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Each year Jim Goldstein organizes a “best photos of the year” project.  It’s a great incentive to actually get on that project of reviewing your shots from the previous year.  *Thanks* Jim for doing it.

Here’s my baker’s dozen shots that I loved and the short stories behind them.  Click on any image for full size.

1. Hawaiian Frogfish


We live in California, so Hawaii is my “close” dive destination. (Yes, I know, I could dive Monterey, but that water is cold.)  But I’ve gotten jaded.  I get into the funk of thinking you’ve got to go far, far away.  And if you do go far away — as for instance last year, you can see some great things.  But even “close” by, there are some great critters.

I shot this image shortly after the presidential inauguration, but this is no piscine POTUS despite the similarity in coloration.  Its a frogfish.  A bright orange frogfish.  And despite the international safety orange hue, its actually hard to spot underwater.  They’re ambush predators and they’re good at the camouflage.

Shot on the back wall of the Molokini crater off Maui.

2. Whip Goby

Same day, next dive, also on the Molokini back wall off Maui.  This little goby was hanging out on its whip coral in relatively shallow water.  And the light shining through the clear blue water was beautiful.

3. Hammerhead


I love diving and like most divers, I’m a pretty big fan of sharks in all their forms.  I particularly like the weirder looking creatures and hammerheads definitely qualify.  This is a shot from a terrific workshop that Alex Mustard ran with Epic Diving.  If you like these shots, it is in no small part due to Alex’s tutelage.  If you’re going to take the plunge, read his book.

Shark dives are, I think, kind of a crazy affair.  You spend a lot of time on the boat waiting for the sharks to appear.  Then you take turns in the water weighted down and in a little formation.  The person you see in the picture is Vinny Canabal, co-owner of Epic Diving.  He’s got bait in the box and he’s offering it to the hammerheads that come by.  When he’s not feeding sharks, Vinny is an ER doctor.  Hey, no jokes.

This shot and the next were in Bimini, Bahamas.  This one was the one I went for.  And then…

4. Bull Shark!

As you’re kneeling on the bottom in a little V formation with the feeder in the middle, you keep an eye out.  And you keep looking around.  Not just for the hammerheads you’re trying to shoot.  But for the opportunists that crash the party.  And this is one of those guys.  During this dive, I was on the far edge of the formation.  And in the distance, I could see 2 bull sharks swimming lazy circles and coming closer and closer.

Bull sharks look like mini great whites.  And they’re ambush predators too.  So you really want to keep an eye on them.  Vinny got to the bottom of the bait box and had just one piece left.  So he tossed it out to the gaggle of nurse sharks that were waiting for a snack.  There was a little melee and then poof — there was fine sand everywhere in the water.  And all of a sudden, right next to me, there was a bull shark.  Click.  And then back to the boat for a while to get my pulse rate down.

5. Water Temple

A lot less adrenaline here.  A mother with her children at a water temple in Bali, Indonesia.

6. Watching

A clown fish keeps a wary eye on a shrimp in their shared anemone.  Shot at Wakatobi in southeastern Sulawesi, Indonesia.

7. Modern Nuns

We met these nuns on their way back to their home as we were headed to Yogyakarta.  I love the contrast of the traditional with the modern phones — even battery packs.

8. Borobudur Sunrise

We were in Indonesia to go diving, but we spent more time out of the water than in it on this trip.  And didn’t regret a thing.  The Borobudur and Prambanan temples are truly amazing and well deserving of their UNESCO World Heritage Site status.  This shot was from early in the morning.  We’d gotten up to be there for the sunrise, but as you can see, it was a bit foggy.  That worked for me.

9. Yogyakarta

On the street in Yogyakarta.  I’ve been trying to work on my street photography this year.  Walking up to people is hard.  But the lady in this shot made it easy.  She was happy to play along.

10. Mother and Calf

Not all my in the water time this year was diving.  This shot and the next were from a snorkeling trip with the amazing Tony Wu to Tonga to see humpback whales up close.  Here’s a mother and calf relaxing.

11. Ready For My Close Up

When I say close, I’m not kidding.  This baby girl came very close to check me out.  Like arms distance close.  No, I did not touch her.  She quickly figured out that I wasn’t a threat and that there was no way I could hope to keep up with her.  And then she headed back to mom in a cloud of bubbles.

12. Parade

Back on dry land, at the end of October I headed to Oaxaca, Mexico for the Day of the Dead celebration on a fantastic tour led by David Coleman.  Everyone and everything is decorated.  Here, kids are lining up for a parade.

13. Day of the Dead
And finally, one for the road.  At night, the cemeteries are just amazing places.  Families decorate the graves of their loved ones with flowers and candles.  And whole extended families spend long hours in the cemetery.  I’m used to thinking of cemeteries as solemn and quiet spaces.  But for Día de Muertos, its a party.  And there is a lot of Mezcal on offer.  By the time I’d made this picture, I’d already been offered several shots by multiple families.  So, as the musician here, have one to celebrate 2017 being done and all the possibility in 2018.

The time zone math was definitely working against me. The vision of the Probat roaster in the window was all the encouragement I needed. 

A perfectly nice macchiato. Sweet, short, good microfoam.

Comfortable cafe. Cool lighting. Fast wifi. The only downside is that – like everywhere else here – the coffee, like everything else, is expensive. 525 ISK. At current exchange rates, ~$4.30

And so you know how to calibrate my recommendations, at home, I like Blue Bottle. When I’m out and about, I like Four Barrel, Ritual, …  When I’m in NYC, Stumptown, Cafe Grumpy, Ninth Street Espresso. Or the Blue Bottle there. 

Once upon a time, Bean Hunter was an app you could use to find better than average coffee. Then they redid the app.

It did not go well. They seem to have lost almost all the content. You’re in Iceland; “find near me” finds cafes in Melbourne, Australia. I’m sure they’re nice. But a little far to go for a quick espresso. 

And I thought, ok, I’ll try to help. I’ll try to add the cafe I’m in. But wait, did they lose the ability to add reviews too. 

Bean Hunter I used to like you. But like I said. I give up. 

I’m used to seeing tons of turtles in Hawaii, so many that I sometimes get a little jaded.  But boy, I’d forgotten how many eels hang out there.  Here’s a sampling.

A traditional up close shot of a moray.  There are lots of these guys out there.  Some quite large.


Dive site: Molokini – Reef’s End.  OMD EM5, 12-50mm at 40mm.  1/250th, f/6.3, ISO 200

And here, getting cleaned by some pretty red shrimp.  The eel had to really open its mouth wide to allow those (really big) shrimp to get inside.  (Sorry, I was watching the action instead of shooting.)


Dive site: Maui – Red Hill. OMD EM5, 12-50mm at 22mm. 1/250th, f/8.0, ISO 200

And a beautiful snowflake eel that I found out free swimming. Here posing with a sea urchin.


Dive site: Maui – Red Hill. OMD EM5, 12-50mm at 34mm. 1/250th, f/8.0, ISO 200

And there were more.  A super shy dragon moray that I just couldn’t get a good shot of.  Lots more big morays.  If you like eels, this is a good spot.

I love diving at Molokini. The water is clear. There’s lots to see. And you often get to see whales and dolphins on the way there and/or at your surface interval.  This week didn’t disappoint.  We saw whales every day.  Lazing about at the surface.  Spouting.  Diving.  Breaching.  And coolest, mothers holding their new babies up at the surface with their noses.  (The new calves need assistance in the early going.)

I’m not alone in my love of Molokini, of course. Lots of people love it. Often you hear that the back wall is just *the* best. Personally, I like the far corner (say, Reef’s End) best. But ok, I’ll slum it on the back wall.

Poking around in a crack, I found these this pair of pipefish.


There are no fish that I don’t like. (Well, maybe with the possible exception of the territorial, bitey Titan Triggerfish.  I give them wide berth.) But I especially like seahorses and their relatives.  Pipefish are essentially straightened out seahorses.

They are shy.  These guys were down in a crack.  And they’re nervous.  They never stop moving.  Combined with their length, that makes them hard to shoot — it’s hard to keep them all in focus.  And with all that movement and in their challenging location, hard to focus on them.  So, these shots aren’t really technically “right”.  But I like them anyhow.

And by the way, did you notice that he was pregnant?  (Yep, like other seahorses, the males brood the babies.)  Hard to tell in that shot.  But in this one, you can see the eggs glued on the stomach.


Dive site: Maui – Molokini Back Wall.

Shot with Olympus OMD EM5, 12-50 at 50mm f/8.0, 1/250th, ISO 200.

After accidentally inventing Champagne, the monk is reported to have said “I’m seeing stars.”  In the waters off Maui you can see plenty of stars, but no drinking first in this case.

I’m a big fan of sea stars of many forms.  This is the underside of a sofa cushion star.


Dive site: Maui – Marty’s Reef.

Shot with Olympus OMD EM5, 12-50 at 50mm f/8.0, 1/250th, ISO 200.

I believe he is saying “go away.”

These guys are shy and really don’t like you to come up to see them.  Normally they’re sitting right in the coral.  And in the picture they look pretty obvious with all those dark red spots.  But in the water, they’re actually pretty well camouflaged against the spots of the coral.

If you get too close, the swim away.  So, I was happy to get this shot.


Dive site: Maui Five Graves/Five Caves/Five Names.

Shot with Olympus OMD EM5, 12-50 at 50mm f/8, 1/250th, ISO 200.

The shot I posted yesterday was a little out of order. Here’s one from my actual first day of diving.

And what a first day. I’d been out of the water for a little while (since Palau), but we jumped right into the deep end. First day was 3 dives instead of my usual 2 for this trip. And the first dive was right at 130 feet to start. My dive computer is “severely conservative” if you’ll allow me to borrow a term of art from a different context.  And that meant that things were going to be a little challenging with a second fairly deep dive (though not anything like the first one).  And then a third to boot.  Yes, I ended up with a couple of minutes of deco.  This shot is from that third dive back along the Maui coast after the first two dives out at Molokini.

Snowflake Moray Eel, I think.

Dive site: Maui – near Wailea.

Shot with Olympus OMD EM5, 12-50 at 50mm f/6.3, 1/250th, ISO 200.

Ok, no skiing.  When it is cold and snowy up in the mountains, that seems to me like a great time to head to the ocean.  So, pardon the interruption — there’s more Palau to post, but here are a few in real(ish) time.

I’ve always been told that diagonals make for strong compositions. So this one’s great, right?
Ok, kidding.

Found a nice coral whip with a goby.  Next time, I’ll try it with the CMC to get even tighter.


Dive site: Maui – Molokini Back Wall.

Shot with Olympus OMD EM5, 12-50 at 50mm f/8.0, 1/250th, ISO 200.

If you’ve been following along, you know that I’m not a cave diver or a wreck diver.  Well, on the Palau trip, check and check.  Caves and wrecks.  And not so bad.  (Thanks Alex.)

On this one, I was looking around for some nice fish or other lovely ocean dweller framed by railings, superstructure or whatnot (but for real — not made in photoshop like this one — seriously, go take a look, I’ll wait).

And then I saw this.  It looked to me like a pirate’s treasure chest.  The yellow coral on the lip even looked like golden doubloons overflowing from the chest.  All of those other little bits and pieces — gems, orbs and more.  So cool.  I shot it from a bunch of angles and ultimately liked this one the best.

But it still wasn’t quite what I had in mind.  Too much exposure to Disney animated movies and Saturday morning cartoons had made me want something with super saturated colors.  And at the image review where I showed this people suggested having lights shining out of the chest.  Genius!  That would look like something Scooby would have encountered.  (If only the Mystery Machine were wrecked down there too.)

Ok, just one problem with that plan.  No way I was going to go into the wreck to show lights up through the hole.  Because, just like on a movie set.  The “chest” wasn’t really a chest.  It was some sort of access point with a lid but no floor.  Alex very nicely volunteered to put one of my lights down there and then we both shot it.  He might have gotten a good one.  But I wasn’t happy with the result.  I think I needed more lights and more lumens per light.  Now if only it had been at night…
Dive site: Dexter’s Wall, Palau

Shot at 1/200th at f/8 with Olympus OMD EM5, 8mm Panasonic fisheye lens in Nauticam housing and mini dome port, no strobes.