ROV Follows an Elusive Oarfish in the Gulf of Mexico

United States servicemen holding a 23-foot (7.0 m) Giant Oarfish, found washed up on the shore near San Diego, California in 1996 (c) US Navy

United States servicemen holding a 23-foot (7.0 m) Giant Oarfish, found washed up on the shore near San Diego, California in 1996 (c) US Navy

Scientists accidentally took a video of the elusive oarfish. This video is the best quality and longest video that has ever been shot of an oarfish in its natural habitat. This video also appears to show a parasitic isopod attached to the fish’s dorsal fin. The mysterious oarfish lives about a mile deep in the ocean and it can grow to be 50ft long. Oarfish look like giant eels, with their head pointing towards the surface and the rest of their body hanging down below. The oarfish is also believed to be the largest bony fish in existence. The one in this video is only eight feet long. This video was shot while researchers were investigating the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A camera was sent down to look at the oil pipes and figure out how to fix them. However, the camera stumbled upon this oarfish.

Scientists were surprised to see the oarfish since it has rarely been seen in its habitat. Another reason why oarfish are rarely seen is because they live far offshore. The video of the oarfish can be viewed below. The best pictures of the fish are about 6 minutes into the video.

Rebreather Scuba Diving – Not Just for Technical Divers

Parrot Fish in Cleaning Station by Robert Hew

Photograph (c) Robert Hew

Imagine just floating and watching a parrot fish or a grouper in a cleaning station. While you are there, you see the little fish swimming in and out of the gills while small shrimp crawl around on the fish; their claws snapping at unseen items and yet content to continue their work. At the same time, there are other fish swimming next to you apparently unaware of your presence or more like unconcerned – except of course for the Damsel fish that keeps swimming around eyeing you like an unwanted visitor to his neighborhood. This entire time, the grouper just sits there waiting for the cleaning process to be complete, never very concerned about your presence. As the grouper swims away you slide your hand into the cleaning station and the shrimp crawl onto your hand for a quick cleaning…

This is a scene experienced by rebreather divers on a regular basis. The fish are less concerned by your presence when the bubbles are eliminated. For underwater photographers, this means that you have new opportunities for exceptional photographs simply because there are more photographic opportunities available to you. Recently, I was talking with Chris Parsons from Nauticam and he was relating a story about one of his favorite local dive sites. He said he gets a lot of strange looks when he jumps in the water with his rebreather… the water depth is only about 20 fsw to 25 fsw. But he said that “I just love my rebreather – I can get much closer to the subject.”

One of the things I love to do is swim with a school of fish. Tarpon or snappers will often let me join the school and swim in circles with them. It simply amazes new rebreather divers when I am able to do this. On another dive in Grand Cayman, Dave and I watched mating squid up close and personal. It was a really fun experience (of course I didn’t have the camera then).

A rebreather offers photographers a number of advantages including:

  • ability to get closer to the subject matter,
  • Longer bottom times (i.e. more photographs),
  • Neutral buoyancy even while breathing, and
  • The Marine life behavior is not modified because of the bubbles.

And let’s not forget, you look cool in a rebreather!

So, what if you are not a photographer? Can a recreational diver benefit from a rebreather? Remember a rebreather is the great equalizer. A student of mine once commented that the reason he started rebreather diving was so he could stay in the water as long as the better divers. He was a big guy with large lungs. Instead of being the first one back on the boat, he wanted to be the last one on the boat. So, a rebreather enabled him to achieve his goal.

Rebreathers have allowed technical divers to make some incredible dives and to participate in some awesome adventures. However, they have also allowed for some not so technical divers to achieve their goals and open up new worlds. Some of the photographs taken by rebreather divers rival those made by seasoned professionals and new fish behaviors have been watched and documented.

Rebreathers are here to stay and units like the Pathfinder from Inner Space Systems are making it easier and more affordable for all divers. So what are you waiting for? Come join the revolution before you are left behind!

Too Busy Diving

Open Water Sidemount Divers
Open Water Sidmount Divers

 I am not sure where the summer has gone.  We have been busy teaching new students to dive, upgrading the skills of our previous students and traveling.  It seems there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done. 

 We want to congratulate our new divers for completing their course and entering the realm ofNeptune.  Our new divers are featured in the video below as well as some of our other divers who completed classes such as Night and Limited Visibility Diving, Deep Diving, Search and Relocation, Navigation, Advanced Buoyancy Control, Technical Deep Diving, Advanced Recreational Trimix, Open Water Side-Mount, and the Principles of Technical Diving.

 Other Places We’ve Been

 Over the past few months you might have seen our divers in Grand Cayman for Inner Space (Oceanic Ventures is a continuing sponsor), Cozumel, Isla Mujares, the British Virgin Islands, St Croix, Utila, Little Cayman, the Dry Tortugas, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador as well as our local favorites like 288 Lake, the Blue Lagoon, and Mammoth Lake.  It has been an action packed season so far and we are not finished yet!  

It is Not Too Late

It is not too late to hop into the water and become one withNeptuneonce again.  We have some fun adventures coming up and continuing education course are filling up the calendar so there is no excuse to stay dry! 

So here is our photo thank you and remembrances of our season so far.  Please tell me what you think….

Jules Verne

Underwater explorers like me owe a lot to the novelist Jules Verne, who was born 183 years ago. Google honored him with one of their “doodles,” but in that doodle is a clue to Verne’s greatness – it’s an image that reminds you of the electric submarine, the Nautilus, from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

google verne 300x117 Jules Verne

When Verne’s words were published in 1869, electric submarines didn’t exist – they were just something out of his imagination. As National Geographic wrote, Verne also predicted that news wouldn’t just come from newspapers, but would be “spoken to subscribers,” in the way that radio and television news happens today. He thought of that in a story that was published nearly thirty years before the first radio broadcast.

The Verne list of firsts goes on. In 1865, in From the Earth the Moon, he thought there could be such a thing as a solar-powered spacecraft, and of course he wrote about traveling to the moon long before the first astronaut got there. He even thought of skywriting, videoconferencing, the Taser, and landing a spaceship in the ocean for a “splashdown.”

The mention of water brings us back to the ocean, and the visionary thoughts of Verne make it possible for me to do what I do today – explore the hidden depths and the distant lands that I want to share with you. Verne didn’t have any engineering training at all, just a lot of imagination. That’s all you need to come along on an adventure with me. My polar bear expedition to the high arctic has an April 17 departure and there are just two spaces left. Will you join me?

[If you would like to Join Amos on one of his Big Animal adventures, you can send Dive Mom a note or contact Amos directly.  Be sure to tell him that you read about his trips here.]

New Truk Lagoon Dive Video Debut at Club Aquarius Meeting

Photo of Wreck in Chuuk

Inside Wreck Looking Out

Drew Trent, our scheduled speaker for our monthly Club Aquarius meeting was sick.  But, don’t worry, he has agreed to reschedule his presentation later in the year.

But as they say in show business, the show must go on.  I debuted a new video compilation of his photographs from past trips to Truk Lagoon.  The video featured photographs of the ships before the blast and then ones from the bottom.  It also had photographs of a number of the people that have joined me on previous trips. 

It was a fun video to put together and was well received by the audience.  If you missed the video, I posted it so you can see it.

Preplanning a Scuba Diving Silhouette Photograph

Photograph by Eric Keibler - PenetrationPenetration

© Eric V. Keibler

Here is a natural light photograph taken in a cargo hold in Truk Lagoon.  While the shot may look completely natural, it was set-up prior to getting in the water.  Todd Emons and I decided to go in the water together to take some photographs of one another in various locations on the ship.  

Todd works on the Odyssey so he is very familiar with the wrecks and had some ideas of what shots might look good in this wreck. This type of local knowledge helps you to capture photographs that you might otherwise miss.  Of course, you still have to do everything to take the image but setting up the shot can make things easier.  You need to discuss the general sight and then make a plan with your dive buddy.  It is easier to discuss what you want to do on the surface rather than underwater.  Working with a model can be quite challenging underwater and having a plan before you go in makes it much simplier.

To take this shot, I swam to the lower portion of the cargo hold.  While getting in position, it was important not to kick up the bottom or dislodge too much debris from the ceiling because the debris would ruin the shot.  I set the camera on manual and set the camera to properly capture the blue light throwing everything else into shadows.  After everything was set, I signaled Todd who was perched at the lip of the hold and he began to swim toward the camera being careful not to shine his light in the direction of the camera.  You can see just a small beam coming from the light but because the hold was so large, and the backlight so strong, his light had little effect in the final image.

Also notice that while Todd is the subject of the shot, he is not in the center of the image but rather is in the top third of the picture.  In general, it is more pleasing to the eye if the subject is not centered but rather offset into another quadrant.  We call this division the rule of thirds which is a compositional tool.  Look for a better discussion of this “Rule” in another post on composition.

Remember, when taking silhouette shots, it is important to make sure that you keep the meter reading set for the backlight and not let the camera adjust to the target swimming towards you. 

Camera Specifications: Canon 5D, fitted with a 17mm-40mm lens at 20mm, f4.0 at 1/25 sec, ISO 640

Striped Marlin, Scuba Diving – an Underwater Photography Expedition

 
 
 
 

Half Dozen Marlins Chasing Bait Ball

Half a Dozen Marlins Chasing a Bait Ball

In the Company of Striped Marlin – an Underwater Expedition

The first year I led my Striped Marlin Expedition to Todos Santos in Mexico, it was splendid. Last year was almost a bust because we hardly saw any Striped Marlin. The reason for that was the water temperature rose to over 81 degrees, and that meant there were not many plankton and the sardines had nothing to feed on. The marlin somehow figured that out and almost totally avoided the normal pattern.

This year with support and reports from the University in La Paz and the local fisherman, I have understood that the marlin will show up, but later than last year. What you see below are images from the first two days here. The sea is placid, the wind very calm and water temperature is between 76 – 78 – just right for the plankton bloom, the sardine are feeding and … the marlin are here. Take a look:

Giant Bait Ball

Giant Bait Ball

Light Marlins Bait Ball

Light Marlins Bait Ball

Malin Feeding

Malin Feeding

My TeamMy Team of Guests

Chris and Jerry were with me last year – they understood very well what was happening with the water temperature and feeding patterns. We did all that was humanly possible to show them a good time and we succeeded to a limited level. Both were so impressed by the effort they have joined me again and they are here with us and they are so happy that they counted on my research. I am so proud to be able to deliver to such loyal guests, pictured above.

Every day we leave at 6:30 am along the western cost of Baja (on the Pacific side) and stay out till 5pm – watching the Frigate birds feeding action and formation. It’s the birds who actually give us information about the marlin. When a formation of two dozen or more Frigates is tight and close over the water I know the birds are feeding on sardines below – and the marlin are in pursuit.

All day we jump in and out of the water. The encounters last from just one minute up to sometimes 20 minutes. It’s a dance among the birds and fish. The “bait ball” of sardines, the Striped Marlin below, and the birds above all work in opposite directions from each other. The sardines run for their life but they are not much of a match for the quantity and skills of the birds up above and the marlin under the water. Both the flying and swimming predators are relentless and work the bait ball till it is consumed. It’s dramatic and exciting, especially when visibility ranges from 80 to 150 feet plus … next year we will come back in December. There will be room for only four people to join in the adventure, to be in the company of the ocean giants like the Striped Marlin.

Eric Keibler is putting together one of these trips with me.  Remember, there are only 4 spaces so you need to call him quickly!

Creating Exciting Photographic Scenics

Rainbow Reef

Rainbow in Fiji

One of the central tenants of Buddhism is to be here in the moment and to experience the moment fully.  When you get behind the camera, it is important no to get too wrapped up in the technical side of photography but rather experience the beauty that is all around you at that moment.

Try and capture what you are seeing and experiencing.  Digital photography makes it easy to experiment.  Look at how the sun  plays off the leaves, trees, bark, water droplets; see how it illuminates the spider web or causes the water to shimmer.

When the sun is hidden behind a flat white sky, look for textures and contrasts.

In his article about landscape photography (PhotoSecrets.com), Mark Fenwick encourages his readers to look for:

  • Light -shadows and highlights,
  • Shapes – round and angular,
  • Colour – harmony and discord,
  • Texture – rough and smooth,
  • Composition – strong and weak,
  • Tones – light and dark
  • Patterns – even and odd,
  • Mystery.

 While you are exploring, move around your subject.  Look for alternate vantage points and angles.  If you can, try it at different times of the day.  By moving around and exploring a site at different times, the landscape will reveal more to you.

You can also try using different lens apertures.  Ansell Adams is well known for shooting everything at f22 in order to capture all of the detail in his scenes.  You can also use that depth of field to your advantage by blurring an unattractive or distracting foreground while keeping the remainder of the scene in sharp focus.

You can always start with the standard shot of an area but then start experimenting.  Move around, lay on the ground, climb a tree, blur the foreground, or frame the image with a tree of bush.   You can change the perspective by switching from a wide angle lens to a telephoto lens or have a little fin and try a fish eye lens.  

Enjoy your photographic safaris or walks and learn to see what is happening at the moment you are there.  Don’t settle for a standard shot, experiment and try something different.

In the Company of Big Animals

I want to introduce you to Amos Nachoum, a self-proclaimed Ambassador of the Big Animals. He is an award winning photographer who has publised photographs in magazines around the world including National Geographic. In a presentation Amos made top the Explorer’s Club in New York City, he said “to live up to that ambassador role I’ll be in the city, presenting my best stories and information about some of the most fragile regions of the underwater world. I’ll be showing and discussing photographs from my expeditions around the world and will probably include a few “classics” from the hundreds of my images that have appeared in National Geographic, Time, Life, The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Le Figaro, and Der Spiegel. You can also see more of my images on my website, plus news about my latest expeditions. It’s all part of spreading my message that only through observation and interaction with these animals can people understand and respect some of the most impressive citizens of our planet. In a few words, “you have to go there and experience this firsthand.” Amos recorded a presentation for Google entitled “In the Company of Big Animals.” You will hear Amos and he talks about his expeditions and shos his photographs. Sit back, pour yourself a cocktail and be prepared to be wowed…

The Importance of Buoyancy Control for Scuba Divers and Photographers

To be or not to be…Buoyant that is.  With all due respect to the Bard, in reality, neither is appropriate- when we dive, adhering to the Third Rule of Scuba, “Maintain Neutral Buoyancy at Depth”, is clearly important and possibly, no more so than when we think about taking photographs underwater.

In our Open Water Diver training we learned the critical Three Rules of Scuba.  Continuous breathing is absolutely a requirement for our safety, as is a slow, controlled ascent and a safety stop.  So, how does Neutral Buoyancy really figure into this?  Aside from issues related to a saw-tooth dive profile, maintaining proper (that is, neutral) buoyancy is important for other reasons.

On a typical open water dive, we drop in and descend to a depth, a feature or some other pre-determined point, and as we recall from the dive briefing, we have a dive profile that we intend to follow, which is to say that we have a maximum depth and time for this specific dive.  The depth is important for nitrogen loading in our tissues, as is time at depth, and we figure a profile to ensure that we are diving safely and within recreational limits.  So, maintaining the depth as per the plan has some obvious logic.

Aside from adhering to the depth limits we resolved in our dive plan, we also want to think about what we’re going to see on our underwater tour.  Again, in the dive briefing there was discussion about what we might expect to see on this dive, so there is a need to be aware of the depth at certain points during the dive, such that we can see the features.  Having neutral buoyancy is important here, as if we are drifting up or down, we are less likely to see the feature.  Further, if we are struggling with buoyancy, we are much more likely to make contact with the reef or other underwater structure, possibly causing damage to that or injury to ourselves.

Photography is not much different from seeing with our own eyes.  The camera, whether digital or optical, records the light reflected from the subject, and captured on the film (or CCD), just as it was captured by our own eyes.  The camera allows for a myriad of possible adjustments to compensate for spectrum absorption and in fact, our eyes make the same sort of adjustments, though we are less aware of them at the time.  But, when we are looking at an object our eyes need time to sort out the contrast, look for the details of the object, adjust to the lighting, etc.  In an underwater environment, our mind is less familiar with the situation and thus slower to resolve the details- seeing that shrimp can be a challenge at first.  Experience helps, of course, as the mind becomes trained and better able to process the information.

Nonetheless, even with our own eyes, we need a few seconds to process the information and to actually “see” the object.  That demands our ability to focus on the area of interest, differentiate the background from the subject, resolve the textural differences, and finally, see the subject.  This requires some stability to our point of view- if the area of interest has shifting features (light, distance, contrast) it will be very difficult for our eyes and mind to process the dynamic data and capture the image.  Shifting features certainly can be caused by moving to and fro, as well as up and down.  Now, I think you can see where buoyancy has an impact…

Just as our eyes require some time to adjust to the environment, and our mind requires some time to process the information presented to it, a camera will require some time to adjust for the lighting and resolve the focus before the shutter trips.  In some systems, this could truly be a few seconds.  OK, so now imagine that you are drifting up and down with your breathing…how will you capture that award winning image?  Keep in mind, too, that in most underwater photography situations, just as our eyes require time to resolve the light, texture and contrast, a camera needs time to do the same, and usually this only happens once the shutter release is pressed.  If the camera moves relative to the subject after the shutter release is pressed the focus and lighting might not be correct.  Further, the shutter speed is likely to be quite slow so camera movement will result in a blurred image.

Let’s go back to a few basics here, keeping in mind that photography is not that much separated from seeing with our eyes.  Humans are in reality poor multi-taskers, and especially if something has captured our attention.  In a driving situation, our attention can be easily diverted by something we see, causing our focus to shift from something important, like which lane we are in.  In a diving situation, if we are focused on an object we are likely to stop paying attention to other matters.  We know that if we stop to communicate with our buddy underwater, we are going to forget direction, buoyancy or something else.  So, when we stop to look at an object we are likely to forget about our buddy, direction, buoyancy, etc.   We need to start reducing variables very early, to prevent our dropping onto the reef, or ascending, or losing our buddy.  What variable can we easily reduce?  Buoyancy!

If we return to the “3 Rs” of scuba, the first thing we want to do is to regain control, so when we stop to look at that object, we are in control of our buoyancy.  If we control buoyancy as an autonomic response, our mind can pay attention to the object and, if we are taking a photograph, we can maintain our focus on the object and capture a good or even great image.

Poor buoyancy control presents a number of problems:

  1. Potential unintended contact with and damage to the reef
  2. Potential unintended contact with a wreck or other structure, with risk of injury
  3. Spooking or injuring marine life
  4. Being unable to clearly see the feature
  5. Being unable to capture a good photograph of the feature

Good buoyancy control allows us a number of benefits:

  1. No risk of unintended reef contact and damage
  2. No risk of unintended structure contact or injury
  3. Marine life is at ease and can be readily observed
  4. We can actually see the feature
  5. We can capture an good photograph of the feature

Good buoyancy control means that we are neither rising nor falling in relation to the feature, and that we are standing off the reef or other structure.  Further, it means that our eyes and our mind can pay attention to the feature and truly see it.  Finally, if our eyes and mind can resolve the feature, we have the time needed to properly compose a photograph, be sure that our camera is set correctly, approach the marine life cautiously, allow the camera to adjust to the specific situation, allow the focus to be set and the shutter to trip.

Good buoyancy control means stability underwater.  It promotes good diving posture, better gas management, less exertion and more opportunity to do what we set out to do in the first place- see things in an underwater environment, undisturbed.

Good buoyancy control takes time and practice.  Great buoyancy control takes a lot of time and a lot of practice.  It’s a combination of breathing control, body positioning, weighting, equipment configuration and concentration.  If you want to get some great underwater shots, think about first working on your buoyancy control before you pick up that camera.  If you need to work on buoyancy control, consider a Scuba Skills Update, some local diving, or a specialty course.  At OVI we are always ready to do help you improve your skills and enhance your diving experience.  Let us know how we can help you.