November 12, 2011 - Year in Review

November 08, 2011  •  Leave a Comment
Olympus Year in Review

The 2011 Olympus crew  on the foredeck of the M/V Olympus.
     My 2011 dive season at Olympus Dive Center in North Carolina is very sadly all but over. The vessel I captain, the Midnight Express, has no more trips scheduled so far this year. Overall it was a great season. Sure, the weather was problematic at times but between 'blow days' and hurricanes there was some stunning diving. I can remember the many ecstatic faces climbing the dive ladders after epic dives on the U-352, USS Schurz, Atlas and my fave for the year, the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose. For me, what will be most memorable about the 2011 dive season was the multitudes of sharks seen on the wrecks and not just Sand Tigers but Dusky's, Bull and even a Hammerhead Shark or two. For the first time since 2008, I shot UW video and managed to capture five dives on tape highlighting these shark encounters. You can check them out here at my web site: Evolution Underwater Imaging. It was also a banner year for photography. With visibility sometimes in excess of 50 feet, conditions were optimal for shooting. I was very pleased with many of the images I collected, some of which that have already been published or plan to be published soon. Please visit this link for a look at all the 'keeper' shots from this year: Click Here.
One of my favorite images from 2011. 

A quintessential shot of a Sand Tiger Shark. Taken on the
Atlas Tanker 2011. (stock)

Just because I sound like I'm done running charters for this year doesn't imply that you should cross off the Outer Banks from your 'to do' dive list for the remainder of 2011. Olympus's flag ship, the M/V Olympus, captained by Robert Purifoy, has dive trips scheduled throughout the month of November. Please contact them at the link above to find out what the schedule entails. If the weather is good you might find me on board getting my last dives in and trying to score a few more photos or video clip or two. The dive conditions are still optimal and will stay that way for much of the Fall and even the winter so don't give up on Olympus just yet.
Mate, John Thompson was a true piece of
work. His 'flare' will be missed.
    Some have already been asking me if I will be running the Midnight Express next season in 2012. At this point, I honestly have no idea. It all depends on what happens over the winter. If I return next year to Olympus I will most certainly do so with a smile on my face. I have had in the past and continue to have some of my all time greatest dives here and without Olympus Dive Center as the staging ground it would not be possible. Headed up by Robert Purifoy, I am honored to be working for what I consider the apex of professionally run dive operations in the US if not the world. The staff at Olympus are more than just co-workers, they are an extended family. A special thanks goes out to the crew of the Midnight Express, Mike Phillips and John Thompson. We worked hard, played hard and experienced some outstanding dives this past season. Without these guys watching my back I would have lost a lot more of my hair out there and I cannot afford any more hair loss thank you. 
Other mate, Mike Phillips helped balance
John Thompson's presence.
My photos have appeared in publications on a regular basis in 2011 and wanted to take it to the next step in publishing by writing. Writing has been a new pursuit of mine and this year and I am pleased with the results thus far. I always accept and appreciate comments on my stories to get ideas on what you, the reader, enjoys reading. So drop me a line anytime or add comments at the bottom of the Blog. is a popular diving forum and social networking internet site where one can go to buy and sell gear, find dive tips, chat with like minded individuals and read articles. I just published my first story on that appeared on their site last week. It is the same story posted on my September 22nd Blog titled, The Spar: "The Cutter With the Most Gold" except with some revisions and a few new photos added. Go check it out. It can still be seen on the home page. 
     Wreck Diving MagazineDiver Magazine and SCUBA Diving Magazine have all agreed to print stories written by myself with accompanying photos for editions to be released in 2012. I will be posting more on these stories as it happens.

Speaking Engagements
      Eastern Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, NC has graciously asked me to do a presentation for their students and staff on the evening of November 17th at 7PM. I will be presenting on a variety of topics from wrecks and the documentary films I produced on them as well as having diving and photography as a career. I will also be speaking about the need for protection of sharks. The decimation of shark species worldwide can have and already is having a serious impact on overall fish stocks if something is not rectified very quickly. Come to the presentation and learn more. Location is at the East Carolina Heart Institute at East Carolina University, on Heart Drive off Arlington out by the Hospital. I hope to see you there.
      Beneath the Sea is the largest dive expo open to the general public in America and this year they have accepted my photo workshop titled "Wide Angle Wreck Photography and More" to be presented at the show on March 23-25, 2012. Wreck photography has been my favorite subject to shoot and it can be said that I specialize in it. For a small fee you can sign up for a three hour presentation and learn some of my tricks and techniques for capturing the essence of a shipwreck. I will have more info on this to come.
     Stay tuned for potential dates where I will be hosting photo workshops at trade shows or dive centers around the US. I have no set dates as of yet but I should have some soon. If you are part of a dive center or dive club and would like me to be a guest speaker or conduct a workshop please contact me at [email protected]. For more info or visit this link to my web site: Click Here.  If your an individual I am also available for instruction in person or live online via web cam.

Photo Tip of the Week
A gratuitous quantity of dots, specks and crud, otherwise known as backscatter,
can ruin an otherwise perfect shot. 
     Have you ever had a great photo ruined by thousands of tiny white or brown dots strewn all about the image? If you said, 'no' then you're lying. 'Backscatter', as it is known in the industry, which is the direct reflection of strobe light off of suspended particulates through the lens and on to the sensor creating an image that looks like numerous tiny mirrors. These minute reflections muddle an image and distract your eyes away from our subject. They are the bane of every photographer at one time or another. There are ways to eliminate or reduce the amount of backscatter with these few simple tips.
     The simplest way to avoid backscatter is to dive in clear water with minimal suspended particles. No particles equals no backscatter. Easy right? I wish. Well, we don't always have the luxury of diving in said conditions so what next? Do not create any more suspended particles on top of what is already there. Superior buoyancy and finning techniques are critical to not kicking up the bottom and only come with training and practice. When you are shooting on the sea bed or wreck be sure to not kneel or stand on the bottom whenever possible. 
Proper finning such as this will minimize unwanted silt
and cut down on backscatter. 
Your fin action will most certainly ruin a photo subject and possibly alienate you from other divers and photographers. By hovering over the bottom with your knees bent and fins off the bottom you will prevent the silting up your photo area. If you must absolutely sit on the bottom then be very careful to not kick up silt but, very few will succeed in doing so. Shooting a subject that is up current from where you are kneeling will pull the silt away from the photo area and help you if you have to touch the bottom. Some divers prefer to use small metal poles, pointers or pokers to assist them in staying of the reef. I see these merely as a crutch that will prohibit a diver from obtaining superior buoyancy skills. A diver with top notch buoyancy does not need one. Also, in the hands of a sloppy diver those little pokers can cause damage to marine life even though they are very small. You will be amazed at how well you can not only hover over a reef area but change position ever so slightly with minor fin tip kicks only. It just requires lots of practice.
Built in flash units, such as the one depicted here, are the worst for creating backscatter.
The closer the strobe is to the port the worse the glare and backscatter.
     Sometimes no matter what you do the environmental conditions will still prove challenging when there is a lot of silt or particulates occurring naturally in the water column. Heavy rains, steep seas are but a few weather conditions that will cause excessive silting. If this is the case, here is what you can do. First extend your strobe arm(s) out as far as you can or as far as your subject will allow you. The closer the strobe light is to your dome port the more likely the strobe light will emanate out and directly back in to the port. For example, stand in front of a mirror and shine a flashlight directly in to the mirror in front of your face or slightly to the side in to your face. You might find the light is more likely to shine right back in to your eyes. Now hold the flashlight out at your side and shine it on your face in the mirror. You will now see that the light is reflected off to the side and not in to your eyes.  
The illustration shows strobes pointing inwards which is
not always a desirable position.
The same holds true for your strobes reflecting light off particles, through the port and on to your camera sensor. If you find that when you move your strobes out to far there is a dark patch in the middle of your image then you need to pull the strobes closer in and point the core of the strobe slightly outwards away from your subject utilizing the fringe of the strobe light in your exposure more then the core. Not only will backscatter be cut down but sometimes you will get more desirable softer edges on your subjects with this 
Slightly pointing strobe units outwards can cut down
on backscatter greatly by redirecting strobe light
away from lens port.
slight tilt. Adding a diffuser over the strobe can help cut down hot spots but even with this addition the center of the strobe may be to intense and direct. This factor also depends on the model and make of your strobe units. Some are more intense in the center than others. This slight adjustment in strobe angle will help in reducing or even eliminating backscatter all together and works well with both macro and wide angle photography.
      Even when you use all the tricks in the trade taking photos there is one more you can use in post production. When you have a winner shot but still has a fare amount of specks on it there are post photo tricks you can utilize to rid your photo of this backscatter. In image processing softwares such as Photoshop there are tools you can use such as clone stamps and filters to eliminate those irksome specks. This segment will not get in to the use of these tools though. You will have to do some research or call Mike for a photo lesson. Hey, a man has to eat ya know.
      In closing, sometimes no matter what you do though the water quality will be just to crummy to take photos without backscatter. When conditions are like this you can either call it quits, turn for home and look for a bar to drown your sorrows in or spend the time in the water practicing your dive and photo skills. You might not yield quality photos on dives like this but you may learn something that will help you out in the future. Practice, practice, practice is the name of the game. If first you don't succeed....well you know the rest.

Next Weeks Blog Report

DVD Documentary film,
The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon
      Truk Lagoon is a keyword that will set off thoughts of the worlds greatest wreck diving in the minds of sport divers around the world. With more than three dozen wrecks to choose from it is epic in scale as a dive destination. In next weeks' blog I will tell you about my five years living and working in Truk Lagoon on the liveaboards, Truk Aggressor II and the Truk Odyssey. It was here where I became inspired to film my second documentary film aptly titled, The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon. In this film there is more than 40 minutes of narrated and archived film footage as well as ninety minutes of my best underwater video that was selected from nearly 60 hours of total footage. In my Dive Blog Report I will tell you all about the making of this film and what it took to get it done. Until next time....

Happy Diving!

Mike Gerken
Mike Gerken

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