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Socorro Islands and Big Animal Shooting

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Socorro Islands and Big Animal Shooting

Working through my bucket list one dive trip at a time, I was lucky to cross off a long time trip this month, diving Revillagigedo Islands, better known as the Mexican Galapagos, 4 volcanic islands 390 miles Southwest of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. There are no lush reefs here. This is big animal territory. Big fish, mantas, sharks, dolphins and even whales make their home on these islands. You won't find a hotel or any signs of civilization here. The islands are accessible only by liveaboard boat. I was so fortunate to be joining the Nautilus Belle Amie dive boat for 10 days.

Nikon D7100, Tokina 10-17 mm Nikon, ISO 800, 17mm, f/4.5, 1/250th

It was time to decide what to take, what to shoot? Big animals meant no macro equipment for this girl which pleased my efficiency-packing little heart, so I was armed with my newly serviced Nauticam NA-D7200 Underwater Housing, my Nikon D7100 with Tokina 10-17 mm Nikon lens, and YS-D2 strobes. I headed out to Cabo San Lucas to meet up with my group led by Bradley Photographic. We departed that night with the boat working its way Southwest, total drive time 1 1/2 days. The first full day was packed with talks on dive prep for our adventure. We were briefed on safety, dive procedures, and wildlife expectations. Because of our remote location and possible rough conditions, every diver was equipped with a large safety sausage, marine radio and a dive alert. Way to go Belle Amie!

Nikon D7100, Tokina 10-17 mm Nikon, ISO 400, 11mm, f/3.5, 1/500th

After hearing the dive brief, my shooting plan of attack changed. I decided to go strobeless. Yup, you heard me correctly, strobeless. Now you're wondering why would I do that? Well, I was seeking out ambient light to highlight the subject and had a plan to convert the photos to black and white to showcase their incredible shapes and markings. With dolphins, sharks and mantas, and this incredibly blue and clear water, I wanted to get up and personal with the animals using the 10-17mm.

Nikon D7100, Tokina 10-17 mm Nikon, ISO 1600, 12mm, f/3.8, 1/400th

After the first couple of dives, I had my settings dialed in. With no strobes, I was going to need a little more sensitive ISO and aperture but I wasn't sure how fast these suckers would be so I prepared for fast. I ran on mainly an 800 ISO for most of the trip and and kept my aperture as close to F8 as possible. My shutter speed went back and forth between 1/250th and 1/1000th depending on my natural lighting and keeping the ISO no higher than 800 to avoid the grainy shots. I was super happy to have my Backscatter airlock so no worries about any leaks and I loved how streamlined my rig was with no strobes. Being strobeless was great! I didn't have to worry about where my strobes needed to be, and I got to concentrate on spending time working out my placement for each shot.

Nikon D7100, Tokina 10-17 mm Nikon, ISO 800,17mm, f/5.6, 1/400th

Thank goodness I brought my long freediving fins for keeping up with the mantas. Most of the mantas were happy to accommodate the divers, swimming up to us. In order to keep photographing them, some swimming was required. I focused on shooting from their bellies up to get some silhouettes as well as shooting down on their backs or side shots of their faces with the clear water. I used the bottom topography for a perfect, rugged backdrop.

Nikon D7100, Tokina 10-17 mm Nikon, ISO 800, 10mm, f/3.5, 1/1250th

Fortunately, we had multiple divers in the water with us at all times so I got to shoot some models to show the scale of the manta's gigantic size. They were inquisitive of us and wanted to have their bellies tickled with our bubbles, so they came right up to us.

Nikon D7100, Tokina 10-17 mm Nikon, ISO 320, 17mm, f/8, 1/400th

On the ride back to Cabo, after checking out my shots, I got what I wanted. Crisp shots with amazing sunlight action that I converted to black and white. Taking the color out of the equation eliminated a distraction and I was able to simplify the shots.

Nikon D7100, Tokina 10-17 mm Nikon, ISO 800, 17mm, f/6.3, 1/250th

All in all, the trip was an amazing photographic experience and I can't wait to go back!

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