Diving Folly Cove with Jake Stout:

After getting back from Monterey, I only had a few days before going back to school for the semester. I decided to take advantage of my free time and get in contact with Jake. Luckily, our schedules lined up and we managed to do a couple dives at Old Garden beach, in Gloucester MA. On our first dive we headed out along the left wall of the cove, following the bottom down to about 50 feet before turning around. The dive was a lot of fun, there were a ton of flounders, little tunicates, and hermit crabs scuttling across the sand. It was weird getting used to my big flashes after using the snoot in Monterey, but I still managed to isolate my subjects against the background.

During our surface interval, Jake and I discussed a lot about underwater photography, and planned out some shots for my next dive. He suggested I try and accentuate the ability of the flounder to hide in the sand. Soon on the second dive, I found a baby flounder that gave me just the opportunity. I got a shot I was really happy with, showing the amazing ability of the flounder to hide itself, with a stark side-lighting providing some contrast to still accentuate the flounder against the background. For this dive we stuck to the right side of the cove which was incredibly rich, full of dozens of flounder and lots of crustaceans. It was a fitting end to an amazing summer, and a great learning experience as I continue to work on my underwater photography.

Monterey: Day 7

My last day in Monterey I didn’t get the chance to go diving. There was nobody to dive with me, and I chose to let my gear dry instead of pushing the time where it was safe to fly before my flight.

Instead, I got the chance to go on a morning whale watching cruise!! Monterey is known for its whale watching, and it did not disappoint. While we only saw one humpback, we saw a number of dolphins and three blue whales!! We got several extraordinary views of the massive animals, who’s size is hard to comprehend until you see a humpback whale a few minutes later and realize how tiny it looks in comparison. I brought my camera and managed to get a few pictures but was focused on enjoying the whales more than anything else.

Around lunchtime, I made my way over to the Ansel Adams exhibit. This exhibit was unique in that it was a portrayal of Ansel Adams’ life through portraits. While Ansel Adams is clearly known for his landscape photography, he also is skilled a taking portraits. I really enjoyed the exhibit, which highlighted not only portraits he had taken, but portraits of him at various stages in his life and career.

That afternoon, I went back out on Berkeley’s boat, this time with Becca and her daughter. We traveled around the bay with topside cameras, looking to get close enough to some sea otters to snag some photos. We had some success, and I managed to get a couple shots of the amazingly cute animals.

My time in Monterey truly was an amazing experience. I’m so grateful to the Boston sea rovers and the entire backscatter staff for having me out. Over the course of my week I learned so much about underwater photography, and really saw a rapid improvement in my skills. Stay tuned to the backscatter website for a short article I’m writing for backscatter about what I learned while visiting them in Monterey!


Monterey: Day 6

Day 6 in Monterey was my last day of diving. In the morning, I didn’t have a dive buddy since it was a Saturday and everyone from the shop was busy. Still, Berkeley agreed to take me out on his boat. I went with the fisheye lens again, and we went back to the breakwater, focusing on over-under shots of sea nettles below, and the sea lion colony above. After a few minutes I was informed by a park ranger that I was getting to close to the marine mammals, so switched my dive plan. I spent the rest of the dive chasing jellies, trying to find where they were the most dense, get under them, and shoot up, framing them against the sky. In a tangled web of potential subjects, it’s really about finding the perfect composition.

In the afternoon, Becca came on-board Berkeley’s boat and joined me for a scooter dive! I’d never gotten the chance to use a dive scooter before, but it was a ton of fun! After some initial adjustments, I mounted my camera on the top of the scooter and Becca showed me how to use it. After a few minutes of getting used to, it was a ton of fun. I was quickly able to move back and forth along the dive site like I never have done before. The real highlight of the dive was the jellies. We were back at the sea lion colony, but headed out to sea where the jellies were thickest. I turned off the flashes from my camera, and shot bursts of photos, and some video as I cruised through the swarm. Suddenly, I found myself in an immensely dense patch, surrounded by a huge swarm of jellies in every direction. Here I got my favorite shot of the trip which I later changed to black and white, showcasing the eerie swarm of jellies slowly floating through the water.

Unfortunately, I did get stung a number of times… it would be hard not to, given the huge number of jellies I was swimming past. They didn’t hurt too bad but by the end my lips were definitely tingly. At the end of my dive, I’d gotten split up from Becca, but I suddenly saw a dead sea lion, partially decomposed on the bottom. Eerily, another sea lion swam down to check him out, juxtaposing life and death with the jellies right behind. It was an amazing end to an incredible week of diving.

Monterey: Day 5

My fifth day in Monterey was my last with Jamil. Getting to spend this week with him was a ton of fun! It was amazing to hear about all his adventures, and the amazing things he has planned for the future.

In the morning, we had some free time, and managed to get one last sea lion dive in together. This time, the sea lions were extra playful, coming close up to the camera and checking out their reflections in the dome port. The visibility also had improved significantly, so I was able to improve on some of my shots from the previous sea lion dive.

Around lunchtime, Jamil and I walked over to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. It was a great experience, and pretty funny to see everyone marvel at the marine organisms we had seen in the wild just hours before. It was also nice to see their big focus on marine conservation throughout most of the exhibits.

In the afternoon, Jamil had to leave, but I got to go on a dive to the metridium field with Savagh. The medtridium field is several hundred meters out into the bay. To get to it, we followed a long rusty old pipe coming from an old cannery. At the end of the pipe, we took a compass bearing until a boulder field filled with beautiful white anemones lay before us. At the same time, a huge swarm of sea nettles was swept in, surrounding the metridiums from all angles. On this dive, I decided to try for the first time a fisheye lens. Berkley lent the lens to me for a few days, and I decided now would be the perfect time to try it out. Unfortunately, I spent the vast majority of the dive fighting backscatter, trying my best to avoid it by constantly rotating my strobe placements to try out different possibilities. I eventually figured out something that worked, given how wide the fisheye lens is. Be that point, most of the dive had gone by, and the metridiums had all curled in. I quickly turned my focus to the swarming jellies, and even as savagh went up, I stayed down, determined to get some shots. As soon as I hit 500psi, I made my way to the surface, freezing cold, but with plenty of air. I soon realized just how far offshore I was. A driving offshore wind was pushing a slight surface current against me, and I began kicking hard as I felt my feet go numb. This whole week I’d been relying on my awesome dry suit, but because of the long swim I figured a wetsuit would be easier. I paid my price, freezing myself on the way back in, but making it back in one piece.

Monterey: Day 4

My fourth day in Monterey, Jamil and accompanied Robin and Thomas to fisherman’s wharf, a fun macro dive site full of little critters. I was hoping to find a bunch of little blennies hiding in the rocks that I could photograph with my macro lens, but the swell was too great to get any good shots. I soon switched to the pilings that line the wharf which were covered in life. I managed to get in close with my snoot, and get some cool shots of a ghost shrimp, and a hermit crab.


During our dive interval, Jamil and I grabbed lunch with Chuck Davis, Monterey underwater photography and videography legend. It was great to meet him and chat about his start in underwater photography. Hopefully we can dive together in the future!

Our afternoon dive on day 4 was absolutely spectacular. Berkley dropped Jamil and I off at an underwater pinnacle, noticeable only by a small clump of kelp that would occasionally bob at the surface. We followed this small patch of kelp down to the sheer pinnacle, covered in life. The current was strong, so we traversed our way around the pinnacle, staying close to the wall to avoid being swept away. After circumnavigating the underwater feature, we came back up to the top of the pinnacle which sat in around 30 feet of water. Suddenly, jellies started appearing out of nowhere, drifting slowly through the kelp fronds. For the next 20 minutes, I swam around frantically, trying to find the best angle for some awesome jellyfish photos.

Monterey: Day 3

My third day in Monterey, Jamil and I did three dives by ourselves. Our two morning dives we did in front of the shop, the first along the breakwater, and the second right in the middle of the bay, what’s called center reef. I took my macro lens, and while they weren’t as productive for photography, it was still fun diving with Jamil. Our second dive in particular was quite interesting, as we battled with 2-foot visibility for most of the dive and struggled to stay together as much as possible. While the backscatter was terrible even in my macro images, I tried to take advantage of it as much as I could, highlighting the backscatter while photographing filter-feeding tunicates.

In between dives, I got a chance to show my photos to Backscatter CEO Jim, and to Berkley, who gave me lots of pointers on how to optimize my strobe placements and camera settings for specific shots I wanted to get.

In the afternoon, Jamil and I got to go out on Berkley’s boat again. We went to a similar area as the day before and got some more unique wide-angle images. The real highlight was when we popped an SMB on the way up and accidentally scared a whole raft of Sea Otters trying to relax on the surface.

That evening, I got to grab dinner with a couple of the backscatter employees, and then we trekked down the California coast to a place with great wave action along the shoreline. There we set up to do some night photography shots. Unfortunately, a thick layer of mist and haze blocked most of the moonlight, but I still managed to get some cool shots of the waves crashing against the rocky shore.

Monterey: Day 2

My second day in Monterey, Jamil and I got a chance to dive off backscatter owner Berkley White’s boat! I took my wide-angle camera setup and we went out to the end of the breakwater, jumping in the water with the massive sea lion colony that resides at the end of the pier. On the dive, the visibility wasn’t good enough to get any close up stills of the sea lions, so I realized I had to find something a little more interesting to focus on. I spent the rest of the dive looking for cool foreground subjects that I could use with a sea lion silhouette in the background. This strategy worked, and I managed to get this cool photo of the sea lions swimming by!

For the second dive of the day, we got to use Berkley’s boat again, traversing along the California coast a mile or two until we found a shallow section with a teeming kelp forest. I focused on my wide-angle photography, getting up close to subjects like big fish-eating anemones, and framing them with the kelp forest behind. About halfway through the dive I also realized that the big swell was making whole bunches of kelp flop back and forth over the rocks. I soon found an ideal location, where a sea star was being routinely covered and uncovered by a whole mat of kelp. This was my moment to work on shooting with a slow shutter speed. I set up and stayed there for at least 10 minutes, taking countless shots to balance the perfect movement in the kelp, while keeping the sea star in focus below.

On the way back from our dive, we ran into a teeming swarm of sea nettles, all drifting slowly near the surface. I had my dry suit on with no weight belt, but I jumped in with my camera anyways, flopping around on the surface, trying to get down low enough to get some cool photos.

Monterey: Day 1

`My trip to Monterey started out like most cross-country trips do, an early morning plane flight lugging my excess baggage across the country. Luckily, my plane flights were uneventful and I landed safely in the quaint Monterey regional airport where Becca from Backscatter picked me up. It was already late into the evening, so she dropped me off at my motel and I got to work setting up my underwater camera. The next morning, Becca picked me up again and took me to the Backscatter shop, beautifully located along the seashore on the historic cannery row.

I soon met all the friendly staff, but didn’t have much down time because I was already gearing up for my first dive! The shop just so happens to be a few hundred yards from one of the best dive sites in California, the Monterey breakwater. The Monterey breakwater is a very simple shore dive, with a decently long swim down the break to about 40 feet, where the underwater photography subjects abound.


Before my first dive I got lent some new gear from backscatter to use while I was there, some macro strobes, and a snoot… perfect for lighting individual subjects. The dive was great, with massive sea nettles strewn along the sandy bottom, and the occasional cormorant coming down to check out my flashy suit.

Before my second dive, I got the chance to meet Jamil, the one world underwater scholar. It was great to meet him and chat about all his experiences, and the amazing things he has planned for the rest of his year as the intern. On the second dive, I focused on motion blur, using my flashes to freeze the motion of the drifting stalk anemones. However, I quickly learned that their motion wasn’t fast enough, and so focused on the gorgeous strawberry anemones that cover the rocks.

Diving the Chester Poling with the Sea Rovers

Yesterday I had the great opportunity to join many of the Sea Rovers on a dive on the Chester Poling. The Chester Poling is a ship that sank in 1977 just outside of Gloucester harbor. Apparently, a massive storm hit the ship just outside of port and the violent waves ripped the boat in half. Today, the stern of the boat lies in about 90 feet of water, while the bow rests at 180, making the stern a popular wreck dive close to shore. To get out to the wreck we left Gloucester harbor on the Cape Ann Diver 2, a boat associated with the East Coast Dive shop. On the boat were a number of sea rovers, several of whom were diving doubles or rebreathers which was neat to see in action. While I didn’t have any of that, I was able to use my DUI dry suit to get some useful dry suit training at depth.

Once in the water, we followed the mooring line down into the depths of the ocean until out the gloom, a shipwreck emerged at about 70 feet. We descended on the stern, and slowly swam along the level top deck until we reached the break. There, we descended once again to about 90 feet, and were able to use our lights to look into the belly of the ship’s cargo hold. Unfortunately, at depth we didn’t have too much bottom time, so we soon turned around and made our way back. Luckily, I was able to bring my big underwater camera I have on loan from backscatter with me on the dive and capture the rich life that the wreck supports. While absent of the corals that dominate tropical wrecks, the Chester Poling houses many fish, lobsters, and sponges.

On our second dive we followed a similar dive plan, however when we neared the break, my dive buddy Kim took me inside the wreck. We descended down the massive opening into the cargo hold, coming just to the other side of the break where we had been on the previous dive. After we ascended back up to the top of the deck, I spotted a massive scorpionfish, and chased it around the wreck until we had to go up.

After our two dives, I stayed on the boat for the afternoon shift, where a whole other host of Sea Rovers joined the crew to do their dives. While I didn’t join them in the water, it was great to meet all of them!

Nahant Benthic Surveys with Ted Maney

A couple days ago I had the chance to do some scientific research dives with Ted Maney. He’s continuing a 40+ year-long project documenting the health of the benthic environment at several sites along the North shore. About a month ago I went with him to do surveys at Halfway rock, but today we went out to survey Nahant. Interestingly, the Nahant sites had almost no urchins, whereas the Halfway rock sites were filled with Urchins. This meant that my main job of laying out a quadrat to count urchins was completely pointless, there just weren’t any urchins to count! However, I got to do 3 short dives in the rich, murky waters of Nahant. While absent of urchins, the rocks were covered in muscles, especially baby muscles. Ted said that this shift in the benthic community could be due to several compounding factors, including an increase in sea temperature, and a decline in sea stars, which helps muscles outcompete all other benthic invertebrates.