Sunday, October 9, 2016

Scuba Diving Cape Town: Wide Angle Underwater Photography

   Scuba Diving in Cape Town, South Africa: Wide Angle Photography

  The cold water off Africa's southwestern tip near Cape Town is teeming with life. It is also teeming with wrecks of ships that didn't find the 'good hope' while navigating around the infamous Cape of Good Hope. There are dozens of colorful nudibranch species for the biological treasure hunter, and quite a few opportunities for some fabulous wide angle underwater photography.

   Diving in the southern hemisphere winter will grant you a bit better visibility, but during the summer months a god day will run you 10-15ft at most spots. Now, (October) is the shoulder season so we lucked out with a good 20ft of vis on the reefs, 15 on the wreck, and about 40ft at the Cape Fur Seal rookery.

   You can dive both the east and west sides of the peninsula and there are several dive operators that work mainly out of Hout Bay on the west, or Simon's Town on the east side, depending on what the weather and swell are doing that day. Pisces Divers is a well known shop that comes up big in all the searches, but there is a hidden gem right in the middle of Simon's Town called Ollava Scuba. Rates are a little high here in Cape Town as a dive + rental will run you around $55. And it is a two tank dive trip that runs from 9 or 10am to 1 or 2pm depending on how far out you go. Be prepared for some cold water, we saw 54°F which cuts right through a 5.5mm wetsuit so don't be afraid to bust out your old drysuit for this kind of diving. There is so much to see that your excitement alone can stave off the cold if you are like me.

1994 Wreck of the Bos 400 "floating" crane barge
  The first day of diving I focused entirely on wide angle to see what Cape diving could produce. The first chance to use it was as we rounded the corner heading out from Hout bay a huge wreck lay up on the rocks, still partially submerged. It was a massive floating crane called the Bos 400. Once of the most powerful cranes in the world the Bos 400 broke free of her tow lines in stormy conditions back in 1994 and ended on the rocks. Over-under pictures here would be an interesting possibility.

Biggest Bony Fish in the World
Mola Mola
  Then as we were driving off from the wreck Heidi shouted, "Mola" and pointed to a odd looking grey disc in the water. It turned out to be a big ocean sunfish, or mola mola, which was chomping on a jellyfish. The divemasters let me slip into the water with my camear and I was pleased to be able to get some pictures without scaring the massive fish off immediately.

Kelp and Diver
Kelp fish lit up by the strobe
  Finally we anchored and swam down the line to a very broken apart old shipwreck covered in life. The vis was tough for pictures but I tried two different techniques which seemed to work well in the low light, low vis water. First I turned the flash off for bigger kelp forest scenes with the camera tilted up to bring in some back lighting from above. The second technique was to use the flash to light up nearby reef which was completely covered in life. Algae, kelp, lobsters, nudibranchs, and school of fish were constantly in sight.

  After our wreck dive we tried to warm up during our surface interval while making our way back to a spot where hundreds of sea lions, called Cape Fur Seal here, hauled out on the rocks and swam noisily among the kelp. This was to be our second dive spot, and one highly recommended for anyone going to this part of the world. You can snorkel with the fur seals here as well. Before we descended we already had dozens of fur seals around us and it got more intense the longer we stayed under.
Cape Fur Seal and Sun Rays in South Africa
   The reminded me so much of when we would snorkel with the sea lions off Santa Barbara on the Tole Mour. The young ones acted just the same. They would come in very close to check you out, blow underwater bubble, nibble on your fins. They try everything they can to figure out what you are doing there and if you want to play. I even got a playful nibble on the head from one of these.

About to bite Heidi's air hose
   It can be difficult to choose one subject to focus on but it is the low light and fast moving subjects that make this wide angle photography so difficult. A high ISO helps let in enough light to keep the shutter speed fast enough, and an underwater strobe will bring out the definition of the fur seal. You could easily spend the entire dive time trying to get more pictures but as I always remind other people, put the camera down and just soak it in. They really do want to play. If you spin they might spin. If you drop your snorkel, well, good luck getting it back. So I guess I have to amend what I usually say, 'put your camera down...but don't let it go because you might not get it back.'

A Curious Cape Fur Seal

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