Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Patima housing and Canon G9 in the Red Sea

On our recent trip to the Red Sea, one of our friends, Carlos Parraga, had an interesting new housing along with him in addition to his Seacam for his Nikon D2X. He had the Patima housing for his Canon G9. As the G9 is my walk-around compact camera as well, I was very interested to see the Patima solution. Very elegant indeed!

This Korean housing is machined from a solid block of aluminum and has a very clever series of ports for macro and wide-angle. Aside from the lovely ergonomics, my favorite aspect of the housing is the Nikonos V bulkhead, allowing traditional underwater strobes to be used without the necessity of fiber optic. That makes a lot more strobes easily adaptable to this system, for sure.

I traded e-mails with Ryan Cannon at Reef Photo today and he said this was one of their biggest sellers at the moment, so I guess the word is out. can tell you more about it, but I have to say after having used it myself, the combination of the image quality and ease of navigation of the G9 is perfectly suited to a sophisticated housing of this nature.

Maybe if that's what I'd been shooting all week I wouldn't have had to pay $600 in overweight charges leaving Marsa Alam :(

Friday, July 25, 2008

Yum Yum Yellow

Last week, while in the Red Sea, Phil Darche had a nicely intimate encounter with an oceanic white tip shark while snorkeling off Elphinstone Reef, and photographer Dennis Liberson was there to capture it. Some fun!

Back to the Red Sea

The Red Sea was the first place I ever led a photo tour, aboard the Sunboat in 1982 when the Sinai was still Israeli. I've done several more trips to the Egyptian Red Sea, but the most recent was 2001. OK, I'll admit it, political insecurities made me reluctant to go back, despite it being one of my all time favorite dive destinations.

In July I led a group of underwater shooters aboard the MV Hurricane, out of Marsa Alam. We dived the offshore islands of the southern Red Sea, Elphinstone, Big Brother & Little Brother Islands, and Daedalus. It was so refreshing to get into really clear water again after a few trips to Indonesia and PNG that dipped a little too far into the "muck" end of the spectrum. Plus, the soft coral decoration along the walls of the Red Sea is still among the best anywhere.

I was so happy to be back diving the Red Sea again. Yes, it can be crowded these days, particularly on day boats out of Hurghada or Sharm el Sheikh. But, on a good live-aboard and the right itinerary, this remains some of the best tropical reef diving on the planet.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Digital TTL that really works

During our last Digital Master class in Key Largo, Basim Nasr showed up with a brand new Seacam housing for a Canon 1DMKIII and a pair of Seacam Seaflash 250 strobes. I was very eager to see how his strobes performed on the exposure slate test, whereby we have a set distance and shutter speed, with the only variables being strobe light output and aperture. If TTL works, then the light on the exposure slate should be the same. As an aside, I have rarely seen a digtial TTL test that truly worked underwater. This one did.

Look at F-5.6. It is a little overexposed because there is too much ambient light on the scene. And, F-22 is a little too dark because there is not enough power in the strobe heads to light the scene at such a small aperture. But, within the range, F-8, F-11, and F-16, the exposures are very excellent and the histograms perfect. The backgrounds are different, but that's what you would expect from the varying aperture/shutter speed combination. The critical variable, the amount of strobe light striking the exposure slate, is impressively constant.

Thanks to Basim for sharing this data with us.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Aqua Bus

Ft. Lauderdale is hosting the Coral Reef Symposium this week, with scientists from all over the world meeting to discuss the plight of our coral reefs and their endangered denizens. They wanted something to celebrate the beauty of the reef, to remind people how much there is yet to protect, so they asked me for a couple of shots from my hometown, Key Largo, Florida. They wanted to dress up the buses running around the convention center, and came up with this composite of two of my images from Snapper Reef.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Beyond Point-and-Shoot: Sea and Sea DX-1G in PNG

Beyond Point and Shoot in PNG – Photographic Adventures with the Sea and Sea DX-1G

Photos and Guest Editorial By Valerie Rutledge
Images taken in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea, April, 2008

As is typical of my groups, almost all are hard-core photo enthusiasts. But one guest and longtime friend, Val Rutledge, brought a new tool aboard our trip to Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea … the Sea and Sea DX-1G, a 10-megapixel compact digital camera with dedicated housing and external strobe. While it looked a little small sitting on the camera table next to the array of $10,000 D-SLR rigs everyone else was shooting, I noticed as I looked over her shoulder to her laptop Val didn’t suffer camera-envy when it came time to download her images, especially as the week wore on and she learned better how to optimize her camera. In fact, her results were so impressive I asked her to share her insights into how she managed to make her compact camera system work so well underwater. While somewhat specific to this system, her comments and results speak to a new generation of compact cameras that blur the line between what used to be dismissively considered “point-and-shoot” and housed single lens reflex digitals

SF – Val …I remember the trips from years ago when you were shooting your Nikonos and film. How long have you been doing underwater photography?

VR – I began taking underwater photos in 1982 with a Nikonos IV and SB-103 strobe. It was good for wide-angle and macro of things that didn’t move, but for fish portraits I went to a giant Aquatica housing for my Nikon F3. So, as you see I was really serious about it even then, but eventually I kind of gave it up. I tried video for a while, but was always a still-shooter at heart. When we decided to join you in PNG I had to really think through my options. My Nikonos doesn’t even work anymore, and no way would I schlep that heavy film housing all the way here to shoot just 36 shots on every dive while you all were getting 400 per dive!

I’ve been shooting digital, topside, for several years, and recognize all the obvious advantages … immediate review of the shot, ease of storage of the digital file, and of course I don’t miss the expense of paying for film and processing. But, my camera was old now that technology advances so quickly in digital, and it wasn’t worth even trying to find a housing for it. So, I started researching my options, with the criterion being at least 10-megapixel camera, a small and ergonomic housing, and the easy ability to add an external strobe. I may not have known much about underwater digital photography, but I knew enough about underwater photography in general to realize that last point, the underwater strobe, was very important to avoid backscatter.

SF – Expand on that a little, please.

VR – My little digital has a built-in flash, but I can’t imagine that it would have enough power to punch through water, which is far denser than air, and because it sits right next to the lens it would illuminate all the particles in suspension, making it look like I was shooting in a snowstorm. I knew I needed a separate flash with more power, plus the ability to light my subjects and not necessarily light the water in between. Most of the compact digitals I researched online had their own housings I could order, but adapting a strobe seemed a hassle. I chose the Sea and Sea DX-1G mainly for the easy way it attached the strobes, and also because the camera has good macro capability and the housing has a threaded port to attach a wide-angle adapter. There are fiber optic ports built into the housing so I could add dual strobes if I wanted. With this combination it seemed I could shoot almost anything on the reef.

SF – Once you got the system, was it hard to figure out the operation?

VR – Actually, yes. The camera is a Ricoh digital, branded as Sea and Sea and with some special functionality for underwater applications in the software. The camera manual feels like it was written in Japanese and not particularly well translated to English. Some things we had to figure out from the pictographs, but after using the camera for a few days topside, the controls we’d have to use through the housing seemed far more intuitive. Plus, the settings on the camera can be accidentally nudged when you put it in the housing. So, it seemed important to me to double check the important control settings topside, before closing the back of the housing. Really, the only ultra-critical thing you have to do is make sure the flash pops up before putting it in the housing, because the camera flash triggers the external strobe via a fiber optic connection and there is no way to access that control through the housing. Everything else can be adjusted underwater, but it is easier to see and correct topside as necessary.

SF – What settings worked best for you?

VR – I used “cloudy day” for the white balance and tried “manual” for both shutter speed and aperture. Usually about 1/100th of a second and apertures between about F-10 and F-16 seemed to work, so long as I adjusted my strobe power according to the distance and reflectance of the subject. Later in the week I experimented with the “Sea and Sea” mode, which appeared to give a very nice combination of shutter speed and aperture, but I still needed to bracket with the strobe power output. Gratefully, the Sea and Sea YS-250 I was using had a variable rotary dial for strobe power, making it quite easy to adjust. There was also a nice LED model light, which was handy for the night dives but also was a good AF focus assist in low light or flat contrast situations.

SF – Speaking of focus, how did the camera’s auto focus work for you?

VR – I quickly learned to press the shutter release halfway down to lock in the focus. Then a green bracket illuminates, confirming focus and locking in the aperture as well. Then I’d complete the shutter release when the action was right. This really minimized the digital lag as well. The camera’s LCD was fine for general composition, but as with all cameras of this nature, in high ambient light it was very difficult to see details on the screen. Sometimes I just had to trust that the camera would handle focus automatically because there was no way to truly see for sure. Usually, it was quite accurate, unless the fish was swimming by too quickly.

SF – If you were to offer 6 tips to anyone out there shooting with a compact digital, based on what you learned over these past 2 weeks in PNG, what would they be?

VR –
1. Get close. The camera handles fish and macro quite well, but for large subjects or reef scenics you still need to get close and then use the wide-angle adapter. Even with a strobe as powerful as the YS-250, anything farther than about 5 feet away got soft and monochromatic. Working close allowed the best color and sharpest photos.
2. Lock the focus in before taking the shot. This camera will never capture split-second action like your digital SLR, but the prefocus really helped to minimize the digital lag. That’s a pretty major point of advice.
3. I tried both JPG and RAW capture (the DX-1G was one of the few cameras I found in this category that could even shoot RAW), and each had their advantages. In JPG I got like 600 photos on a 4 GB card, but in RAW I only got about 200. Plus, it was quite a bit slower working in RAW because it took longer to write to the card, so it took more patience between shots. But, once I opened the DNG files (the Adobe RAW protocol used by the Ricoh camera) in Photoshop, I had more control and better final results. For serious UW photo-ops I came to prefer the RAW, but for snapshots, I’ll keep working in JPG just for the speed and convenience.
4. I can’t overstate the importance of the external strobe. I tried working with just the internal flash for a trip to the Bahamas just before we came on this one, and everything was either blue and monochromatic or white from massive backscatter. And that was in nice clear water. I can’t even imagine doing these muck dives in PNG without an external flash to pop the color and reduce backscatter.
5. Don’t trust too much to automation. Many of these cameras offer auto-ISO, auto-exposure, auto focus, auto everything. But, my best results came from picking a manual shutter speed that worked, usually between 1/60th and 1/125th, ISO 200, and controlling the exposure with the strobe power.
6. Lastly, a great feature to use is the video option to capture motion along with still shots all in one dive. Here an underwater filter would punch up color on a shallow reef, but I see it more as a tool for dolphins, sharks, or other subjects where motion really matters. I did video a nudibranch though!

There are a few extras you should have with this system. I wish we would have had two batteries; just so one would be on charge between dives. You can use two AA batteries instead of the dedicated rechargeable, but it is slower to recycle the flash and doesn’t really get through all the shots you might want to take on a really productive dive. Also, I’ll need spare O-rings for both camera and strobe. Once I was careless closing the cap on the strobe and actually cut through the battery compartment O-ring. Without a spare I would have been out of luck. I think those are prudent precautions no matter which camera housing you use.

It is a very nice kit. It all goes in a small briefcase that comes with it, and the camera, arm and tray set, and strobe weighed less than 10 pounds! It had an outside pocket for books and magazines on the plane and I never once had to worry about whether it was too big for carry-on, like you guys seemed to obsess about. Maintenance was lubricating a single O-ring on camera and strobe, a fresh-water rinse, and charging batteries for each. Of course, ease of use is meaningless unless it delivers good photos as well and I was extremely pleased with my results!

New Digital Master class 2009 Announced

This year's Digital Master photo seminar held in Key Largo was a huge success, as mentioned previously on this blog. So much so that students from this year's sessions have already fully booked next year's course offering, June 6-13, 2009. See

So, we are opening a second Digital Master class, May 30-June 6, 2009. For both sessions we have arranged for Eddie Tapp, Photoshop instructor extraordinaire, to be on location for Photoshop and Lightroom tutorials,, and we will again be using the exclusive dive services of our friends at Ocean Divers.

Above is a shot of Eddie and me, in the "classroom", getting ready to dive the reefs and wrecks of Key Largo.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

In honor of our Olympic swimmers

Lately I have been working with Olympic swim hopefuls training in Key Largo and Islamorada. As a competitive swimmer from way too long ago, it was very inspiring to see how quickly they get from one end of the pool to another.

Some, like Gary Hall Jr. (over/under freestyler in photo below) have been in several Olympics already. Others will be in Beijing for the first time, for either the USA or their home country.

Here is a collection of work I've done with The Race Club:

Tokina 35mm macro lens

We are tested the Tokina 35mm on a D2X in the photo course I taught in June in Key Largo. 35mm focal length on a 1.5 crop restores the angle of view of the 60mm we used to have on film (or any full-frame), and is far better for medium sized reef fish and schooling fish than the 60mm Micro-Nikkor.

The shot with the goatfish is with a small dome from 3 feet away. (dome ports restore the topside angle of view of a lens, so advantage of wider 35mm + lack of refraction from flat port). The squirrelfish was shot with a flat port and a Seacam wet diopter.

Special (short) flat port is used to place front lens glass close to the port glass when racked out one-to-one. Normal port (as you'd use for 60mm) will have too much air between front of lens and back of glass. Seems to me a very powerful tool for a modest price for those who are shooting 1.5 crop cameras like the Nikon D300.

Remote monitor used UW for first time

While I had done some polecam work with my Seacam e-monitor, yesterday was the first time I tried it underwater.

Used this set-up to let the schooling fish acclimate to the housing, and get properly polarized in front of dome & even got myself in the photo, as the cable can be up to 50 meters in length and still trigger the camera. Probably very interesting applications for research and deep water remote applications as camera & monitor can go to to 80 meters. Have to play with it some more, but clearly this tool is far more versatile than a viewfinder for a polecam shooting great white sharks ... which is why I bought it to begin with.

S6 connectors ... the "Must Have" housing accessory

I just received my newest housing, a Seacam for a Canon 1DsMKIII (21 megapixel). Wonderful housing, although I totally expected that having migrated from a series of Seacam housings previously including 1DsMKII, 1Ds, Nikon D1X, Nikon F100, and Nikon N90. However, with the new housings I got dual S6 bulkeads. See for reasons why I think S6 is so very superior to standard Nikonos V connectors on a housing.

Having spent the past 2 weeks shooting the new housing I'll confirm the S6 is a joy to use. I'll never go back to N5, and would hope one day all housing and strobe manufacturers will see the (strobe) light.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Stephen Frink answers Divester questions

A while back the Divester blog asked me a few questions about photography, life in general, and predictive previsualization. As they are no longer online to link to, here is their interview:

Stephen Frink is the world's most widely published underwater photographer. Not surprisingly, he has a deep, color-rich library of underwater photos that most divers would kill for. In addition to being an "artsy" photographer, he's also quite articulate: he's written books, housing reviews, and loads of articles for Scuba Diving Magazine. He provides personal photo instruction as well as escorted photo tours. He's also an inventor. In other words, if it has to do with cameras in or near water, he's your go-to man. Pretty amazing for someone who grew up in Illinois. For this installment of 10 Questions for..., Stephen gets comfortable, a removes his sunglasses, and opens up about his work, including how barnacles helped shape his future, why HD video is so compelling, and what, exactly, "predictive previsualization" is.

Divester: How did you get interested in underwater photography?
Stephen Frink: It was a circuitous route for sure, but a few of significant forks in the road took me there. First, I suppose it was because I was a competitive swimmer as a kid. Did that for 13 years, all the way through college. So, I was always intrigued by water sports, but living in land-locked Illinois made scuba diving a bit more of a challenge. Second, I ended up in graduate school in California, so at least there was an ocean nearby and diving was an easier possibility. Third, I was working on my thesis in experimental psychology and had some spare time to take elective classes. I enrolled in Photo 101 and the magic alchemy of that first black-and-white print evolving in a tray of Dektol was instantly addictive. Fourth, I needed a part-time job while in graduate school and there was a marina in my neighborhood with a yacht hull cleaning service. I went in to ask if they needed any help, and they said I could have a job cleaning boats, but I had to be a certified scuba diver. So, even though I was already interested in photography, the underwater hook didn't happen until I finally got certified. All for 25 cents a linear foot to scrape the barnacles off of boat hulls.

Divester: What was your first rig? What do you shoot with now?
SF: Like many of us, my first rig was a Nikonos, and I shot it available light only. Since it was back in 1971, mine was the original Nikonos, bought used from a surfer in Seal Beach. I still had that camera when I moved to Kona after graduate school. I added a Vivitar 283 flash in an Ikelite housing and took roll after roll of spectacularly run-of-the-mill photos, but the water and reef was a lot more beautiful than the beach dives in Southern California, so I was having fun. Today I shoot a Canon EOS1DsMKIII (21 MP digital) in a Seacam housing. I find a combination of 16-35IImm zoom, 50mm macro, 15mm fisheye, and 100mm macro will cover most of the things I need to shoot just about anywhere. For strobes I use a combination of Ikelite DS125, Sea and Sea YS-250, and Inon Z220s. If I need more punch for wide angle or distant subjects, I'll use my Ikelite 200. Just this week I tested the new Seacam Seaflash 250 for Canon. It provides TTL (which isn't all that important in digital photography, truthfully, but is nice to have), and also strobe synchronization in rear curtain synch (which is an important feature previously unavailable except with housed Canon strobes). So, I'll buy one of those and add it to my travel kit.

Divester: What are the 3 best dive sites in the Florida Keys?
SF: The Duane shipwreck for sure. That may be the best shipwreck in this hemisphere for color and concentration of marine life. Once the much larger and more notorious Spiegel Grove was sunk as an artificial reef in Key Largo, visitation to the Duane dropped off. But, the Duane is a far more mature wreck, with more marine life. Plus, it is small enough (327-feet) so you can feel like you did it on a single dive, whereas the Spiegel Grove is so massive you have to decide which vignette of the ship you want to experience. For reef life, I like a site called Fire Coral Caves at the south end of Molasses Reef. Always great pelagic action, and the resident Goliath groupers and Atlantic spadefish are of interest. For sheer masses of marine life, I like Snapper Ledge, part of the Pickles Reef complex in the Upper Keys. I realize you asked in the context of the entire Florida Keys, but Key Largo is my home and I tend to do most of my local diving there. However, once my friends in Key West put the Vandenberg wreck on the bottom, no doubt that will edge right up there as one of the top dives in the Florida Keys. I am very optimistic they are going to do something very meaningful with that ship.

Divester: A lot of underwater photographers seem to be branching into video. Do you see yourself moving in this direction, too?
SF: I've always said "no way", assuming it was too hard to serve two masters. Plus, all the post-production tedium of video editing intimidated me. But now High Definition video shows such compelling promise, I can't ignore the possibility. Plus, the web and other media venues will continue to demand more and more video content. And finally, there are some subjects that are just more interesting when shown in motion, rather than that frozen moment in time we capture as still shooters. I don't see video as being an all-consuming passion, like stills have always been. But as HD cameras and housings get smaller, I can see where one might fit in the travel case. My biggest issue though is that there is a finite amount of time that one can spend in the water. Will I want to share even a moment of that with video as opposed to stills? I don't know, but until HD I never even considered it.

Divester: You're a master at photographing sharks. What are some things photographers should keep in mind when shooting sharks?
SF: Thanks for the kind words. I suppose the first and most obvious is "Don't get your butt bit". Actually, there's a lot you can do to avoid getting hurt, and the dive operators and shark wranglers out there today are a very savvy and safety conscious bunch (for the most part). If it is helpful, perhaps you could point your readers to this link as it does provide some good hints specific to shark photography.
Different sharks require different techniques; but a wide angle lens that focuses very quickly, a fast strobe recycle, quick reactions, and good peripheral vision are all important complements to effective shark imaging. We just finished doing the Shark Shootout at Stuart Cove's by the way, and really had some stellar photo ops. I think we really pushed the envelope in terms of access this year, and perhaps more than anything, that's what good shark photography is all about ... Getting close safely. I call it "Predictive Previsualization". Seeing in your mind's eye how the shot should look, setting all camera and strobe controls for what they should be when the shark gets close enough, and having the presence of mind to trip the shutter once the shark enters the shoot zone.

Divester: What's the toughest marine creature to shoot and why?
SF: I suppose the absurdly skittish creatures like the garden eel are the hardest. Telephoto work isn't effective in a medium 600 times more dense than air, and even a 200mm macro doesn't get you close enough for most species of garden eels. Of course some of the bigger and bolder Pacific species of garden eels allow a closer access, and are easier to fill the frame. I know how I should do it though. I'd put my Seacam on an underwater tripod pointing at the hole of a garden eel. Then, I'd get two powerful strobes so I could work at F-22 for great depth of field. Then I would prefocus manually on where the eel would come out of the hole. Finally, I would use a 20-foot remote shutter release to trigger the camera when the garden eel came back out of it's hole, and I would devote a whole dive to nothing but that so that I'd nail it during the random happenstance when the eel bobbed into focus. Why haven't I done that? A headshot of a garden eel doesn't mean that much to me, beyond the challenge. Maybe one day.

Divester: What is Frink's SOS?
SF: To understand the product you probably need to understand the motivation. I was off Peleliu (near Palau), and we had the combination of very rough seas and a strong offshore current. Once I was swept away from the protection of the rock I had the choice of coming to the surface too quickly and risking the bends, or to do a 5-minute subsurface offgass at the mercy of the current. When I finally surfaced, the dive dinghy was a distant spot on the far horizon. Just the year before a group of Japanese tourists had died at this very spot in a similar situation. Their dive boat had an engine malfunction, and they got swept farther and farther away. Then it got dark and the situation spiraled out of control. Anyway, there I was bobbing at the surface in 6-foot seas, juggling two camera systems that would be lost to the deep abyss if I let go. Now, I had to reach in the pocket of my BC and find a little safety sausage, unroll it, take my regulator out of my mouth, blow it up through a pea-shooter valve, tuck one camera under my arm, and hold the safety sausage upright so the boat could see me. Right then I decided there had to be a better, safer way.
The SOS (Surface Observation Signal) was my solution to that problem. I decided that the pneumatics of a buoyancy compensator should be able to deploy a safety sausage so a diver did not have to manually blow it up, or even hold it in their hands. I researched my options, went through an expensive and arduous process to have the concept patented, and licensed it initially to Aqua Lung. Actually, Aqua Lung/Seaquest was a wonderful collaborator on the project. BCs are their specialty, and together we came up with a way the SOS would mount in a pouch attached to the lower right dump valve. Inflating the BC and pulling a rip cord would allow the safety sausage to deploy, and a one-way valve would keep the SOS inflated even if the BC had leaks elsewhere, or was trimmed to personal comfort while waiting on the surface. This year Innovative Scuba will launch a similarly licensed product at the DEMA show called SMART (See Me And Rescue Tube). The SMART will adapt to other BCs other than just the Aqua Lung and Seaquest brands previously served. In the near future you'll also see the SOS/SMART concept directly integrated into high end BCs rather than an add-on accessory.

The things about the SOS that I find most compelling is that:
It is always there when needed.
It is so easy to deploy that a diver will be inclined to do so at the first hint of trouble, not too late when they are potentially out of sight.
It is hands-free, and doesn't require a regulator to be removed from the mouth to inflate.
It can be deployed by a buddy for a diver that might be in trouble at the surface.
When seen by the dive boat, it means "here I am and I need you to pick me up". It removes the ambiguity of seeing a diver on the surface, maybe waving an arm, and maybe being in distress. The message is instantly clear.
Of course I could be biased, but I think the SOS should be standard equipment for any diver on any live-aboard. We trust our lives to guys we don't know, driving dive skiffs we can only assume are in good repair. The least we can do is put the odds in our favor by helping them see us when we come up somewhere they aren't.

Divester: I'm sure everyone thinks you have the world's best job. What would most people be surprised to hear about your work?
SF: They think it is the world's best job because of the wonderful places we go for dive travel and the adventure of it all. But I think they might be surprised at all the backstage work that goes into managing a photo archive and effectively syndicating the work. To make this fit for me I've needed to multi-task, but ultimately it is all about underwater imaging. The subsets include my close relationship with Scuba Diving magazine, our dive travel business, stock photography representation, Seacam import business, and our studio/gallery in Key Largo. Collectively, it works. But, if the only part of the formula was traveling and taking underwater photos, I'd probably have had to get a real job years ago.

Divester: What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out in this business?
SF: I wish they'd told me (and more importantly, I'd listened), that a picture of a clownfish or a goby isn't worth getting bent over. When I was younger I was way too aggressive with the limits of the dive computer. Plus, the early dive computers were pretty aggressive as well. I can't blame the equipment though. I was too greedy about the photo-ops. I wanted more images, more chances to shoot, always. I spent too many hours in chambers as a result.
Gratefully, not lately. Nitrox availability most places reduces much of the risk, especially when dived on air tables. And modern computers are more conservative than the first ones we dived. There is no doubt sport divers can still spend plenty of time in the water very safely pursuing their UW photo ambitions. A dose of common sense regarding safe bottom time may be an important companion to an 8GB card in a digital camera.
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Digital Master Class, Key Largo, June 2008

We had two really fantastic photo courses here in Key Largo this month.  Not only did we have the wonderful in-water opportunities we've come to expect here in my hometown during the summer (massive fish populations, thanks to the Sanctuary Preservation Areas of the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, historical shipwrecks, special permission to dive the Aquarius Habitat, and warm/clear water), we also enjoyed Photoshop education from one of the very best, Eddie Tapp.  See

Eddie got certified while he was here for the Digital Master class, and now has an even better sense of the challenges we face as underwater photographers.  His solutions for backscatter removal alone were brilliant!

Thanks to Ocean Divers for providing the dive services, and Aquarius Habitat for allowing our controlled visitation to their underwater research facility.  See 

Next year's class schedule is now available at  Here's a few of my shots representative of what we saw during the week: