All posts by africawildsafaris

Whale Sharks 2017 – Amazing Encounters at Isla Mujeres Mexico

Whale Sharks Season 2017

My whale shark season started down in Xcalak, Mexico just south of Cancun  where I did something really unique: got in the shallow water with American Crocodiles.!  We survived and some of us came back north to Isla Mujeres for an opposite experience swimming with gentle giants in the open water.

( interested in the Crocodiles for next year?)

swim with whale sharks in Mexico
My 1st group of excited guests ready to swim with whale sharks

A Very Good Season

Isla Mujeres is fun as always with some new restaurants to try and all the old favorites.  It seems like there is a new whale shark or marine conservation themed mural going up each year.

whale shark mural
One of the colorful murals in Isla Mujeres honoring the whale sharks
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
A view of the northern end of the Isla Mujeres. We stay at a hotel just down the beach from the pyramid shaped one

The weather was settled with clear skies and beautiful water conditions for photography.  Each morning we would board the boat and head out to where the captains estimated the aggregation would be – it can move overnight depending on wind, currents, and activity of the plankton food mass.   We had no trouble finding them in short order.

whale shark at the surface
A whale shark swims to our boat as it feeds with other whale sharks on a giant patch of plankton

This year I photographed with my Canon 5D IV and EF 15mm Fisheye f2.5

whale shark at the surface
A whale shark slowly swims while feeding at the surface

We would have several good “drops” into the water by mid morning.  Often we could follow one individual and when they got ahead of us just stay in place because another whale shark or two was on its way straight to us.  If none where nearby, the captain would come pick us up and take us back into the action and drop us again.

 

Occasionally we would get into an area with other boats of guests taking turns at swimming.  No matter, because we could take a break while they had their chance then soon packed up to return to the mainland.  We were out early and would stay late so we had plenty of time.  By mid afternoon we were usually the only boat remaining.  Some private time!

private charter for Whale Sharks
One of our boats ready to take us out
A sign at the docks explaining the rules and feeding of the whale shark

Giant Manta Rays

We would keep watch for mantas and would devote some time to looking for them either on our way to and from or when we needed a break form the whale sharks.  We found them several times and had a good in water session with one of the groups of mantas.  It is always harder to find mantas since they do not always feed on the surface and they do not have the large fins showing above water like the whale sharks to give them away.

swim with manta ray Isla mujeres
A lucky encounter with a giant manta ray

A Great Trip Out of the Water Too

We would return to the island in the late afternoon.  It was great to relax in or by the pool before changing and having a bit of technology time.  We had so many nice places to choose from for meals, all a short walk from the hotel.

The pool at our beachside hotel
whale shark bottle feeding
A whale shark goes vertical to do what they call “bottle feed” by pumping massive amounts of water into its mouth while staying stationary

The food and atmosphere on Isla Mujeres is wonderful and really makes this a great getaway.  It all ended too soon:  this was exceptional season for the whale sharks.

I want to thank all of the wonderful and interesting people who were my guests this year.  They made it so much fun and I enjoyed conversations with them and helping them with their photography.

Swim with whale shark small group charter
My 2nd group of guests for the whale shark swim

I always leave looking forward to next visit

see my dates for next year

Whale Sharks 2016

Swim with Sailfish and Baitballs at Isla Mujeres

American Crocodiles in Mexico

Scuba with American Crocodiles in Chinchorro, Mexico

Photographing American Crocodiles at Banco Chinchorro, Quintana Roo, Mexico (Cancun area)

With Reef diving at Chinchorro

This is a place few people have been to and a chance to see and photograph pristine Caribbean reefs and also get close to the rare and endangered American Crocodile

Visit my website
photographing crocodiles in Chinchorro
Photographers get in the water 2 at a time with a guide providing lookout and safety
crocodile adventure
My Group of photographers arrives at the fish hut at Chinchorro Atoll

Summary:

Chinchorro Atoll (Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve) is the best place in the world to get close to American crocodiles. Located south of Cancun, Mexico and near the Belize border. The Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve is the largest stand – alone reef in the Northern hemisphere and one of the healthiest. Currently only 1,928 hectares of the 144k hectares are zoned for diving and fewer than one thousand divers get to see these remote and unspoiled dive sites per year. It teems with fish and other sea life, and contains more than 100 shipwrecks as well as the largest population of American crocodiles found in the Americas.

Chinchorro Atoll home to crocodiles
The fishing huts at Chichorro Atoll, 3 hours off shore of Xcalak, Mexico
American Crocodile
A croc swims toward us to see whats going on at the fish hut

This July, myself and 6 guests traveled on a unique adventure to see American Crocodiles and dive these beautiful and remote reefs. This is a safe encounter with guides who have done years of experimentation and careful planning to make this safe. Our outfitter and guides in Xcalak: XTC Dive Center,  were the first operator to organize croc encounters in Chinchorro and they remain the only dive operator with an official concession. They are committed to sustainable tourism and conservation.

We  started out at the beautiful beachside resort in Xcalak for some amazing dives. The reefs are healthy and colorful with many fish.  Some dives we encountered turtles.  Manatees are resident and we were lucky enough to have a visit from one while on a dive.

The dives are  shallows and some deep walls covered in healthy sponges and large stands of black coral. There are several wrecks and plenty of large and small fish species.

Reef dive at Xcalak

Our Hotel at Xcalak

 

On the Chinchorro Banks, we stayed in utilitarian fishing huts on stilts over the shallow waters in a lagoon surrounded by the reefs: 36 nautical miles off shore and across from Xcalak, Mexico.   (2 -4 hours boat ride)

fishing huts Chichorro crocodiles
The fish hut. Others in the area are still actively used by fishermen
fishing huts Chinchorro
Inside the rustic fish huts showing our hammocks which were outfitted with mosquito nets

Each morning we dive and while taking in the pristine reefs and marine life, we hunt lionfish. There is a duo purpose in this; to help eliminate the invasive lionfish population and to get food to attract the crocs. Guests are also invited to participate in the spear fishing of the lionfish and will be equipped and taught the safest techniques.

photographing crocodiles in Chinchorro Mexico
a photographer gets pictures of a relaxed croc

This is a remote adventure at its best: The fisherman’s’ hunts have no wifi, cell phone, mobile services, no running water, only marine toilets, and 2 or more hours from shore. Guests and I slept in hammocks in the huts and delicious food was prepared and cooked by our boat captains with the aide of a small generator and ice storage chests (all food must be transferred out with us). We also  had the chance to buy fresh catch from passing fishermen to make a special, though rustic feast.

feeding lion fish to crocodiles
Our guide empties out our lionfish captured on our dive. they will be bait for the crocs

At Chinchorro, we are surrounded by water and 700 American crocodiles and a few fishermen. We photograph the crocs when they show up at midday (after they warm up) in the 1.2m deep water around our huts. We are able to maintain a level of safety even when we are getting up close due to the experience of our guides. A safety diver and guide are nearby with a pole to ward off any advances from excited crocodiles.  We took turns two at a time. We had between 1 and 5 crocs close by with still more in the area during our sessions Generally they are extremely well behaved and tolerant of divers getting close. They are rewarded with the captured lionfish.

photograph crocodiles in Mexico

swim with crocodiles in Mexico

 

The Whale Sharks were Extra Special this year

 

We spent 4 days on the water and 5 nights on Isla Mujeres.  Always a fun place with great food, we had nonstop whale shark encounters to keep us busy on our 4 days on the water.  We also had a few manta sightings and 1 good photography session with them.

swim with whale sharks
whale shark swims underwater with mouth wide open to feed. front view

Find out more about the whale shark portion of the trip: Whale Sharks 

and my Trip Log

Ready to Jump in Next Year?

If ancient reptiles and remote adventure is calling to you, get more information on price and availability from Gregory Sweeney at www.GregorySweeney.com

Trip Specifics

Included

2 Days scuba diving (2 tank dives) in Xcalak in the Reef National Marine Park

3 days snorkel with crocodiles at Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve

4 nights hotel  in Xcalak (we keep our rooms while at crocs)

2 nights accommodation in Chinchorro in rustic/ basic fishing huts

Morning dives at Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve to gather invasive lionfish

Tanks, weights, dive master, guide at Chinchorro

All meals while at Chinchorro Atoll

Breakfast and Lunch while in Xcalak

Transfers to/from Cancun Airport ( or other location TBD – 6 hour journey)

 

All fishing huts are shared and we sleep in hammocks.

Itinerary

 

July 19 – 24 Whale Shark photography adventure on Isla Mujeres
July 24 Transfer to Xcalak
July 25 2 dives on reefs
July 26 Transfer by boat to Chinchorro Day 1 Crocodile Encounter at Fishing Huts – 3 hour boat ride
July 27 Day 2 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – night 2 at Fishing Huts
July 28 Day 3 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – afternoon return to Xcalak
July 29 reef diving, Xcalak
July 30 Transfer back to Cancun area

Limited spaces – contact me with questions or to reserve your space

info@gregorysweeney.com

http://www.gregorysweeney.com

Correcting an Underwater Image Taken Without Flash

My underwater image of a tiger shark swimming over eel grass needed some processing to make it into something worthy of the cover to Underwater Photographer Magazine Issue #97

Here is how I used Adobe Lightroom  to get it ready for the cover.

Images taken underwater without a flash will have a color cast due to the loss of the red spectrum of  light as it travels through water.

This is a method I use to process my photos that adds back in some of the red and corrects for exposure.  I prefer to leave a bit of a blue cast to the images – they are depicting underwater after all. The trick is to correct it to a point between what your brain saw during the dive and what is technically “perfect” according to the color values.

I use the tools in Adobe Lightroom to do the initial work: they are great tools and easy to use.  I might move later into Photoshop to utilize layers for adjustments to specific areas taking advantage of layers, masks, etc only offered in Photoshop. I definitely will do more detailed work on the image before printing it.

By the way, Lightroom tools are the same as in Camera Raw, but I find LR’s presentation of them easier and I have the bonus of all the organization tools in LR.

The Method

Analyze then Correct Exposure

The first step is to optimize the exposure.  I like to eliminate the distraction of color so I can really analyze what needs to be brighter, darker, and more contrasted.  To do this I temporarily desaturate the image to black and white using the Saturation Slider (Basic Panel under Presence)

 

Desaturate image
To concentrate on the Exposure and Contrast, convert to Black and White (desaturate)

 

Now it is time to analyze the image:  The Histogram is the first step.  According to the graph, there are clear shadows, midtones, and highlights,  but the whole image is too dark: there are barely any areas registering on the right hand (bright) side of the graph.

Exposure: I move the Exposure slider up until the lightest bits of water  read around 62 (pass the curser over areas and read the numbers under the histogram).  The overall change was +.55

In Lightroom the group of tools under Exposure (Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks) are adjustments with smart logic behind them that helps the tool adapt and decide what is “whites” or “blacks” in this specific image.

Curve adjustment tool
Pick up the Curve Adjustment Tool and pass it over the image to read exposure values and see it on the Curve graph

For this purpose they are not doing exactly what I want so I will try the tools under ToneCurve first. Tone Curve is a degree more sophisticated and gives me the option of defining what I want to be considered Highlights, etc.  In this tool, Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows are marked by regions on the tone graph.  I want to adjust the pointers to change the default “definitions” of Highlights, etc.

Curve adjustment
The image after a Curves adjustment

The dark edges of the fins  need some contrast between them and the lighter colored body. To do this I first measure the value of the darkest areas watching where on the graph this area registers by picking up the tool at the top left of the ToneCurve (“adjust the tone curve directly”). I want to define everything darker than the “spots” of the body as “shadow”  so I move the marker at the bottom of the graph over to the this spot on the graph.  Now the Darks tab needs moved to the left. Using the slider for Darks you can detect what it is adjusting – I want it to just do the spots on the body and tones on the fins.  Same with the Lights tab. Lights should be  working on everything light except the shark’s belly and some of the sand and fish.  I have now defined my exposure areas. It is time to make the adjustments.

Now I add a touch of the Clarity slider to pop the midtone contrast – this really brings out the stripes on the tiger shark.

Local adjustment brush
Adjustment brush used to brighten whites and highlights on the shark’s belly and face

For spot exposure corrections, Lightroom  has a Radial Filter tool which can brighten or darken an oval area in the same manner as a graduated filter or a free form brush type tool that can “paint” on adjustments.  I find the radial  tool better and easier to use than the Adjustment brush.

Correcting Color Using White Balance and HSL  Panel Controls

return color
The image has better contrast but still a color cast

Everything is brighter and more contrasted,  the colors look  more intense, but the color cast is still there.  I use the White Balance eyedropper tool and pass it over the image.  You want to choose a place that Should Be either black, white, or neutral grey.  In the Navigation (on the left fly out panel) window it shows you a preview of the white balance correction if you click in that space. When I choose a spot on the belly of the shark it makes the correction, but it is too much for my taste. After the correction,  I back off the sliders under White Balance a little bit back to the left toward the original cool tones.

White Balance adjustment
Use the White Balance tool on the shark’s chin – the change is too extreme but we will adjust it down
back off white balance adjustment
back off the White Balance adjustment by moving sliders back toward blue and green

Now I have the problem of the water not having as nice of a color – it has gone a bit dull –  so I go down to the panel labeled HSL/Color/B&W tools.  I like the presentation of the tool that they label Color,  so click on where it says Color and the tool changes to show each color and all three characteristics under it: Hue, Saturation, and Luminance .

Dropping Saturation on the Aqua slider a bit helps  the  color cast and increasing the Luminance to +20 helps the contrast as well.  On the Blue slider I increase the Saturation to make the blue water pretty again and then a decrease of the Luminance darkens the water and makes it a richer tone with more contrast to the whole image.  I also push the Hue of the blue up a tiny bit  without going too much or the water becomes purple. Since there is quite a bit of green in the image, I darken then Luminance on the green channel, desaturate it a touch then shift the Hue slightly to the yellow side of green.

Color adjustment HSL panel
The HSL color adjustment panel and adjustments to Aqua (desaturate), Blue (darken and move toward purple) and Green

A few final touches:  use the adjustment brush on the shark with some desaturation and white balance adjustment to take some Aqua/Blue out of the shark.  Also edit the first adjustment to the white belly and chin that you did earlier to add in desaturation to move the white closer to white.  The final adjustment is a tiny bit of the Dehaze tool.  This bumps up the contrast and intensifies the colors.

Dehaze adjusment
Final image with a small Dehaze adjustment and a little Post Crop Vignette

You can also add a bit of   Post Crop Vignette to darken the edges.

 

Also See:

Tiger Shark & Hammerhead Dive 2017

Using the Shadows / highlights command in Photoshop

Tiger Shark and Hammerhead Trips for 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite Moments from the May 2017 Safaris

My two May 2017 safaris were filled with special wildlife encounters, good weather, good company with some really terrific guests.  I have presented below what I felt were themes present in each safari that made it special.

hyena drinking
A hyena gets a drink after a meal
open safari vehicle
Photographing from the open safari vehicle
Learn about my Photo Safaris in South Africa on my website:  http://www.AfricaWildSafaris.net

The Magic Effects of Africa:

I was delighted to have families and friends traveling together among my photo safari guests.  They were fun and engaging and quickly fell under the spell of the South African bushveld thrilling at  the huge expanse of stars at night, and the way South Africa and the wildlife had a relaxing and healing effect.  Everyone enjoyed the tree houses and the fun and uniquely African touches like outside showers featured at the lodges.

bush babies
Bush Babies often nest in thatch roof and are seen each evening as they leave

Conservation and Education

Our guests are always very interested in learning about wildlife conservation and our rangers, guides, and hosts  tell them the real story behind poaching in our area, wildlife rehabilitation, national parks, and how wildlife reserves operate.  We want our guests to understand the animals they see and their role in a healthy environment.  Also, it is necessary to understand the challenges faced by wildlife in South Africa.  Our guests were so moved by a lion and rhino poaching presentation that we invited the founders of Flying for Rhinos to detail the work they do to help anti-poaching efforts.  They returned with plans to have fundraisers to help this organization. They also were delighted to see several wild white rhinos in Kruger and were able to photograph a very rare encounter with a black rhino.

Black Rhino
A young black rhino bull challenges our vehicle
White Rhino in South Africa
White Rhino
Vulture feeding
At the wildlife rehab centre a guest learns about the role of vultures and gets up close to a bird undergoing treatment for poisoning

Getting Close

Our guests were surprised how close we can get to the animals:  My longest lens is a 400mm,  but I use my 70 – 200mm or 100 – 400mm  for most images.  Our drivers know their reserves very well and can track prides of lions, rhino, and herds of buffalo day to day.  When we find the animals we can get close up and detailed images of elephants, big cats, and giraffes.

wild dogs
A close wild dog encounter
leopard profile
a leopard profile in the late afternoon light

Sometimes we are too close for some of our lenses and have to back off, but we can also get some really great images that isolate different parts of the animal’s anatomy

Lion Paw
Close up of a lion paw
elephant skin
elephant tail and skin texture
elephant and game drive vehicle
getting close to elephants

Behavior and interaction

We highlight the relationships and interactions between species.  When we see buffalo we will also see oxpeckers cleaning parasites off of the buffalo.

buffalo and oxpeckers
oxpeckers remove parasites from the buffalo so they tolerate them even when they clean out the ears.
red billed oxpecker
Oxpeckers also issue warnings when predators approach – they want to protect their food source which are prey animals

We were thrilled to witness an unusual coalition of 5 adult male lions who live, defend territory, and share female pride members.  It was a bit intimidating to be so close to these large and intimidating beasts.

male lions
A coalition of 5 male lions controls this territory

Wildlife Families

We were lucky enough to encounter several prides of lions with cubs.  Most had cubs in a range of ages.  We enjoyed watching and photographing the cubs playing and interacting with their parents.  There were some great moments of a mother’s care and love for her cubs.

lion mother and cub
A mother fakes annoyance at a playful cub
lion cubs playing
A burst of play stops the walk

Young giraffes stayed close to their mothers and baby elephants were kept safely in among the herd by the older females.

Mother and baby giraffe
Mother and young giraffe
baby hyena and mother
A hyena mother brings a meal for the pups

Birds

Birds are very prevalent now that the weather has returned to normal and provided abundant food for them.  We always see the spectacular lilac breasted roller. It lights on branches near the dirt roads so we can get images of this colorful bird with shorter lenses.

We also sighted the large predatory birds; Kori Bustard and secretary bird.

Kori Bustard seen on photo safari
The Kori Bustard is the largest flying bird in Africa
secretary bird
A secretary bird “walking eagle”

Hornbills are charismatic to photograph and we found the less common red billed hornbill and the even more rare grey hornbill.

grey hornbill in South Africa
Grey hornbill has just caught a grasshopper

Beauty

We get great close up portraits of animals, but it is the wide shots that can translate the beauty and mood of South Africa: the sunsetting behind a giraffe as she eats and wildebeest feeding in the early morning fog.

Giraffe at sunset
Giraffe at sunset
wildebeest in the mist
wildebeest moving in the early morning mist

Beauty is also in the small details like dew on a spiderweb.

close up of a spiderweb
Detail of an orb spiderweb

It was a fantastically successful two safari groups with every guest returning with  good images of a huge variety of species: more high quality sightings than they expected .  I want to thank all of the guests who made these trips so much fun with good conversation, nights on the deck watching nocturnal animals, great questions, and most of all  continuing friendships and forming new friendships.  I sincerely hope they can all return again in the future.

Read More on My Blog

Creative Ways to Photograph Elephants

Using the new Lightroom : Dehaze tool on Safari Images

Our 2018 Safari Dates

Safari Diary: First Games Drives with Lions and Rhinos

Photographing Elephants: 10 Ways to be Creative with Elephants

10 Creative Ways to Photograph Elephants

Elephants are frequently our photo subjects while on safari.  Their size, shape, intelligence, and trunk are just a few things that make them great subjects and very interesting.  There are many opportunities for unique, beautiful, and descriptive images of elephants.

Close details

Elephants are very unique in shape and texture. Images showing the whole elephant(s) are great to show the elephant in its environment, but can not describe the all the unique features and details of an elephant. Taking close up images of the trunk in action, tusks, skin, eyes, and ears gives your audience a chance to focus in on details and discover shapes and colors and learn about elephants in more detail.

         

Photographing Elephants
Elephant eye

Using perspective and symmetry

elephant family walks in a line

Elephants come in all sizes and travel in herds so highlight these different sizes and ages in a way that gives geometric order and symmetry to your image. Contrast of size creating perspective lines vanishing into the horizon is a pleasing effect. Elephants will often line up and if you are patient you can grab moments when trunks, ear, etc are pleasingly arranged symmetrically.

Interaction with other elephants

Elephants are social animals and this gives many interaction moments to photograph. Sometimes the golden moment is a hidden detail in a wider image. Cropping can highlight this “picture in a picture” moment between two elephants. Elephants also have greetings, reassuring gestures, and rank showing moves that you can watch and wait for then highlight through cropping and framing the images

A tender moment between mother and calf is hidden inside the wider image

 

Interaction with other species

An elephant chases zebras out of the watering hole

Showing how elephants interact with other species is capturing their role in their environment. Other species feel safe near elephants and trust their strength, awareness, and intelligence. You can photograph mixed herds, birds that groom elephants, and when they assert their dominance.

Showing scale

Obviously their size is a major feature of elephants. Showing large and small elephants together is not always enough to communicate their size. Try to show other animals such as zebra which are a familiar size to your audience to show how large they are. Manmade objects like vehicles are a good contrast as well.

Movement / Behavior

With their unique body form and parts, photographing how the elephant and its parts moves adds another dimension to your illustration of elephants. Also try to isolate and highlight unique behaviors of the elephants such as mock fighting, and the million ways they use their trunks for different things

Take the usual front view and side views to new levels

Front and 3/4

¾ is a flattering angle that has been drilled into us for portraits, but a straight on frame filling front view is eye catching. A creative crop creates interesting negative space and also increases the impact

Side

Elephants have an interesting shape so a side view shows off this shape. Think about negative space and other elements to contrast the rounded lines of the elephant such as straight trees or grass

Rear

Elephant rears are unique and large with great tails. A nicely framed rear shot shows the elephants in and interacting with their environment. Walking off “into the sunset” communicates that these elephants are wild and free.

Personality / Cute Babies

Elephants appear to have individual personalities and we often can see some of ourselves in their movement, behavior, and interaction. Anytime we can photograph this connect to ourselves it makes a more impactful image. They show happiness, companionship, nervousness, and aggravation through their actions and interactions. Capture moments of joy when they are in the water or doing something crazy.

You can see the joy when elephants get into the water
This elephant is using a very short scratching post – we had a good laugh at this

Elephant babies are very cute and are well looked after by their mothers and other herd members: it is not hard to capture intimate moments between mothers and babies.

Shape Silhouette

Sometimes lighting on a safari is challenging, but taking bad lighting and turning it into a silhouette shot can give you a special image. Elephant’s unique shape works very well against a sunset.

 

When you get out on safari and see elephants, get to know them and capture some images that illustrate everything that is fun, interesting, and unique about them.  There are not many subjects so expressive and charismatic.

Other Related Posts

Safari Story: Elephants at the Mudbath

Post Processing: 1 photo 3 ways

Dynamic Black and White Safari Images

Our photo Safaris in 2018

 

Tiger Shark and Hammerhead Dive 2017

Tiger Sharks and Hammerheads Dive Trip in Bahamas

see our trips for 2018  at www.TigerSharkDive.com  and www.GregorySweeney.com

Trip Report 2017

This year was our first year combining Tiger Sharks at Tiger Beach and Hammerheads in Bimini.  Of course we also had the bull sharks, lemons, caribbean reefs sharks.

Hammerhead dive liveaboard in Bahamas
Hammerhead eating some fish
Hammerhead dive in Bimini
Hammerhead in a cloud of fish
Tiger Beach Bahamas
Tiger Shark
Tiger shark diving in Bahamas
Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark

Shark diving
Lemon Sharks attracted to the back of our boat
Bull Shark
Bull Shark
Bull Shark
Bull Shark
MV Dolphin Dream
Our Boat

 

 

Swim with Whale Sharks in Mexico – Great Things About Isla Mujeres

Private charter for whale sharks
Our boat captains are good at dropping us ahead of the moving whale sharks so as to get the front on shots

Isla Mujeres is a great base for your Whale Shark Adventure

After a day out on the water with the Whale Sharks and Mantas, it is great to relax and dry out with a walk around through the streets of Isla Mujeres.  Lined with fun shops and great restaurants, it is safe and full of the festive feeling of Mexico.

Great Places to Eat

After many years of leading Sailfish and Whale Shark trips to Isla Mujeres, I have found some really great restaurants both formal and hole in the wall.  I think I can say I have never had a bad meal here and in fact had many great ones and all at a great or reasonable value.

Here is a few of my favorites:

  • Olivia (Mediterranean and Vegetarian)
  • Pita Amore
  • Jax
  • La Lamida
  • Rooster
  • Rolandi

 

Count the Whale Shark Murals

In the last few years, murals of whale sharks, sailfish, and mantas have sprouted up all over town.  It is a great street photography outing to find and photograph the best all over town.

whale shark mural
One of the colorful murals in Isla Mujeres honoring the whale sharks

Unique Shopping – Bazaar and High End

The colorful shops are full of handmade Mexican items ideal for souvenirs and gifts to take home.

Relaxation Opportunities

For a day off, there are beaches perfect for swimming and sunning: there might even be a hammock with your name on it.  Picture a pool with a view of the beach.  A ride to the south of the island takes you to a park and ruins.  Numerous dive shops will give you opportunities for diving around the island.  The Underwater Statue Museum is a unique experience.

The pool at our beachside hotel
Most come for the unequalled marine wildlife encounters, but Isla Mujeres is a holiday destination by itself.

 

Get details about the trip on our website  My next Whale Shark & Manta Trip
See my whale shark images on my Gallery Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sailfish and Sardine Run Trip Report 2017

Sailfish and Sardines in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Trip Report 2017

2017 Highlights: Sailfish along with bonus Whale Sharks, Dolphins, and Giant Manta Rays.

2 spaces left on our 2018 Sailfish Expedition

Private charter for sailfish and sardine run mexico
Sailfish maintain the baitball close to the surface and wait their turn

This year I lead 2 groups down to Isla Mujeres for the Sardine Run.  Each group was on our charter boat for 5 full days on the water.

This year’s experience demonstrated to all of us how the sardines and sailfish are just two pieces of a larger ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico.  We encountered Whale Sharks, Giant Mantas, Sailfish , and Dolphins all feeding in food rich waters.  The sardines are there to feed on the plankton  and krill and they attract all the species that want to eat sardines such as the sailfish and dolphins.  We were excited to see so many different species out in the open blue water.

Photograph sailfish in Mexico
A guest photographs among a group of sailfish in a coordinated attack on the baitball

On our first day when we found the dolphins we thought we had found a pod feeding on sardines and perhaps the same bait school that some sailfish were working,  but this was not the case.  In fact the encounter was more unusual:  this was a pod in the act of mating.  The frenzied males were chasing the females and competing with each other to dominate her. They paid no notice to us as we swam along and photographed them.

pod of dolphins
We were able to swim with a pod of dolphins
sailfish Mexico
Sailfish and sardines

Over the next few days we found some sailfish.  The captain and crew must look for frigate birds diving into the water.  This is a sign that sardines or other food is near the surface.  Spotting the surface disturbance of the sailfish or sardines would be impossible so the birds are the best method to find Sailfish.  We are very lucky to work with experienced and patient captains for have loads of experience in these waters.  They found us several chances to “drop” us  in the water  with sailfish.

Captain of Sailfish Charter boat
Our Captain searching for birds, sardines, and sailfish
Sailfish Charter Boat
Our boat has located a flock of frigate birds which means sailfish and sardines below
Frigate birds
Captains look for Frigate Birds which flock around sardines close to the surface
snorkel with sailfish
The water is warm enough for 3mm wetsuits or less

Once in the water it is some fast surface swimming to catch up to the moving baitball.  I have found that it is easier to keep up with a group of sailfish who are managing a smaller baitball. The large schools of sardines  move and break apart to rapidly.

sailfish and baitball
Bait Ball: the sailfish like to keep the ball tight and close to the surface
Swim with sailfish Mexico
Sailfish and baitball

The sailfish work together to trap the sardines near the surface. The birds are diving down to grab fish at the same time as sailfish take turns running into the baitball and swatting at the fish to stun them.  They then eat fish that are stunned and separated from the ball.  Then a another makes a run. The sailfish flash colors and their “sail” fins as a means of communication.  This action makes for great video.

Snorkel with Sailfish
Guests enjoying the search for sailfish

It can be a long day of searching for sailfish so on a less productive day we  tried a different area and were excited to find  feeding whale sharks and giant mantas.  These two species are known to aggregate in these waters in the summer months, so it is unusual to find them in the winter.  We had nice long encounters with the whale sharks.  The giant mantas swam in loops while they fed.  I was able to take many images of their individualized markings.  I submit all my manta photos to the local Manta Trust .  They confirmed that these are mantas that have been documented in the area during summer concluding that there is a resident population – very exciting!

Isla Mujeres Whale Shark
On one of the days we could not find the sailfish, we found whale sharks
Whale Shark
Whale shark feeding on the same food that the sardines enjoy
Giant Manta Ray
We found a group of mantas and whale sharks drawn to the food the sardines also eat. They were willing subjects for a long time.
Snorkel with manta rays
A guest free dives to photograph a manta

All of my guests had some great images and were pleased with the surprise species encounters and with the fact that we were able to find sailfish.  I wish to thank all of them for making this an enjoyable trip for everyone.  I hope to see them on a future trip.

Equipment

I was very conscious of baggage volume and weight when I made  my equipment choices.  My biggest decision was between my 16 – 35mm lens and the fish eye.  I have used both before for sailfish.  While the images with the fisheye were nice, one drawback was how close you need to be to get a good shot. Also if you get too close, your subject gets distorted at the edges of the image.  I did not want to bring both or switch my equipment halfway through, so I opted for the 16 – 35mm.

I have a Nauticam housing with my best glass dome port.  I also had  a 2nd 5DMKIII as a backup and set for land images.  No strobes as they would just slow down my swimming.

I have had my housing from my old Canon 5DII converted to fit my 2nd 5D III or a future RS.  I like things to be interchangeable and to carry less equipment.

My initial setup was thus:

Canon 5D MKIV  with a 16 – 35mm lens  ISO  400  1/320 and f5.6

When  conditions were cloudy or if the action was further below the surface,  I stayed in the ISO 400 – 640 range, Shutter priority.  For the sunny days and surface shots, I would dial things down.

The subjects are alway moving so a center weighted autofocus mode is important as is keeping the shutter fast enough to get crisp images.

 

Private Charter swim with Sailfish
Our boat as we swim back for another drop on the baitball

 

You can enjoy my sailfish images from past seasons in my online gallery

Online Gallery of Sailfish and Other Underwater Images

Dates for my Next Sailfish Trip

Sailfish Hunting Article

Staying on Isla Mujeres

As always, Isla Mujeres is a fun and comfortable home base for this adventure (and our whale shark trip in the summer).  Our hotel is close to the dock and restaurants, while being a quiet place to rest.

Pool at our hotel

Restaurant in Isla Mujeres
One of the colorful restaurants in town

There is a nice pool which leads down to the beach.  The rooms have AC and many have a balcony facing the water.

Sailfish Statue
Isla Mujeres is a destination for beach goers and sport fishermen practicing catch and release
Isla Mujeres Sailfish
One of the many colorful murals around town

Sailfish Group Trip

There are many good restaurants in town and food is very economical (average of $30 total for  dinner) .   We feasted on fresh fish, Mediterranean dishes, local tastes, and Cuban. I have been going so many years now that I have a list of the best places to please all my guests.

Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish
The first group out at one of the excellent and economical restaurants in Isla Mujeres

The shops are colorful and the people are friendly and we enjoyed just walking around town.   The guests and I  had happy hour around the pool with great conversations .

I hope to share another adventure with each of them and I am already looking forward to my next visit to Isla Mujeres.

Join my next Sailfish or other underwater adventure

 

Sailfish & Sardine Adventure for Feb 2019

A Special Opportunity to Join a Most Exciting Marine Wildlife Encounter

Sailfish Hunting Bait Balls in Isla Mujeres

Our next adventure will be  January 2019

5 boat days for sailfish

Limited to 5 guests

swim with sailfish and sardine run
A guest snorkels while photographing sailfish

Photograph and free dive with sailfish hunting sardines in the blue water off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Our private charter leaves daily from the docks of Isla Mujeres for an 8 hour day of maximum time in the water photographing and enjoying this incredible encounter.

Only snorkeling gear is required and the action happens at or a meter or two below the surface. We charter the most experienced sport fishing guides who know the water and patterns of the sardines and predators.

Limited to 5 passengers on boat plus guide and crew. This is an excellent opportunity for photographers to capture dramatic images and video.  Freediving and excellent swimming skills are recommended in order to enjoy this athletic experience.

sailfish and sardine run Mexico
A sailfish has snagged a sardine from the bait ball and eats it, Gulf of Mexico

Read my article about Swimming with Sailfish  from Underwater Photographer Magazine Issue#71

 Images and Trip Reports:

Trip Report 2016

Trip Report 2017

Sailfish Image Gallery 

Trip Details on my Website

Comments from our Guests:

The trip was fantastic.  Excellent itinerary and well organized.  I saw way more sailfish than I ever expected and was much closer than I thought possible.  My friends are amazed by the photos I took.  I got a really good shot of you that I attached.  Many thanks to you and Karen.  Michael and I are spreading the word about a trip to Africa.  Great trip and hope to see you again” ——- Kurt Bitters

“Had a great time in the water and topside. And, I salute your restaurant selections! I’ll be back for more… you’re a topnotch guide and host.  I will be back for more.”

— Bob Pooley

 

sailfish-4

The hotel has a private beach with pool and deck. The rooms are ensuite with a balcony, AC, and wifi. Upgraded rooms are available at extra cost. The town of Isla Mujeres is safe and features many great restaurants, shops, beaches, bars, and a park. It is an easy ferry ride from Cancun.

I will need a minimum of 4 guests to make this trip happen and a max of 5 to allow for uncrowded boat and encounters.

 

Please contact me soon with your interest so I finalize bookings and make sure I get space on the fleet’s and hotel’s busy in season schedule. Contact Me

Get more details & images on our website

Contact us to reserve your spot 

Using the Lightroom Dehaze tool on Safari Images

Last year Adobe released a new version of Lightroom CC which contains their newest adjustment tool: The DeHaze slider.  It is found in the FX menu of the Development module (way down toward the bottom of the list).

You must have  the CC version of Lightroom to use it,  but if you have Photoshop, there is a way to access the tool and take  it further using a few medium/advanced PS techniques. (see at the end of this article for details). Also this tool works on the entire image – in Photoshop you can target the area where the effect takes place.

The purpose of the Dehaze slider is  to either add or remove atmospheric haze from a photo.  In Adobe’s words:“The Dehaze technology is based on a physical model of how light is transmitted, and it tries to estimate light that is lost due to absorption and scattering through the atmosphere.”  The obvious use is for adjusting landscape images, but I have found it useful with safari images where there was quite a bit of dust in the air and even for some underwater images where the water was not clear. (the underwater equivalent of dust)

Using Dehaze with an Underwater Image

image-1-final

For me, it is a tool that combines Contrast, color saturation,  and midtone sharpening into a single tool.  Using a combination of tools it is possible to achieve similar results to the Dehaze slider, but if time is an issue, you can get great improvements with just one adjustment.  Investing a bit more time you can build on the improvements Dehaze adds to your images by combining it with further adjustment tools.

Here is an example of how I used Dehaze for an image that was not a landscape.

the original image with no adjustments
The dry, dusty air makes this image lack contrast.

The drought has made everything very dusty and it really effects this image taken in the mid morning light.

image with dehaze adjustment
The image with just a Dehaze adjustment

With just one adjustment, the colors pop and the contrast is greatly improved.

Now I experiment with doing some Exposure adjustments first before applying the Dehaze.

My method for this is to temporarily Desaturate the image so I can analyze it without the distraction of color.

bw version
The unadjusted image temporarily desaturated so I can adjust exposure

I used the Tone Curve tool (you can also use the 4 sliders under Exposure) to add contrast by darkening the Shadows and Darks and lightening the Lights. I left the Highlights as they were since there is a bit of bright light in the mane and sky. I then restored the color to see the following improvement.

Image with exposure adjustments
Image with exposure adjustments

Now I add the Dehaze adjustment – a little bit less than I used when it was my only adjustment.

image-1-exposure-and-dehaze

Dehaze has taken the image a step better than exposure adjustments alone.

Looking at the results in detail,  I want to bring some lightening back to the Shadows range of the midtones.  I go to my Darks slider in the Tone Curve tool (or the Shadows in the Exposure section) to lighten these tones up. I can now see the details in the lion’s face better.

small adjustments after the dehaze tool
After the exposure and dehaze adjustment, I back off of the Shadows adjustment to bring light back to the lions face.

Now my image is acceptable or I can add details such as small color adjustments (to saturation or hue) or some targeted sharpening or highlighting on places like the eyes.

Here are a few other images with a simple Dehaze adjustment.

leopard image
Image out of the camera
with a dehaze adjustment
The image after a small Dehaze adjustment
elephant image
Image with no adjustments
elephant image adjusted
Image after a Dehaze adjustment

For those without Lightroom CC who have Photoshop or those who take the technique further with more targeted results:

Open the image in Photoshop.

Make a duplicate of the background layer.

Go to the Filter Menu and find Camera Raw Filter

Dehaze appears under the FX tab

Make your adjustments and choose OK to return to Photoshop.

Now you will make a Layer Mask which will hide the effect where you do not want it. – in my example I will mute the effect in the background.

Add the layer mask to the layer which has the Camera Raw Filter adjustments.  Use a paintbrush and black color to mask out the effect.   You can soften your brush and/or lower the opacity at the transition points.

limiting the effect
limiting the Dehaze effect to just the foreground and not the background

If I had turned my copied layer into a Smart Object, I would be able to return to the Camera Raw adjustments and amend them as I  wish.

The Dehaze tool is now my go to tool for images that need contrast boost – especially if it was taken in dusty conditions.

Check out more of my Post Processing Techniques.

Using Shadows Highlights tool to add contrast

The Dehaze Tool for underwater photos