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Alex_Mustard

Wetpixel/JASA Sharks & Dolphins July 2010

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Arrival.

 

I am in Florida again! Excited to be going out on one of the best trips in the business. The JASA summer trips are my favourite. Perhaps not the best time of year for the most really big sharks, they are hugely productive with fantastic conditions and tonnes of subjects. You can easily get more stunning images on one day of one of these trips, than in a whole week in another destination.

 

The aim of this thread is an informal diary of the trip, plus any banter and contributions from those on the trip, those we meet here in Florida and those not lucky enough to be here. It is open to all contributions, text or pictures. In a similar style to previous years. Here is the write up from the last time I did this particular itinerary - in 2008 - to give you a flavour of what to expect.

 

I've just got to Palm Beach, but I have already been immersing myself in the UW photo world over here. I landed at Miami Airport just after lunch and by mid-afternoon I was out on the Interstate heading to Reef Photo Video. Popping in on Ryan and the gang has become a tradition for those of us coming from Europe for the JASA trips. In fact, we choose to fly to Miami and drive, just for this reason (rather than flying into West Palm Beach!). But this year was more than a social call. I have been eyeing up one of the new Zen 230 domes since I first heard it announced and I am pleased to say that there is one bolted on my housing now, ready for action. I have strong views on domes, and I know what I like. And I have to say that the Zen 230 looks exactly as I hoped. I am really excited to try it.

 

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Me with my new dome (and lighter wallet). Apologies for image quality this is with the Canon S90 at (mistakenly) ISO 3200.

 

I actually have quite a few new products with me to test/review (what this space - or rather watch the Wetpixel front page), but I am more excited by seeing this dome. I know it is just a dome - but I feel it is what I have been waiting for. Oh, and more on the other gizmos later.

 

At Ryan's I also bumped into Phil Rudin and Nigel Moyter - which was an excellent surprise. I'd not seen either of them for while. Hoping to see Phil in the water tomorrow. Sounds like they had an excellent week. Was a pity that I wasn't there in time to see Stuart Westmorland (I was keen to congratulate him on his recent award winning sailfish photo - it is a stunner and if ever a photo catches a moment - this is it)!

 

Tomorrow we're going in at Blue Heron Bridge - West Palm Beach's amazing muck dive. Hopefully a few local photographers will be along to say hi - but remember socialising is always after the dive - we don't want to miss the best of the tide!

 

Right - better go an find some food, then bed. Although still buzzing with excitement about the new dome!

 

Alex

 

p.s. Not seen any of the group yet - hopefully the team will start to come together during tomorrow.

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Day 2. West palm Beach

 

Now installed in West Palm Beach and had a quality day down at the bridge (Blue Heron). Not my best dive there, but lots of quality critters, including seahorse, hairy frogfish, flying gurnards etc etc. Actually, what am I saying it was fantastic.

 

Here is a back-lit froggy. This was on camera-backlighting (with a long strobe arm). I think I will go with an off camera strobe tomorrow - which I think will allow me to get a more controlled effect.

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I dived with two cameras today. The other was a Canon S90 compact, which I took in as well. And for comparison, here a photo of the same froggy with that - taken with available light only. Obviously a much more standard snap, but a very pleasing record of a cool fish.

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The other new toy we took in was the new Light and Motion Sola 600 focus and video light. I have this for review and it has been very impressive so far. The main selling points are it packs a mighty performance into a small (half the size of competitors) and completely sealed unit. I leant it to one of the gang, Malcolm Nobbs, for the dive (so I could photograph it on his housing). It has both white light and red light LEDs - it is in the Red Mode here (obviously), which we turned on for the picture. I was also keen to hear Malcolm's opinion on it - he's sold "much better than my current focus light", I think Light and Motion have a sale already!

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I also got to meet a few of Florida's underwater photographers today. Which was a real pleasure. I have to give a special mention to Suzan Meldonian, who was kind enough to give me a copy of her new book Under The Bridge an exploration and celebration of the amazing life and characters found at Blue Heron Bridge. It is a place that has a reputation for turning up oddities and a quick flick through the pages has left me most jealous! That so much biodiversity can be found on one shallow, shore dive, in the middle of Florida is astounding. Much against her will I made her pose for a photo with the book!

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I'll bug her for a link for more information about it. EDIT - got it - more info here.

 

It wasn't all plain sailing today, though. We found out today that Jim isn't coming on our trip. As a friend I am very happy to hear that he is taking time off from being on Shear Water, but sad for the group that we're going on a Jim Abernethy trip without its eponymous hero. Luckily most of the group have done several JASA trips before, and like me are curious to see how it will be different without shark diving's "canon ball of enthusiasm" to quote Charles Hood. Amongst the group, we're already joking about the positives - mainly revolving around how much more space there will be on board without Jim's personal arsenal of Canons!

 

We're boarding tomorrow after 5pm, so we're hoping to get another dive in at the Bridge and then set sail for adventure. I am already seriously exciting thinking about it.

 

Alex

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We're also making a list of all the scary movies we will be able to watch! Jimmy is not a fan of horror films.

 

The tide time at BHB today is mid-afternoon, so we will be diving there, then going straight to the Shear Water. Checking out of the motel now. I will continue writing updates - but they will only get posted as internet access allows (I don't have a iPhone/Blackberry - so there might be a delay).

 

Alex

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Day 2 – In West Palm Beach - boarding in the evening.

 

We’re scheduled to join Shear Water in the evening, so this gives us a chance to get some final shopping done, do the check in paperwork and for the Brits in the group – enjoy a traditional American Sunday brunch. I have to skip, too much to do, but the guys return in high spirits. We check out of the Super 8 and head down to JASA. Laz puts us through our paces with the paper work. Its good to see the man – but I’d rather he was coming down to the Bridge with us. Few, if any, know that site as well as the salty pirate (his nickname from the first WP/JASA trip I did).

 

Here we meet up with Frank and then Jonathan. Once checked in, 5 of us decide to dive the Bridge. Although Frank and Jonathan dive from the pier side – so we don’t see them. I head in from Phil Fosters park with Malcolm and Tim. Tim is trying a new Mistral reg and it turns out he does not have enough lead – so manages an hour skip breathing to stay down. Our strike rate increases considerably from the day before, thanks mainly to some excellent tips from the locals:

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We see froggies, nudis, jack knife juvies, a couple of long arm octopus, sea robins, snake eel. I return to the frogfish of yesterday, armed with an off camera strobe setup (Inon Z240) fitted with a Seahorn snoot. I find him immediately, but unlike yesterday he is not on the sand, but sitting on a rock covered in Caulerpa alage. Which means I can do my backlighting easily. Stupidly, I don’t realise the potential of the setting. Having brought the off camera strobe I am only thinking of that shot – and fail to realise for about 10 minutes that actually I have a frogfish in a great setting. Eventually it dawns on me – and I turn off the off camera strobe and just take some simple portraits of the froggy in his bed of algae. He looks great on the green background.

 

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I am shooting the 105mm on the 1.7x teleconverter – which is quite a lot of lens, and since I use a full frame camera I decide to make the most of it for shooting subjects against pleasingly blurred (bokeh) backgrounds. I open up to between f/8 and f/11 to shoot portraits of one of the Caribbean long arm octopus (think of it as the Atlantic Ocean’s version of the mimic octopus). I am shooting with just one strobe – every time I do so for macro I wish I did more dives with just a single strobe.

 

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After the dive we pack up and load up. The Shear Water has had some changes since last year. And there is so much more space for cameras (especially without Jim on board!). The crew added some more (joking) positives of not having Jim on board. Not all repeatable here! We’re all surprised how quiet the TV on Shear Water can be!

 

Off to bed now – then off to the Bahamas in a few hours. Crossing may be rough – and we’re having the “if I am gonna hurl, where should I go” conversation!

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Day 3 (first morning on board)

 

We’re in the Bahamas. In West End marina – and I am jumping on the Wi-Fi to send you this. It was quite a bumpy crossing, but we all slept well and are raring to go.

 

So to get the official stuff out of the way. The gang on board is as follows:

 

Alex Mustard – Nikon D700 + Subal housing,, Canon S90 + Canon housing,

Frank Baensch – Canon 7D + Subal housing,

Malcolm Nobbs – Nikon D200 + Subal housing

Paul Carre – Nikon D300 + Subal housing

Jarret Brown – Nikon D300 + Subal housing

Tim Priest – Nikon D200 + Nexus housing

Jonathan Dietz – Nikon D80 – Ikelite housing

Don Hughes – Canon 5D + Aquatica housing

Minky Hughes – Canon S90 + Canon housing

 

More reports in about a week – although I’ll keep writing while we’re gone and if I get the chance to upload, I will.

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I immediately fell in love with the Light and Motion Sola 600 focus and video light and was very reluctant to give it back to Alex. Its compact, versatile, user friendly and sadly no longer on my housing.

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sounds like a Subal charter... :P

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Nikon dominated! Rare, on a JASA charter! I guess we won't be seeing any 1080p video from the group unless Frank shoots some. heheheh.

 

Thanks for the updates, Alex -- am excited to see what you guys get out there.

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Great insight Alex.

 

Interesting comments on the almost not seeing the obvious great setting for the frogfish. How many times have we done a dive and come back only to then think of ideas as to how we could have shot the subject presented to us. One of the nice things of a place like BHB and a place like Bonaire is you can go back in a try the composition missed in most cases.

 

Also nice to see you bugger up settings like the iso too. Brings you down to a real level with all of us. LOL

 

Cheers and have a great one. Hello to Jimmy!

 

Todd

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We have returned! Short one engine, one ice-maker and a lot of calm weather...

 

... and I never got to see Emma, so (bear with me) I wrote this:

 

Anticipating Emma

 

Light spikes into blue

Over white

Sand,

And purple fronds tease

Grey, massive, ancient

Tiger teeth;

Smiling

Towards the

Black-clad bubbling.

White from blue over white

And back to blue.

Hidden.

 

Tiger stripes and spots

Fade, blurred.

Age

Old ocean mother

Strong, life-affirming

Muscular matriarch;

Opens

Her mouth to

Camera holding

Strangers from the surface.

Tidings from

Below.

 

Fishermen pass the reef

Death moves

Close.

Guile is no defence,

Tempted, swift-striking

Hunted hunter.

Blue,

The waves wait:

Lines of light

Painting white sand patterns.

Will there be

Return?

 

And I took a few pictures:

 

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No doubt a few more will appear in the future!

 

Tim

 

:)

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Lovely pictures Tim.

 

As Chris Evans used to say (on UK TV!)

 

More! More!

 

Adam

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Day 3 Continued.

It was a lumpy crossing, so we are running a bit late anyway. And we spend a bit longer in port – a few of us grabbing a shower on terra firma before heading over to El Dorado, a pretty reef, with a good concentration of Caribbean Reef Sharks. We spend the rest of the day here, working the ops.

 

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Shear Water in port.

 

Reef sharks are a great way to get into the grove. Feisty enough to get the adrenalin going, but cooperative enough so that everyone can get their eye and camera settings dialled in. These sites are classics for taking reef sharks on the reef: pretty sponges or corals with a shark or two cruising over the top. I heard recently that we owe Doug Perrine thanks for coming up with this shot, years ago, and asking Jim to put the bait crates near to some pretty sponges. Jim had the sense to ask Doug why he wanted the crates there, and the rest is, as they say, history.

 

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Jarret and Frank get ready to dive

 

In the afternoon it clouds over and by our final dive of the day it is getting fairly dark. Only three of us are left in, Shawn (crew) and Frank and I. I am mucking about with ridiculously long exposures (mostly 1/2 a second), but playtime is soon over, when our first tiger of the trip cruises into view. Nice. Day 1 in the Bahamas and our first stripy. She’s a decent size, at 12 ft and has a lacerated dorsal fin. Shawn reckons 14ft, but 11-12ft is more accurate. She cruises by a couple of times, but never really close enough for pictures. But she is a good omen for the rest of the week.

 

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Dark evening lets me shoot 1/2 sec long shark shots.

 

The seas were picking up in the evening, so we decided to head for a safe anchorage. The is tropical storm Bonnie in the area, and although we’re not in direct path, she is likely to rob us of the glassy flat seas you can usually expect at this time of year.

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Just to remind you of the delights of the Super 8 Motel: I took this while I was drying my dive gear.

 

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Tim

 

:)

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Day 4 – Crystal Tiger to The Chain

Today we’re going to the beach. Tiger Beach. With the way the tides are, the plan is to start the morning at Crystal Tiger, which should be green in the morning, but should be the first spot to clear.

 

Although it is green, it is clear, and I rather enjoy shooting the lemons (lemon sharks) against the green. It is well known I am a big fisheye lover, but armed with the new Zen 230 dome, I decide to give the new 16-35mm a thorough workout, which has been kindly leant to me for the trip by Ryan Canon. I use it for three of the four dives today. And love it. It performs brilliantly with the Zen dome on my FX Nikon. Review coming soon. Very impressive. Despite much ribbing from friends on board who know of my passion for fisheye lenses.

 

Don and Minky prepare for a dive, seas not glassy calm again!

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On my second dive I pop back to the boat to give my Canon S90 a workout too. Fitted with the Inon 100 wide angle and an external Magic filter (not commercially available, yet) it produces great pictures and video. It even makes the greeny water look blue. The main difference between using a filter and not at these depths is that the filter helps you hold a much richer blue in the background:

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This camera is so impressive, even shooting at ISO 800 inside the Shear Water it takes such clean images. Even with the impressive new noise reduction function in Lightroom 3, which Frank is extolling the virtues of. He has gone from a full frame 5D to the 7D recentlty, so is a vocal critic of the 7D’s noise at 100%. But with a default noise reduction applied in Lightroom, this weakness is easily controlled.

 

And here is a video from the Canon S90 (the re-sizing for Vimeo (or my lack of knowledge of video stuff) has ruined the resolution, but it still shows the nice colours the system produced:

[vimeo]13669571[/vimeo]

 

I soon spot an issue of switching over to the Canon S90 – my computer is attached to my SLR – and that is my only tank pressure gauge. Trying to save luggage weight. Oh well, I have stolen Jimmy’s 15 litre steel tank, in his absence, so I have plenty of air. It seems inexhaustible.

 

By lunch, blue water is flooding Tiger Beach and we keep on shooting. Grabbing a bite to eat when we happen to be out of the water.

 

Mid-afternoon we relocate to the chain. I really like the chain, especially the sparks of colour and schools of fish it adds to the white expanse of sand. I especially enjoy photographing the tight schools of cottonwick, for once in beautiful blue water. They had tigers here last week. But we only get lemons. They are cooperative so we happily focus on them.

 

The rough weather means that as soon as the tide turns the visibility drops right away. It is real pee-soup in no time. Frank suggests that I could try faux-night shots in the dark conditions. Lots of strobe, small aperture and fast aperture. It is a different look. Apparently a few well-known night-time shark images have been taken on dark days this way!

 

Frank shoots long exposures today. I also shoot some silhouettes of the sharks against the evening light in the pretty green water. It is a bit too windy to get a really nice sunbursts, but the water colour makes for an interesting background. Very different from the beautiful sunbursts you get here on a blue, calm evening. But one of the best options for producing a contrasty, punchy images in this low viz (by forcing the contrast gradient as much as possible).

 

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Taken with D700 + 16-35mm.

 

We agree that the changeable conditions are actually allowing us to get some very different images of the sharks, expanding rather than just repeating our portfolios from previous trips. Of course, those on their first trip would prefer the perfect blue conditions. Perhaps tomorrow?

 

About an hour after we stop diving for the day, Ed spots a big tiger is circling the boat. It is way to murky to jump back in. But it is encouraging for tomorrow. And that means we keep our record of at least a tiger a day (keeps the doctor hap-pay). Not quite up to Tim’s poetry standards.

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Day 5 – Stop, Hammer Time.

The plan for today was to do reef in the morning before relocating back to the beach in the afternoon. But in the end we just stopped at Hammer Time – a pretty reef dive.

 

We had spent the night at Tiger Beach, but it was too green in the morning top dive. The wind still hasn’t let up, so it is limiting our options. Thanks Bonnie (the storm). So we decided to relocate to the reef. We dragged (power-chummed) the bait behind the boat that meant we had both lemons and Caribbean reefies posing on the reef. It is particularly nice to have the chance to shoot the lemons in this environment.

 

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The large groupers were also popular subjects. Jarret even took them on with the 60mm. I played around with off camera strobes, which didn’t really work well, I felt the reef was too flat to provide good hiding places for them

 

Then at about lunchtime, the call went out that we had a tiger. Keen to get photos of the stripy shark on the reef, we decided to stay. It was the same individual that Frank and I had seen at El Dorado, two days before.

 

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Approaches by the tiger shark allow me to test the close focus ability of the 16-35mm on the D700. Impressive, this is at 16mm.

 

Later in the afternoon a second, slightly smaller tiger shows up too. Ed is controlling the bait crates and ensures that all the group get nice close tiger passes and by the evening the boat was buzzing as Macbook Pros busily polished up the days pictures. Paul has stuck an Apple sticker on his PC so he doesn’t feel left out.

 

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Another highlight of the evenings is watching Tim fill in his dive log. On all his trips he has a little note book, where he writes about highlights of the dive and also draws sketches of the highlights. Unsurprisingly, tigers were the subject of today’s artwork (Tim got some excellent shots of them too, although he uses a standard side on shot for the basis of the artwork).

 

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The only downside of the day was Jonathan getting a small sting from lionfish. Lionfish are one of my favourite fish, but I have to say, that this invasive species are now so common on these reefs that even I am not pleased to see them. Their numbers have really ballooned in the last 5 years. You see them, more than 10, on every single dive. Anyway, Jonathan got a small sting, which thankfully wasn’t too bad. We did the hot water treatment and reckon he must have only got one spine – as it hardly swelled up. So no Mr Sausage fingers! I am pleased to report that he was diving and shooting again the next day.

 

Jonathan gets his hand straight into water as hot as he could stand - to denature the poison. The treatment works well and Jon is shooting again the next morning.

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Day 6 – Cover Shot and Sugar Wreck

Morning started with a quick fix to Malcolm’s 10-17mm. The lens casing of the Tokina’s sometime have a habit of breaking. It is not terminal, but it is a bit disconcerting to be able to see the inner workings of your lens. Malcolm seems to be attracting gremlins this week. Yesterday, Paul fixed his dive computer (well replaced the battery – a sure way to get more bottom time). Anyway Frank lent me some electrical tape and we soon had his tick-Tok running like clockwork. I think Malcolm had had the problem for a while and it was causing his lens gear to slip – and everyone he took it to blamed him for not fitting the gear correctly!

 

Then it was a morning at Cover Shot, shooting verticals of the reef sharks cruising over the top of various pretty sponges. Having shot most of the sponge formations as verticals on previous trips, I shoot horizontals. It is a great site for this, although can be a bit congested when it was switchover time for the groups and there was more than 4 or 5 in the water at a time. Although most of us managed to find plenty of space.

 

OK, I did shoot some verticals:

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At the end of the dive I photograph Mike’s bubble-ring blowing prototype. Which is starting to produce results. Another Bates product coming to a pawn shop near you, soon. This is a shot from later in the day (after more modifications) at Sugar wreck:

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Tim is having problems with his 10.5mm Nikon fisheye, but Paul kindly lends him his – so he can keep working his favourite setup of 10.5mm and mini-dome. I am very happy with my Zen dome and am busy proclaiming it the best dome I have used or seen - not that I have done back to back testing! On the Sugar Wreck I shoot a series of tests for a forthcoming review. Here with the new Nikon 16-35mm rectilinear lens on full frame camera, top frame at f/14, lower at f/4.5. Even at f4.5 it is only slightly naughty in the corners - even in the foreground well in front of the point of focus. The aperture would be fine in open water (big animal) shooting, which is very impressive on an FX camera (crops and more apertures coming with the review):

 

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In any case, the coating on the Zen, coloured like the front of an expensive lens, looks damn cool IMO:

 

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Minky joined the ranks of photographers today – getting her Canon S90 going in the Canon housing. Although she ended up losing her pictures from that dive. She thought she had transferred the files to her iPad, but actually had only viewed them. By the time she realised, Don had reformatted the card, ready for the next dive. A frosty moment.

 

In the afternoon we watched the ocean conservation film End Of The Line, which should be compulsory viewing for all. Check it out, if you haven’t. This was during our travel to the Sugar Wreck for an afternoon dive, and people really pushed out the dive times. Tim and I were feeling pretty chuffed (happy) at hitting two hours, only to discover that Frank had racked up a three hour dive. Malcolm and Jarret did shorter dives, but got two in during the afternoon.

 

Then three of us (Frank, Jonathan and me) headed in for a night dive. It was a great chance to try the Light and Motion Sola 600 focus light. It is excellent, the best focus light I have used. The light beam is soft and wide and can be either white light or red light. The red light is excellent and works very at not disturbing critters. After a one hour dive it still had between 50 and 70% battery remaining. Review of this light coming soon! I have a lot of writing coming up.

 

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Day 7 A tiger on the beach, but no breaching

It has been a windy week (caused by the afore-mentioned tropical storm Bonnie), and each day we hope it will calm down. But is hasn't yet. The main consequence is that the waves are stirring up the seabed, making clear blue waters a rare commodity particularly at Tiger Beach. It has limited our time on the Beach and also stopped us doing fun stuff like surface photography and pole-camming. We’re also starting to get concerned it might stop us doing dolphins later in the week. The dolphins can be hard to find in rough seas, and it is also pretty unpleasant snorkelling in the chop. That said we are still diving full on each day, just not getting perfect conditions. The ocean is a cruel mistress!

 

Today is the windiest day so far. So we decide to do a couple of morning dives at Tiger Beach to catch the high tide, and hopefully the clearest water. It is still very green and there are 5-10 lemons around the boat. I slip in first and spot a Tiger sniffing the bait. Game on. I surface to spread the word and then sink quickly to the bottom. Annoyingly, I have put a 28-70mm on for this dive (expecting to be shooting lemons in low viz), but it provides the chance for some tighter tiger shots. Not the best choice for the conditions.

 

A tiger to start the day meets with Jarret's approval:

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The group is soon in and we all get good tiger encounters. It is the same individual from the days before. A few manage to get sneaked up on by a 11ft tiger (you have to keep looking and not get stuck in your camera), perhaps they need to adopt Billy Rafter’s one legged tiger spotting dance! I surface after 70 minutes and change to a fisheye. But by the time I am back in the tiger has stopped playing.

 

We tell Jarret that there is something wrong with his setup that will stop him taking pictures. At this point he doesn't know what!

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His comeback is razor sharp - "its Subal's new white balance port!"

 

We do a bit more with the lemons before deciding to relocate to “breaching tiger, drowned dragon”, a site protected from bad weather where it is possible to photography tigers breaching at the surface. We rename it “breaching tiger, angry dragon” – in honour of an old (joke on a previous) Wetpixel trip on the Shear Water. There is a strong current running and we are hopeful of pulling in some sharks quickly, but none show up. It rains a lot, though.

 

Typical Bahamas weather (not really):

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So we leave late afternoon, so we can get back for a final dive at Tiger Beach.

 

Frank's towel is having a tough week. It keeps being used to open O2 bottles - and gets stained suspiciously in the process. Shawn raises the stakes with this number (there are worse pictures...)

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Even though it is overcast and the viz is still low, we get some lemons and have some fun in the low light. Frank takes some very nice looong exposure shots – blurring the surface to a beautiful deep blue. I hope he posts them. They are beautiful shots – once again we find that different conditions allow different shots – when you think out of the box and don’t just try and create those same perfect Bahamas blue water shark shots.

 

I shoot lemons on black backgrounds using a snoot just to light their faces. A decent idea, but I need more chances to perfect and two sharks shared between the group don’t provide enough chances. I am pleased enough, I will save them, with my other best shots for my trip gallery. Here is a snoot test shot of Minky (while waiting for the lemons we took shots of each other - she has some funny shots of me reclining on the sand).

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We all head to bed, hoping that the wind will relent enough to allow us to swim with the dolphins tomorrow.

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Day 8 Goodbye sharks. Hello dolphins.

 

Jamin appears after working in the engine room (it should be noted that she was not happy to be photographed with her hair in a mess - but she was in the middle of working):

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We still have our bait, so we decide to make a final dive at Carcharias Cut, a pretty reef, for some final reef shark dives. The wind is slowly dropping, so we hope a later start with the dolphins might allow us to catch the best conditions. Plus get them at happy hour (mid-afternoon) when they take a break from feeding and seem most in the mood to play.

 

The current is really running at the reef, but we’re all used to the routine now and settle down around the bait stations photographing sleek Caribbean reef sharks. Frank was one of the first in and photographs a fish trap laid on the reef, which has caught a pair of grey angels, a pair of queen angels, a large rainbow parrotfish and two Nassau groupers. By the time I get in the water I am pleased to discover they have escaped. There is a chain of these traps right across the local reefs – indiscriminately catching both food fish and non-food fish.

 

Jonathan and I do our best to stay out each other’s shots. The currents make it difficult to keep your bubbles out of the way, when they are going sideways. The sharks seem much happier than us in the currents. Minky explored the Cut and takes some very atmospheric images of the silversides in there. Don follows Jamin when she goes to release the remaining bait and enjoys some monster chaos with the reefies exploding towards his lens. I am playing with off-camera strobe sharks again - which still isn't working 100% (at the end of the dive - I finally figure out the shot that will work - too late - grrrr, next year).

 

Poor off-camera strobe shot of shark - best ones will be in my trip gallery - but I worked out the shot I wanted too late.

post-713-1280228218.jpg

 

Then it is time to head north to White Sand Ridge and hunt for dolphins.

 

Despite our concerns about the weather, it turns into the best dolphin photo session I have experienced. We have dolphins for most of the afternoon and nearly all of them want to play. It is an amazing experience. Here is a video I shot (with the Canon S90 compact) of a pass I got from a pod:

[vimeo]13669644[/vimeo]

 

Regarding stills technique, I suggest that people go as fast as possible on shutterspeed. I suggest shooting shutter priority (S or Tv) set at 1/500 or faster if possible. I push it up to 1/640th when the dolphins are really buzzing. The add the appropriate under exposure to get a nice water colour. On newer Nikons this is –0.3, on older Nikons it is –1.3 ot –1.7 EV. It is amazing how much they changed the metering between the generations. Anyway the settings nail the results. And go on continuous fire – but set it slow – to about 2 or 3 frames a second. Otherwise you end up with a video.

 

Life may seem idyllic for the cetaceans, but it is far from. A pair of male bottlenose dolphins are harassing the Atlantic spotted dolphins and forcing them to have sex. Nice. They guys say that the male bottlenoses aren’t picky and mate with both female and male spotteds. I watch as one male bottlenose restrains a spotted and his buddy penetrates. Charming. Again, photos will be in my gallery.

 

Shawn works hard on the scooter to keep the dolphins around – graciously he leaves his camera behind. Not only does this mean that he looks much better when he appears in our photos, but it is really works having someone on the scooter dedicated solely to rounding up the dolphins for the rest of the group.

 

post-713-1280228768.jpg

 

Frank is the undisputed dolphin man of the group, being able to swim fastest and longest to get the best encounters. Jealously, we suggest that he is offering the dolphins more than just a chance to appear in his photos. Jonathan also does very well at chasing the dolphins and then having the energy to dive down for great encounters. Paul enjoys a game of seaweed fetch with one of the dolphins and even managed to snap pictures during the encounter.

 

Frank enjoys yet another great dolphin encounter. Maybe bribery was involved. After seeing the bad behaviour of the bottlenoses, we suggest that Frank might have some dolphin in him...

post-713-1280228949.jpg

 

Everyone produces first rate images. I am getting so many I even take the Canon S90 in and leave the SLR on the boat. This is another shot from the Canon S90, showing a pod with Malcolm in hot pursuit (I really like this little camera):

post-713-1280228620.jpg

 

In the evening we try and go and do night dolphins in the Gulf Stream, but it is just too windy and the boat is rocking violently and the current runs at 90˚ to the wind and waves. So we don’t get in. It remains windy through the night and we all do not sleep well, most people are thrown out of their bunks at some point, hopefully a final farewell from the tropical storm Bonnie.

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Day 9 – Final dolphins - Goodbye and thanks for all the fish

 

Our final day in the Bahamas is aimed at dolphins again. We see dolphins in the morning, but do not get decent encounters. They are not in the mood. A lot of spotting dolphins on the bow or roof and then running to kit up, jumping in, climbing out and repeat. Malcolm, Paul and Tim poised:

post-713-1280229690.jpg

 

Even Shawn’s dolphins chant fails to attract them, perhaps unsurprisingly.

post-713-1280229560.jpg

 

Shawn and I debate the trans-Atlantic vocab differences between US and UK sun protection. What happens next will have to stay between me, Shawn and Joe Romerio. :)

 

Again the first bite of lunch heralds an encounter. And then an excellent final fling after lunch. It is a great encounter with a group of 8 to 9 spotted dolphins. Thankfully with no bottlenoses bullying them. Half way through the encounter the pod splits into pairs and everyone gets excellent passes. The extra day also allows us to adjust to this rather unusual type of underwater photography. As Tim puts it, “I saw far fewer dolphins today, but got much better pictures”.

 

Frank and Jonathan attach strobes. They take more effort to push through the water and they can’t just blat at every pass, like the rest of us! That said I get photos with both Frank and Jonathan’s strobes going off – I guess that says more about me blatting! Jarret proclaims he is king of blatting, but I am not sure.

 

post-713-1280229825.jpg

 

Then it is time to head home. The ice machine is not working, one engine is out too. But we have lots of butter left (without Jimmy on board). And lots of happy photographers. There have been two bottles of Heineken that have been falling out of the fridge all week. Presumably left by the Irish the week before. Paul claims one and hands me the other. We drink to another excellent trip. We didn’t have the luck with the weather, but it has still be hugely productive.

 

Thanks to all on board, guests and crew for an excellent week.

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great reports Alex and some fine photos.. Can't believe the heineken didn't get drunk the first time it fell out of the fridge :)

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Awesome trip report Alex. Say hi to Frank from Julie and myself :)

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So I guess I should add some concluding comments on the big talking point of the week - Jim not being on board. Although nobody has asked here - my inbox has three emails from Shear Water veterans, all with the questions along the lines of "what was it like without Jimmy?"

 

Bah08_39.jpg

 

The trip is definitely poorer without Jim. His passion and enthusiasm for sharks is incredibly infectious and his stories about those who have been on board and their adventures are always fascinating and fun to hear. The enjoyment of Shear Water trips are not just the in-water time. Although he certainly has an ability to make things happen underwater. Dives with Jim are always action packed. That is not to say the dives this week, were not. Those who have dived with Jim will know what I mean.

 

There aren't really any advantages to him not being aboard. Apart from jokes about scary movies, butter, more space for cameras etc! Being on a liveaboard for most of the year - is a tough life - and I am very happy for Jim that he is able to have a break.

 

I guess the main issue was the group (myself included) didn't know Jim wouldn't be on board until we arrived at the Dive Shop. So it was an immediate let down for the group and not the best start. Made worse because I had sent round an email at the beginning of the week, to get the group in the mood, listing many of the things Jim brings to the adventure.

 

Every magazine write up I have seen on the JASA trips has always featured Jim as the star alongside the sharks. So it is certainly a disappointment for those who were on their first trip not to have him there. Those of us who have been on trips with Jim before (5 of the 9) actually really enjoyed the differences. And I would certainly be happy to go on another non-Jim charter (although selfishly I'd prefer him there).

 

In conclusion, I think it would be good to tell groups ahead of time if Jim isn't going. One of the group suggested offering a slightly preferential rate, I'm not sure about this?

 

Alex

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Hey Alex,

 

Is that Jim in the dolphin pic and what is that between his legs...a scooter?

 

I've been on two Shear Water trips with Jim and I can see where some excitement could be a lost along with the great stories...I for one could do without his underwater verbal abuse and body slams when I couldn't move "the line" fast enough or spin my head 360 every second, but what the hell that would take all the fun out of the trip...right!?

 

I've also been on two trips aboard the Dolphin Dream which is much roomier and more laid back....oh and open bar! Probably not as many opportunities to see numerous Tigers in a single dive as they don't use as much bait as Jim the Tiger trainer, but I dig the laid back diving....give them a try one day.

 

Great pics by the way!

 

Mike

 

So I guess I should add some concluding comments on the big talking point of the week - Jim not being on board. Although nobody has asked here - my inbox has three emails from Shear Water veterans, all with the questions along the lines of "what was it like without Jimmy?"

 

Bah08_39.jpg

 

The trip is definitely poorer without Jim. His passion and enthusiasm for sharks is incredibly infectious and his stories about those who have been on board and their adventures are always fascinating and fun to hear. The enjoyment of Shear Water trips are not just the in-water time. Although he certainly has an ability to make things happen underwater. Dives with Jim are always action packed. That is not to say the dives this week, were not. Those who have dived with Jim will know what I mean.

 

There aren't really any advantages to him not being aboard. Apart from jokes about scary movies, butter, more space for cameras etc! Being on a liveaboard for most of the year - is a tough life - and I am very happy for Jim that he is able to have a break.

 

I guess the main issue was the group (myself included) didn't know Jim wouldn't be on board until we arrived at the Dive Shop. So it was an immediate let down for the group and not the best start. Made worse because I had sent round an email at the beginning of the week, to get the group in the mood, listing many of the things Jim brings to the adventure.

 

Every magazine write up I have seen on the JASA trips has always featured Jim as the star alongside the sharks. So it is certainly a disappointment for those who were on their first trip not to have him there. Those of us who have been on trips with Jim before (5 of the 9) actually really enjoyed the differences. And I would certainly be happy to go on another non-Jim charter (although selfishly I'd prefer him there).

 

In conclusion, I think it would be good to tell groups ahead of time if Jim isn't going. One of the group suggested offering a slightly preferential rate, I'm not sure about this?

 

Alex

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I agree with Alex it would be better to let trip organizers know if a significant element of the trip isnt there. I would be really disappointed if Jim wasn't there. Part of the fun of that trip is Jim. Then at least the organizer can manage expectations.

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