Engbretson Underwater Photography

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News From Behind the Scenes at Engbretson Underwater Photo and Stories about the Freshwater Environments We Visit.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

2021 Fishing Calendar

Looking for a cool wall calendar for 2021?  Check out the 2021 Fishing Calendar from Bic Graphics featuring 13 images all from the Engbretson Underwater Photography team. Bass, salmon, musky, trout, and panfish are all represented in vibrant color expertly photographed underwater in their natural habitats. Click here to order from Amazon.com

Monday, November 30, 2020

How to Use GoPros to get Great Underwater Fish Videos

Whether you're scuba diving or just snorkeling, shooting nice underwater footage of fish from a nearby lake has never been easier. Here's a few answers to questions I'm often asked by beginners:

Where can I go?
No matter where you live, there's probably a pond, lake or river nearby teeming with fish and other interesting underwater subjects. It's important to find the clearest body of water you can, since clarity is critical to underwater videography. Contact your state's fish and wildlife office. They're very familiar with the characteristics of local lakes and can point you in the right direction.

Which GoPro should I use?
Gopro seems to come out with a new camera every year.  Their latest, the Hero 9 is their best by far. Waterproof to 33 feet without a supplemental housing, it's video and stabilization capabilities are superb. If you can't afford the newest GoPro, the Hero 8 and Hero 7 are also good choices. I wouldn't suggest using anything older than the Hero 6. The earlier models (1 thru 5) just don't work as well.

Do I need to use a filter?
If you use strobes as I do, you won't need filters to correct for losses in the light spectrum which filters are designed to compensate for. The term "strobe" is a bit of a misnomer. Basically any powerful waterproof flashlight will work as well. If you use strobe lights, you'll also need a handle and tray that you can attach your camera and lights to. This keeps everything together and is easy to hold and swim with.  Strobe lighting is wonderful because it brings out colors and fills in dark shadows. 

How do I get close to the fish?
The best way is to let them come to you. If you remain relatively still and non threatening, fish will usually come right to you which makes your video of them much more interesting that than the "tail shots" you'll always get if you chase them.  Fish are naturally curious and if you're patient, you'll find that they'll swim directly into your lens on their own.

I don't want to get wet. Can't I just mount my GoPro on a pole and shoot video that way?
You can try, but you'll be frustrated. Using a pole cam seems like a good idea, because you won't have to get your head underwater. But because you're not able to see through the viewfinder, you'll never be sure your videos are being framed correctly. I've shot many videos using pole cams trying carefully to aim the camera at the fish. Many times I've been disappointed because I've guessed wrong and the fish was barely in frame. When you're underwater, the aiming is precise every time. Also, being underwater with the fish is half the fun!  

If you have any questions about using GoPros to film fish, please let me know. I'm happy to share what I've learned over the years. Filming fish underwater has never been easier, and most anyone can get great underwater video with a little patience. If you try it, let me know how it goes for you.
To see more of my underwater fish videos, visit my YouTube Channel.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Photographing Native Fish in Freshwater Lakes: Overcoming the Obstacles

Walleye Underwater

I'm often asked what the biggest challenge is to taking underwater fish pictures.  Well, there are quite a few obstacles and many things that have to be right to be able to get a good picture.  First, the water has to be clear, which is actually a greater challenge than you might think.  Freshwater lakes are typically pretty crummy so finding lakes that have the necessary clarity is an ongoing process.  I usually won't even look at a lake if the clarity isn't at least 18 feet.  Water clarity can change from week to week and season to season too, so even though I have my favorite lakes, they’re not always clear enough to work in.  Everything starts with water clarity and if you don’t have that, nothing else matters.  It’s always a challenge to find clear water.

Once I find a clear lake, I have to find fish.  Next I have to find fish of desirable size.  This is easier said than done too.  It's always a problem especially these days when it seems like there’s fewer and fewer really nice fish available.  If I do find a lake that’s clear and it does have a few good fish, another challenge is getting close enough to photograph them.  I like to be 2 or 3 feet away.  Any further and I won’t take a picture at all.  Fish often times have a problem with a diver being that close, so it takes a lot of patience to even get close enough to think about composing a picture.  But once I have clear water, good fish, and get close enough to shoot them, I still have to make the shot.  So even if everything else is right, sometimes I blow it all on the final step because I was moving, or the composition is bad or I forgot to turn on the strobe, etc.….

A lot goes wrong.  Sometimes I feel like it’s truly a miracle to get any good pictures at all because so many things that I can’t control have to be right all at the same time.

Conditions underwater are typically very hostile to a photographer.  The lakes and rivers where I shoot can be very cold.  In rivers, currents can be strong, and visibility is always an issue.  Underwater photography is inherently tricky.  Water is 800 times thicker than air, and there's always particles floating around or algae and things like that, so you've never going to get the really "clean" look you can get shooting through air. The water is often cold, the fish can be elusive, and you've got to always be concerned about your air supply, so there's a lot to think about. The light underwater is very poor too, so often I have to carry underwater strobes to illuminate subjects in deeper water. If you can imagine taking photos on a dark, cold, foggy, windy day… that sort of comes close to the everyday conditions of the environment I work in.  Saltwater environments are infinitely easier.  The water’s 100 times clearer, there’s 100 times more light, and ocean fish are used to seeing very large things swimming around them.  In freshwater, you look like Godzilla to those poor fish.

So, yes-the challenges are many, but as I always say, "If it was easy, everyone would be doing this".

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Prettiest Freshwater Fish

Pumpkinseed Sunfish by Engbretson Underwater

"A very beautiful and compact little fish, perfect in all its parts, looking like a brilliant coin fresh from the mint." - David Jordan and Barton Evermann-American Food and Game Fishes, 1905.

One of the most colorful of our common freshwater fish is the​ Pumpkinseed Sunfish. Like other sunfish, I think the most striking photographs of pumpkinseed are images of male fish photographed in the spring when they display their vibrant spawning coloration.  They look like jeweled treasures. However, pumpkinseeds retain much of their brilliant hues all year as evidenced by this photo I took in mid September. 

One of the most interesting things about Pumpkinseeds is the strong instinct they have for a home range. Pumpkinseeds have a remarkable ability to find their way back to a familiar location. In fisheries studies, pumpkinseeds that have been captured, marked, and then released in another part of the same lake, are often recaptured near the location where they were first caught.

As fall began I was able to take pictures of several gorgeous Pumpkinseeds staging in deep water along well defined weed-lines in a northern Michigan lake. Aren't they magnificent little fish?  You can view all of my newest underwater pumpkinseed images in our ​Pumpkinseed Sunfish Gallery here.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Summer Largemouth Bass-Where to Find Them

Largemouth Bass in Milfoil

It's late summer and we're getting some really attractive Largemouth Bass images showing these fish using thick weed cover and a variety of other natural habitat elements.  

At this time of year, we face several obstacles when photographing bass. They tend to be harder to find because they're occupying all areas of the water column and tend to be widely dispersed. Water clarity diminishes this time of year as well, making normally suitable lakes too murky or "green" for good photography.  Finally, there's a seasonal shift in attitude of these fish by August.  Bass that were very approachable in the spring have become more wary and timid by late summer, so getting closeups of them becomes more difficult.  

Despite all those challenges, we're still able to get some fine images of them in their natural habitat.  Check out all our latest Largemouth Bass in our Largemouth Bass Gallery.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

There's a Poisonous Spider in Your Wetsuit!

It was a normal day much like any other. I drove from my home in northern Wisconsin to a nearby lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to take underwater pictures of largemouth bass.  The water was clear, the fish eagerly posed for my cameras and another successful dive trip was in the books. While changing out of my wetsuit I noticed what I thought at the time was a mosquito bite on the calf of my leg. I work in lakes and rivers every day, so dealing with insect bites are routine. I didn’t think anything of it. The next morning, the bite seemed to look a little odd and I took this picture of it.

By the end of the day, it was clear that the bite was infected and looking worse. The doctor I saw that evening told me it was likely a non-venomous spider bite. She prescribed a dose of antibiotics, bandaged it and sent me on my way. Three days later, I was in the emergency room. My entire leg was severely swollen and had turned bright red. The area around the bite was badly infected and turning black. ER doctors peppered me with questions and determined that the bite had come from a Brown Recluse Spider, one of three venomous spiders we have in the USA.

The bite of brown recluse spiders contain a potentially deadly hemotoxic venom.  These toxins destroy red blood cells, disrupt blood clotting and cause tissue damage.  We’ve all heard terrifying stories of what can happen to people who are bitten by brown recluse spiders. The worst cases, the ones that get all the press, are indeed horrifying.

In the ER, I was immediately placed on a powerful antibiotic IV drip. The prescription antibiotics I had been taking are ineffective against venomous spider bites. They were replaced by a much stronger type. I was also prescribed another drug that is typically used to treat leprosy, to help prevent possible tissue loss.  

The doctor who examined me speculated that my wetsuit had caused compression on my leg that may have exasperated the effects of the bite and the amount of venom the spider had injected.  Did the spider somehow get into my wetsuit while I was at the lake, or did it crawl inside the suit while it hung in its regular place in my basement laundry room?  Who knows? 

It’s been four weeks and my wound is barely noticeable now. I consider myself lucky that I won’t have a permanent scoop mark or divot in my leg. Scuba diving has inherent risks and dangers, but until now, I never thought those risks also included poisonous spider bites. 

From now on, I’ll be diligent where I store my wetsuit between dives. More importantly, I think it’s critical to carefully check your wetsuit, dive boots, gloves, and all your dive equipment before every use. They all provide the kind of dark and secluded hiding places spiders like to inhabit, especially if they’re routinely stored in your basement or garage.