Posted on November 14, 2014
After more than five hours of flight, free from any major turbulence and bad passenger behaviors; my destination came into view — the beautiful island of Oahu. My paradise island for the next 7 fun-filled days with my camera and scuba gear.
It has been over 10 years since I last visited the island and my baby sister, who lives there with her family. As I looked out window, memories of my last visit came flooding back… it’s amazing how my life has changed so much in those 10 years. Little did I know, this trip would bring me another big change — a challenge that will once again test my courage and strength.
Talk about life throwing a curve ball… the term “Life Sucks” doesn’t even come close to describe what happened to me on my FIRST DAY of exploring the island. While hiking along a jetty by an inlet, I was so engrossed by the colorful sea-life swimming along that I forgot to pay attention to the next rock I stepped on. It happened so fast, all I heard was the loud crack of my camera hitting the rock and the feel of excruciating pain in my left foot. After sitting for a few moments in a daze, my first instinct was to check the camera, fearing for the worse but with great relief no damage other than a few scratches. However, one look at my leg and the pain engulfing my whole body; I knew my paradise trip was over. To make the long story short, I fractured my ankle in two places. I have never had a broken bone of any kind in my entire life, until this incident. Like the old saying, there’s a first time for everything. Though this is one of those first times, I would rather not have.
For the rest of the vacation, I spent the next 6 days in excruciating pain, feeling like… honestly, I can’t really find the words to describe all the emotions going through my mind… all I know is that I will not be able to use my leg for the next couple of months and the challenges ahead.
However… not all was completely loss. On my return flight, I was able to witness and photograph one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. For the moment, the beauty brought me peace and tranquility that made me forgot about my painful broken leg and the screaming babies… ALOHA!!
Posted on November 1, 2014
It’s always exciting to see and learn something new for the first time. In addition to learning about the fog bow phenomenon, on our way to the second dive destination — we came upon a small pod of Orcas (killer whale). I’ve never seen Orcas in the wild and what a sight it was. Captain Phil tried to get closer without breaking the regulations of viewing marine mammals. He told us boats are required to stay back 400 yards. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any close up shots of the whales but am still happy for the opportunity. It was an exciting sight even if the whales were quite a distance from the boat.
As we continued on to the second dive location, Long Island Wall — Captain Phil decide to make a little detour by an island full of sea-lions. Another first for me… I’ve never seen a sea-lion in the wild before. And since I had signed up to do the Stellar Sea Lion boat dive that was a couple of weeks away, I was very excited to see the critters I will be swimming underwater with…
Images of me having fun, diving, swimming with these agile mammals underwater filled my imagination and then I saw them. They were enormous. Many of them were at least a few thousand pounds. My fun-filled imagination quickly brought me back to reality. The thought of swimming with these giants quickly lost its appeal. I think they look much better through my camera’s viewfinder.
Posted on October 11, 2014
It has been quite a challenge learning to dive in a dry suit. When underwater, the suit acts as my buoyancy device instead of using the BCD (buoyancy control device) vest. So knowing how much air to add or subtract has been a steep learning curve for me. The worst part is that I would be swimming along just fine but when excessive air gets to my feet; suddenly I find myself starting to float upside-down quickly towards the surface — which is not a good thing when you are down at a depth that requires decompression time before surfacing. I would desperately yet remain calm as I try to regain control by letting the air out of my suit to get back to the bottom and get on me knees so the air can be release from my feet. On these upside-down occasions, I definitely thought about switching to the wet suit instead. With wet suit, I don’t have to deal with the uneven air disbursement. By using the BCD vest, it’s easier to know when I have to change the air quantity and the air stays in once place. However, with the water temperature in the Puget Sound around 40-50ish degrees Fahrenheit all year round; I know it would be in my best interest to learn to dive in dry suit so I can stay warm longer if I want to capture the amazing underwater life with my camera — which Pirate John has prohibited me to take with on our underwater dives. While I understand his reason for taking the camera from me, it drives me crazy when I see a photo opportunity swims by me. But… first things first, I need to overcome my buoyancy challenges. Though I have to admit, it’s without doubt I would make the worst dive buddy when I have my camera.
After 15 open water dives and many weeks of expert guidance from Pirate John to help perfect my buoyancy, I am able to hover and navigate underwater without crashing to the bottom or floating upside down as much. A couple of weeks ago, I went on my first boat dive trip to the San Juan Islands. While my buoyancy is much better and I was eager to jump off the boat to navigate through the heavy kelp forests — and search for the giant octopus and wolf eels along cliff walls; I decided not to do the boat dive because of the dry suit challenges I still have on occasion. Instead I tagged along with my camera. What an awesome adventure it was…
It was a very foggy morning when we left Anacortes for the dive destination in the San Juan Islands. While everyone else was inside, staying warm — I walked around the boat looking for photo opportunity. The fog was so thick, visibility were limited but the water was so calm — and with the sun trying to break through the clouds, it casts a warm glow all over. A great sense of peace and serenity came over me… as I stood at the stern watching the trail of wake the boat left behind.
However, since the fog was still really thick, we weren’t able to stop at our first dive destination. The captain must have full visibility of all the divers at all times. Captain Phil decided to go on to a different place, hoping the fog would burn off when we get there. As we headed into more fog, the land disappeared. Once again I couldn’t see anything but debris and jelly fish floating by the boat. So I just stood on the deck and enjoy the beautiful foggy surrounding while keeping my eyes open for what I call “Being at the right place, at the right time” kind of shots.
After what seems like another half-hour, the sun broke through the thick clouds and casts light on the thick fog. And suddenly there it was… my being at the right place, at the right time shot came into view. I saw an arch that looks a lot like a rainbow but without the colors. The bow was mostly white with some very faint color. The captain told me what I’m looking at is a fog bow. Well… talk about learning something new. I didn’t know there was such thing as a fog bow. As I composed the shots, I had difficulty getting sharp focus and correct exposure because the bow blends in with the fog background. I shot the fog bow at different exposures and settings to try to capture its faint detail. I noticed under exposure was the better setting, since I can always brighten it during processing in Lightroom.
Finally after what seems like a never-ending fog, the blue sky and land appeared out of no where. While everyone was getting ready with their scuba gear, the fog bow and beautiful scenery kept me occupied as we continued to the dive destination.
We finally arrived at the dive destination with full sun and clear visibility. The area was beautiful though the homes on the land kind of took away some of the natural beauty. Regardless, happy like fish in water; the divers put on their scuba gear and one by one jumped into the emerald-green water, ready to explore the underwater world below. At that moment, I wish I was diving too… but… life was kind to me and the adventures ahead would make me a very happy photographer.
Posted on August 25, 2014
Yesterday, I started my new journey as an underwater photographer. Pirate John and I went back to the Mukilteo T-Dock for my debut. Unlike last weekend during my certification where the visibility were low and murky — which was made worse by so many other inexperienced divers; this time we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves.
After spending sometime adjusting my weights, we were able to descend. I was so focused on photography and Pirate John was focused on keeping me safe and getting me to perfect my buoyancy. Which I can understand is really important but… the photographer in me was definitely more predominate; especially when we got to the bottom. The visibility was so much better. It was probably 20 feet compared to last week’s 3-5 feet. I was like a little kid with her first camera. I wanted to take pictures of everything. Since I don’t have a underwater housing for my Nikon, I had to use Pirate John’s point and shoot.
It has been years since I last used a point and shoot camera. I discovered it was quite a challenge to go back to the basics and shoot on automatic. The camera came with many settings, including underwater — which I chose to use to see what it can do. Even though it was a point and shoot, it was challenging for me. I missed being in control of my camera and the creative settings involved when shooting manual with a DSLR. But I think the point and shoot was the best way for me to learn from in the underwater environment. I only have three buttons to work with: On/Off, Wide Angle/Close Up, and Shutter. Which is all I can deal with when I have to focus on staying buoyant and not float away with the tide. On couple of occasions, Pirate John had to redirect me because I was going in the wrong direction and floating too much with the current. You can definitely become easily disoriented in the wide open water with no landmarks to guide you. Or the fact you can easily go from 30 feet to 70 plus feet without feeling the change of distance. That’s why I pay close attention to the air and depth gauge on my dive computer. Safety is the most important, photography second…
A few minutes into our dive; I came face to face with a young wolf eel half hidden in a kelp bed. Wolf eels are extremely shy and elusive. So it was amazing that I found one so easily. Excitedly, I took out the camera and Pirate John thought I wanted to take his picture. He took out his regulator and started to pose. I shook my head no and kept pointing towards the kelp bed.
On our second dive, Pirate John took me to the popular dive spot, Geo Dome. It’s a man-made structure but the sea life didn’t seem to mind. The visibility wasn’t good because of the strong current and lack of sunlight but I could see the abundant sea critters hidden everywhere. As I tried to become neutrally buoyant so I can steady myself enough to shoot without stirring up more silt, the current was bouncing me in all directions. Then I spotted a large rock fish and was able to get a few shots while battling the strong current at the same time.
On our way back, I didn’t see anything interesting. So I decided to do some selfie shots.
I took this shot just as the current pushed me down on my back…
And as I looked up, I saw a school of fish. When I tried to shoot, the current pushed me sideways and I ended up with this image. I like the abstract look of the fish and air bubbles.
Finally, after I tumbled around a few more times and couldn’t get the photos I wanted; I put away the camera and enjoyed the rest of the dive with my dive buddy, Pirate John… who made sure we do the safety stop before ascending to the surface. Over all, it was a good first underwater photography experience and though these snap shots aren’t award winning; it’s a thrilling feeling to know I’m another fin kick closer to my new goal of being an underwater photographer. Happy Diving! 🙂
Posted on August 18, 2014
After swallowing what felt like gallons of sea water, battling the currents and poor visibility, tumbling around in all different directions, and crashing to the bottom on several occasions (thank-goodness there were no sea urchins below); it’s official… I’m a certified PADI scuba diver!!
Wow! What an amazing, awesome experience. Even though the eerie green water was freezing cold and murky, visibility less than 4 feet, and my only life source is a 50 lb steel tank strapped to my back; the feeling of being able to swim with the fishes evoked the absolute magical and thrilling emotions deep within me.
There were challenging moments during the certification that made me lose my sense of bravery… but I was determined to make it through the training. Being a certified diver is the only way take my photography to the underwater world. I am looking forward to the new challenges and exciting discoveries waiting for me below. Here is my first of many photos to come as I embark on this new journey. Happy Diving! 😀
Posted on July 21, 2014
A couple of months ago, Pirate John introduced me to the world of sailing and now he has rekindled the love that I have lost years ago –Scuba Diving. I was probably about eight years old the first time I watched Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s undersea exploration shows. I was mesmerized by Cousteau’s beautiful underwater world and his French accent. I remember telling my grandma that I wanted be a scuba diver, undersea scientist like him when I grow up. While I ended up studying art, I never abandoned my desire to explore the ocean. A few years after moving to Seattle, I became a certified scuba diver. What an amazing experience. During my first open water dive, I encountered a huge octopus and that was it… the experience made me want to pursue my dream of being an undersea explorer. However, my undersea world was short-lived. Motherhood took center stage and I had to quit scuba. Over the years, I’ve thought about going back to the scuba world but for one reason or another, the timing and money just didn’t work out… until now. Pirate John gave me a wondrous gift — scuba lessons. Since it has been twenty years since my last certification, I have to start over. I will complete my certificate in a few weeks. It’s truly an amazing gift to combine my passion for photography and scuba diving. While I realized that I no longer wanted to be a great undersea scientist like Cousteau, I am looking forward to being an undersea photographer.
Since I can’t shoot underwater yet, I spend the weekend photographing Pirate John, scuba instructors and students from Evergreen Dive Service; the school where I will get my certification as a scuba diver. It was a fun and challenging shooting experience. The day was gray, the water reflective and the divers were mostly black moving objects. Talk about exposure nightmare. It was very difficult to get both the water and the divers with correct exposure at the same time. I decided to shoot a little under exposed so that the sky and water would not blow out. I find it easier to fix an under exposed dark area in Lightroom than a blow out area. Another challenge I encountered was the low light from the gray sky and the constant movement of the divers. I didn’t want to use high ISO so it was difficult to capture sharp images. But in the end, it was all good. I learned a lot on technique and processing. Mostly, it was great shooting and observing the divers in action… I can’t wait to be one of them in a few weeks.
Pirate John & Cool Scuba Instructor, Chad.
Calm, cool, dive instructor Chad. So patient and understanding.
Alex, happy like a fish in water. He passed his dive tests. I’m sure he is looking forward to his diving trip he has planned already…
Posted on July 8, 2014
I’ve always had a thing for trains. Perhaps it’s because I raised two boys who were so into trains when they were little and the fond memories I have in my heart of our train yard escapades. Oh, I remember those times we would sing over and over — the silly song about the wheels on the train go round and round… and the big smiles on their little faces when the nice train engineer let them push the whistle button. It’s amazing how something so simple yet ordinary can bring such joy and contentment when we are young.
Though I’m glad I still enjoy simple things in life but I am not always content with the ordinary, especially when it involves photography. After taking a couple of shots of this moving train, I decided to challenge myself to turn the ordinary into something different. As I zoomed in, my creative brain began to turn like the wheels and I no longer see the train but instead I saw shapes, lines and lights. However, during processing in Lightroom; the images still seem ordinary in color. So I decided to turn them into monochrome. I really like the more dramatic and stylistic image then just a picture of a moving train. But that’s just me… and my wild imagination. 😀
Posted on June 20, 2014
While walking around the yard looking for inspiration, I came upon a nice spider web covered with morning dew. However after a few shots of a boring spider on a web, I couldn’t get inspired to shoot more; the light wasn’t ideal to make the background interesting. Then a stream of sunlight broke through the cloudy sky and made the morning dew droplets sparkly and more inviting. I shot a few more frames, though I still find the images boring. But the sunlight helped stir up my creative brain and gave me the challenge of wanting to take the ordinary and make something unique with it.
After a few close up shots with different aperture settings, I decided to shoot at the largest opening available for my lens (f/6.3) to get the most shallow depth of field and bokeh background. With this in mind, I shot all the images a little underexposed so the background would be dark, with very faint details while keeping the details of the water droplets as sharp as possible. In Adobe Lightroom, I converted the images into monochrome with yellowish undertone for the highlights. After adjusting the exposure, contrast, and clarity; I added more highlights by using the brush tool to dodge and burn. I used the tool more like a paint brush: adding highlights to create a more illustrative, surreal image. It was a good experiment and helped me think outside of the box — which is always a good thing… 🙂