Category Archives: Underwater photography

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

 

 

Sailfish and Sardine Run Trip Report 2017

Sailfish and Sardines in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Trip Report 2017

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

Trip Report

 

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.

 

 

Sailfish & Sardine Adventure for Feb 2018

A Special Opportunity to Join a Most Exciting Marine Wildlife Encounter

Sailfish Hunting Bait Balls in Isla Mujeres

January 29 – Feb 4 2018

* Preliminary Dates

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 

Scuba with American Crocodiles in Chinchorro, Mexico

Crocodile in Mexico

I am offering a new trip in 2017

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

Video Snorkeling with Crocs
Visit my website

photography trip Crocodiles Mexico photographing American Crocodiles photograph crocodiles

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 photograph crocodiles in Mexico American Crocodiles in Chinchorro Mexico

This July, photographer host Gregory Sweeney and 6 guests will travel 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 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.

On the Chinchorro Banks, we stay in utilitarian fishing shacks 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)

photograph crocodiles in Mexico underwater photography Crocodiles rustic fishing hut Chinchorro Atoll

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.

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 sleep in hammocks in the huts and delicious food is 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 might have the chance to buy fresh catch from passing fishermen to make a special, though rustic feast.

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. Generally they are extremely well behaved and tolerant of divers getting close.

When in Xcalak we have a chance to enjoy some diving on excellent reefs in the shallows and some deep walls covered in healthy sponges and large stands of black coral. Sometimes manatees are spotted on these reefs and there are several wrecks and plenty of large and small fish species.

photograph crocodiles in Mexico American Crocodiles in Mexico Photo trip Crocodile in Mexico

We start and end this adventure in the Cancun area which has its own fair share of exciting diving, whale sharks, cenotes, and Mayan ruins.

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

3 nights accommodation in Xcalak

3 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. A single room is available while we stay in Xcalak – before and after the Chinchorro portion.

 

Itinerary

 

July 2 Meet up in Cancun – Transfer to Xcalak – Hotel night 1
July 3 Two dives in Xcalak Reef National Park – private boat Hotel night 2
July 4 Transfer by boat to Chinchorro Day 1 Crocodile Encounter at Fishing Huts – 2 hour boat ride
July 5 Day 2 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – night 2 at Fishing Huts
July 6 Day 3 Crocodile Encounter – morning dives for lion fish – night 3 at Fishing Huts
July 7 Transfer back to Xcalak – reef diving, Xcalak hotel 3
July 8 Transfer back to Cancun area

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

info@gregorysweeney.com

http://www.gregorysweeney.com

Whale Sharks and Mantas 2016

This season was full of whale sharks, some mantas and nice clear water and good weather.

Here is a collect of some of my images from this year

My dates for 2017 are July 8 – 13 & July 13 – 18

 

swim with whale sharks
On of my guests swims with a whale shark and takes video
whale sharks in Isla Mujeres
A whale shark vacuums up plankton at the surface
swim with whale sharks
Whale shark front view
whale shark mouth wide open
Getting in front of a whale shark as they feed
giant manta ray swimming
A manta swims at the surface in a school of fish
manta ray swimming
Giant manta ray swimming
Whale shark charter isla mujeres
Close up of a whale shark feeding at the surface
swim with whale sharks Mexico
a guest swims next to a whale shark with it mouth open
whale shark private charter Mexico
Whale Shark spots

See all of my underwater trips for 2017  

Sailfish Hunting Mexico

Whale Sharks 2015 Trip Report

 

Sailfish Trip Report 2016 – Hunting Action Underwater

Trip Report 2016

My 5 guests and myself had a very successful 5 days of photographing sailfish.  My sailfish and other underwater photo trips

The weather was overcast,  but we were able to find sailfish each day we headed out.  The first day we found dolphins and sailfish working the same large bait ball.  This was  fast and chaotic scene.   We did several drops from the boat to keep up with them.  It was a great trial by fire for my guests who are new to sailfish.

sailfish and sardines

Sailfish

Sailfish Hunting sardines

Our second day stayed with smaller groups of sardines and bait balls.  I found that the smaller the ball, the slower the sailfish moved making it easier for us slow humans to keep up and photograph the action.  We were privileged with several hours long sessions in the water with the sailfish and their prey .

Sailfish and Sardine Run

About the next Sailfish Trip

For processing the photos I used Adobe Lightroom with some scatter and spot removal via Photoshop.  I used Sharpening and Contrast tools to bring out the detail.  Some required a Curves adjustment to brighten them up.

swim with billfish in Mexico

During our stay on Isla Mujeres,  we took one of the days to try out the new cage for mako sharks.  We loaded the cage onto their largest boat and headed out.  We picked a likely spot off shore and chummed and trolled bait.

Overall I am very pleased with our results.  The crew was excellent and very skilled at getting us to the right places and finding the sailfish.  Once we were on them they could get us in the water and back into the boat for another drop.  I thank them for making it a special trip for our first time guests and those who have been before.

About the Mako Shark Cage

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.

Sailfish and Bait Balls

My initial setup was thus:

Canon 5D MKIII  with a 16 – 35mm lens  ISO  500  1/250 and f5.6

The conditions were cloudy much of the time so I stayed in the ISO 400 – 640 range, Shutter priority

Sailfish Photography

Sailfish hunting bait balls in Mexico

snorkel and photograph sailfish in Mexico

Swim with Sailfish Mexico

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

Online Gallery of Sailfish and Other Underwater Images

Dates for my Next Sailfish Trip

Sailfish Hunting Sardines Article

2017 Sailfish Trip Report

Isla Mujeres

 

Sailfish in Mexico

As always, Isla Mujeres is a fun and comfortable home base for this adventure (and out whale shark trip).  We had nice rooms which were so new they paint was barely dry. We were right on the beach and the pool was very refreshing after  a day at sea.

Restaurant in Isla Mujeres
One of the colorful restaurants in town

There are more good restaurants than we could get to for our dinners.  We feasted on fresh fish, Mediterranean dishes, local tastes and Cuban.

fisherman in Isla Mujeres
a man brings home is barracuda catch

The shops are colorful and the people are friendly and we enjoyed just walking around town.   The guest and I  had happy hour around the pool with great conversations .  I hope to share another adventure with each of them.

boat for sailfish
a guest waiting in the water for a pickup

Pool at our hotel

Join our Next Trip

Sailfish Gallery – Sardine Run Isla Mujeres

 

Sailfish and Sardine Run in the Gulf of Mexico off Isla Mujeres, Mexico

 

Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres MexicoIn a few days I will be heading to Mexico to photograph the Sailfish.

This is a  challenging photographic situation: the fish are fast, the baitballs in chaos, birds diving at the surface, action all around.  It is well worth it to witness this spectacle.  The images can be exciting and beautiful capturing a dramatic natural spectacle.

Please enjoy this gallery of my sailfish images from the past years.  I look forward to sharing my images from my upcoming trip.

Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico

These images were taken with my Canon 5D MKII and MKIII in an underwater housing .

The lenses I used were a EF15mm F2.8 Fisheye  and an EF 16-35mm f2.8   .  While I found an equal number of good photos taken with both lenses, for this year’s trip I will just take the 16-35mm.  I base this decision on the fact that I have to get very close with the fisheye and given the speed of these animals and the choas, it is difficult and if I miss the sweet spot I get distortion of the fish’s body shape.

 

Interested in Joining Me next year?  Information on my 2017 Sailfish Trip 

 

Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico

 

Other blog posts you may like:

Using the Lightroom Dehaze filter to correct underwater images

Underwater Photography Image Gallery

Sailfish and Sardines Trip information

My Snorkel and Scuba Trips

Photo Safari in South Africa Dates

2015 My year in Images – Black and White Theme

Each year I pull together a collection of images that summarize all of the wildlife photography and wildlife encounters I had this past year.  This year I thought I would  try a theme of Black and White / Monochrome.

hammerhead Black and White in Lightroom

There are many tools that will help you process your digital images into monochromatic images; Photoshop, Lightroom, and numerous third party and plugin softwares.  Even within Photoshop and Lightroom there are dozens of ways to achieve the black and white look and spirit.

 

For this collection of images I challenged myself to use many of the different techniques available to me in the Photoshop and Lightroom toolset.

The first challenge was which images to choose: not every image is powerful in monochrome / Black & White.  Contrast, range of tonality (black to highlights), sharpness , and separation of subject and background / features are all important for making a successful monochrome image.  Color can be necessary to understand the subject and the setting, but sometimes it is just a distraction. It is these times when the image can be elevated by removing the color (or most of it)

Here are the highlights of my year and a bit about how I processed the images.

January: Hammerhead Sharks in Bimini

hammerhead Black and White in Lightroom
Processed in Lightroom: In the color tools I desaturated on most of the individual color channels but to a less extent on the Aqua and BLue channels to leave a tint. I use the overall Saturation slider to remove more color . Increase contrast with the exposure sliders or curves. The fish eye lens has made it very dark on the edges so I compensate for this with a crop and a Post Crop Vignette to lighten the edges and take some of the circle effect away. Finally I use Clarity and Sharpen

 

February:  Manatees (for my new book  http://www.ManateesGentleGiants.com)

March:  Tiger Sharks and Caribbean Reef Shark,  Bahamas

Duotone Tiger Shark processed in Lightroom
Processed with Lightroom: Here I used one of Lightroom’s Black and White Tone presets – “Creamtone”. I then went under the Split Toning adjustments and changed the colors to cool tones in silver and blue. I increased Contrast and Clarity to sharpen the subject

Quadtone Mode in Photoshop

Processed in Photoshop: I want to use Quadtone: 4 colors assigned according to tonal range Black, shadows, whites, highlights. First change to 8 bit and Greyscale mode. Then choose Duotone Mode. I set 4 colors all in grays and browns and set the curves of each to assign them to a tonal range. I then used a Highpass filter to sharpen. Convert back to RGB before saving.

Shark image in Photoshop
Processed in Photoshop: I used the Black & White adjustment layer first. Then I added a Color Balance adjustment layer to boost the blues and add a cool tint. I used Levels adjustment for sharpening and contrast

April – May:  South Africa

Black and White Vulture processed with Lightroom
I isolated the subject through cropping and further brought it out with darkened background achieved through an adjustment brush. I did a simple desaturation with the Desaturation slider and reducing the Vibrance. Both were reduced to around 15% leaving traces of yellow and red for a tinted effect
Waterbuck in Photoshop
Processed in Photoshop: I used the Mode command to convert to Greyscale. Then used HDR Toning adjustment to starting with the Contrast preset then tweeking it to my liking. I then used dodge and burn layers to bring out the eyes and other details in the face. The HDR tone adjustment provided plenty of contrast and perceived sharpening.

June: Wild Dolphins in the Bahamas

Dolphin Split Tone Lightroom
Processed in Lightroom: This utilizes Split Toning to do the same effect as Duotones in PS. I first optimized contrast and exposure, desaturated the image, then set tones for the lights and darks and balanced between the two as well as controlled the saturation of each.

 

July: Whale Sharks in Mexico

Whale Shark Black and white in Photoshop
Processed in Photoshop: I used the Channel Mixer to remove the color and adjust the tonality. Here I used the BW + Red filter preset to make the water dark. I used a multi layer technique to add lots of sharpening: I copy the image several times, invert one of the layers then do a surface blur on it. Two different blend modes and a mask to limit the sharpening just to the subject. I also added a Curves layer for added contrast. and some targeted dodge and burn on places like the eyes.

Sept – Oct:  South Africa

Monochrome rhino in Lightroom
Processed in Lightroom: This was misty and low contrast. I wanted to preserve this feeling. I achieved the tint through a White Balance adjustment and dropped the Saturation and Vibrance sliders to subdue the already subtle colors. I used a local adjustment brush on the rhino to add contrast, sharpening, and clarity to the subject. Finally I added a Post Crop Vignette to dark the edges and center attention on the rhino.

I hope this has sparked your creativity and you will start to experiment and explore ways to enhance your photos in the monochromatic realm.  

 

Some other posts about Post Processing and Black & White

But first get some Great new Images on a Photo Tour in 2016 – 2017

Creative Black and White Techniques

Boosting Color with Split Toning

Correcting a Leopard Image in Lightroom

Whale Sharks in Mexico 2015 Trip Report

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

The 2015 whale shark season is not yet over, but I have returned from 2 great weeks with my guests and their whale shark experience.  We had great weather (one of the reasons I choose July) and whale shark encounters each day including several days with manta rays.

Isla-Mujeres-Mexico-3

 

whale shark private charters for photographers
I free dive deep to get the entire whale shark framed into the shot
A large whale shark
A large whale shark

Our first few days the whale sharks were feeding just under the water.  Over the next few days they were again feeding on the surface and easy to spot from in the water.  This also facilitated some great topside images.  The water color and clarity was variable as we tried different areas hoping to find mantas and whale sharks feeding on the surface. On occasion it was more blue-green and on other days we had crystal clear blue water.

A remora temporarily detached from its host
A remora temporarily detached from its host
snorkel with whale sharks in mexico
A whale shark feeding just below the surface

Being in the water with whale sharks teaches you much about their life and role in the environment.  One afternoon we witnessed schools of tevelli fish swimming close to the whale sharks; by their fins and mouths and even cowering underneath.  The reason because clear when I heard dolphin squeaks underwater.  A pod of 4 small but fast Atlantic spotted dolphin charged up to me, did 2 complete circles around me then raced on to confront the whale sharks.  I saw a few fish meet their demise.

Small fish take shelter from predators around and under the whale sharks
Small fish take shelter from predators around and under the whale sharks
Dolphins hunt for fish hiding among the feeding whale sharks
Dolphins hunt for fish hiding among the feeding whale sharks
swim with giant manta rays
A giant manta swims by feeding

The giant mantas are my favorite to photograph.  We would see the tell tale signs in the form of wingtips above the surface.  When we dove in they were coming from all directions feeding at about 1.5m below the surface.  Some had formed a convoy of 4 to 5 individuals all slowly flapping and scooping in food.  A few times I was present to photograph their looping up and down feeding.

giant manta rays
Mantas were swimming in groups and in line making large circles feeding

Each manta has a unique pattern on the underbelly.  I donate all images I can get of these identification markers to the Manta Trust so they might add to their Caribbean database.  It would be wonderful if some images from this season match individuals from last season.

Read my post about the Manta Trust Conservation and Caribbean Project 

whale shark gills
Close up of whale shark gills
Whale shark charters
Whale shark feeds at the surface around our boat
Whale shark charters for photographers
Keeping pace with a whale shark feeding is challenging but possible

Each day we left the dock in the morning and then returned in the mid afternoon around 3 or 4pm.  While on boat we had comfortable space, shade, sandwiches and snacks.  We could enjoy ourselves while the captain and crew placed us in the best areas for whale sharks and mantas.  All boat cooperate to take care of the wildlife by limiting numbers of boats and people in the water around each group of whale sharks.  At the conclusion of our swimming each day we enjoyed freshly ceviche specially prepared by the first mate before embarking back to Isla Mujeres.

Isla-Mujeres-Mexico-4 Isla-Mujeres-Mexico-5 Isla-Mujeres-Mexico-6

 

When not on the boat we had comfortable hotel rooms with plenty of public spaces for relaxing and connecting with wifi. Restaurants are plentiful and very good and most are very affordable.  We had many very excellent meals and the shopping was fun and diverse.

At the opposite end of the island is a part to explore and take in the rough coastline.

Isla-Mujeres-Mexico-1 Isla-Mujeres-Mexico-2

I will be hosting Whale Shark Trips again next year.  I have again secured great boats and crew and rooms at the Playa Media Luna.  Our boats are limited to 6 guests  so space is limited

Contact us   or Get More Information on my website

Whale Shark and Manta Trip Log 2014  

 

Using Lightroom with Underwater Images: Exploring the new Dehaze Tool

Introduction

The newest release of Adobe Lightroom CC 2015  has a new tool called Dehaze which is stated to “dramatically improve images by removing haze”.  I have been wondering if this tool is applicable to underwater situations that mimic haze (scatter and low vis).

In this demonstration I take a pretty good underwater image that feels a little “hazy” or “Milky” and apply the Dehaze tool like a secret weapon to see if it improves the sharpness of the image.  I also compare it and combine it with the Clarity tool – another finishing touch secret weapon.

The Original Image

(click on photos to enlarge)

starting image of a whale shark
The image before I begin

The Image with some Exposure, Curve, and Color adjustments

 

Exposure corrected image
The image after apply some exposure, curve, and color correction

 

Adding the Clarity Adjustment

image with Clarity added
The image with a Clarity adjustment

As per my usual method, I add the Clarity adjustment to the image right at the end of my process.  The Clarity slider adds mid tone contrast, lending a sharpness to the image.   I don’t normally Sharpen beyond the default setting unless I am presenting elsewhere besides on screen.  If it is to be viewed very large or printed I get serious and sharpen in Photoshop.

Clarity settings
The Clarity setting – also shows my exposure adjustments done previous

I used a fair amount of Clarity to pop out details on the whale sharks face.  It is a good effect and I am happy with the results.

Also you can see my Exposure settings from the beginning of my processing which back off the bright highlights (the white upper lip near the surface) and boosts some contrast in the mid tones on the body by separating Shadows and Whites, and adding darkest tones by decreasing the blacks.  Not seen here are further adjustments to the Curves to manage the Highlights,  but that is a different topic.

Using the Curves Tool in Lightroom

Color Correcting beyond the White Balance

Trying a Dehaze Adjustment

dehaze setting

With a just a Dehaze adjustment – clarity set back to zero

Adobe Dehaze adjustment
The Dehaze setting

Dehaze was a bolder effect, but similar to a Clarity, but I see a slight “enriching” of the colors as if the smarts behind this tool also effect a certain color range.  I like the effect, but might have to follow it with a small color shift and a brightening of the water to maintain the contrast between water and shark.

A Similar Tool that does the Opposite – Luminance Noise

noise in the water
Detail of the water showing noise

Getting rid of Luminance noise is effectively doing the opposite of what the Clarity and Haze are trying to do: add contrast vs remove contrast.

Luminance Noise is common in images taken in the dark. Underwater photos have scatter which in many cases can be treated like Luminance noise.  There is also Color Noise,  which can also happen in (commonly green) water, it is harder to fix.  I applied a pretty heavy Luminance correction to “smooth” the water and remove what manifested as grain in the water.

apply Luminance noise adjustment
Water detail with Luminance Noise adjusted
Luminance noise adjustment
Luminance Noise adjustment settings

The Luminance Slider is the amount of effect to apply

Detail is like telling what size of speck you want the tool to act on

Contrast is telling the tool how different the luminance of the speck has to be in order for the tool to act on it.

These tools take some trial and error to get it smoothed to your taste without going overboard and making it look smeared.

It will not work on all photos unfortunately and in extreme cases you will have to resort to blurring, masking, and advanced tools in PhotoShop.

You can also try the Adjustment brush to a specific area with the Clarity set to a negative value – anti clarity which can work like a gauze effect.  I may explore this in another post one day.

full image noise
The full image with just the Luminance Noise adjustment – Clarity and dehaze off

 

End Results – Luminance Noise Adjusted Water plus Clarity only

full image with clarity and noise adjusted
The full image with noise adjustment and Clarity

 

End Results – Luminance Noise Adjusted Water plus Clarity & Dehaze

noise, dehaze and clarity
Image with Luminance noise adjusted, with Clarity and Dehaze added

End Results – Luminance Noise Adjusted Water plus Clarity & Dehaze and a brightening of the water

Final Result
The final result – I added a small increase in Luminance in the Blue channel to brighten the water

To put back some brilliance in the water that the Dehaze took away,  I brightened the water only in the Blue color channel.  Any adjustment including just midtone adjustment would have effected the results of Clarity and Dehaze on the  black, white, and grey colored whale shark which is where I wanted it.  I dont need the technique on the water and it is uniquely blue compared to the whale shark, so using the Blue Luminance on the color channels allows brightening just in the water.

My conclusion is that i will use the Dehaze tool  and further explore situations where I can use it.