San Clemente Island - May 1999

This Memorial Day weekend trip to the outer reaches promised to be quite something, with stops at San Clemente, and then Tanner and Cortez banks at the end of the Channel Islands. Unfortunately weather conditions were not great and we spent the full time at San Clem alone. It is good for 2 days, but by the third everything looks the same.

This island is fairly large, but mostly rock. In many stretches it drops sharply to the water from cliffs above. In these spots the terrain is shallow close the shore (20-30ft) with then a sharp wall descending past 120 or so. The rocky surface has many cracks and fissures where lobster roam in large number. I'm not a hunter, so I can't say how many (or if any) were legal size. Photographically, they were among my most common target. They're not to hard to get if you can angle your strobe arm to that of the crack in the rock, or just make sure that your foreground won't block out the light.

The fish population/variety was good on the island. I had many different subjects, but the blacksmith (actually blue) were the most common. Sheephead were common, but everyone was moving about so quickly that it was hard to capture. But as always, the garibaldi could be counted on to frame itself for you. At the end of one dive, I came onto a large mass of mackerel. By swimming into the center I could them to circle around me, a heavenly sight with their nearly synchonized silvery bodies. I ran for the camera and took a few frames, some with light some without. A wider angle would have been better, but it still shows some of the experience.

The black sea hare is something that I don't see in Monterey. Boy are these turkeys big. The hardest part is showing scale. Typically these were 12-18" in length, though Terry claims to have seen a 3' (!) specimen on his night dive. In this image, I use the garibaldi to provide a reference size. Sea hares were very common here, and in many cases you would find these yellow speghetti masses of their eggs. Another relatively still target were the clusters of tunicates that I saw on nearly every dive. These look much like sponges, but are stiffer and are a much more complex organism (actually, a colony). I should have used a macro lens, but for whatever reason stuck mostly to the strobe mode.

On every trip I try to get better kelp shots. The Aquashot is not really well suited for that sort of target, but you can get reasonable returns. Thanks to the high viz/light, the sillouettes are pretty detailed, though photoshop helps to a degree on the color. The main details: shoot up towards the sunlight, stay shallow. As for the strobe, try a little of each. I haven't done enough to decide if the strobe is only bad. Like with sea lions, keep experimenting. But remember which you do first! I don't really keep track of flash on/off for kelp, which makes it hard to learn any lessons from the results. One other notable on the kelp is the usually reminder to look up the kelp for smaller critters. The Norris topsnail (title pic) was common, and on the night dive with my light turned off I could make out a midsized red crab, dragging along a smaller crab in its claw! Of course, I was out of film by then.

One interesting experience on this trip was my first night dive with the camera, and alone to boot. Many lessons were learned here (well, still be worked on). For starters, it's pretty hard to hold a typical light and the camera and to use it. The routine is find the target, drop the light, aim the camera, (close your eyes!), take the shot. My uk1200 produces enough light that when pointed straight down it will still show a bit of the target. But this is a terrible solution. The best would be a buddy that could give you indirect light. Alternatively: use a headlamp, or something with a goodman handle so you can still use your hands. It shouldn't be too intense - many of the sea creatures start moving in response to light. On a dusk dive, I found the fish to be rather jumpy when I panned my light over their direction. Perhaps those nearby sea lions make them nervous, and dusk is a feeding time. I did find a few fish out on the sand: a halibut and what I believe is a scorpionfish. Both stayed pretty calm all considering.

I think I took 4 or 5 rolls on this trip, but there were not so many unique good images, but rather a lot of fair ones. So it goes. I don't want to take the camera on every dive, so sometimes I miss a target, like the hydrocoral at 6 fathoms. But for me, the diving is still more important than the photography.


14 more pictures - mostly of lobsters.