I have to admit that it was wonderful to get back in the water scuba diving during my recent South Pacific adventure. All the transitions and disruptions in my life the last few years simply did not leave me with any time to be able to dive. The last time I really dove was 4 years ago when I first visited Fiji. Fortunately, my recent trip to Vanuatu required me to fly through Fiji, so I planned a week of diving on the Rainbow Reef in the Somosomo Straits. This was an area that I had not visited during my previous trip, but had always heard fantastic things about. I flew up to Taveuni and stayed at a wonderful resort for 10 days. I ended up diving with another resort than where I was staying, but it all worked out. Over the course of 9 days of diving, I got to know a few sites exceptionally well and planned my subsequent dives around the ideal currents. The current was totally ripping when I created this image, so it was challenging to say the least. This is one of my favorite bommies which was covered in soft corals while being enveloped in clouds of colorful anthias.
I recently returned from an adventure that I had been dreaming about and attempting to do for over a decade. Years ago when I first started photographing lava, I learned about the Yasur Volcano located on remote Tanna Island in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. It is not the easiest place to get to and the amenities won’t meet most people’s requirements, but it is an incredibly accessible and rewarding location to shoot. I spent a week working with a local chief which allowed me and my frequent travel partner Steve Levi special access to the volcano.
The first time we approached the crater rim via the relatively short but steep hike from the parking area, the deafening explosions and sulfur filled air overwhelmed my already excited senses. When I finally observed my first strombolian eruption, I began to question my sanity. I had heard stories about lava flying through the air and impacting way too close for comfort. Of course, one of the two times this happened to me was during my very first visit to the caldera. It was one of the most brief and horrifying moments of my life, but fortunately the lava landed safely to my left. At least I had gotten that experience out of the way.
Over the course of my week long exploration, I visited the volcano 9 times. Sometimes it was cloudy, sometimes it was clear. There were even a few times where it was raining so hard, that there was no point in even trying. I had a lot of 4am and 4pm starts with all of my best images created during the 30 minutes before the sun rose or after the sun set during the beautiful twilight light. The volcano exploded about every 5 minutes on average. I can not adequately describe the incredible experience of glimpsing and then being blasted with the shock wave while standing in this location with my camera set up on my tripod. I pushed my camera’s shutter button on every explosion, but it was the extraordinary large ones like this that allowed me to create my best images.
During the second half of my recent Fiji scuba diving adventure, I worked with Mike Neumann of Beqa Adventure Divers to photograph sharks. He helped me get as close as anyone ever needs to get to upwards of 60 bull sharks at a time. I have been fortunate to be able to photograph a variety of sharks over the years and I have to say that this was my favorite shark dive that I have ever done. Since I was completely outnumbered by the bull sharks, I had to focus my attention on them rather than looking though my viewfinder. I became accomplished at shooting while holding my camera low next to my torso and constantly swiveling my head from side to side in the interest of self-preservation. This resulted in a lot of poorly composed and utterly useless images, but included in this agglomeration were a few keepers like this one.
I have been back home from my amazing scuba diving adventure in Fiji for almost 2 weeks. I have also been on a self-imposed social media holiday for the last month, so hopefully my friends and fans will find my new underwater images worth the wait.
My Fiji trip began with 10 days of scuba diving based on the Nai’a liveaboard during which we traveled through the Bligh Waters to the Koro Sea. I dove most of Fiji’s better known dive sites, but my favorites were located in the Namena Marine Preserve. This is where I where I photographed this orgy of color which includes brilliant soft corals and swarms of colorful anthias. In order to create this image, I had to scuba dive when the current was moving fast enough so that the soft corals were inflated and the fish were schooling together. However, the current makes it very difficult to maintain my place in the water column, so I resort to a combination of kicking and drifting into position while composing with my viewfinder and making sure not to disturb the reef. No wonder I go through air so fast. I also spent most of the dive trying to get the reef fish to cooperate by all swimming in the same direction and filling out the frame. That is not an easy task, but I eventually got everything to line up.
I love photographing humpback whale breaches. It is one of the most rewarding, but frustrating ways to use a camera. First, I have to be lucky enough to even see a humpback breach. At this point in my whale watching career, I am guessing that I have probably witnessed close to 1000 breaches. Even if I see a whale leap out of the water, that does not mean that I can photograph it. The only hope I have of getting a shot is to have a whale(s) start breaching multiple times. Next, I have to be able to close the distance so that when the whale breaches I am close enough to fill the frame. Keep in mind that I am trying to do all this while moving around on a boat that I am either piloting myself, or in the case of this image just a passenger. Finally, the stars need to align properly as my spider-sense tingles for me to be able to point my camera in the right direction at the moment that the whale begins to breach. Don’t even get me started on whether my camera’s autofocus works properly or not. I photographed this spectacular breach while co-leading the Tonga portion of Tony Wu and my Megaptera Mania Tour this past August. I created this image using my Canon 7D and 70-200mm f2.8 IS II lens and processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6.
Now that my new website is online, I am excited to start sharing my spectacular new images from my adventures during the second half of 2012!
In July and August, Tony Wu and I co-lead our first Megaptera Mania Tour with 6 wonderful clients. After the Tonga portion of tour was over, I spent a second week whale watching with just 2 of our clients. (I should mention that anyone who travels with me for any length of time also becomes a close friend.) This humpback whale calf seemingly levitating is my most interesting image. See the humpback whale photos gallery for more spectacular images!
We spent the better part of the morning following this mother, calf, and escort. They basically did nothing for hours, but we stayed with them because there weren’t a lot of other whale options around at the time. However, we could sense that something was going to happen, and eventually the 3 whales exploded from the water in what can only be described as a goodbye greeting to each other. This breaching behavior lasted for about 15 minutes, during which we frantically tried to point our cameras in the right direction as they continuously erupted from the water. After the whales settled down, I was flabbergasted to discover this breaching calf photo while reviewing my images. Incredible! I created this image using my Canon 7D and 70-200mm f2.8 IS II lens and processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6. The original image was a little tight on the right side, but since it was just empty background I slightly expanded it to allow for more space.
My regular readers have probably noticed that I have been on an extensive underwater photography binge in the last year. I’ve always said that I aspire to shoot mostly underwater subjects, and am happy that most of my 2012 trips will be at or below the surface. So sticking with that theme, here is another underwater image from my December trip to the National Park of American Samoa. I spent a week at the Vaoto Lodge on Ofu Island and had this idyllic beach setting all to myself each day. This is my favorite over-under image from all the time that I spent in the water. I really like how the coral rubble in the sandy bottom leads the viewer’s eye directly into the jagged peaks. I created this image with my Canon 5DmkII and 17-40mm f4 lens with a B+W +2 graduated neutral density filter inside my Aquatech 5DmkII housing with an Aquatech 8″ dome port. This image is a single-exposure which required a minimal amount of processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.
I spent much of my visit to the US National Park of American Samoa on Ofu Island photographing over-underwater split images. This is one of my favorites. I like the coral reef with the refracted light dancing across the sandy bottom below with the dramatic scenery and clouds above. There are even a few tropical fish visible in the original, though, I doubt any of my readers will be able to see them at this resolution. Creating an image like this required a lot of trial and error. Waves were constantly washing over the front of my dome, so I had to remove the water drops with a hand towel which I kept underneath a ballcap on my head. I’m glad that I had the whole beach to myself as I must have looked like a dork, but it got the job done. It was also really hot. Most of the Samoans stayed in the shade during the hottest part of the day, but I was out there swimming with my camera under the intense sun getting thoroughly sunburned. But it was fun. I created this image with my Canon 5DmkII and 17-40mm f4 lens with a B+W +2 graduated neutral density filter inside my Aquatech 5DmkII housing with a Aquatech 8″ dome port. This image is a single-exposure which required a minimal amount of processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.
Since I returned home last week, I have not had a lot of time to edit my new images, but this one is definitely worth sharing. I photographed this dramatic sunset while visiting the US National Park of American Samoa on Ofu Island last month. It took a lot of effort to travel this out-of-the-way tropical destination, which was part of the charm, but also explains why it is the least visited of the US National Parks. I stayed at the Vaoto Lodge where Jim, Ben, & Marge were delightful hosts. Other than the 2 researchers who were doing coral studies, I had the entire stretch of beach in the Park all to myself. I photographed a number of brilliant sunrise and sunsets, but this was the most spectacular. As much as I travel, it is still special when the clouds light up with intense color like this. I composed this image by framing the dramatic peaks in the distance with this eroded limestone shelf with waves washing over it in the foreground. I created this image with my Canon 5DmkII, Carl Zeiss 28mm f2 ZE lens, Singh-Ray LB Warming polarizer, and 3-stop Hard Graduated Neutral Density filter. This image is a single-exposure which required minimal processing using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS5.