Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I Try to Be Nice, Really, But....

I mentioned in an earlier blog post (or perhaps in my Facebook page) that I get few enough letters from kids now that I try to respond to them.  In the past, it was simply impossible to reply to all of them.  Oh, here's the earlier blog post:

I recently sent a card and a note to a Jacob, who wrote me and had an address of "400 Deering Avenue, Portland, ME  04103." 
The card was returned to me with a note: "need full name" with the standard USPS label of "return to sender, not deliverable as addressed."  
I hate having my efforts wasted like this, so I looked the address up.  It belongs to Temple Beth El:  Temple Beth El is a welcoming congregation of over 300 families in Portland, Maine, affiliated with United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. TBE is an open and inviting kehilla (community) in which each congregant can find an opportunity for individually meaningful religious expression. 
Hey, Temple Beth El -- maybe one of your folks can let Jacob see that I replied to him.  Hey, I tried.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Weekly Series Number Eight: Favorite Images

School of Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks, Cocos Island, Costa Rica:

Thanks to all of you for your comments about my weekly series, where I show and talk about the stories behind some of my favorite images.  I've been trying to start with images from my early days, and then progress chronologically.

I remember seeing the first images of these schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks from Cocos Island (taken by a friend and mentor, Marty Snyderman).  Marty was one of the first underwater photographers to spend significant time at Cocos Island, and I saw his images back in the late 1980s as I was just starting to seriously take underwater photographs professionally.  I was lucky enough to be able to go out with a couple of the diving vessels that visited this remote island.  These images were taken on my first trip out there, aboard the Okeanos Aggressor.  I later visited Cocos Island a few more times, all on the vessel Undersea Hunter.   As far as I know, both vessels still visit Cocos Island, and despite all the hunting of sharks for their fins, these schools of hammerhead sharks can still be seen out there.

I had gotten tips from my friends (and bosses, when I worked on their films) Howard Hall and Bob Cranston.  This was in the days before relatively inexpensive rebreathers were available.  The trick, from what I gleaned, to getting images of these sharks was to get underneath them and to hold your breathe.  The instant you let out your breathe, then the entire school of sharks would scatter.  The school of sharks tended to swim around various underwater pinnacles near Cocos Island, hanging out around the thermocline, a pretty discrete boundary between warm, clear water and murkier, colder water.  The sharks seemed to like this boundary.  The boundary was generally right around 120 feet or so.

That first trip on the Okeanos Aggressor was something.  A group of divers from Boston had chartered the boat, but I had been able to get myself and my friend Peter Brueggeman on the trip.  Peter was a great friend and helpful to me underwater (and topside too!), and he had a great sense of humor and easygoing personality that helped offset my seriousness and antisocial behavior (I have really bad hearing, which contributes to my not enjoying conversations on dive boats -- I have a hearing aide but don't use it when I am on diving trips since it costs a lot when I forget I have it on and step into the water).  The funny thing about that trip was how nearly everyone in the group from Boston ended up romantically involved with someone else in the group.  There was a doctor who accidentally bumped into an old flame and rekindled the romance -- but also spent the entire trip anguishing over what would happen when he got back home and his wife found out about the affair.  There was a woman who targeted nearly every male on board and had a brief affair.  Peter and I were left alone, which was fine with me as I was more concerned about getting images.  I later discovered from one of the group that they thought that Peter and I were a gay couple!  This was pretty surprising to me.  It's happened to me a few times since, because I like to travel with my friends, and two guys traveling together must mean that they are gay, I guess.

I can remember the dives on that trip well.  Peter and I would go down a pinnacle called Dirty Rock, hang out at about 100 feet, looking off the pinnacle to catch a glimpse of sharks.  I'd see them infrequently, just at the edge of visibility, circling the pinnacle.  Once I caught a glimpse, I'd swim as fast as I could to the school, holding my breathe, and usually swimming upside down so I could see their silhouettes above me.  If I was lucky enough to find myself underneath the school of sharks, I'd have just a fleeting few seconds to snap a couple of exposures (using a Nikonos V camera loaded with 35mm film) before I'd have to let out a breathe.  The sharks would scatter at that point, and I'd look back the way I came to try to see the pinnacle.  Most of the time I'd see Peter's bright yellow fins, which were a lifesaver.  Thanks, Pete.

Getting back to the pinnacle was important; I sure did not want to lose track of where I was and have to surface in the middle of the usually-turbulent, rainy ocean off Cocos Island.  If I had not come back to where the other divers were, chances were good that the dive tenders would not see me when I surfaced, and I'd face a long time alone drifting.  That kind of scenario -- being lost by yourself, drifting away from your dive boat in stormy seas and low visibility -- is so frightening to me now that I probably would not do this kind of dive this way any longer. 

Sharks around the world have been targeted for years by fishermen who catch sharks only for their fins.  It's a tragedy.  The fins are valued as a delicacy by the Chinese (yes, I am Chinese-American) who make the fins into shark-fin soup.  Chinese folks try to serve shark-fin soup at wedding banquets, largely because it is very expensive, and serving your guests the most expensive dishes at a meal shows respect and courtesy.  This tradition is actually a relatively recent phenomenon, which has arised with the rise of the middle class in China.

The soup itself, and the cartilage from the shark fins, is pretty tasteless.  The shark fin part of the soup tastes like rubber, with almost no taste.  It's a real tragedy that sharks are being targeted for this fishery.  As apex predators, there just aren't that many sharks out there (they reproduce and grow relatively slowly compared to other fish); and they are being wiped out for this ridiculous and young tradition.

Of all the issues in marine conservation today, I believe that convincing the Chinese people to stop serving and eating shark fin soup is perhaps the only issue that can possibly be resolved.  I hope that we humans can stop this practice.  I don't think that we're going to solve much else, like global warming or the problem of plastic debris.

Friday, July 4, 2014

"It's a great photo, but certainly not worth paying for."

Some of rudest clients in the world work for non-profit organizations or governmental agencies that are "saving the world."  Why are they so bad?  Because they feel entitled. 

I enclose some recent communications that show how little prospective clients value photographer's work these days.   It's stunning how rude this person ended up being.  But before those communications, here is what my website's FAQ page says about our policies. 

I am working with a nonprofit organization that is saving the world. Unfortunately we have no funds for photography. Can we use one of your images for free?
We no longer provide images at no charge, and rarely discount our images, for nonprofit organizations or researchers. Please don't ask. We have found that administering and negotiating the use of photographs for nonprofit organizations often takes up more of our time than working with our commercial clients. We have also found that when we donate the use of our images, the organizations do not respect our guidelines for the use of the photographs, and often do not even help us in return if we need access or help in our projects.
Hopefully one of these days, photographers and filmmakers will be recognized as persons who do contribute greatly to the environment with their imagery. They will be paid for their work, and they and their work will be recognized as much as scientists' and politicians'. Nonprofit organizations will recognize the value of great imagery for their cause, and instead of constantly asking photographers to donate their photographs (and the huge amount of time it takes to do so!), they will pay photographers just as they pay themselves, their printers, designers, webmasters, and the postman.
Please read this letter from photoprofessionals that concisely and awesomely states our and other photographers' point of view on donating images for free. We are a signatory to this letter.

Here are the recent emails from a prospective "client." The emails are in reverse chronological order, most recent first. 

-------- Original Message --------
Subject:     RE: photo permission
Date:     Thu, 3 Jul 2014 12:17:51 -0400
From:     Walker, Bradley
To:     Norbert Wu Productions office

Hi Deanna,

Thanks for your response. I actually got in touch with one of our researchers, and he has a photo that I can use. I can understand charging for Norb's photo if we were to use it for commercial use, but for my purposes I'd be using it for educational purposes. It's a great photo, but certainly not worth paying for.  [bold font added by Norb Wu]


Bradley Walker
Information Specialist I
Communications Office
Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
100 Eighth Ave. Southeast | St. Petersburg, Fla. 33701
Phone: (727) 502-4788 | Cell: (239) 935-9566 | | | | |

-----Original Message-----
From: Deanna, Norbert Wu Productions office
Sent: Thursday, July 03, 2014 12:09 PM
To: Walker, Bradley
Subject: Re: photo permission

Hi again,

Our minimum usage fee is usually $200, but since you're paying from personal funds and the usage is for a relatively short time I will try to work with you.

Please let me know what is the most you can pay for this, and then I'll discuss your offer with Norb.


On 7/3/14 8:40 AM, "Walker, Bradley" wrote:


Yes, the photo will be used in the photos section on Facebook. I plan
to use it for one Facebook post for only 1 day. If I decide to use the
photo, the payment would be coming from my personal funds. What do you
charge for a one time use of the photo?


Bradley Walker
Information Specialist I
Communications Office
Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
100 Eighth Ave. Southeast | St. Petersburg, Fla. 33701
Phone: (727) 502-4788 | Cell: (239) 935-9566
| | | | |

-----Original Message-----
From: Deanna, Norbert Wu Productions office
Sent: Thursday, July 03, 2014 11:23 AM
To: Walker, Bradley
Cc: Norbert Wu Productions Office
Subject: Re: photo permission

Hi Brad,

Just following up on your email correspondence with Norb.  Please
provide the following usage details, and then I can forward a quote.

*Will this photo be used in your Facebook "Photos" section?

*How long do you plan on using it?

*What is your budget for the proposed usage?

Thanks and I look forward to your reply.

Best regards,


Norbert Wu Productions
Pacific Grove, CA  93950

On 7/2/14 1:54 PM, Norbert Wu Productions Office wrote:
Hi --
Deanna in our office will get back to you on this.  She's in the
office on Thursday.  Thanks!

Norbert Wu Productions
Pacific Grove, CA  93950

See and search through 8500 of the world's best marine life images:

Thousands of footage clips of marine life are online in our new
searchable database! (in beta):

On 7/2/14 9:45 AM, Walker, Bradley wrote:
Okay. What's the fee to use the photo for useful, educational purposes?

*Bradley Walker*

Information Specialist I

Communications Office
Fish and Wildlife Research Institute Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission
100 Eighth Ave. Southeast | St. Petersburg, Fla. 33701
Phone: (727) 502-4788 | Cell: (239) 935-9566 | | | _Research_| |

*From: Norb's iPad *On
Behalf Of *Norbert Wu
*Sent:* Wednesday, July 02, 2014 12:08 PM
*To:* Walker, Bradley
*Cc:* Deanna, Norbert Wu Productions office
*Subject:* Re: photo permission

Sorry, cannot grant use without fee paid.

Sent from my iPad.  Apologies for typos or brevity. 

On Wednesday, July 2, 2014, Walker, Bradley
> wrote:


I'm Brad, an employee with the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
in St. Petersburg, FL. I came across an image online, and wanted to
ask permission to use this spiny lobster photo on our Facebook page.
It would be used strictly for educational purposes, and we would
provide proper attribution if we use this image publicly. I hope to
hear back from you soon, and thanks for your time!



*Bradley Walker*

Information Specialist I

Communications Office
Fish and Wildlife Research Institute Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission
100 Eighth Ave. Southeast | St. Petersburg, Fla. 33701
Phone: (727) 502-4788 | Cell: (239) 935-9566
| | | _Research_| |

Sent from Gmail Mobile

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mac Tips That I Use All the Time

Here are some Mac tips that I use all the time: 

I use external keyboards all the time.  These keyboards are designed for Windows machines, but they work fine for Macs.  Let's say that I attach an external keyboard to my Mac laptop, so I can use an external monitor rather than my laptop's screen.  I show my usual setup in the photograph below -- I have a MacBook Pro and its screen on the right hand side, and a much larger 25" monitor and an external keyboard on the left.  I use the larger monitor and external keyboard at my home office far more than my laptop by itself.  Set up this way, the laptop screen serves as a second smaller monitor, which I can use to show menus, additional windows, etc.

The only change I have to make is upon setting this up, I need to switch the option and modifier keys on the external keyboard.  I do this by going into System Preferences -- Keyboard -- click the modifier keys button under the Keyboard window -- select the external keyboard (NOT the Apple internal keyboard) -- and switch the option and command keys so that they work the opposite on the PC keyboard.  This makes the PC keyboard's option and command keys match the placement of the same keys on the Apple keyboard.  A bit confusing -- if this works, then the PC's keyboard on the left botton will work as follows, just like an Apple keyboard: ctl, option, command.  I often use the keyboard shortcut cmd-X and cmd-Y to cut and paste text.  Once I've set the keyboard up I will test the PC keyboard to make sure that cmd-X and cmd-Y work as they should.  

Here's a huge tip.  I often buy new Macs or have to update or upgrade them.  I have various Mac operating systems and cloned hard drives of old machines that I want to use to test or start up a new or old machine.  Let's say that I have a Mac mini that runs Snow Leopard, but I have a separate hard drive that runs OS 10.8 Mountain Lion.  One of my Mac Minis has two hard drives in it, and sometimes I want to run Mac using the Snow Leopard drive.  I could go into System Preferences and choose Startup Disk, then restart my machine.  However, I've found that this method almost never works -- most of the time the Mac will use the same startup drive that I am trying to switch out of.  

This method works much, much better. Attach the second startup drive that you want to startup with using USB or Firewire.  To choose this startup drive, upon starting up, hold down the option key (alt key on PC keyboards). This will bring up a screen that gives you a choice of startup drives.  Just choose the startup drive that you want, and this method works most of the time.  

Put your Mac to sleep: 
Using a Windows keyboard: hold ctrl + F12 for a couple of secs, then the shutdown menu will appear.
Using a Mac keyboard: Command (⌘)–Option–Media Eject key (⏏)

See the hidden home Library files:
Note that you can't see the Library (hidden ~/Library folder) in your home folder (as it is hidden by default starting with OS 10.7 Lion). This is the best way to change this (but beware, it is fairly permanent: You can type in chflags nohidden ~/Library in Terminal to make it appear permanently

A less permanent solution to this problem is as follows:
Choose the Go To Folder command, in the Finder’s Go menu, then type ~/Library and click Go to view the folder in the current Finder window.
To display the Library in a Finder window : hold the Alt (Option) Key and use the "Go" menu to show "Library" in the drop down menu.

Do a find only for files in a certain window or folder: Open the folder. If the search bar is not there already, then right click in the upper taskbar area and choose to show the default set. The Search window should then open and one of the choices will be that window.

You get the message: The operation can’t be completed because an item with the name “.DS_Store” already exists."  This is a pain in the butt, and I often get this message when I am trying to copy a folder to another hard drive.  Here are some solutions: 
a.  Choose the  original folder, right click and choose "Get Info," click on the lock at the bottom right of the Get Info window (enter your admin password), then choose "Read & Write" for everyone and all other users under Sharing and Permissions.   Then click on the tool wheel at the bottom and choose " apply to enclosed items" in the folder. This might take a long time as all files in the folder will be revised to allow all users to read and write to it.  

b.  I've seen another tip:  

Do you have your Finder preferences set to show all hidden files? Use Tinkertool to do show hidden files.  Remove the .DS_Store file that is causing the trouble.  I have not personally tried this solution yet.  Tinkertool is a free Mac utility that lets you see hidden files on your Mac.  Don't remove or mess with hidden files unless you are a fairly expert Mac user.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Shark Diving in San Diego

I spent two years as a graduate student in Applied Ocean Sciences at the world-famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.  This was approximately 1988.  Macs were still in their infancy, but I had started with the original Mac in 1983 and used a Mac (SE?) while I was at Scripps.  I used Word 5.1a, which did everything I needed it to and which I wish were still around.  Lately I have been trying to find a way to convert all these Word 5.1a files, which I could convert to newer Word format files using Word X for the Mac.  With Mac's OS 10.7 and 10.8, which did away with the Rosetta emulator allowing Power-PC-based programs like MS Word X to work, I have lost the ability to open my old Word 5.1a files.  I am seeking someone who can write me an Applescript to open all those old Word 5.1a files on my last Snow Leopard machine.  Those files just need to be opened in Word X and then saved.

Back to the story.  I was not a very good graduate student.  The Applied Ocean Sciences program was for engineers interested in oceanography.  I had graduated from Stanford with degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering, which is why the faculty at Scripps were interested in having me attend the school (and become their slave).  But to be honest, I always knew that I was not that great an engineer.  I was fine at software stuff, and I had even spent a year as a software analyst in Silicon Valley after getting my masters degree in mechanical engineering (computer science specialty) at Stanford.  But I was just not that brilliant at doing stuff in the physical world, which is what Scripps oceanographers wanted.  I had come to Scripps already a serious underwater photographer, and I had had a portfolio and photographs published in those old, now-deceased, but great publications Sea Frontiers and Underwater USA.  Remember those magazines?

I had envisioned spending my time at Scripps by somehow combining my interest in underwater photography with oceanography.  Unfortunately, the reality of being a graduate student is that you need to find an adviser to fund you.  All advisors have their own specialties and interests -- and no one at Scripps was interested in what I wanted to do.  My first advisor wanted me to work on a gravity meter.  My second advisor was more interested in underwater optics than anything having to deal with marine natural history.  And I was unfortunately completely and totally fascinated by marine life rather than the physics of water. 

The field of marine biology is a tough one.  {It’s not as fun as it used to be, and there is little money available.}  One fellow student at Scripps finally received his doctorate, after eight years of hard work.  His job prospects are dim; every job he has applied for has had a minimum of 70 applicants, and as many as 200.  
Nowadays, many marine biologists seem less concerned with natural history than their predecessors were.  Scientists in the old days had many mysteries to solve.  Where did eels go to spawn?  Where did sea turtles spend the first two years of their life?  What exactly were these strange life forms trawled up from the deep?  Good science is no longer so simple.  Most marine labs have turned to biochemistry and other laboratory-oriented research -- research areas that can yield quick results and are good candidates for research funding.  Field biologists are few and far between, and their financial situations are often dire.  

In some ways, natural history photographers have taken over the role filled by old-time naturalists/scientists looking to represent and explain the big picture.  While a modern research scientist may be forced to spend months and years studying a very small issue, I have the luxury of presenting my work without the burden of proof he or she must bear.  The fact that I catch something on film makes it valid, and sometimes valuable.  

 I visited a man named Howard Hall, who lived in a suburb of San Diego.  He had written a book called Successful Underwater Photography, which was my Bible back then.  This was the first book that I had come across which explained how to take good underwater photographs with the equipment available those days.  It was a deceptively simple, very clear book -- and I am sure that dozens if not hundreds of underwater photographers got their start with that book.  Howard was just starting to think about doing a one-hour film on California's marine life; and he invited me to join him shark diving off the San Diego coast.  I immediately accepted, and had a great time when the day came, getting my first glimpse of wild sharks, and having a 6-foot mako shark pass me by very closely.  I was excited, thrilled.

The only problem was that the next day, I ran into my advisor at Scripps.  I had missed a meeting with him on the day of the shark dive and had completely forgotten about it.  When he asked why I had missed the meeting, I naively told him the truth -- that I had gone shark diving instead.  I innocently thought that he would be as thrilled as I was.  Of course he wasn't.   That was pretty much the end of my time at Scripps. 

I spent more time in San Diego, and I worked as an assistant diver on Howard Hall's film Seasons on the Sea, which went on to win all kinds of awards.  I spent many more days diving with the blue and mako sharks off the coast of San Diego.  Marty Snyderman and Bob Cranston had a business bringing divers on these shark dives, and I was fortunate enough to be able to tag along on some of them and get in the water to shoot once in a while.   (Thanks Marty and Bob!  Marty -- see, I am giving you credit for being the first San Diego shark diver guy.  Bob, I know you don't care about getting credit and just want to be in the water). 

One of my first-ever assignments was for an advertising agency who wanted me to photograph a menacing shark near a diver. 

After the shoot, I wrote an article for PDN -- Photo District News.  I probably have that article and the ad in the files somewhere and will post a scan here if and when I find it.  Here's the text to the article (which I found in my computer files as a Word 5.1a file -- thanks Word X and Snow Leopard!).
Reading this article brings me back to those old days.  I was just starting out as an underwater photographer, and I had a pretty high opinion of my photographic abilities back then.  It seems that all budding serious underwater photographers think that they are the bomb if they bring back a few decent images.  I have lost track of how many egotistical young divers have approached me armed with some underwater images that they call "abstract".  By taking these "abstract" images, they consider themselves "artists."

I have my own view.  I think that you are a technician, someone who might be able to take technically decent images that are in focus and have the correct exposure, as a serious beginner.  Some folks never get past being good technicians.  You see their photos all the time -- they love their own work, but it is missing that spark; it's usually a straightforward documentation of an animal.  Photographers who become serious will move beyond the technician stage, and by shooting more and more (and these days, shooting thousands of images on one subject) will usually get a few images that have that "spark" and which are special.  I'd venture to say that few photographers become true artists.  The artists are the experts who have mastered the technique -- it is second nature -- and know their subject matter so well that their best image blow your socks off.  They know their subjects, the environment, and their gear, and are able to produce mind-blowing images that say something about their subject or that moment in time.

Blue shark on a longline, off Baja Mexico.  The fishing of sharks, often only for their fins, can be incredibly wasteful.  Divers now rarely see blue sharks off the California coast, almost certainly due to overfishing of sharks.

Back to the story -- this was written in 1988 or so.  Those were the days of the Nikonos V camera, 36 shots per roll of film, plenty of sharks off San Diego,  Kodachrome 64 film,  "rush processing of film".  Some things never change.  As far as I can tell, BCs haven't really changed in 30 years.

The image from that shoot was published a bunch of times.  Here are a couple of covers.  

Swimming with Sharks
Photographing Sharks for a Medical Advertisement

When Ellen Walton at the Frank J. Corbett agency called me, I thought that this would be just another standard stock sale. She had learned of my work in marine wildlife photography through word-of-mouth after scouring through the submissions of several stock agencies which specialized in natural history material. Walton, however, was looking for a very specific type of photograph, and none of the submissions from the agencies quite fit the bill. She mentioned that she had to paid hundreds of dollars in research fees without finding a shot that would work. This was not surprising to me, considering her description of the desired image. Her agency wanted to use a shot of a photographer with a menacing, large shark, to serve as the centerpiece of an advertising campaign for OptiRay, a medical solution used in cardiac imaging technology. The slogan for the campaign was "There's Always a Safer Way to Get a Great Picture."

Ms. Walton requested stock images that might fit her criteria. I sent her a selection of my stock photographs of sharks and divers along with a note letting her know that I had the resources available to conduct a shoot specifically for this job. Living in San Diego, I had made the acquaintance of a group of divers who regularly took tourists out to see and photograph open-ocean blue sharks, a relatively common predator, and one of the few species which has been documented to attack man. Blue sharks are fairly predictable animals, and although they are certainly dangerous, they don't get quite large enough to crush a man in their jaws, and their teeth, although razor sharp, are short and stubby. In contrast, a mako shark has long, slender teeth. Mako sharks are not as common as blue sharks, and they are much harder to photograph than blue sharks. The difference in their teeth structure is crucial. Jeremiah Sullivan, a diver and photographer in San Diego, developed a working shark suit in the 1970’s, specifically to protect against attacks by blue sharks. Only four or five of these suits were ever made, with a cost of $6000 each. The suits are made of stainless steel links woven together electronically into a tight mesh. The mesh covers the diver's entire body and allows enough flexiblity to swim and move around in. The stainless steel mesh works by spreading the point of impact of a shark's tooth into a more generalized area. I've been bitten several times since first trying on the suit, and it really works! Even a large eight-foot shark can bite my arm with no blood or bruises afterward. A mako shark's teeth, in contrast with the blue shark's, would probably tear right through the steel mesh. No one has ever been attacked by a mako shark while wearing one of these suits, and this is where good judgment and experience in filming large animals comes into play.

The real danger of photographing sharks in this steel suit comes with its weight and restrictiveness. To find blue sharks, Bob Cranston, the captain of the boat that leads these popular excursions, pilots his boat twenty miles out into the open ocean. The bottom here is over two miles down, and a novice diver might easily become disoriented by the endless, bottomless, three-dimensional blue space all around him. Diving in the open ocean can be disorienting due to the three-dimensionality of the water. It is easy to go down very deep, very fast, without realizing it until it is too late. There are no visual clues to indicate where or how fast a diver might be sinking. The neoprene of a wetsuit compresses at depth, making a diver even heavier relative to the water around him, and so the deeper a diver sinks, the faster he may go. This is an exceedingly dangerous situation. Only experienced divers attempt blue-water diving in the open ocean. When Bob Cranston leads groups of tourist divers out on his trips, he always personally escorts them from the boat to the shark cage during a practice dive and during the actual shark dives to make sure that his clients do not fall victim to this disorientation. Add the weight and relative inflexibility of a shark suit to the inherent problems of blue-water diving, and small problems can quickly become dangerous situations. Divers use a piece of equipment to adjust their buoyancy in the water, which effectively acts as a parachute to keep them from sinking down too fast. This is called a buoyancy compensating device (BCD), and it is an adjustable volume air bag into which air is pumped to keep the diver neutrally buoyant. The shark suit itself weighs a good 20 pounds. However, the BCD is easily punctured by frenzied sharks, and a diver could easily find himself sinking out of control, down to the bottom two miles down, with a twenty pound, $6000 stainless steel anchor, impossible to take off underwater. This is the danger, and it is not a glorious prospect. We shark divers have learned to pay constant attention to our surroundings, our depth, and the location of our buddies. Ironically, as with most things in the ocean, it is not the sharks, but rather a diver’s carelessness that leads to dangerous situations.

Ellen Walton sent me a layout showing the type of image that she wanted for the ad. The shark was very large and menacing in the frame, with a mouth full of big, serrated teeth, and a photographer in a shark cage, very small in the frame. The shark looked much like the great white shark from Jaws, one of the most fearsome and awe-inspiring predators in the world. Unfortunately, white sharks are simply not found easily. Avid divers regularly pay $10,000 and upwards for the chance to see one of these animals. The money goes toward a week on a boat along with vast amounts of chum consisting of horsemeat, tuna, and assorted guts and blood of other animals. With all this expense, there is still no guarantee of seeing a great white shark. I would not be able to provide the great white shark for Frank J. Corbett for the day rate that we had agreed upon. One of the reasons I had landed the job was that my estimation of day rate, boat rental, shark cage and shark suit rental, bait, and other expenses was less than what the agency would have had to pay to combine two photographs of a shark and photographer in a Scitex computer . I made all of this clear to Ms. Walton before proceeding. Bob Cranston had his method for attracting blue sharks down cold; by hiring his boat, I was virtually guaranteed to be able to photograph blue sharks close enough to get the composition that I wanted. The biggest problem was that blue sharks hide their teeth until they feed! Like the creatures from the movie Alien, blue sharks have jaws that actually protrude out when the shark is biting. Until the moment of impact, however, the teeth and jaws are recessed. To get the composition that Frank J. Corbett wanted, I would have to be within inches of the shark.

The actual taking of the photograph was simple compared to the vast amount of work involved in getting to the open ocean site twenty miles offshore, unloading the shark cage, putting out a sea anchor (which keeps the boat from drifting away while you are chasing a shark around), and chumming the water with bait to attract the sharks. Bob Cranston, as my model and chief shark handler, was in charge of baiting the sharks into range and keeping an eye on my back. Another diver was in the shark cage, serving as a model and keeping an eye on Bob and me. Yet another person stayed on the boat at all times to keep watch for changing weather, keep the chum line going, fill tanks, and help us out of our suits.

For equipment, I chose a Nikonos V amphibious camera with an Ikelite Substrobe 150 flash. The Substrobe 150 is a large, powerful strobe with a very wide angle of coverage, more than enough to cover the 15mm wide-angle lens that I chose. To make the shark appear as large and threatening as possible, I knew that the shark's face needed to be as close to the lens as possible. The 15mm Nikonos lens is an exceedingly sharp lens specifically designed for use underwater. To make the shark appear large in relation to the diver, I tried to shoot only when Bob was a few feet behind the shark. The Nikonos is a 35mm camera system, and so I stayed with very fine-grain films, using both Fujichrome 50 and Kodachrome 64. Kodachrome 64 is my preferred film in such situations. Its high contrast works well in the diffuse light underwater, rendering subjects sharp and crisp. Fujichrome 50 is a better choice in greenish water, as color balance makes greenish water appear bluer and more appealing. The agency had planned to use the photograph in a number of sizes, one blown up to poster size for a tradeshow, and one as a full-page size ad in a number of medical magazines.

Although we were shooting in sunny California, light underwater is always at least two stops below light levels on the surface. Twenty miles offshore in the summer, fog usually prevails, and the day of the shoot was no exception. Light levels underwater were low, and so the higher speed of Kodachrome 64 was a help. To show the shark and diver in a background of blue water, it was necessary to use strobe light as fill, adjusting the strobe output to match or just barely fill in the colors and details of the subjects, while relying on ambient light to provide primary exposure. To provide the agency with a variety of lighting situations to choose from, I varied my strobe fills and primary exposures over a wide range of exposures. Over the course of the day, I shot about 300 exposures, or 8 rolls of film. Each roll of film was exhausting and time-consuming. To change film, I had to swim back to the boat, haul myself and 100 pounds of gear onto the boat, rinse the camera and strobe off with fresh water, and change the film. While shooting, Bob and I would swim with a shark, attempt to photogrpah a large, fast-moving shark in a natural position, with Bob attempting to both attract the shark to us, point it toward my direction, and then hold a pose as a photographer. After shooting a few exposures, we would both have to swim back over to the shark cage, which had been dragged by the wind and boat for twenty to thirty yards. Swimming in the shark suits while carrying large and bulky photographic gear was exhausting, and so we would have to hang onto the cage for a few minutes to rest and catch our breath. Working hard underwater causes you to breathe hard and forcefully, and many divers are familiar with how difficult it is to get enough oxygen into our lungs to feel rested again. Our air tanks were thus rapidly depleted, and changing tanks took yet another difficult swim back to the boat and a change of gear.

Ellen Walton wanted to see the film immediately, and so the Fujichrome film was processed the and shipped via overnight courier the next day. The Kodachrome took a day longer, and the agency ended up using a dark, moody shot of a diver and shark. Out of those 300 exposures, only one or two shots fit the bill exactly, so I felt lucky. But what is luck? I believe that you make your own luck, by shooting different compositions, exposures, and hedging your bets.

Fan Mail from Kids Always Brightens My Day

I've been trying to answer letters from kids these days.  It was hard to do back when I was writing and supplying lots of photographs for childrens' books.  I still have a filing cabinet full of letters that I hope to photograph one of these days. 

This is for all the adults who think that I am mean and crochety.  I can be if other adults get in my face.  But how mean can I really be if I've lived the past 25 years with Labrador retrievers and reply to letters from kids?  And if you are a mean adult person, then don't sue me (yes, this happened) if you get in my face and then get an equal reaction from me.  Kids, I like.  Adult a--holes, I don't like and there are too many of them these days. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Places To Eat and Things to Do in the Monterey Area

Here are some recommendations for places to eat and things to do in the Monterey area. 

I live in Pacific Grove, which is a small town between Monterey and Pebble Beach.  Carmel and the Big Sur Coast are just over the hill.  I’ve put these tips on things to do and places to eat for all the folks who ask me. 



Places to Eat: from dirt cheap to more expensive:

Michael’s Tacos: Country Club Gate Center: Hole in the wall, very informal, but good shrimp and chicken tacos, very cheap.  A good choice if you just want some decent food.  This is a local’s hole-in-the-wall with zero (actually, negative) ambience but pretty dang good Cali-Mexican food.  I go here for lunch and dinner when the other places in Monterey are overrun by tourists.  It’s in a strip mall at the top of the hill above Pacific Grove.  Dirt cheap (almost free). 

RG Burgers: two locations, one in Carmel Crossroads shopping center and one near downtown Monterey.  The one at Carmel Crossroads is less crowded and a good stop after visiting Point Lobos or Carmel Beach, or before or after a drive to Big Sur.  Great beef and turkey burgers.  My favorite is the mushroom and swiss turkey burger. 

The Fishwife on Asilomar (another location is in Seaside).  Seafood with a supposed Caribbean flair.  It's decent. The location in Pacific Grove is tucked away in the woods, steps from Asilomar Beach and Pebble Beach, and has a nice atmosphere.  Popular with tourists so make a reservation.  Medium expensive.

Peppers in downtown Pacific Grove.  A longtime favorite that serves Cali-Mex food.  This place has good food, but you have to order the right thing.  I've had some great food there and also have had some pretty bad dishes there.  The restaurant is always crowded, and the wood floors and walls make the place SUPER LOUD, uncomfortably loud for me (which is really saying a lot, since I am half-deaf).  Popular with tourists so make a reservation.  Low to Medium expensive.

More expensive:

Monterey’s Fish House: great seafood and meat.  Kind of a local’s secret.  The restaurant is located in a converted small house, in an industrial area,  between used car lots and body shops.  Good hearty food, no view.   Reservation absolutely necessary.   Prices have gone up so that my favorite, the squid pasta dish, has gone from $11 to $18.  Medium to high expensive. 

Alvarado Fish & Steak House: great seafood and meat place.  Sister restaurant to Monterey’s Fish House, same chefs and cooking but a slightly different menu.  As of June 1, 2014, Groupon had a coupon for this place.  Not as crowded, better downtown Monterey location, better ambience.  My favorite is the mussel pasta.  Medium to high expensive.

Cibo: Italian food, located in downtown Monterey.  Good locals menu.  The kind of place you'd go with your parents. Not bad.  Medium to high expensive.

Passionfish: the premier seafood place in the Monterey area, does all the right things (like sustainable seafood and a great wine list); on all the foodie lists for seafood.  I have never been there.  Expensive. 

For breakfast:

First Awakenings in the American Tin Cannery Outlet Mall in Pacific Grove, very close to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  A local favorite for breakfast and brunch.  Great skillet platters, omelets, good coffee, etc.  Low to medium expensive. 

Loulou's Griddle in the Middle: on Monterey's Wharf #2 (which is the first wharf you usually see, as opposed to Fisherman's Wharf).  Wharf #2 is a  real workingman's wharf, and this place is the front end.  I've heard great things about it but have yet to make it there.  It serves standard breakfast fare as well as dishes like calamari and eggs. 

Things to do:

These are mainly outdoor excursions. 

From late February through mid-May, the Mile of Flowers in Pacific Grove is stunning.  You can drive it, walk it, or bike along it. 

Driving the Big Sur coast from Carmel to Nepenthe or Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is always stunning.  The waterfall falling onto the beach at JPB State Park is an award-winning photograph.  Just point your camera and take the shot.  Award winner. 

Drive on the Big Sur Coast to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and hike up the gorge to a beautiful swimming hole.  One of my favorite places and hikes of all time. 

Driving or biking 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach is a great ride.  Riding a bike is free. 

Rent a bike and bike the Pacific Grove Recreational Trail, which goes through PG all the way to Seaside and Fort Ord along the coast. 

Rent a kayak and perhaps a guide, or join a group, to see otters and other marine life in Monterey Bay or nearby  Elkhorn Slough.

Relax and reinvigorate at the nearly two dozen different thermal pools at The Refuge in Carmel Valley.  This place is awesome. 

Monterey Bay Aquarium hits everything but is expensive.

Carmel Beach: this beautiful, fine white sand beach at the base of (overly) charming Carmel-By-The-Sea is a fine place to visit.  All friendly, well-behaved dogs are welcome and can be walked or run off-leash. 

Point Lobos State Park: The crown jewel of the California State Park system.  Stunning place to take a hike.