Oct 072014
 

Opal Magazine Cover 2014

At the end of last year, I received an email from the editor at Hawthorn Publications. She was publishing a story about underwater coral restoration in Opal, an annual travel and lifestyle magazine distributed through 17 resorts, reaching 650,000 guests along the Atlantic coast. According to the publishers, Opal magazine is dedicated to showcasing the very best of food, wine, travel, and culture at each resort destination.

The editor found the photographs that I posted for my story, The Underwater Gardener, and she wanted to use it for her magazine piece.

Several emails, a contract and a few months later, I received this magazine in the mail. In addition to the cover, Hawthorn published two more of my photos (pages 32 and 35).

Let me know if you spot my cover in the wild at any of these resorts:

  • Delray Beach Marriott, Delray Beach
  • Delray Sands Resort on Highland Beach, Highland Beach
  • Edgewater Beach Hotel, Naples
  • Jupiter Beach Resort, & Spa, Jupiter
  • Lido Beach Resort, Sarasota
  • The Resort at Longboat Key Club, Longboat Key
  • Marriott Key Largo, Key Largo
  • Sandpearl Resort, Clearwater
  • Sunset Key Guest Cottages, Key West
  • The Westin Key West Resort & Marina, Key West
Sep 302011
 

hovering sea lion

A sea lion comes in for a closer look

I was SCUBA diving in the bracing waters off of Anacapa in the Channel Islands, receiving a stern lecture via vigorous pantomime.  Words aren’t an option when both parties are submerged 30 feet underwater.  It was clear to me, despite our lack of words, that my diving buddy was not happy with my slack attention to protocol.  I had been straying too far, distracted by glimpses of acrobatic sea lions and the ever-present need to fiddle with my camera.  In the twilight cast by the long, tangled forest of giant kelp, it was important to keep track of each other, and I wasn’t keeping up my end of the bargain.

Descending into the depths, with Santa Cruz Island in the background

I sighed through my bubbles and nodded my head.  I needed to do better.

Meanwhile my buddy froze in mid-gesture and pointed to something behind me.  When I spun around I was looking into the large, round eyes of a baby harbor seal that had been spying at us from behind a nearby rock.  I was too startled to move, and we both stared at each other for a few heartbeats before the baby seal slipped back into the protection of the kelp.

The waving treetops of the tangled giant kelp forest 

If  sea lions are the goofy kids of the underwater world, always wanting to horse around and show off, harbor seals are the serious and aloof adults, who are normally too busy going about their seal-business to stop and play with a bunch of clumsy divers.  In past dives, I had only caught fleeting glimpses of their torpedoed shapes gliding into the distance.  But somehow, on this dive, it was different.  We had stumbled into their secret world.  And this was our third sighting of what was for me, a usually elusive creature.

 

Giant kelp off Anacapa’s shores

The magic had started as soon as we descended to the pebbly floor of the ocean.  I suppose we struck off in a different direction than everyone else, because we didn’t see any of the other 30-some divers or even their bubbles.  It’s like the rest of the crowd just melted away.  And right off the bat, we spotted a ray, sweeping towards and around us in a casual, slow arc.

Our dive boat, the Spectre, waits patiently in the distance

I suppose that’s also when I realized that my camera battery was surprisingly low.  I had been planning on experimenting with my strobes, and now I realized I was almost out of juice.  Meanwhile, we pushed further into the enchanting kelp forest.  It was a fairytale of waving kelp and mysterious creatures.  We saw a huge, lumbering sheep crab, large schools of Opal Eye fish, and ancient lobsters hiding in crevices among the rock outcroppings.  We swam through small, almost invisible clouds of biting jellies, and encountered kelp so thick that I had to let my eyes adjust before I could see my way through it.  Among one of those groves, we stumbled on a seal tryst–perhaps amorous, or maybe a scuffle among rivals.  Whatever the case, they seemed startled, as if they hadn’t expected us to be wandering in their neighborhood.  And later, we realized that a baby and its mother were curiously following us, and peeking shyly at us from their hiding spots.

The enchanted kelp forest  

As we emerged from one grove of kelp, we even spotted two enormous, endangered giant sea bass, cruising into the blue.   It was truly one of the most magical dives I had ever experienced.  And strangely–perhaps ironically–my camera was all but useless during most of the dive.  One of my last shots before my battery died was an attempt to capture one of the harbor seals that were hovering at such close range.  But because I barely had any battery power left, I wasn’t even able to adjust the settings on my camera.  I just tried (and mostly failed) to click the shutter a few times before it died.

In a way, it’s fitting that on this dive I was forced to stop documenting and start experiencing.  Still, I needed at least one picture of that baby seal.  If only to believe that it hadn’t just been a dream.

One of the few shots I managed to salvage from our seal encounter

 If you go:

Anacapa is known for its pristine underwater environment, good visibility and its relatively close proximity to the mainland.  Only 14 miles from Ventura, Anacapa is an accessible day trip via the fast but small Raptor, or slower but larger Peace and Spectre dive boats.  All departures leave out of Ventura harbor.

We took the Spectre Dive Boat, which was a pleasantly large vessel equipped with bunks (arrive early!) that provide handy and comfy sleeping spots for the homeward journey.  It’s also nice to be able to stow dry clothes and supplies down in the bunk room during the trip.  Stowage above board, by the tanks, is nicely configured, and a somewhat crowded hot tub on deck is a welcome amenity between cold dives.  Food is plentiful, with the BBQ chicken being the best of the bunch.  I recommend bringing a water bottle to stay hydrated, since the water cups are too small to be useful.  All in all, it was a comfortable journey, with my only concern being the gigantic–and I mean gigantic–giant stride into the water.  It felt a little bit like cliff diving.  This also meant that divers have a pretty hairy climb back up to the deck after the dive.  If you’re timid about boarding a rolling boat in rough water with a ton of weight on your back while gripping a slippery ladder, this boat might not be the easiest bet for you.

Return to the mothership

For a full list of upcoming scuba charter trips, location descriptions and boat reviews, check out the California Diving News website.  You can also compare boat statistics and follow links to the individual dive boat websites on the California Dive Boats website.

The Spectre and the deep blue sea

Sep 272011
 

Yesterday, I received a curious set of emails, sent within an hour of each other.  The first was from 500px.com, a photo sharing site well-known for it’s clean design and high caliber of photography.  A relative newcomer to the photo-sharing scene, it’s garnered high marks and a cult following from photographers and photography enthusiasts.  (In fact, I highly recommend that you check out its free services!)

This was the first time I had ever received correspondence from 500px, so I was somewhat curious to read it.  It was an announcement that 500px was ending its relationship with a partner, Fotomoto, a print-on-demand e-commerce provider.  In part:

The current 500px photo stores, provided by our partner Fotomoto, are not ideal. Its platform, although powerful and feature rich, does not quite satisfy our high demands for quality of the user experience. So, we will not extend our contact with Fotomoto, and they will end supporting stores on 500px on September 27, 2011.

Then, less than an hour later, an email from Fotomoto (again, a first), stating in part:

As you may already know, Fotomoto is going to stop providing service to 500px platform at the end of today.  Unfortunately 500px didn’t meet their business and technical commitments.  After several unsuccessful attempts and unanswered emails to solve their issues, we had to send them a notice last week informing them that we are terminating our contract with 500px (which is a slightly different from what they mentioned in their email).

Well that was a strange set of emails (shrug).  Until . . . this afternoon when I received this follow up message from 500px.com stating:

On September 26, 2011, we issued a statement concerning our partnership with Fotomoto that may have been misinterpreted. The fact that we are not extending our partnership with them was a mutual decision and was not related to the quality of Fotomoto’s advanced and feature-rich offerings, which are excellent.

Ooops!

According to the Twitter gossip, the spat originated from Fotomoto’s demands for an exclusive deal or termination, and 500px opted to terminate . . .

In corporate law, we like to point out that “corporations are people too”.  Clearly, 500px and Fotomoto are taking that concept to heart!  As one 500px devotee posted on Twitter: “You and every photographer on 500px will be better off without them.”  Take that, Fotomoto!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Please, no drama.

The emails in full:

From 500px.com (Mon, Sep 26, 2011 at 11:20 AM)

Changes to the Store

Dear friends,

First of all, let me say a huge thanks to all of you — without you none of this would have been possible. This year 500px has seen tremendous growth and development, and although the ride was bumpy at times, our dedicated team members always stood behind the platform, solved the most challenging problems and did their best to offer our users the best experience possible.

There are many exciting things planned, you will see them live on the site in the nearest future.

One of the most requested changes is coming very soon — we are completely redesigning and redeveloping the photo store experience on 500px. The current 500px photo stores, provided by our partner Fotomoto, are not ideal. Its platform, although powerful and feature rich, does not quite satisfy our high demands for quality of the user experience. So, we will not extend our contact with Fotomoto, and they will end supporting stores on 500px on September 27, 2011.

We are working hard to make the transition as seamless and transparent as possible. Most of the features you are used to will be preserved in the new 500px stores. And the look and feel will be completely new and improved.

As always — great user experience is our top priority, this will never change. If you would like further information on our roadmap and future development, follow us on Twitter:twitter.com/500px

OlegGutsol,
President and Technical Director, 500px

—————————————————————
From FOTOMOTO (Mon, Sep 26, 2011 at 12:16 PM)
Dear Fotomoto / 500px members,
As you may already know, Fotomoto is going to stop providing service to 500px platform at the end of today.  Unfortunately 500px didn’t meet their business and technical commitments.  After several unsuccessful attempts and unanswered emails to solve their issues, we had to send them a notice last week informing them that we are terminating our contract with 500px (which is a slightly different from what they mentioned in their email).
If you have sold any photo(s) using Fotomoto, your Fotomoto balance is available to you at your Fotomoto dashboard.  And of course, Fotomoto will still be available on your otherwebsites and platforms.
We apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused.  As always, we are committed to our members and to our product experience.  In the next few weeks you will start seeing more print products and more features from Fotomoto, stay tuned.
Best regards
Ahmad Kiarostami
Co-founder and CEO
—————————————————————
From 500px.com (Tue, Sep 27, 2011 at 1:54 PM)
On September 26, 2011, we issued a statement concerning our partnership with Fotomoto that may have been misinterpreted. The fact that we are not extending our partnership with them was a mutual decision and was not related to the quality of Fotomoto’s advanced and feature-rich offerings, which are excellent.

Oleg Gutsol,
President and Technical Director, 500px

Sep 072011
 
A Fine Line: A Visual Meditation on the Bouldering Life

Promo shots from the new film: A Fine Line.  All photos by Andrew Kornylak. A climbing friend once told me about a beautiful, rectangular rock perched on the edge of a rubble strewn slope near the rim of the Owen’s River Gorge. The location was off of the typical Bishop bouldering circuit, in an area […]

Jul 072011
 
Weekend Wilderness: Escape to Horseshoe Meadow

Sometimes the inertia of getting out of the city is too much to overcome – especially when we’re talking about a long holiday weekend like the Fourth of July.  My three main barriers to outdoor enjoyment seem to be logistics, the heat, and the crowds that commute en masse from the Los Angeles area to […]

May 262011
 
Packing in the Fun: Bishop Mule Days in the Eastern Sierras

Every year, on Memorial Day weekend, a great mob of mules and their packers, riders and trainers converge on the small town of Bishop, California, in the Eastern Sierras for an event called Mule Days.  For us, the Mule Days celebration and Memorial Weekend marks the end of our bouldering season – it’s time to […]

Mar 302011
 
The Underwater Gardener: Restoring Staghorn Coral in Key Largo, Florida

If you’ve ever tried tending a garden, you might be able to imagine the complexities of planting and maintaining a nursery located twenty feet under the sea.  I got just a taste of what it takes to be an underwater gardener when I joined a trip, organized by Captain Don Voss of Marine Cleanup Initiative, […]

Mar 042011
 
Penguins I have known: Half Moon Island, Cuverville, and Neko Harbour

Finally, Antarctica proper. Time for penguins! Our first landfall in Antarctica was at Half Moon Island, a crescent-shaped, rocky island with chinstrap penguin colonies and a small Argentinian research station.  (Technically Half Moon Island is part of the South Shetland Islands, not the Antarctic Peninsula, but there was ice and there were penguins, so I’m […]

Feb 152011
 
The Drake Passage: It's Not so Bad Until It is

Most people who visit Antarctica get there by boat, and the shortest route to Antarctica by boat is across the Drake Passage. For those of you who don’t remember your grade school history and geography lessons, the Drake Passage is the treacherous stretch of ocean between the southern tip of South America (at Cape Horn) […]

Jan 262011
 
End of the Road: from Ushuaia to Antarctica

Ushuaia is, quite literally, the end of the road.  Located off the tip of the South American continent in the archipelago called Tierra del Fuego, it’s considered the southernmost city in the world (although the smaller, Chilean Puerto Williams is giving Ushuaia a run for its money). As the last outpost before the Southern Ocean […]