough for my fisheye lens to be really effective. I felt the fisheye curse very keenly.

Fisheye curse – when shooting with a fisheye lens, you see lots and lots of big subjects which come close enough to be lit nicely with strobes, but don’t come close enough to come anywhere close to “filling the frame.” You notice these “missed opportunities” very keenly, thinking “if only I was shooting a wide angle zoom…”

I love shooting a fisheye lens because it gives the sharpest images (minimizes the amount of water between subject and lens/strobes) and allows me to take spectacular shots if the opportunities arise. But dealing with the curse can create a lot of doubt, especially when diving with non-photographers who figure that, if a shark came within 5 feet of youand your big and fancy camera rig, surely you must have gotten a great shot, right?

Actually, here's what it looks like with a gray shark about 5 feet away - close enough to be lit up by strobes, but not close enough to look very impressive. This image is not cropped, though in post I would normally crop about half of the empty space out.

That’s where it’s important to counter the fisheye curse with your best shot of fisheye faith.

Fisheye faith – the faith that after missing a lot of “decent” shots because you are shooting a fisheye lens instead of a wide angle zoom, it will all pay off, because you will eventually get that opportunity for the phenomenal shots that only a fisheye lens can create.

Learn more about fisheye lenses vs wide angle lenses

As the current took hold, we drifted into the pass to the grotte de dormirs, a series of overhangs which provided shelter from the current, as well as the spectacle of many “sleeping” white tip sharks. By this point I was down to 2 minutes of no deco time, so I hurriedly took my shots of two sharks that stayed nice and still for me in their overhang. As you can see, I did not quite get the lighting right, but I did manage to start ascending before hitting deco time (safety first!). 

That afternoon I dove with my fiancée, and we were followed around by a very curious tuna that made enough passes for me to not totally blow it out with my strobes. Again, I keenly felt the fisheye curse as the tuna came to about 3-4 feet away, but definitely did not come close enough!

I reviewed my images in the evening, and realized that I had been suffering from a strong case of strobe positioning tunnel vision.

Strobe positioning tunnel vision: when you stick to a certain default strobe positioning, and figure that you just have to get your power settings and camera settings right. So you adjust your strobe power, shoot, then adjust more, then shoot, making changes and shooting faster and faster, but never getting the “right” shot.

Time pressure is the initial cause of this phenomenon, but I realized I had a deeper issue to work on. I did a lot of shooting with my strobes in exactly the same spot. A lot. I realized that I needed to purposefully start practicing shooting with my strobes in different positions, so I could develop some muscle memory and improve my skills at altering strobe positions on-the-fly.

A Second Chance

The second day I went with another dive shop, O2 Fakarava, who I would spend the rest of my time in the North Pass with. They were awesome. Our first dive we saw a lot of fish, as was normal for Fakarava. Fortunately for us, some of these fish lined up to create a “highway” of sorts, which is just the kind of thing I love to see as a fisheye shooter. 

For our second dive we drifted the pass but did not find much in the way of sharks (sometimes that’s the way things go) and then went for the grotte de dormirs again. Now my first thought was “not this one again, I want to do this Ali Baba that I’ve heard so much about.” But then I realized it was my chance for redemption, to improve upon my poorly lit white-tips from the previous day. 

We got to the caves, and I single-mindedly set to work adjusting my strobes and lining up the shot. I raised up my strobes, approached as close as I could without disturbing the sharks, and excitedly got everything dialed in. Unfortunately this shark was more skittish than the one I shot the previous day, so I could not get as close, but I definitely improved the lighting.  

This brings an important mindset that I always try to be thinking about, a Continuous Improvement Mindset.

Continuous Improvement Mindset: After every day of diving, check over your photos. For each good photo/keeper, think about what you really like about it and what you did right, and learn from that. Then think as honestly as you can about what you could do to improve the photo for next time. If you can, go a bit deeper than just the photo, into the strengths and weaknesses of your technique.

There’s always something that could be better, unless you really took the perfect photo of your subject (in that case, congrats, and submit it to your favourite underwater photography contest, pronto!). Maybe it was something that was out of your control, or maybe something within your control. Either way, you can learn from it, and make a mental note for how it can be improved on next time.

When I look at my two shark photos again, my plan for the next time I run into this kind of situation is to get the strobes up, get the lighting right, and then get closer/improve my head-on angle for the front shark. I will also look for opportunities with multiple sharks, and consider skipping ones with only one shark. Now I have made a mental note, so that next time I run into white tip sharks in a cave, I know what I already have, and will do my best to improve upon it with an even better photo, rather than just taking more of the same. 

Trouble in Paradise

The third day, our first dive, on Maiuru, was not particularly great. I noticed condensation in my dome port when we hit the water on our second dive, and hoped that it would go away once we got underwater. We descended in the blue, while a school of about 10 tuna shot by below us, then went on to the “Piste” (Ski Slope), the slope to the East of the pass, and landed right among a whole host of grey reef sharks. I checked my dome port, and it was still covered in condensation. I really wanted to take photos, but could not. Well, technically I could, but they all turned out like this:

So instead I took GoPro footage and just enjoyed the sharks, while simultaneously worrying about my camera. 

That afternoon, I found a very small amount of liquid water in my housing. I scoured the o-ring and found what looked like a small hair on one spot. Fortunately it did not damage anything other than some of my already broken housing circuitry (which is why I had not heard any leak alarms). Note: now any time I close anything with an o-ring, I put on my headlamp, so I can give it a thorough inspection that will catch even tiny hairs or debris.

Back to Ali Baba

For my fourth morning two-tank dive, Lisa joined me. Up until this point she had just done a couple of afternoon dives in Fakarava, because she is a new diver with only about 15 dives under her belt, and the North Pass drift dive can have very strong currents. O2 had told us that this day was the best this week for having a lighter current, based on the tide tables, so this is when we decided she would try the pass.

Our first dive we saw 4 or 5 mantas. At one point I was watching one manta down below me so intently that I missed one come up behind me!  

The second dive we dropped down on the Piste but didn’t see many sharks. So, we quickly headed for Ali Baba, and at that point we learned that, once more, the current was not following the timing or magnitude it was supposed to. It was ripping. Lisa was a real trooper and figured out how to kick hard when needed, and how to find rocks and pieces of dead coral to hold onto.

We got into Ali Baba and snaked our way among the rocks and corals, clinging to the bottom. All around us was a profusion of fish and sharks. The rocks everywhere we looked were just covered – phenomenal!

On the Sharks!

The next day, our last in the North Pass, our first dive had, once more, a bunch of mantas, a cool jellyfish, and lots of nice reef fish.

For our second dive, O2 split us up into really small groups; just me, one other diver and our guide. We dropped right on top of a reef that looked alive, it was crawling with so many sharks. 

We were also visited by a curious tuna.

As we ran low on bottom time and started making our way up towards Ali Baba, we were surrounded by sharks cascading past us along the rocks, and I finally got to shoot upwards.

Drifting up to Ali Baba, the current was unexpectedly much lower than the previous day. This allowed more freedom to go above the carpet of fish covering the rocks, and really show the full extent.

South Pass (Passe Tumakohua)

We relocated to Tetamanu Village to visit the South Pass. This involved a 30 minute drive from the airport, followed by a 1.5 hour boat ride across the lagoon. Tetamanu Village is a lovely setup of very simple bungalows in a spectacular natural setting. 

It is right along the South Pass. Seriously, it doesn’t get more convenient than this. We got geared up on the dock, hopped in the boat for a 3 minute boat ride up the pass, then dropped down to the reef. Then we just drifted along with the incoming current, stopping at 3 places along the way to get up close to the famous “wall of sharks.” Unfortunately, it’s not possible to get below the sharks to shoot upwards, as that will scare them off. So I just have to shoot them from the side, and be patient and quiet enough that they come close enough for me to get some upwards shots as well.

Then we drifted right back to the dock, did our safety stop under the pier, and then climbed up the ladder and dropped our gear off. It was really that easy. Oh yeah, and the pier had a huge school of fish underneath it, which, it just turns out, is the perfect opportunity for some wonderful fisheye redemption.

Fisheye redemption – when, after sticking with your fisheye faith, you are finally rewarded with the perfect fisheye photo opportunity.

After the first dive along the pass, I took about 20 shots of these fish. Then I checked over my photos and used my Continuous Improvement mindset to create this composition on the next dive, over about 20 more shots. Sometimes it takes that much to get the right framing, lighting and fish positioning! 

Night Diving

Only three people signed up for the night dive, which I had heard great things about. Marc, the excellent dive guide, was quite clear– it would be no longer than 35 minutes, and we had to stick right with him. Light up the sharks with your lights, but don’t shine them in their eyes if you could avoid it.

With that, we jumped in, and dropped down in the closing twilight. Soon we saw grey shapes moving about in the water around us. Gray reef sharks and white tips, everywhere. The night is when they hunt, and instead of being shy and docile as they were in the day, they were bold and confident. They pushed right past us, and even bumped into us as they swam around searching for fish hiding in the reef. The white tips, normally resting on the bottom during the day, turned into voracious snakes, worming their way into cracks and crevices to try to dig their prey out. 

It was phenomenal. I even had to get out of the way a couple of times. Finally, the fisheye paid off as I had sharks very close to my dome port - more fisheye redemption! Despite some issues getting focus locked in when using the red setting of my focus light (so not to scare them off or annoy them too much), I got a number of nice shark shots!

I will certainly never forget the experience of sharks everywhere, pushing past us like the intruders that we are, going about their business without paying us any heed. It was one of the best dives I have ever done, and I can’t wait to do another night reef shark dive like this one. 

What was Fakarava Like Topside?

In a word – beautiful. Though it was also sometimes difficult to find dinner, as there were few restaurants around Rotoava, and some had strange hours/days they were open. We ate most of our meals in beautiful settings right on the water, locations that you would pay a lot of money to eat at on the bigger islands…but on Fakarava you only pay $10-20 USD for a great dish of grilled fish, rice and salad. 

North vs. South

The North Pass gives you tons of fish, and lots of variety. We saw a bunch of mantas, Napoleon wrasse, tuna, a turtle, a jellyfish, and lots of other interesting fish, along with large amounts of grey sharks. The South Pass gave us guaranteed sharks, in larger numbers, with better visibility…but that was about it. Oh and the night dive. The night dive!

Many of the dive operators offer day trips down to the South Pass from the North. This sounds appealing, as it means you don’t have to change accommodations and move all your stuff. And I am sure it is, if it works out. We had a lot of trouble arranging a trip to the South Pass beforehand, as the trips are decided on fairly last minute, and will get canceled for bad weather. Though with that said, O2 offers scheduled trips to the pass, but we just decided that we would rather stay at the South to guarantee we did the dives, rather than risk having the trip canceled at the last minute. And the big advantage of that is…once again…you get to do the night dive, which is something that isn’t offered on day trips from the North.

So it’s best to think of the North Pass and South Pass as separate destinations. 

South Pass Logistics

Tetamanu Village provides transfers down to the village from the North of the island which depart in the afternoon, to line up with the daily plane arrival. On the day of departure, they will transfer you back to the airport in time for your flight. So if you stay 2 nights you get one day of diving in, and maybe can fit in an extra dive on your departure day (unless you are flying out). If you stay 3 nights you can get two full days of diving in, with two night dives!

Recommended Adventure Timetable:

Spend 4-5 nights in Rotoava, to get in 4-5 days of 2-tank diving on the North Pass. Then transfer down to Tetamanu Village for 3 nights. That would allow for 4 day dives and 2 nights dives at the South Pass, which would be more than enough to get some great shark encounters, explore around the pier a bit, snorkel if you wanted to, and also tune up your night shark photography skills. Even more importantly, it would give you enough time to relax in the beautiful surroundings and enjoy being so far from civilization.

I would certainly return to dive more with O2 Fakarava – there is a reason they are ranked #1 on TripAdvisor. Great rental gear, small groups, excellent dive guides, and owners who still drive the boat, get in the water with you, and make you feel welcome. 

If you wanted to just add a few days to another trip, like the Moorea Humpback trip, then I would recommend doing at least 3 nights in the North Pass and two in the South Pass, to get in 6 dives in the North and 3 in the South.

Bonus Video

Sometimes photos can't fully do justice to a really cool experience - such it is for diving Fakarava. So I have included the video Lisa and I created of the highlights of our Fakarava trip. It is taken from GoPro footage and is not professional by any means, but gives a good sense of the volume of sharks and fish you can find in the waters around Fakarava. Feel free to check it out!

 

Interested in Going to Fakarava?

One trip I’m keeping my eye on is the Fakarava Grouper Spawning trip. Basically it’s a huge aggregation of marble groupers for spawning, which draws an amount of sharks that dwarfs what I experienced on this trip. If you want to experience the very best of what Fakarava has to offer, then you really need to do this trip! 

2020 Fakarava Grouper Spawning Photo Workshop

July 2 - 12 - Starting at $6,250 per person

 

Of course the liveaboard option is more expensive than the budget land-based option we went with, but with that you get better facilities (including A/C), more dives per day, and access to more dive sites. Especially if your itinerary goes to Rangiroa or any of the surrounding atolls, some of which are quite untouched and full of life. And surely it helps get the timing and location just right for the grouper spawning.  

We went land-based because we weren’t sure how much diving per day Lisa could do with her ears, and we are on a tight budget as we both quit our jobs. The cool thing about land-based are they also let you enjoy the extremely laid-back vibe and beautiful scenery of the island and its people. If you want to go land-based, talk to Bluewater Dive Travel, as they can help arrange the best trip for you. At the very least, they can hook you up with the Tetamanu Village portion of your trip - check out the Bluewater Dive Travel Info on Tetamanu Village here, or drop them a line at info@bluewaterdivetravel.com!

Thanks for reading!

-Bryan

Gear Links

Here are the latest versions of the gear I am shooting.

Additional Reading

Full Article: Bluewater Photo Black Friday Preview 2018

Bluewater Photo and Bluewater Dive Travel have released a secret preview of their upcoming Black Friday sales and discounts. If you're an underwater photographer or videographer, then this is a sale you cannot miss.

Below are some of the highlights we're seeing on their sale page:

 

Bluewater Photo:

 

Check out the full list of specials at Bluewater Photo!

 

2018's Best Deal! 

Purchase from Bluewater and receive up to $1,000 travel credit, a macro lens, or a new focus light!*

 

  • Free Domestic Shipping
  • Strobes - up to $200 off
  • Bundles - up to $1,144.93 off!
  • Video Lights & Focus Lights - up to $150 off
  • Free Eneloop Batteries
  • Wet lens specials
  • 25% off any rental booked this year
  • Clearance Items

 

Be sure to check out all the discounts when they are announced on Thanksgiving, 2018! More information can be found on the Bluewater Black Friday Sales page.

 

Bluewater Dive Travel:

  • 5% Off Any Liveaboard!
  • Socorro Spring '19 - $750 off
  • Sea of Cortez '19 - 10% off
  • Anilao December '18 - up to $800 off
  • Cocos '20 - $1400 off

Be sure to check out all the discounts when they are announced on Thanksgiving, 2018! More information can be found on the Bluewater Dive Travel Black Friday Sales page.

Full Article: Fantasea UWL-400F Wide Angle Wet Lens Review

Rockfish at Octopus Hole, Washington photographed with the Fantasea UWL-400F and Olympus TG-5 Compact Camera

 

Almost every underwater photographer reaches a point where his/her creativity hits a carrying capacity limited by the tools at hand. That is to say, sooner or later every photographer needs a new toy to play with. For many compact and mirrorless users, an upgrade is a complicated affair. A new system is a major investment that many aren’t ready for. However, many photographers are very ready to capture beautiful wide angle reefscapes beyond the limitations of a non-detachable lens. 

One solution is to experiment with new styles of photography using an existing set-up. The best way to do this is to invest in a wide-angle wet lens. Unfortunately, the price of such lenses can only be slightly below the cost of a complete upgrade. Fantasea Line is changing the wide angle wet lens market by offering very affordable options for adding wide angle photography to the compact photographer’s toolkit. At $399.00 the Fantasea UWL-400F is the perfect lens for a compact or mirrorless photographer on a budget looking to take stunning wide-angle and close-focus wide-angle (CFWA) photography. 

Features

Build: Aluminum alloy with black hard anodize, ABS

AR (anti-reflection) coating on all glass elements

Lens wings can be rotated anytime underwater

52mm thread and EyeDaptor M67-F52 lens adaptor included for 67mm threaded lens ports

Comes with Neoprene dome cover, rear lens cap, and padded carrying case

Glass Lens Design: 5 groups and 5 elements

Dimensions (Diameter x Height): 121.8 x 76 mm / 4.8 x 3.0 inch

Weight on land: 591 g / 20.8 oz – lightweight!

Magnification: 0.50x

Mount: 52mm 

Depth rating: 60m / 200ft

 

The Fantasea UWL-400F is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Underwater Photography Guide Tests

The staff at the Underwater Photography Guide had the exciting opportunity to take the UWL-400F deep into the waters of the Pacific Northwest – a locale traditionally very challenging for wide angle photography. We wanted to push this lens to its limits. We paired the lens with the Olympus TG-5 – a popular compact camera currently on the market whose user base has a vested interest in upgrading their photography with a wet wide-angle lens. The TG-5 is a macro powerhouse, but we wanted to see if we could turn it into a successful wide-angle camera as well. We were amazed with just how far we could push it! 

Optical Performance

The Fantasea UWL-400F can be easily installed or removed underwater, giving the user versatility in their photography throughout the dive. It features a 120 degree field of view (FOV) when used with a 25mm lens. 

Field of View without UWL-400F Lens

Field of View With UWL-400F Lens (120 degrees)

The above comparison shows just how much of a difference the UWL-400F makes when shooting wide angle photos. The increased field of view truly adds a significant tool to a compact photographer’s toolbox. Better color, detail, and composition is at your fingertips! 

What makes the release of the UWL-400F so exciting is a minimum focusing distance of 0. This means the lens can literally focus as close as necessary to any subject! High quality close-focus wide-angle photography is well within reach for this lens. Close focusing distances means that this lens will bring out better color and detail in your images by shortening the distance of your light sources and lens to your subject.

The UWL-400F doesn’t just focus close, it’s exceptionally sharp with minimal distortion. What we were most impressed with during our tests was the lack of distortion and sharpness in the corners of our images. Many wide angle wet lenses, and even dedicated wide angle lenses, struggle to maintain sharpness in the corner of images. We found that sharpness was maintained with the UWL-400F rivaling even some dedicated wide-angle mirrorless lenses. 

The image below is a 100% crop of the image above showing the impressive detail captured with this lens in a close-focus wide-angle image. 

Corner Test

We pushed the limits of this lens in our test to see just how much sharpness could be maintained in the corners of our images. 

Below is a photo where the center subject (a rockfish) is on the same focal plane as the subject in the corner (a metridium anemone). 

100% crop showing the detail in the center subject:

100% crop showing the detail in the corner subject:

Although the corner is slightly softer than the center – there is minimal distortion and it maintains a more than acceptable level of sharpness.

Compatibility

The Fantasea UWL-400F has a 57mm thread and easily fits many ports and housings – screw it in and you’re good to go! If you have a 67mm thread there is no need to worry – the EyeDaptor M67-F52 lens adaptor is included which allows for mounting on a 67 mm port. This lens is ideal for many compact and mirrorless cameras. It is designed to be used with cameras featuring a 24mm lens (35mm equivalent) or higher focal range. 

 

Fantasea has also recently announced the UWL-400Q lens which has a slightly modified mount that is compatible with the QRS Bayonet Mounting System

Tips and Tricks

Luckily for the user, the UWL-400F is fairly intuitive to use. There isn’t much you have to do past screwing it in. At wide apertures, photos can become a little soft around the edges. I recommend using f/8 or smaller for the most depth of field and sharpest results. Vignetting should not be a problem, though it could be on some compact systems. If it is, then zoom in until the vignetting goes away. As with all wide-angle photography – make sure you shoot close to the subject and shoot up if possible!  

 

The Fantasea UWL-400F is available now at Bluewater Photo

Full Article: Fantasea Line FRX100 VI Housing for the Sony RX100 VI Introduced!

Photo by Elisabeth Lauwreys/Oceans Below

 

Fantasea Line is proud to announce the world's toughest, lightweight housing for the Sony RX100 VI.  The housing is now taking orders! 

 

About the FRX100 VI Limited Edition Housing

The FRX100 VI Limited Edition Housing features a stylish and ergonomic design, specifically created for the Sony RX100 VI digital camera. 

The housing's flat port features a 67mm thread, allowing the use of "wet" wide angle and macro conversion lenses, thus capturing both macro and wide angle images during the same dive.

The housing allows operating the camera lens within an ideal focal range of 24-66mm*.This focal range enables utilizing the most powerful capabilities of the camera for underwater photography. 

The housing is manufactured to the highest professional standards of function, style and durability. It is depth rated to 60m/200 feet and features ergonomically designed and labeled controls. The Fantasea FRX100 VI Limited Edition is the ultimate waterproof home for the Sony RX100 VI. 

The FRX100 VI Limited Edition Housing is ideal for outdoor and underwater photography. Underwater photographers can dive or snorkel and capture all the excitement of this fascinating world, while outdoor photographers also have the option of capturing the action of activities such as white water paddle sports, sailing, boating, surfing, fishing, hunting, backpacking and camping. 

The FRX100 VI Limited Edition Housing is shock resistant and protects the camera from water, sand, dust, frost and other damaging elements.

The FRX100 VI Limited Edition Housing was designed to be compatible with a complete accessory system, enabling photographers to enhance the quality of their images.

Check out the Fantasea Line FRX100 VI Limited EditiionCamera Housing at our sister company, BlueWater Photo!

Features Highlights:

Allows operating the lens zoom within 24-66mm*, the ideal range for UW photography 

Depth rated to 60m/200 feet 

Ergonomic design

Made from durable injection molded Polycarbonate

Full access to all essential camera controls and functions with clearly labeled controls 

Dedicated video control button for easy video filming in any shooting mode

Shock resistant 

Double O-ring main seal 

Special cold-shoe mount for lighting accessories 

Removable double fiber optic cable connection 

Removable flash diffuser

Removable anti-glare hood for the LCD screen 

Easy and secure installation of camera 

Moisture Detector and Alarm 

Lens Port Cover 

Hand Strap 

67mm thread on flat port allows for mounting conversion lenses 

Compatible with a wide range of underwater photo accessories

Weight (with camera on land): 900g

Weight (without camera on land): 600g 

Dimensions (without accessories): 15.5 x 14.5 x 12 cm \ 6.25 x 5.75 x 4.75 inch (WxDxH) 

Manufacturer’s warranty 

* In depths greater than 40 meters, maximum focal length is limited to 60mm

Check out the RX100 VI Camera at our sister company, BlueWater Photo!

Full Article: Exploring the Salish Sea

About a year and a half ago I upgraded from a Light and Motion Bluefin housing and Sony video camera to the Panasonic GH5 and Nauticam housing. In that time I’ve put the GH5 through its paces on approximately 250 dives in Puget Sound and elsewhere around the globe. As a video shooter I really appreciate being able to shoot at 4k60p. The greater resolution allows for subtle zooming effects without loss of image quality as I output video at 1080p. 4k also helps with image stabilization which I find critical. Youtube is filled with jumpy videos and I’d never want to be in that category! The higher frame rate can also be reduced in half to provide dramatic slow motion effects.

In my video “Exploring the Salish Sea 2018” I began experimenting with snoot techniques to isolate macro subjects. Puget Sound is mostly muck diving and a mucky background isn’t the best thing to emphasize, especially when so many colorful creatures inhabit the area. While the snoot adds an extra frustrating complication to the process, the results are worth the struggle when stubby squid, grunt sculpins, nudibranchs, sea spiders and wolf eels are seen in intricate detail. 

One additional piece of equipment I added to my setup is the SmallHD 501 monitor in a Nauticam housing. I quickly found out trying to view the screen on the back of the GH5 was mostly impossible as the angle was too great in most cases to view properly. The monitor, on a ball mount with extended clamp, allows me to move it around for the perfect angle to frame subjects. In addition, I’ve enabled focus peaking, exposure peaking and a histogram to really help with focus and exposure.

The winter months provide the best visibility in Puget Sound and I collect video clips from dives during this time with a goal to get at least one good scene per dive. After each dive I import clips into Final Cut Pro on an iMac to build a library of scenes. Final Cut Pro allows you to keyword clips and I go through this process to help organize clips into logical groups. When it comes time to put clips on the timeline I search by keyword, say stubby squid, and Final Cut Pro will list all the stubby squid clips. From here I can determine the best scene and favorite them. Having the editor show me all clips I have favorited becomes the basis for the initial rough cut. Then it’s just a matter of finessing the timing, and applying the polish of color correction and other effects to produce the final cut.

Equipment Used:

Editor: Final Cut Pro X

Full Article: Wide Angle and Macro with the Nikon D850 and D500 in the Sea of Cortez

The Nikon D850 and the Nikon D500 are two fo the most capable cameras on market currently for use in underwater photography. Let's take a look at the results when both of them are used on a recent dive trip - The D850 for wide-angle, and the D500 for macro.

Equipment Used - Wide Angle

Equipment Used - Macro

The 46 megapixel full-frame sensor on the D850 and its excellent auto-focus capabilities makes it ideal for wide-angle photography. The 16-35mm lens is a fast focusing lens, sharp behind a dome port, and able to zoom in for skittish subjects like bull sharks, hammerhead sharks, or mobula and manta rays.

The D500, on the other hand, is ideal for macro and supermacro with its cropped sensor, and it retains many of the advantages of the D850. Using both the D850 and the D500 on a trip means not having to change ports & lenses, and being able to quickly swap setups if necessary.

Both the 16-35mm and 105mm lenses used are AF-S lenses, which means they have an internal auto-focus motor. That is important, because AF-S lenses focus faster than lenses whose auto-focus is driven by the camera body, and it important when trying to capture behaviour shots.

Straight out of the camera photos from the D850 look noticeably better than either the D500 or the D810, possibly due to its brighter pixels and better low-light capabilities.

Autofocus in the 3D tracking mode was used with the D850 for wide-angle, and spot focus in continous focus mode was used with the D500.

For settings, see the captions below each photo.

Trip Details and Underwater Photography

Our Explore Baja, Sea of Cortez trip in early October 2018 on the Rocio Del Mar was to take us from San Jose del Cabo in the south all the way to Puerto Peñasco in the north – a distance of around 600 nautical miles over 12 days.  The biodiversity of the Sea of Cortez is world renowned and we were all excited to get underway and begin our journey of underwater exploration.  Exactly what you will see in this diverse bit of ocean is always unpredictable, but you can always rely on some amazing encounters with creatures both large and small.  This was perhaps a less predictable trip than usual, with a hurricane forecast to move across the Baja peninsula in the middle of our cruise.  A little juggling of the usual itinerary became necessary, but we were confident in the crew’s assurances that we’d still get in plenty of dives and see an incredible array of marine life. 

Onboard ship, the days start early, with a pre-breakfast dive as soon as the sun pokes its head over the horizon, before any day boats have even left port.  We encountered very few other divers the whole time we were there – one of the benefits of exploring in such a sparsely populated region.  

Playful Sea lion in the Sea of Cortez
F7, 1/250th, ISO 500. All wide-angle photos used the Nikon D850, 16-35mm F4 VR lens

 

Our second day of diving ended with a spectacular night dive.  We watched hundreds of mobula rays feeding on the plankton attracted to bright lights positioned by the crew in nearby shallow waters.  Again and again they swooped down over our heads in formation, then up into the lights only to circle back around, fan out across the sand and swerve in unison for another fly by. 

Hundreds of Mobula Rays feeding during the night dive, taken with strobes. The water was stirred up full of plankton, so the only shots that came out good were when the mobulas were up higher.
F7, 1/125th, ISO 640

 

Often the last dive of the day was at dusk, a time of increased activity on the reef when the hunting and mating action intensifies as the last yellow rays slant through the water.  We would surface to the deep orange glow of sunset and the swirling spirals of thousands of sea birds coming home to roost, mimicking the movement of the schooling fish below.

Sea Lion hunting
F10, 1/250th, ISO 320

 

The food on board was great – plentiful and always beautifully presented, with lots of Mexican flavors and wonderful desserts every evening.  A couple of very pleasant evenings were spent dining in the open air on the top deck with a fabulous barbecue buffet accompanied by plentiful margaritas.

One day, a huge pod of dolphins surrounded the boat and the captain turned full circle and slowed to their pace so they would play longer with us.  “Hurricane protocol” necessitated a day holed up in the Bay of La Paz, but with 12 days of diving we did not feel too cheated by Mother Nature and were happy to be avoiding the brunt of the storm.

Our luck with rays continued at La Reina – we were privileged to witness the return of the giant Pacific mantas to the Sea of Cortez.  Ducking from some ripping currents, we were awestruck by their effortless grace and calm, easy movement.  Our photographs and video clips will be used to help researchers monitor and learn more about the behavior patterns of these gentle giants and hopefully lead to some protections for the species.

Manta ray just cruising.
F8, 1/250th, ISO 320

 

Conditions at El Bajo were spectacular – a little too calm for the hammerheads’ taste, but we were treated to a beautiful view of the whole dive site with barely any current and watched intently as turtles came in for their cleaning rituals.

At several sites we had a lot of fun lying in wait for the signal blennies to perform, the pike blennies to show some aggression and the jawfish to rise up briefly into the water column.  All the dive sites provided opportunities for both macro and wide angle images and every day we had a presentation and image reviews to hone our skills and better capture the amazing creatures and scenes we were witnessing.

Signal Blenny raising his fins to "signal".
F20, 1/200th, ISO 200. All macro photos used the D500, 105mm VR lens

 

No trip report from the Sea of Cortez would be complete without mention of the playful sea lions encountered at several of the dive sites we visited.  When I found myself lying on the sand waiting for a giant jawfish to emerge from its hole, getting dive bombed by frisky sea lions with a school of barracuda swirling overhead, I could not help thinking this is as good as it gets!

Frisky Sea lions goofing around.
F8, 1/250th, ISO 200

 

From the very beginning of our adventure, to the time we all left the boat, the crew went out of their way to help in any way they could and to ensure that a fantastic time was had by every guest.  All in all, it was a great trip with a really fun group from across the US and Europe, and some lasting friendships were made. 

 

More Underwater Photos:

Crown of Thorns, taken with a low sun right before sunset. Strobes were in close.
F13, 1/200th, ISO 320

 

Hydroid close-up. I had to point my strobes inward to get a black background, otherwise my strobes lit up the ground behind the hydroid.
F22, 1/250th, ISO 125

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Full Article: A Family Humpback Adventure in Moorea

“Get ready” our guide William said excitedly, in his characteristic French accent. “It’s a juvenile, playing on the surface.” We could see fins and a fluke splashing about not too far away. Adrenaline pumping, I prepped my mask, pulled on my fins, grabbed my camera. 

Ever since convincing my fiancée Lisa, my sister Jenny, her husband Alex, and my parents Mary and Derek that we should book the whole boat for one week for this Bluewater trip, I had been nervous that it would not live up to expectations. The first day of the trip had involved a long swim with no in-water encounter, and many hours fruitlessly searching for more whales among large-ish ocean swells. 

But this morning, our second day out on the boat, the wind speed was low, the water was calmer, and there was an animal the size of a truck splashing around in the water. Just for us.

Our First Encounter

“Slide into the water quietly – don’t make any splashes. Keep your fins under the surface. And remember to stay together and follow me. OK we go.” 

We slid into the water and followed William, and after a short-ish swim, he slowed down and we came up next to him. And all of a sudden, like magic, there it was, the prehistoric-looking nose materializing out of the brilliant blue water and coming straight for us! 

William had told us to stay still if we had a whale come up to us, so we did our best to just float there without any movement. I watched it come closer and closer, lining up the shot on my LCD screen. This is when I experienced my first case of true whale awe.

Whale awe: a palpable, visceral sense of awe which permeates your entire being with a childlike sense of wonder, and amazement that you are IN THE WATER WITH A WHALE! As the whale approaches you, you feel an insistent need rising in you to yell out loud, to scream in exaltation, and wonder at the sheer beauty and grace of one of Mother Nature’s finest creations.

It was soooo close that I could barely hold in my whale awe; I was only a few seconds away from screaming into my snorkel like a maniac. It kept on coming. My heart was pounding in my chest like the rollicking bass-line of the Iron Maiden classic, the Trooper. Closer still. My breath was quick and ragged, and my throat dry. Closer still…and at what seemed to be the last second, the whale turned and passed us, giving us a really good lookover. 

 

Then it circled around underneath us for another look before heading off. It was insane, in the best way possible. Off the hook. Ill. Groovy. Ridonkulous. Bonkers. Cray-cray. Whatever the cool kids say these days. Actually, I looked it up, and I think it’s this (courtesy of Online Slang Dictionary):

Crunk (adjective)

Extremely fun; exciting; wild.

So yes, it was crunk

On the surface, we had our first collective exaltation.

Collective exaltation: In a group 3 or more people, everyone pops their head above the water, pulls out their snorkel and does some form of screaming, whooping or yelling to indicate their amazement.

We returned to the boat full of excitement, and were back in the water 15 minutes later. This time we got to watch it playing on the surface, though it did not come as close.

Endless Breaching

After lunch we continued our search, and although there were no more good opportunities to get in the water, we were treated to an amazing show of breaching humpbacks. One after another after another. This was fortunate because it turns out to be quite difficult to get a good photo of a breach!

Maman et bebe

Early on the next day, we heard the magical words for the first time. “Maman et bebe” shouted William. Mom and baby - we would get very used to this phrase, very quickly. “Get ready!”

Get ready: hurriedly stuff away your hat, sun buff/face gaitor (very important) and topside camera, spit in your mask, get on your gear ASAP…and then wait at least 15 minutes before going in.

We waited to see if they were in their resting period. We would know that if we saw the baby surface in the same spot multiple times in a row.

Resting period: when humpbacks sit maybe 20-30 ft below the surface, resting, and come up to the surface for a breath every 20 minutes or so (6-7 mins for calves). When resting, they don’t move, or move very slowly, so even a poor swimmer like myself can keep up with them.

After a few minutes of staring intently at the same patch of ocean, the baby came up right where we wanted it to. Resting period!

We slid into the water, and after a moderate swim, we found ourselves looking down onto the mom and calf. It was only our group, with no other boats around.

Then, some movement – the baby was coming up for a breath! It was like watching an alien spacecraft, a small shuttle taking off from the mothership and rising towards us. It was magical the way it slowly pumped its tail fluke. It came right up, on the far end of the group from me, took a breath and swam up to them. Even though I was a bit disappointed that I was on the wrong end of the group, it was so cool…and it was right in front of my dad!

I fought the temptation to kick hard to get clear of the group – I knew that I needed to stay motionless and we had to stay together, so as not to cut the encounter prematurely short. So I waited, enjoying the experience with the best sensor ever created.

Best sensor ever created: human eyes and brain. Seriously, the dynamic range, resolution and low light performance is out of this world!

After visiting the front of the group, the baby circled all the way around us, so I got a nice look, and then it went right under us.

After dropping down, the mom and baby moved along, though not particularly fast. Unfortunately, very slow for a whale is the equivalent of very fast for a human. 

We got back on the boat so full of excitement that we could barely contain it. “We’ll find them again” promised William. 45 minutes later, I was back in the water with the baby right in front of me. It was surreal. Sublime. I could barely contain my whale awe.  

 

A Chaotic Encounter

Our next encounter for the day was with two adults. We got in the water and quickly found them resting below, just at the edge of sight. So we waited. And waited. Then, next thing you know, we looked up and there were people everywhere.

Fortunately, William was amazing, and got us to a point away from the mass of people. The whales came to the surface, seemingly unperturbed by the excitement. We stayed together as a tight group, while the people behind us, now behind the whales as well, created a general underwater ruckus.

General underwater ruckus: a large group of people, with some kicking on the surface, some freediving, some chasing the whales, and guides yelling at people to stay with their group, etc.  

A Marathon Swim

Just as we thought the day couldn’t get any better, we heard the call: “Maman et bebe! Get ready!

There were three other boats in the area; this meant we would have lots of swimming, through – you guessed it – more general underwater ruckus. As it was the end of the day and our group was tired, only Alex and I went with William. We got into the water and went for a long swim. Next thing you know, we were sitting on the surface just ahead of the mom and baby, who were down about 30’ below. They were swimming along at such a leisurely pace that you could barely tell they were moving. But kicking to keep up with them took all the strength and energy I had.

It was worth it as the baby launched up towards the surface to take a breath. William had us in the perfect position, and it came right up to us. Everyone else was far enough away that it was like a private encounter. The baby’s movements were energetic and playful as it lunged up to the surface for breath, and quickly flicked its fluke up and down to circle us. 

Not only was it beautiful, but it was just the reprieve my lungs needed. As soon as the baby went back down again, I let out a big groan. It was time to stop floating and start kicking in earnest. We plowed on for another 6 minutes or so, and then the baby came back up for another breath. At this point we had been going for about 25 minutes, and I was exhausted.

All too soon, it was over, and we were back to swimming. My lungs were on fire and my legs were screaming at me. I tasted my lunch again (fortunately it had been a nice lunch). I felt every day of my 33 years, especially those days during the past 2 months driving around Alaska which involved minimal levels of cardio exercise, many hours of sitting, and above-average levels of sugary or salty snacks. 6 minutes later, my breath even more ragged, the baby came up again. This time, the mother came with it. If they thought about or noticed me at all, they surely must have thought I was dying, and probably felt some sympathy for the sick-sounding swimming monkey. I was close enough to get a couple of decent photos, and then they went down again. 

Alex tried to help by taking my camera, but at this point I was more cooked than a well-boiled Nova Scotian lobster, and probably just as red-looking. That was it. What an amazing encounter.

Could it Get Better?

After day 3, we told ourselves it couldn’t possibly get any better. For day 4 we had very calm water and minimal wind, so we decided to circumnavigate the island. This is where we really had the advantage over the day boats – we could go far offshore or go far from harbour to go looking for an amazing, private encounter, while they had to play it safe.

We had a quiet start to the day, but about 2 hours in we found a mom and baby pair all for ourselves. They surfaced right in front of us, all 6 of us. Talk about a family experience!

With this pair the baby was pretty shy, and did not come to check us out. So instead of following them, we decided to get back in the boat and go looking for more.

Triple Threat

3 hours later it paid off in spades, as we found ourselves alone, with our whole group in the water, above THREE adult humpbacks. We watched and waited, and then, rising up like benthic behemoths, they surfaced no more than 10 feet from our group. Insane! Crunk!

We waited above them as they spent their next 20 minutes resting, though unfortunately one of them went off, leaving two. Then Henri pointed down, and we saw them coming up. Straight up. Right towards us.

I’m not scared of whales or being in the water with them – we just need to follow our side of what I like to think of as the unspoken pact.

Unspoken pact: give the whales their space and treat them respectfully – stay together in a group (no freediving), don’t make sudden movements, don’t rush towards them or chase them. Let them decide how close they want to come to you. You can position yourself where you think they will come up, but then leave it up to the whales. Then they will hold up their side of the pact – not smacking us puny humans out of the way with their massive tails or flippers, either from annoyance or from being scared or spooked.

But even thinking this as much as I could, I was still nervous. They were coming so close!

Look Mom – No Hands

By this point I had been so busy taking photos of whales when they were close that I hadn’t had a really great uninterrupted eye-to-eye moment. So although I lined up one photo, it was a bit absentmindedly. I spent most of the encounter getting in some excellent non-camera enjoyment, including looking the closest school-bus-sized adult in the eye!

Non-camera enjoyment: spending most or all of your time and attention using your best sensor ever to just watch the whales, feel the emotions they bring up in you, and log every detail of the experience in your memory. 

They surfaced 6 feet in front of me, and it was beyond words. So much better without worrying about taking photos. I felt a level of whale awe I did not realize was possible. This time I could not stop myself from yelling into my snorkel. I was probably trying to say WOOOWWWWWW but it sounded more like uuuurrrggrgrgghhghghg. As soon as the whales were past, every one of us raised our heads out of the water, spat out our snorkels and engaged in a frenzied collective exaltation. I even included some expletives, which I never use around my parents!  This ridiculous encounter had just bested all other amazing ones of the trip.

As we got back to the dock, none of us could stop talking about how great of a day we had had. It went beyond our wildest imaginations. Surely it couldn’t get any better, right?

Could it Get Better? Part 2

We told William that for our final day, we’d prefer to skip out on encounters with moms and babies with other boats around. There were only two things we wanted – to get in the water with a singing male, and to find pilot whales. First though, we encountered a big pod of spinner dolphins while leaving the harbor. William advised us that they are quite shy, so there was no point trying to get into the water with them, so we enjoyed from the surface.

We then headed off the West end of the island, putting in the hydrophone. We heard two males singing, which was really cool. Of course, the problem with a singing male is that he sings facing down in the water, and you can’t see him. We didn’t have any luck, so we decided it was time to look for pilot whales! We spent about 2 hours heading offshore and looking around, but didn’t see any signs.

We headed in for lunch and came across another mother and baby. “Get ready!” In we went, and we were shortly joined by one other group. However, they followed the rules and the unspoken pact, stuck close to their guide and left us lots of distance. And we were treated to an amazing spectacle – mom and baby at the surface, baby nursing. They were so calm, and quite near to us and the other group. Not close enough for a really great shot with my fisheye lens though (and no way I was going to try to sneak closer, in the process risking messing up the encounter for my family and the other group).  

After getting back on the boat, we told William we wanted to spend more time looking for pilot whales. So we headed out for another hour. As we were motoring out across the blue water of the open ocean, I saw something jump, far off in the distance.

I pointed the direction and we turned that way. A couple of minutes later, we saw something dark stick out of the water and then go back down. Some kind of whale tail. That was promising!

And suddenly, we saw some dark backs with hooked fins sticking out of the water. Pilot whales!!! This was so exciting that I could barely contain myself, as I suffered a strong case of pelagic exhilaration.

Pelagic exhilaration: you are so excited that you actually found <insert cool pelagic> and can get into the water with it/them that you don’t even know what to do. You start putting your topside camera into your dry bag, but then stash it somewhere to be able to take photos. Then you grab your mask to get it ready. But you decide that you want to take a photo so you grab your topside camera. And you’re so excited that you can’t get a stable shot because you’re just thinking about getting in the water. But you really want that topside shot. And your fiancée gets annoyed with you because you are bumbling around frantically trying to do everything, and yet accomplishing nothing other than getting in the way of the others.

We slid into the water and headed for some pilot whales. The water was full of particulates, so visibility was poor. But we found whales! They were friendly, in that they just hung out in the water and watched us, but they didn’t get too close nor let us approach too close either. But it was still nice, as it allowed me to continue to develop my skill at non-camera enjoyment.

Then an oceanic white tip found us, and came in for a look. I am not scared of sharks, but as this was my first encounter with one of these, I was a bit nervous. It was very curious, and bold. William had already briefed us though on what to do - stick together very closely, and keep an eye on it, and we would be OK. 

We got on and off the boat a couple of times, and then sighted a humpback! How cool would that be to see humpbacks and pilot whales in the water together?

I grabbed my camera and flicked the on/off switch on my housing to check the battery. That is when I suffered a powerful setback.

Powerful setback: When the power switch for your camera housing falls off.

Crap. After making sure my housing was still watertight and stashing the loose pieces, I scrambled into the water. We came across the humpback quickly, but there were no pilot whales close, and the visibility was still poor. 

After this, we got into the water one more time. This time we came across something unexpected – a few rough-toothed dolphins. They were too far off for a great picture.

Finally, exhausted, spent and having consumed many mouthfuls of saltwater in the excitement, we were finished. Somehow, Day 5 had managed to top day 4! So we headed back in to shore. En route to the harbour we came across a mom and baby with 3 boats of people in the water. We watched from the boat, knowing that whatever happened, it would not match what we’d already seen this week.

It was seriously the trip of a lifetime - unbelievable on so many levels. And very accessible, as my parents who are in their 60s got lots of great encounters (with some towing and help from the amazing guides). The guides/boat captains William and Henri were fantastic, and we could not have asked for more. Indeed, we could have gotten a lot less out of this trip and it would still have been the best family trip ever.

Although this is listed as a photo trip, I think it’s much more useful to think of it as an experience trip. Experience something amazing like you’ve never seen before. And if you want, get some video and some photos to remember the trip by. But make sure that the experience is your top priority.

As I learned on this amazing trip, the only thing better than having a great experience is sharing that experience with one or more people who matter to you. If you can get a friend to go with you, or even better, a group of family and friends (6 to take the whole boat for yourselves) then you will build shared memories and experiences to truly last a lifetime. There's no real way to describe how fantastic it was being in the water with my whole family, and having two huge adult humpbacks surface right in front of us. I have no doubt we will be talking about this trip fondly in 10, 20 years, and beyond. 

So what are you waiting for? Sign up for one of Bluewater’s humpback trips!


Moorea Humpback Snorkel Trips

August/September 2019 - $2,995 per person

 

Silver Bank Humpback Trip

March 28 - April 4, 2020 - Starting from $3,795

 

Equipment & Settings Used

I shot an Olympus OM-D E-M1 with an Olympus 8mm fisheye lens and a Nauticam housing. The fisheye made sure I could be very close to the whales while still getting the whole whale in the frame. And as the visibility was decent but not amazing, the fisheye helped get the sharpest photos possible (ie least amount of water between camera and subject).

Shooting with a fisheye lens, especially on a crop-sensor camera, I was much more concerned about shutter speed than depth of field. f/5 on a micro-four-thirds camera gives a depth of field closer to what f/10 gives you on a full frame camera. If the shutter speed was a bit slow and the photo had motion blur, then it was no good. But if the aperture was a bit low, it wouldn’t have as much of an effect. So I shot in shutter priority at either 1/125 or 1/160 sec, and adjusted ISO if my aperture opened up too much.

Post-processing

I did not do anything particularly complicated. The main tip I would have for shooting subjects like this in really blue water is to modify the white balance by warming up the temperature. It’s easier to show than explain.

 

The other thing to keep in mind is that in some cases, black and white will give you a more dramatic photo than color. This is the most true when you really want to emphasize light, shape and texture, and color is a distraction from that. Black and white can also work very well with subjects which are a bit further away, and are being "lost in the blue." So after you adjust your photos with color, I would highly recommend taking a few minutes to try some of them out in black and white. You may be surprised with what you find!

Gear Links

Additional Reading

If you want to learn more about my experience on the trip, drop me an email at bryan@uwphotographyguide.com. I’d be more than happy to chat!

-Bryan

 

Full Article: Story Behind the Shot: Octopus Sunball

For me, diving and photography started roughly around the same time. After getting certified in California in early 2014, I was in such awe of the beauty underwater that I had to share it with my family. So, I purchased my first compact camera and began taking photos. I read every article I could get my hands on – especially those by the Underwater Photography Guide, and The Underwater Photographer, by Martin Edge, more times than I can count. After several years with my compact camera, I upgraded to a Nikon D7200 and dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, which is what I shoot now. 

Finding the Octopus

The octopus encounter which led to my winning shot in the SoCal Shootout 2018 was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I went out on Saturday with the Sundiver Express to the front side of Catalina. About 15-20 minutes into my first dive (at Little Gieger), I spotted him. At first, the octopus was very shy and tucked himself back into the rocks, so I ignored him and tried to shoot a nearby sea fan instead. But after about 3 shots, he started walking along the pinnacle.

At that point, he didn’t seem to care about me at all; he had food on his mind. For the next 30 minutes, I watched him hunt. Every couple of steps, he would dig his tentacles into the reef and inflate like a balloon – turning solid white as he searched for food.

Composing the Shot

To create an interesting background for the shot, I moved to the opposite side of the octopus and placed the sun at his back. Because he was moving around so much, I had to keep re-adjusting the settings for each shot to get the water color and sunburst I wanted. In general, I shot between f18-f22 and 1/200 to 1/320 on ISO 200. The strobes were at the 10-2 positions, 2-clicks below full power. To keep backscatter to a minimum, I angled the strobes straight down at the reef so that the front edge of the light would hit the octopus and not the water. The octopus’s hunt was an amazing sight to witness and I feel very grateful and blessed to have been there for it.

Check out all the winners of the SoCal Shootout 2018, hosted by Bluewater Photo

Full Article: 7 Tips for Great Sea Lion Photos

For many years I admired from afar the playful images of California sea lions coming out of the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. They were imprinted in my mind; I could only imagine the personal interaction with such playful and curious creatures, and the underwater experience that came with it. So when the opportunity came to make the Sea of Cortez my work space, I didn’t have to think twice.

Territorial bull male guarding the harem at La Reina, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/8, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

California Sea Lions of the Sea of Cortez, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Upon my first arrival to the sea lion colony of Los Islotes, a grin from ear to ear spread across my face as our group was surrounded by the distinctive barks, growls, and grunts from the 500+ sea lions that inhabit this small volcanic rock island. Our grins quickly turned into hysterics as we watched them waddle, jump, and push each other off the rocks.


Juvenile sea lions practising territorial battles at Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO320.

 

During my years as an underwater photographer, nothing has filled my heart more than my interactions with California sea lions, experiencing all of their playfulness and curiosity. These guys play, nibble, roll, chew on your camera, and push up against your face; before you know it, your dive time is up, and you just can’t wait to get back in the water with them.

Spending most of my days now in the water with California sea lions has taught me some key lessons and techniques. So here are my top 7 tips to help you capture some great underwater images of these playful puppies of the ocean.

A happy juvenile sea lion of Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO320.

 

1. If They Play with You, Play Back!

With a curious and playful nature, sea lions generally won’t leave you alone in the water and are always more than happy to be in front of the camera. That being said, juvenile sea lions are like big puppy dogs of the ocean, and will lose interest quickly if you don’t interact with them. So remember to take in the moment, interact with them, spin when they spin, let them play, and fire off some snaps within those moments - you can make a friend for the whole dive. 


Photographer capturing a sea lion laying in the canyon of La Reina, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/7.1, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

2. Know What You Want to Shoot Before You Get in the Water

These guys move, and fast. This means that changing between camera settings when interacting with a sea lion is nearly impossible. I generally get into the water with an idea of the image I want to try and capture - whether it’s a portrait, a silhouette, them playing together, or them interacting with divers.


 
California sea lion coming in for a closer look at Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/6.3, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

3. Set a High Shutter Speed

Because of sea lion's fast and rapid movements underwater, a fast shutter speed is required. Shooting with the Canon 5d iii, my strobes sync at 1/250th of a second. But in ambient light shots, even higher shutter speeds can be required.

 

Juvenile sea lion at Los Islotes, La Paz, coming in for a chew on the camera.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/10, 1/250 sec, ISO 640.

 

4. Close Down on Aperture (Increase F-stop)

Closing down on your aperture with these quick moving subjects also helps keep them in your focus points. I usually start at f/9 and will close it down if required; this in turn means some sacrifice with having to shoot a higher ISO.

Juvenile sea lion inside the cave at Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/11, 1/160 sec, ISO 320.

 

5. Use Strobes When Close

Sea lions play near the surface, and generally aren’t found much deeper than 7m. Most days are bright and sunny here in La Paz, which gives us plenty of ambient light to work with. And if the sea lions are closer than around 2 m, adding some low amounts of artificial light helps bring out the detail in their fur and more of their colour. It also helps freeze their motion for the image. While conditions are normally excellent during the summer months, there is always potential for backscatter, so keeping your strobes out helps minimise this.

Portrait of a juvenile sea lion at Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO 640.

 

6. Go for Portrait Shots!

Portrait shots are one of my favourite images to capture - those big bulging eyes, tiny streamlined ears, and of course, their super sensitive whiskers. As they move around so rapidly, when I try for portrait shots I generally shoot blind and move the camera around with them. This also keeps them interested, with having a big weird flashing thing waving about in front of them. Strobe power and positioning is crucial for portrait shots, so pulling your strobes in tighter and a little higher to the camera helps make sure the light completely spreads over their face and nose.

 


Juvenile sea lion taking a well deserved nap at Los Islotes, La Paz
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/10, 1/250 sec, ISO 640.

 

7. Look for Sea Lions Napping on the Surface

There is something so cute about a sea lion napping at the surface, and this makes for great over/under shots. Sleeping at the surface means they aren’t looking for interaction and we need to respect that. Approach them very slowly and cautiously, and make sure they are comfortable with you being there. During the shot above, I was heard breaking the surface of the water. He opened his eye, checked me over for a second, and then went straight back to drifting along.


My Equipment:

For Sea Lions I shoot with the Canon 5d III with a Sigma 15mm 2.8 fisheye lens, inside an Aquatica housing with an 8” Dome Port and two Sea & Sea YS-D1s. 


Where:

Among other locales, California Sea Lions inhabit the Sea of Cortez all year round, between Los Islotes, San Rafaelito and La Reina. The volcanic rock island of Los Islotes is a more known colony with over 500+ individuals. Being a prominent breeding ground with more active juveniles makes this site ideal for photography opportunities.


Raft of sea lions taking in some sun at San Rafaelito, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

When:

California sea lions breed once a year, and during this time the male sea lions become more territorial. Although the occurrences of actual attacks on divers are next to none, to safeguard against this and to let them do their thing during breeding season, Los Islotes is closed to tourism during the months of June, July, and August.

Sea Lion heading back for the island of San Rafaelito.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/11, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

How:

My recommendation is to go with a well-established operator with experienced guides who understand and respect sea lion behaviour. You can join me at Pro Photo Baja (www.prophotobaja.com) with the Cortez Club, as we run daily specialised photography excursions to the sea lion colony of Los Islotes. 

 

Book your Sea of Cortez Trip!

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect Sea of Cortez dive trip. Visit Bluewater's Sea of Cortez Scuba Diving page or email bookings@bluewaterdivetravel.com.

Bluewater is also offering the following Sea of Cortez group trips:

 
 Sea Lion racing against a Giant Pacific Manta Ray, La Reina, La Paz
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

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