DANO Pendygrasse

odds and ends from an unusual life

Transition. Part Three: Fuck it, I’m going swimming.



This blog was originally published on bneeth.com.


Around the time I became a convert to small cameras, I started scuba diving a lot. Obviously the two things would eventually meet and I’d get hooked on shooting underwater photos. I was torn because underwater photography is probably the most expensive form of photography I can think of, and it’s also incredibly difficult and prone to disaster. The thing about taking electronics a hundred feet underwater is that, well, they get flooded and ruined. A lot.

So this it how I found myself spending way more money on photography. I started off by getting a cheap housing for an Olympus Point and shoot that I had, and then moved onto a more expensive housing and strobe for the Canon G9. That was a really good rig to learn with and I managed to get some great shots with it. Eventually of course, I reached the end of the road and made the decision to house a DSLR.

What I learned with underwater photography is that it’s one of the most difficult environments to make an image, and when something spectacular is in front of you, you need a lot of really good tools to make sure you nail the shot. So small cameras didn’t last, but along the way I learned a lot.

Enjoy some shots from my underwater photo journey.

Dano

ps: click on the photos for larger versions.

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A shot from the old Olympus with a grouper in front of a wreck.
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Circling Horse-eye Jacks. Shot with the Canon G9. I loved this when I got it and still do. Sometimes the limitations of a camera help to make something unique.
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One of the craziest looking fish you will ever meet; the toadfish. Shot with the Canon g9.
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Breath hold shots with a camera rig can be tricky.
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My friend Kat over the sandy bottom. Black and white is one way to deal with the deep blue hue of ambient light underwater.
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Finally got a dslr housed, and the pictures dramatically improved. This is a giant barrel sponge on the edge of the reef wall in Belize.
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When you startle a Caribbean octopus at night, it will either hide or make itself as big as possible. Night dive in Belize.
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Macro of Coral. Repeating patterns are visually pleasing.
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Classic underwater composition with a giant barrel sponge and diver.
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I love moray eels. Whitemouth Moray from Maui.
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Nudibranchs are essentially snails, without the shell. They are small and come in myriad colours and shapes and they mostly sit still so you can take their picture.
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Balancing the flash with ambient, and then making the falloff reach an appropriate height on the mast made this one of the more challenging shots. Good thing the diver doesn’t look too goofy.
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Cordelia Banks.

Hello friends,

I’ve been back from Roatan for just a few days but life is moving incredibly quickly. It’s always like this when good things happen, they tend to happen in clusters and it’s all you can do just to keep up. I’m holding on for the ride!

When I was in the water waiting to shoot the shark release, I had some time with Ian Drysdale from healthyreefs.org and we spent it discussing the Cordelia Banks on the South side of Roatan. Recently discovered, the reef there is largely made up of staghorn coral which went through a disastrous decline due to disease in the 80’s. It’s in the crosshairs of the conservation movement because due to the healthy population of staghorn and its proximity to deep water currents, there is speculation that these reefs maybe be responsible for repopulating the staghorn population throughout the entire Caribbean. Impressive. The Cordelia Banks are a rich environment for fish as well. Grouper have been seen to use the area as a spawning aggregation site and the reef is an ideal nursery for juvenile fish.

Cordelia is also located less than a kilometre away from the Coxen Hole cruise ship dock, and about 7 kilometres from the new massive cruise ship facility at Mahogany Bay. 3 or 4 hundred times a year, thousand foot long cruise ships come within striking distance of this fragile ecosystem. There is evidence of boat strikes on the reef, but still they manage to flourish. Also, Coxen Hole is the largest population centre on the island and much of the pollution filters through the reef.

So Ian invited me to come dive Cordelia to get a sense of it for myself and shoot some photos. We’re going to try to get these out there and raise some awareness to help protect what could end up being a critical resource in the health of coral in the Caribbean. We had a small window one morning between high winds and conditions weren’t ideal, but I was lucky enough to get a look at this amazing ecosystem. Take a look.

D.

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One windy boat ride. Ian smiles while Nic from the Roatan Marine Park prepares his kit.
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Ian inspects a small growth of staghorn.
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This coral may be as little as two or three years old.
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Fields of the stuff. A rare sight these days.
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And a nursery for many fish species.
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Most of the healthiest parts of the reef are in less than 10 feet of water.
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Sharks, crabs, divers and more.

Hello friends,

Well I’m done leading dives and trying to focus on shooting photos for the rest of this trip. I have been trying out a variety of different techniques and getting more good results than bad, but admittedly, at this point in the trip, I’m not as far along as I’d like. Having said that, I always set pretty lofty goals and have high standards for myself and I probably wouldn’t be happy unless I came away from this trip with a cover shot.

We saw two different sharks today. I found the first one, just a little baby 3 foot nurse shark, and Mickey found a 5 footer or so on the next dive. Even though nurse sharks are pretty much completely non-threatening, it’s still cool to see them.

Enjoy the shots,

d.


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Kat checks out some tube sponges
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And here she is again.
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An Ocellated Box Crab (Calappa ocellata) hides from me in the sand on a night dive.
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Lil nudi at night.
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Kat found this gaudy clown crab, Biggest one I’ve ever seen.
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What is this scorpionfish thinking? Bad spot dude, bad spot.
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Yes, I have a favourite coral. This is it.
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Toady the toadfish in a different hole at last. So glad I could see his tail.
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Mickey inspects a different scorpionfish.
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These nassau grouper are following us around every dive hoping for lionfish kills.
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Mickey’s nurse shark
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Really like what is going on with this hungry fireworm.
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Shooting the Honduran President

Hi friends,

A couple days ago I found out that the President of Honduras was coming to Roatan to participate in a shark release. It turns out that it was part of the PR push for the announcement that Honduras has declared all of its territorial waters a shark sanctuary. Nice stuff, hard to police in this country, but nice nonetheless.

So Nic from the Roatan Marine Park asked if I would shoot the release and of course I said yes. Members from the RMP and the Shark Legacy Project worked to put together the event and the sharks were transported from the pen where they have been captive for several years, onto a boat, and out to west bay.

There was surprisingly little security for the event considering the recent political climate in Honduras and after bobbing around waiting for an hour or so, a boat from AKR pulled up and there was President Porforio Lobo Sosa a few feet away. Next came the important task of waving to the press and talking to the researchers and conservationists. The President certainly seemed engaged by the process. Then it was time to release the sharks. The first one was lifted out of the holding pool with a cradle and released. He immediately swam to the wall and disappeared into the deep. The second, bigger shark did a couple laps of the reef crest before heading to deeper water.

It was all very interesting to watch and shoot photos of. I understand that there are several more captive nurse sharks on Roatan, and hopefully this will set some kind of precedent to release the rest of them. Coincidentally, we’ve been seeing a lot of nurse sharks on dives lately, several this past week. Not sure what that means but I hope it’s good.

One week till home friends. One week. tomorrow we’re trying to go to the Cordelia Banks, a reef of staghorn coral like nowhere else in the Caribbean, and a hot target for protection. Stay tuned.

Enjoy the photos from the release.

d.



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Sharks awaiting release on the boat. Giacomo, Ian, Doug and Christy standing by.
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The President waves to the press.
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The press.
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The first shark in the sling
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The first shark is away. If Marine Park Nic’s back wasn’t so big, you’d see it.
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Oh, there it is...
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President Lobo supervises the second release.
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The second shark is away!
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Roatan update

Hi friends,

So I have passed the halfway mark of my trip. Now I start to try to cram in everything I haven’t done. This past week that has included no photos, hence no posting. Micky from Reef Gliders had the flu so I pitched in leading dives all week. Lots of diving, but no camera. I snuck in a day yesterday, I’ll lead a couple more today and then a night dive tonight. Looking forward to it.

Leading is a completely different dynamic than shooting. I’m more concerned with the divers in tow, navigation, air consumption and managing issues that come up, than I am with finding things. Still I managed to find a nurse shark and a couple eagle rays have graced us with their presence.

In any case, here are some shots that have come out of the last day, and a few from before.

Enjoy,

D.


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Weird perspective green moray.
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A crap shot, but at least it’s a NUDI! Black spotted nudibranch, whose spots are actually blue.
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Found this guy yesterday. Red Ridged clinging crab. Mickey says he’s quite uncommon.
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Come hither turtle.
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coralscape
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A pair of white spotted filefish let me hang out with them.
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fighting male parrot fish. Grrrr.
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Don't call it a comeback. I've been here for years.

Hi friends,

Well last time we spoke, I had just finished a couple semi crap days and vented a bit. It has been pointed out the shots in the last blog were not terrible or out of focus, or whatever, and I guess that’s true. The thing is, when you shoot a bunch of shots, you tend to look at the group as a whole. “Was this day successful?” comes down to percentages. If 10% of my shots end up being A quality, then it’s a pretty good day. If 1% turn out, not so much. The previous blog just followed a couple of 1% days in a row. Still there are always standouts. But sometimes even they don’t match up to the picture I had in my mind, which is the only standard I ever really care about.

Yesterday I went back to the 10.5mm lens to see if I had been overhyping it in my mind, or if it really is that good. It really is. It’s also too wide for a lot of things. I saw a pipefish for instance (which happened to be beerfish on that dive) so I needed to get proof. The 10.5mm is not very well suited. It does, however, shoot fabulous reefscapes and divers, so that’s what I’ll be bringing you a lot of today.

After all this fisheye I’m ready for a good macro dive now, and it’s just started to rain so that’s probably going to happen.

Thanks to all the divers who put up with me underwater. Kraig, Colin, Mickey, Mel, Will, and even Kelly who doesn’t yet know what she’s in for. Especially Karen who is leaving and put up with many flashes.

Enjoy the shots.

dano.

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dropping in.
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Mickey in Kraig’s crack.
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Suddenly a giant sponge lunged out and ate Kraig’s head.
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Just a beautiful coral overhang.
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Elkhorn coral in the shallows. Playing with Snell’s window.
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This is ready for the cover of Lionfish Weekly magazine.
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Mikey found a MASSIVE head of brain coral. Kelly swam by on her first dive here.
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Will helps me get a shot. Thanks Will.
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Setbacks

Hi Friends,

Well I guess we can’t always just charge forward. Sometimes you get caught in a soft spot and slide backwards. The last couple days have been that for me.

I’ve made some lens choice mistakes, which admittedly isn’t the biggest deal in the world, it’s the kind of thing that is hard to predict, how is the viz going to be? What will be available? Well for several dives in a row I simply took along a lens that was wrong for the job. Not wasted time, but not time well spent either.

Also, I overestimated the quality of the 12-24 and shot for 2 days without really checking the files. The result was that I have a lot of soft images. Also disappointing. I’ll be more careful now knowing the limitations of the lens. Those primes aren’t looking so bad now...

As with life, when it starts to suck, you gotta push through till the other side. Here are some highlights from some bad days.

d.


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craziest tips I’ve ever seen on a giant anemone.
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another spotted moray. i like shooting em and i will keep shooting em.
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the tiniest starfish i’ve ever seen. wrapped around coral polyps!
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star in a cup
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whitenose pipefish with his creepy red eyes. this was one of the most disappointing encounters. I back focused the best shot and am left with this.
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hunting. Mickey called this a “target rich environment.”
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Love these. They look completely black underwater and then you hit em with a strobe. Boom.
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tried to get some shots with my friend Kathryn.
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still getting a feel for directing people and getting what I want.
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...so I’m playing with different ideas.
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working on the sunball too. this one is ok.
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New lens, new options.

WARNING: Photo geekery follows. Feel free to skip to the photos.

Hi friends,

A quick photo blog with some shots from the Nikon 12-24mm that I finally got underwater. I read bunch of stuff about it online and followed Dr. Mustard’s advice on the setup. The first thing I noticed was that out of the water I couldn’t get any sort of focus with the diopter so I took it out without it. It may be that it only focuses underwater so I’ll have to give that a try, I just don’t want to waste a dive on it right now. Especially because the results without it were quite good just with the 33mm extension. There is definitely some corner distortion at 12mm though.

It’s pretty nice to have the zoom. That’s my first impression. Having only used prime lenses on my new rig so far, the versatility was really nice. On the wide end it’s just slightly less wide than the 10.5 mm that I have (which to my eye is actually a more pleasing focal distance), and the 24 end allows me some chance to achieve good results with slightly smaller creatures. Turtles are a good size creature for it, but anything smaller would have to be sitting pretty still. The Grouper shot was about perfect in terms of size. I probably would have had to get too close with the 10.5mm or maybe even the 16mm and scared him off.

I also noticed that my strobes are probably not strong enough to get any real fill on a sunball shot, unless the subject is really, really close. Shooting at 1/250th and f16 or f22 seems to be crucial to beat the turquoise band and these Ikelite 160’s just don’t have the pop to make anything happen.

I don’t shoot divers enough, so I’m going to focus on that this trip. Luckily I have some willing (or at least convincible) victims to get in front of the camera. I need to work out more of the directions, but just having the chance to work with someone instead of trying to catch moments when a diver is in the right place, is really helpful. I would like some feedback.

I’ve also included some shots from another dive with some funny creatures for my critter nerd friends. All shot with the 60mm macro.

Enjoy,

d.

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A turtle at 24mm.
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Jen and a sea fan.
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Jen and a barrel sponge.
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Grouper getting a good cleaning. Must have been 30 gobies on him.
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Me and Jen goofing around on the safety stop.
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My, what blue rings and lovely lashes you have.
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Just a tiny little Zebra Sole. Look at the grains of sand, they look like boulders! Well, maybe not.
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Queer little critter, the goatee blennie. I’ve never seen one in Roatan before so this makes me happy. Look at the goatee on him!
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Skoobing fotos.

Hi friends,

A few more shots. Had some equipment problems and the boats have been full so I’m not shooting as much as I’d like, but here are a couple to look at. My friend Alex asked me to call diving “Skoobing” because it sounds funny. I think that should be no problem.

Enjoy,

d.

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duh...
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lil shrimp.
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spotted drum
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trunicate
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pedersen’s cleaner shrimp
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Scorpionfish
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back in the water.

Hello friends,

Made it to Roatan in one piece. It’s hot, the bugs are bad and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Reunions are good and it’s great to be around friends all day. Got the rig underwater yesterday and put it through its paces. Didn’t see too much but it’s nice to just be getting it dialled in. That’s the plan this month, to shoot as much as possible underwater until the big new rig is second nature to use. Thanks to the crew at Reef Gliders who are taking good care of me.

Here are a few. They should get better as the summer goes on.

d.

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White wire coral shrimp. These guys are so hard to shoot.
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Grouper gets a cleaning by some gobies.
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Goldentail Moray eel.
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Angelfish takes a turn.
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Spotted Moray eel.
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Giant hermit crab churning up a sandstorm.
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Mantis shrimp peers out of a little crevice.
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Free May wallpaper

Hi Friends,

My life is pretty much upside down over here so I apologize for the lateness of this wallpaper. Thanks to the loyal friends and fans who keep me on my toes.

Spring is time to get out on the water. This shot is from Halfmoon Bay in Roatan and features members of the Bay Islands Yacht club. I took it last May while sipping a drink at Sundowners and by the end of the month I’ll be right back there. I am very lucky to have such great friends. Thank you all.

d.

medium large

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a boat.


In Roatan you spend a lot of time waiting for boats. Waiting for them to go out so you can dive, waiting for them to come in so you can strip off the gear and reload it, waiting for friends to come back, or waiting to go somewhere new. It's one of the realities of living on an island. Some of the boats have been working these waters for years and they wear their age like an old coat.

I walked past this old girl for a long time before one day, while waiting for a different boat, I decided to take a closer look.

D.


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Home. Finishing some things and starting some others.

"Whoa. Are you still here? Wow. Nice to see you. Me? I've been away. In Roatan, Honduras. Ya, there was a "coup". Big Earthquake too. How big? 7.1! I know, it was crazy. Well, between that and the swine flu scare the tourists pretty much stopped coming. Ya, that's why I'm on my way back to Vancouver. Just in time for the salmon in the rivers and the leaves to change colour. I'm hoping for an indian summer, I love Vancouver in September.

Pictures? Sure, I took some. Not as many as i would have liked, the divemaster training kept me from shooting much and then I started to work leading divers and couldn't take a camera along. Ya, it was a bit of a bummer, but I was happy for the chance to get some experience.

What now? Well I have a couple of interesting job offers and it's an Olympic year so there will be lots of things to shoot, but truthfully, I'm mostly just looking forward to sleeping in my own bed and catching up with friends. Yes, of course I'll start writing regularly again. Having reliable electricity and internet makes blogging a lot easier.

Well thanks, I'm glad to see you again too. Talk soon."

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Back in Roatan

Sorry for the lack of updates. I've been in Roatan for a week now, took about half that to get my bags, battled off the dreaded "roatan gut" for a few days and then got down to business. I'm doing my divemaster training with Reef Gliders and have started to wade through the thousands of pages of reading and tests, but still have managed to sneak in a few dives. I always like to shoot at El Aguila, it has lots of cool lines and as I learn how to shoot underwater better, it's a good baseline to judge myself against.

Yesterday on the first dive, I was shooting a photo of a turtle passing me by when I heard Barry banging away like mad on his tank trying to get my attention. Barry isn't really one to bang his tank a lot, so I figured something exciting was going on. As it turns out a big green Moray Eel had snuck up behind me and was biting my fin! Never had that happen before! When I got back to the shop and looked at my photos I saw him sneaking up on me in the background of this shot.

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Sneaky Green Moray Eel and turtle.

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Just blowing bubbles.

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A diver on the wreck.

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Goldentail Moray's are my favourite eel around here

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And finally a flamingo tongue.

It's a little tough to keep up with the blog here, the power still goes out pretty much once a day, the internet is painfully slow and I am kept really busy with the DM course, but I'll try to get something up at least once a week, hopefully more. I'm going to try to get photos up here as often as I can too, so check it out if you like.

Cheers,

d.
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I'm coming!

I sleep till plane. 2 till this view. Port Royal or Salva is the hardest decision I'm making for awhile.

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Friends

I'm going back to see these goofballs. Can't wait.

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Roatan dive photos - Photoshelter gallery

Check out some shots from diving in Roatan, Honduras.

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Home.

Well, I'm home. I'm pretty good at changing gears but I found it impossible to get excited about all the snow in Vancouver. I'm about to go out and walk in it, so maybe that will change my mind, but my head is still underwater.

Here are some shots from my Christmas Vacation. I hope you like them.

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Anessa and Barry watch the sun set from the Reef Gliders dock
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One of the millions of Sharpnose Pufferfish that are all over the reef
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lil buddy
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Brendan clowning around with a bottle he found.
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Spotted moray eel.
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A giant anenome in front of the blue on the reef wall.
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T checks out a preoccupied turtle. He was munching on a sponge for about 5 minutes.
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T checks out a lobster on the wall.

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This Peacock flounder was showing off his blue spots for me.
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Reef Gliders moved into a huge new shop with its own beach and dock. Nice!


And now for the real world. I'm actually excited to see all of the entrants in the Deep Winter Photo contest going on this week. I'll be judging the event and I'm not really looking forward to that. Judging photography is like deciding which puppy is cuter, everyone has an opinion and they are all correct. However, someone has to win and I'll contribute as best I can to make sure it is the right person.

Unfortunately, saying yes to this event means that I am going to miss the Greg Todds Memorial in Trout Lake this weekend. I'm really bummed about that. I hope all my friends out there have a good time, and be safe. I look forward to seeing the photos.

Happy New Year everyone. I hope that is the last time you al have to hear it. On with the show...

D.

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roatan for the holidays

In between power cuts and with extremely inconsistent internet, I'd like to wish everyone a happy Christmas and New Years from Roatan. Diving with Reef Gliders again and they have a new, much bigger and better spot in the West End. I've seen all sorts of old friends and met some new ones too. Saw a seahorse on my second dive, of course I never dive with my camera the first couple times after time off. Of course.

Here is a turtle. I'm already counting the days before I have to come home.

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travel day

I'm stuck at PDX. My 11PM redeye to Houston became a 3AM redeye to Houston. Although the flight still takes up the entire night, I am now stuck in the airport for 7 hours and not that stoked on it. However I can't get too bummed, my wife's flight from YVR to SEA got cancelled and they put her ON A BUS! That's why you pay for flights, so they can put you on a bus....

The other day it was colder than you can imagine in Whistler and they were firing up the snow guns trying to make up for the fact that mother nature hasn't been too helpful in the snow department this season. The wind was blowing like crazy, it was minus 25 up there, and all the snow that they were blowing was just flying up into the air and off the mountain. I pulled out my old 400mm f5.6 too see what it looked like on a digital camera. It doesn't hold up at all, but still, there is character in old glass.

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I'm gone to the land of unreliable internet and no cell phone. I'll be there until the new year so I just want to take a moment to thank everyone who has spent time looking at my photos and reading my words in the past year. The power of my bog is continuing to surprise me as things I've said come back time and again in all kinds of strange ways. At its core, self publishing is the easiest and most democratic way to be heard that humans have ever enjoyed. I don't always have things worth saying, but when I do, there are people out there who are listening. thanks for tuning in.

Happy Holidays,

Dano.
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Fishies and deep breaths.

A year ago today, I left Roatan after living there for 3 and a half months. I expected to be back there around June, but life is always interesting and you never know what is around the next corner, so instead it has now been a year since I've seen some of my friends down there. I've booked a flight back for Christmas, which makes me extremely happy, but I miss the place. No Roatan has also meant, no diving, which I miss terribly. People have asked me what the appeal is lately and my response is this; scuba diving is everything that snowboarding isn't. It's warm (at least where I like to do it), it's no impact, it's quiet and calm (which snowboarding actually can be too, but not sledding or crowded mountains, etc.).

Diving to me is like a forced meditation. You slow down your breathing, clear your mind, and look at pretty fishes. It calms me.

So in the year since I've been home, a lot has happened. I've made big strides professionally, and am very proud of the work I'm doing these days. Between that, the new apartment, and impending wedding, life has kept me very, very busy. I feel fortunate, considering the state of the global economy and how tough it is out there to make it as a photographer, to still be getting work, selling pictures, and interesting new clients.

Now if I can just figure out how to do it all of that from the beach...

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This is a typical view off the wall in Roatan. No sharks or seahorses or barracuda, just a squirrel fish and lots of coral. Aaaah.
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