Engbretson Underwater Photography

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

How Important Are Cameras In Underwater Photography?

People interested in underwater photography often ask me what kind of camera equipment I use. 

I’ve always felt that underwater photographers put far too much    
 emphasis on their equipment and not enough on studying the behavior, habits and biology of their subjects.  The best equipment won’t help you if you don’t know where to go, what you’re looking at or whether you’re truly seeing something rare, unusual or out of the ordinary. 

How many photographers can tell the difference between a good looking clown fish and a bad looking one?  If they all look the same to you, you need to study clown fish better.  What I mean is this:  In every species, you’ve got your pretty Scarlet Johansson types and your skanky Courtney Love types.  It's easy to notice the distinction when we're looking at our own species, but not as easy when we're viewing other species, like fish for example.  If you don’t recognize the differences, you’re in trouble, because the people buying your pictures often times can.  And if you try to pass off a Courtney Love for a Scarlett Johansson, you’re going to be regarded as someone who doesn’t really know what you’re photographing, even if your pictures are technically perfect. 

Too much emphasis is put on the equipment we use.  But the "secret sauce" so to speak, is not the cameras and lenses, rather the familiarity with the subject matter.  That's what makes the difference between good photos and bad ones.  I’ve seen some amazing pictures taken with crappy point and shoots because the photographer understood the situation he was in and what he was shooting.  So the emphasis on the equipment you use is really overrated and of little importance.  Think of it this way: If your girlfriend told you she found a great dress on sale at the mall, would you ask her what kind of car she drove to get to the mall?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Prehistoric Paddlefish Underwater-New Images

Today we've added some very cool new Paddlefish pictures to our Stock Photo Collection.  They come to us from our Viktor Vrbovsky, who's brilliantly photographed these rare enigmatic fish in their natural habitat.  Like sturgeon and gar,  paddlefish have remained unchanged for eons.  Fossil records of  paddlefish date back over 300 million years, nearly 50 million years before dinosaurs first appeared.  You can view all of Viktor's exceptional underwater fish photography, including his excellent Paddlefish images on our website in our Viktor Vrbovsky Gallery.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Are the Muskies You See Really That Big?

Muskies underwater are only 3/4 of the size they appear.  (c)Eric Engbretson

One of my favorite websites for fishing information is Lake Link. The fishing reports posted on this site by the thousands of fisherman who fish the many lakes in the Midwest region can be useful, informative and entertaining. While some of the most experienced and knowledgeable fisherman post fishing reports and their observations while on the water, I am constantly amazed at one glaring mistake so many fisherman make. That error is not understanding the magnifying effects of water. Simply put-fish look bigger under water than they really are. The message boards on Lake Link are filled with hundreds of eye-witness accounts of fisherman reporting large muskies that "swam right next to the boat that were 50 inches!" Could there really be that many 50 inch muskies swimming around? The answer is a disappointing "No".  What these fisherman all fail to realize is that fish in water, viewed through air are only 3/4 of the size they appear to be. So, all those mammoth 50 inch fish are really just ordinary 37.5 inch long muskies.

Scuba divers all understand that one attribute of water is that when viewed through a prism of air, also known as a diver's mask, objects appear much larger than they really are. Underwater, a 45 inch musky will look a 60 inch whopper! Fisherman often ask me how large the fish are that I see underwater. Honestly, most fish look big underwater, and big fish look like Godzilla. In my early days of diving I was convinced that each musky I encountered was a world record.  Many scuba dives later, I've come to better understand the illusion, and realize that reports of monster muskie that "got off just as they were about to be netted" were likely ordinary sized fish.

Some may argue that the fish lined up exactly with something on the boat that's of known size and reference, but the viewer doesn't understand the illusion facing scuba divers all the time. Boats and the objects on them are poor comparison tools as they're in the atmosphere, visually accurate in size, while the musky is underwater, distorted in size. To test this concept yourself, measure your hand. Then lean over the side of a fishing boat or dock and stick it about a foot underwater. Hold the ruler above the surface while viewing your submersed hand, and measure it best you can. How'd the numbers come out? If you did this correctly, your dry hand will be roughly ¾ the underwater hand size.

While the fishing reports on websites like Lake Link can be valuable research tools, don't be fooled by eye-witness accounts of large fish that were seen underwater. They just weren't that big. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Wonderful World of Walleyes: Underwater Video

We’re getting some great walleye video in 2017.  Here’s a compilation of some of the remarkable underwater footage we’ve collected so far this summer.  Straight from the depths of Wisconsin’s northern lakes, see crystal-clear underwater video in HD of walleyes where they live.  Abundant crayfish, rock piles, sunken timber, and other habitat elements attract walleyes like magic as they pose for our cameras in their watery homes.  Thirty seconds of walleyes up close in incredible clarity and awesome fidelity.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Northern Pike Underwater Photos

Our Paul Vecsei has been busy shooting some beautiful new pictures of Northern Pike.  As Paul describes it, "The key (to photographing pike underwater) is what I call the polite pursuit, where an individual is chosen and followed. If the Pike wants nothing to do with me, it can lose me in a second. But some just keep a short distance and eventually allow me to approach. Once the camera with its large dome port is put close enough, I have him. They become mesmerized by their own reflection."  
To view all our northern pike images, click on this gallery. To view all of Paul Vecsei's stunning work, click on this gallery.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Why Underwater Fish Photos Are Important

In the December '09 issue of Fisheries MagazineJeremy B. Monroe wrote a brilliant article that poignantly discusses why images of freshwater fish underwater are so important in generating public awarenss and conservation of many species and their habitats.  It was the best summation I've ever read, and I'd like to share some of his comments here, (albeit in a heavily edited way) because I wish I had written this article myself.

    "As threats to freshwater ecosystems continue to grow, the vast majority of their inhabitants remain “out of sight, and largely out of mind”. This lack of public awareness of freshwater life may ultimately limit freshwater conservation as a popular cause, or movement. By its nature, aquatic life is inherently less visible to human eyes, and so images, such as photographs, play a critical role in visually connecting freshwater ecosystems to their would-be stewards. And while images by no means replicate human experiences in the natural world, they are a remarkably effective surrogate to enlighten audiences about natural ecosystems and their values. A passing glance at a magazine rack, television programming, and popular internet websites reveals a narrow view of freshwater life. In these popular sources of public information and entertainment, the vast majority of freshwater species are simply unseen, and therefore unknown to most people.  A closer examination of the common images of freshwater life reveals an issue that is perhaps more problematic than mere obscurity. Almost invariably, popular images portray sportfishes and most other freshwater species after they have been “landed” or otherwise extracted from their aquatic habitat. In these images, aquatic organisms are far removed from their natural environment and behavior, which precludes an aquatic, and perhaps empathetic, perspective of their lives and their world. Moreover, these struggling or dead organisms are commonly seen “at the hands” of both anglers, and biologists, portraying a conquering image. Though rarely seen in popular media, underwater images of fish and other freshwater life in their aquatic habitat can more naturally convey the intrinsic and ecological value of these organisms, as well as their evolutionary, and even spiritual aesthetics. These images celebrate the aquatic world by depicting the natural beauty and behavior of freshwater life, the splendor and uniqueness of freshwater environments, and the intricate relationships among species and their habitats. In their natural medium, free of human hands or devices, organisms appear independent of humankind, and their intrinsic value is therefore made more obvious. Indeed, the vision of an organism behaving naturally and relating to its natural environment is precisely what can allow us to sympathize or even empathize with other species and appreciate their significance in our own world or worldview. It is these ecological, evolutionary, and spiritual aesthetics that will presumably resonate more deeply with the broader public, and are most likely to drive conservation movements." 

Nice work Jeremy.  Thank you for putting into words what keeps me doing this.