Engbretson Underwater Photography

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thoughts on the 71st Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference

After spending a few days at the Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference in Minneapolis with some of the country's top fisheries biologists, I've come away with a renewed appreciation for what these people have been doing.  They're passionate about their work and their commitment towards improving and protecting our fisheries is admirable. 

I think it's easy to be critical of any state's DNR agency or the political aspects of any bureaucratic arm, but when you meet these individuals face to face, the ones who are out in the field doing the work, you will discover that they care about the resources as much if not more than the sportsmen they serve.  The challenges they face every day with dwindling resources and personnel are daunting.   I have nothing but respect and appreciation for these exceptional individuals and the work they do.  These are very special people indeed.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference

I'm excited to be giving a presentation about underwater fish habitat on Tuesday December 14 at the Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference in Minneapolis.   It's always a kick to hang out with fisheries biologists and see what kinds of exciting new developments are happening in their field.  I'll be showing some of my underwater photography to this group and telling them a little about what I typically encounter in the freshwater environments I work in.  

Monday, November 8, 2010

New Pictures Added to My Underwater Fish Galleries

I've just added several hundred new images to my on line galleries.  I now have almost 1,700 images in my fish galleries.  Click here to go to my gallery page to view my images.  I've uploaded many new bass, walleye and muskie pictures.  These galleries are not my entire inventory, but a collection of selected images that are representative of my complete library.

The purpose of these galleries is to provide interested picture buyers a place they can visit to review,  purchase and download high resolution  images for commercial use.  

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Most Difficult Fish to Photograph Underwater

The Common Carp: One of the smartest fish and one of the hardest to photograph.
Common Carp-Lake Michigan at Egg Harbor, Door County Wisconsin

Occasionally I'm asked what the hardest fish to photograph is.  Without a doubt, it's the common carp.  It's said that many years ago when a group of scientists set out to test the relative intelligence of various freshwater fresh, carp finished first in the fish IQ test.  When encountering carp underwater, one of the first things that's apparent is how keenly aware they are of their environment.  They seem to have terrific eyesight and hearing and getting close enough to a carp to take a good picture is a real challenge.  While other fish like bass, walleye and even muskie will often let you approach them within 2 feet or so, the carp remains extremely wary and cautious. In Fisherman Magazine agrees, calling carp "the wariest of all freshwater fish, by reason not just of superior brain power, but through their acute senses of hearing, feeling, taste, and vision."

Another trait not often discussed that I believe is a sign of extreme intelligence is curiosity.  I use this curiosity to my advantage when trying to photograph carp.  When a large carp sees a diver underwater, their first response is to leave the area.  But I've found that if I stop moving and stay in one place, the same fish will return to have a closer look at what must seem to him to be a strange visitor in his underwater world..  I can only call this curiosity-a desire to get another look at this foreign creature and perhaps understand "what it is".   It's this curiosity that brings the fish back to me where they will typically make a slow circle carefully studying me.  Occasionally, a carp will be so curious, he will actually stop and study me at surprisingly close range.  It's during this moment, while holding your breath that a picture or two can be obtained.  It's a brief opportunity that doesn't happen often and it's rather difficult to pull off.  Carp are extremely sensitive to the bubbles coming from a regulator, so holding your breath while remaining motionless long enough for the carp to move in close enough is critical. 

I find it puzzling that in this country carp have such a bad reputation.  In Europe, they are revered and held in high regard as the top sport fish.  Perhaps European anglers have a better understanding and consequently a deserved appreciation of the unique qualities and intelligence of carp.  After spending some time around them in their environment, watching how they swim, feed and react to my presence,  it's hard not to feel that carp possess an understanding that transcends what we normally think fish are capable of.

To view more of my underwater carp photos, click here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Underwater in Hayward Wisconsin

Underwater Photography in Round Lake-Hayward, Wisconsin:

I just got back from a few days in the Hayward Lakes area shooting underwater images in Lake Owen, Round Lake and Whitefish Lakes near Hayward, WI.  Of all three lakes, the clarity in Round Lake seemed to be the best this time of year, although Lake Owen wasn't bad.  In Round Lake, I encountered twelve different species of fish at one dive site.  This is remarkable as it's pretty rare to encounter that kind of diverse fish community holding on a single piece of structure.  

While I've been to Round Lake in the past, I've never seen such a large and diverse group of fish in one place at one time as I did this week.  One element that I believe contributed to this was the increase in the invasive Eurasian Water Milfoil.  The site I was at had beautiful, dense, tall, beds of EWM.  I know the presence of this weed has been met with a good deal of concern from property owners on the lake, but it's absolutely a "fish magnet".  In a lake that otherwise doesn't have a lot of underwater elements to attract fish, these isolated beds of milfoil, if you can find them, will concentrate fish all season.  They also make strikingly attractive backdrops for underwater photography.  Although it's an invasive, this milfoil might actually improve a lake like Round Lake.  The water is deep enough that it will never impede boat or recreational traffic like many lakes in southern Wisconsin that are shallower, and native species of plants generally aren't thriving in this lake anyway.  If there was ever a lake that wouldn't be harmed by the presence of this invasive species, it would be Round Lake.  One of the key ways it would improve the lake would be by providing much needed cover for juvenile fish and minnows.  If left undisturbed, I think fishing in Round Lake for species like largemouth bass, crappie and bluegills will improve dramatically in the future.

For information on local diving in the Hayward Area, contact my friend Al Winsor at Winsor's Pro Diving, 15409 W County B Road.  (715) 634-5122
Al is a great guy who knows all the area lakes well.  He helped me out quite a bit and was very generous with his time and expertise.  He is a valuable resource of diving knowledge.



Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Walleyes Underwater

Underwater Walleye Pictures:
It's been my experience that photographing walleyes underwater in their natural habitat can be either ridiculously easy or extremely difficult.  I'm convinced that there's a lot of luck involved.  As most fisherman can attest to, even finding walleyes in a lake can be a tough assignment.  Some fish are especially sensitive to air bubbles from divers, and walleyes are one of these species that seem troubled by the unusual sound.  They will usually move away quickly when they hear the sounds of a diver's air bubbles streaming to the surface.   Other times, I've found walleye to be completely at ease with my approach, my bubbles and my general presence.  At these times I'm able to easily take close up pictures with my cameras just inches from the fish.  I've spent a great deal of time analyzing the various factors and conditions that sometimes make photographing walleye easy and sometimes make it impossible. 

After 17 years of encountering walleye underwater, I still don't have a definitive answer.   One theory I have is that if the fish feels secure, a close approach is possible.  If there are predators nearby, a lot of recreational watercraft traffic, or any other kind of perceived threat or disturbance, they will be anxious, nervous and "edgy".  When the lake is quiet and they feel secure near a piece of cover, they seem to be more relaxed and at ease.  I think it all has to do with a sense of safety.  Fisherman believe walleyes always prefer deep water and avoid light because of their sensitive eyes.  I don't think that's necessarily true, or the real reason why walleye seem to seek out deeper, darker water.  On some of the quieter lakes I visit, they can be found in very shallow, brightly sunlit water close to shore.  On busier lakes, they almost always seem to be in the deeper stretches.  It could be that the perceived threat to their safety has more to do with locations walleyes are found than depth or brightness of the sun.

I work with many fishing magazines and exceptional  walleye images are seemingly always in demand.  Consequently, I've spent a great deal of time learning about walleyes and their behavior to gain a better understanding of how to best find and approach them to take their pictures.  (Click here to view a gallery of some of my best walleye images.)  Certainly, being in the water with the fish gives you a glimpse of their "real" behavior-a snapshot few people ever see.  Correctly interpreting what you observe is another matter and is the beginning of understanding and wisdom.
Like all animals, walleyes have many secrets and as we begin to learn more about their endlessly fascinating lives, we'll be able to appreciate them more and more for their inherent beauty and magnificence.  I know I do.     

For more on walleye behavior, click here.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Difficulties of Underwater Photography

Underwater Photography in Freshwater:

What's it like taking pictures underwater?

Conditions underwater are very hostile to a photographer. The lakes and rivers where I shoot are generally very cold. 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're 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 bulky underwater strobes to illuminate subjects in deeper water. Then there's finding the fish. Sometimes that can be hard too. If you can imagine taking photos on a dark, cold, foggy, windy day… that sort of comes close to the every day conditions of the environment I work in.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Florence County Lakes

On Saturday May 22nd, I'll be giving a presentation at the 4th Annual Water Quality Protection Workshop at the Florence Community Center. (Click here to see schedule of programs.)  I'm looking forward to showing some of my underwater fish photography and speaking about some of the clear, local lakes in northeastern Wisconsin where I do much of my work.  There's a terrific line-up of speakers that day all talking about lake and habitat issues, so it promises to be an interesting and informative morning.      

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Earth Day Exhibit in Los Angeles

I've been invited to show a selection of my underwater fish photos at The Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles on Earth Day.  The Annenberg Space for Photography is hosting this special evening dedicated to the talents of international photographers. On April 22nd, 2010 the screens of the Photo Space will display a new array of exciting images which both compliment the mission of Annenberg Foundation, as well as the current exhibition.  This Slideshow Nights is inspired by WATER: Our Thirsty World, featuring a broad spectrum of photographers covering the world of ecological and environmental issues surrounding water.

As an editorial photographer, I rarely share my images in a venue like this, but their kind invitation was impossible to dismiss.  I'm excited to be able to show some of my best pictures to an audience that perhaps has never seen our native fish in their natural lake and stream habitats.   I hope my photography will leave people with a new found appreciation for our finned friends and the water we all share.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Grand Traverse Bay Dive Locations

My underwater photography work takes me to so many beautiful locations around the Great Lakes.  One of my favorite places for underwater fish photography is Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City, Michigan.  The clarity of the water here is consistantly some of the cleanest in Lake Michigan and the fish life is plentiful and diverse.  If you're unfamiliar with diving locations in this area, consult the website of Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve.  Their site has lots of great information including an online dive map brochure that identifies many popular dive sites with precise directions and descriptions.  I always appreciate it when dive shops or other groups publish material like this.  It saves travelers like myself so much time and research when we can quickly find where we want to go.  To view their dive map brochure, click here.  It's well put together, informative and a great tool to use if you're visiting this area.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

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.  It was magnificient and I've provided the link to Jeremy Monroe's entire piece here.

    "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.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sturgeon Bay and Door County, Wisconsin Scuba Diving Sites

Over the years, the waters of Lake Michigan have become increasingly clearer.  Today, it's not unsual to experience visibility of 50 feet or more.  There's also an abundance of fish in the near shores waters so there's always something to photograph.  One of my favorite Lake Michigan locations is the Door County Peninsula.  The clarity, especially on the lake side of Door County is simply astounding.  On the Green Bay side of the peninsula, the water becomes clear enough for good photography around Sturgeon Bay and improves as you move further north up the peninsula towards Gills Rock.  In the fall, large brown trout and salmon come into the near shore waters on spawning runs and you're able to see some amazingly large fish up close. 
For the shore diver, there are a great many places to access the lake up and down the Door Peninsula.  Luckily for us, the folks at Green Bay Scuba have put together a list of some of the best shore dive access sites.  For divers or snorklers new to Door County, this is a terrific list to consult.  I've been to most of the sites on the list and I use it often.  Here's their list.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Why Fish Look Bigger Underwater

One of the attributes of water is that when viewed through a prism of air, objects appear to be larger than they really are. So when I’m underwater looking through my diver’s mask, large fish, like a 45-inch musky for example, appears to me to be a 60-inch fish! Fish and anything else viewed underwater are only ¾ of their apparent size. Fisherman often ask me how big the fish are that I see. I do my best to adjust for the optics of underwater viewing, but the fact is, I just don’t know. Fish look really big underwater, and big fish look positively huge when viewed underwater. For the first few years, I got really excited whenever I saw muskies. “Wow! That’s gotta be a world record!” I would say to myself. But over the years, I’ve come to better understand this illusion and now I don’t pee my wetsuit quite as often when I see what looks like Moby Dick.
What this means sadly, is that all those reports you hear of 6 foot long monsters swimming next to the boat, or huge fish that got off before they could be netted are really just ordinary sized muskies. Some may argue that the fish lined up exactly with something on the boat that’s of known size and therefore, that’s evidence that the fish was really a whopper. This of course is nonsense. Since you would still be viewing the fish in water through a space of air, the magnification illusion is still in play. Your boat is a poor yardstick since it’s in air, and the fish is underwater. (If you don’t quite grasp this idea, lean over the side of the boat sometime and stick your hand underwater about a foot. Then take a ruler and hold it above the water’s surface and take a good measurement of what you see. Next, take your hand out of the water and measure it. If you did this right, your actual hand will measure only ¾ of the size of your estimated measurement while it was underwater.)

My Best Advice for New Underwater Photographers

There’s always room for more good photographers, and I think interest in underwater subjects will continue. I encourage beginners to learn about their subjects. Become an expert on the life and behavior of your animal subjects. Become a steward of their habitat. Think of yourself as a PR person for that particular animal. If you do this, you’ll show them in the best light, you’ll be mindful of disturbing them, and your work will automatically show these creatures at their most magnificent. Don’t sell pictures. Instead, fall in love with your subjects and sell that love! And instead of exploiting them for personal profit, you’ll become partners with them in calling attention to their inherent beauty and value in the ecosystem, and the special problems each one of them face in an increasingly crowded world.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Encountering Muskie Underwater

                                    The first time I came face to face with a muskie underwater in it’s environment, I thought I was going to have a stroke. I was scuba diving in a small northern Wisconsin Lake known primarily for bass and bluegills, when I turned and found myself face to face with a monster that looked more like an alligator than anything else. To say I was startled would be an understatement. I remember screaming into my regulator as an eruption of air bubbles exploded from my lungs and raced towards the surface. My arms and legs moved involuntarily in panic and I stirred up a cloud of silt that quickly enveloped both the beast and me. After a few seconds, when I had recovered from the start, and regained my composure, I was amazed to see that the giant fish hadn’t moved an inch. It was still there, just three feet away hanging motionless in the slowly clearing water. In stark contrast to my initial panicked surprise its reaction was just the opposite. It’s demeanor was calm, and it’s steely-eyed gaze remained fixed on me the entire time like a gunslinger in a Clint Eastwood western. This was a fish filled with confidence, instead of fear. He was the ruler of this underwater kingdom, and seemed to regard me with the same sense of apathy and disinterest that’s normally reserved only for telemarketers and late night TV pitchmen. Finally, he slowly finned away into the depths and I was left with a feeling of awe and admiration for these magnificent fish that has only grown over the years.

I’m very lucky that I just happen to live in an area that’s home to some of the most legendary muskie lakes in the country. Over the years, I’ve had a chance to swim in some of these famed waters and encounter muskies up close in their own environment. There’s nothing quite like seeing a large muskie underwater. They glide effortlessly through the water with the supreme confidence reserved for members at the top of their food chain. Because of this, they’re not afraid of divers and I’m able to approach them usually fairly easily. They are surely aware of all the other fish and animals that populate their world and because divers are an anomaly, they will routinely approach me with what I can only characterize as curiosity. They often make a complete circle around me as if to inspect this ‘strange creature” from every angle. They also display keen awareness. When I enter a lake, I don’t have to search for the muskies. I’ve discovered that if I’m patient, they will find me. Drawn, I’m sure by acute imperceptible sensory abilities and also probably just by the noise of my air bubbles too.
List of Lakes with the Biggest Muskie (from Muskies Inc.)
To Buy One Of My Most Popular Muskie Prints, Click Here

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"How did you get started in Underwater Photography?"

The question people most often ask me is "How did you get started in underwater photography?" If you're wondering the same thing, here's the story.

I began taking pictures underwater in 1993. I’d been an avid fisherman all my life, but one sunny August afternoon, instead of grabbing my rod and reel, I grabbed a cheap mask, snorkel and fins that were 3 sizes too small and dove into a clear water lake near my home. That day changed my life. As a fisherman I remember staring down into the water from the boat or at the end of the dock and wondering “What’s down there? Are there any fish in this lake? What do they do down there all day long?” Diving under the surface of the lake that August day was like stepping into a new world. I couldn’t believe the radiance of this underwater landscape. Plants, rocks, sunken trees covered in green algae…it was simply breathtaking! An underwater paradise! And then there were the fish. I saw more fish in one afternoon than I had seen as a fisherman in the previous year! It was my first glimpse into an astounding silent world filled with unsurpassed beauty and teaming with life!

As the days and weeks passed, I found myself fishing less and less and snorkeling more and more. Eventually I bought a cheap underwater camera so that I could take pictures and show others this amazing new world, and photos of what the fish looked like “on their own turf”. It wasn’t long before I wanted to go deeper and take better pictures. I began buying scuba equipment and more sophisticated cameras and learning the craft of underwater photography. Eventually, I sold an underwater picture of a bass to a small fishing magazine. By this time, I had fallen deeply in love with the underwater realm and the fish that lived there, and I knew that this passion would become my life’s work.

Today, 17 years later, I’m a freelance photographer. My underwater fish pictures appear in fishing and outdoor magazines around the world. I sell pictures to book publishers, calendar companies, advertising agencies, state natural resources departments, and so on. I spend 7 months a year taking pictures underwater in the lakes and rivers of the upper Great Lakes Region where I live. Often my life feels like a non-stop vacation and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone else.
Click Here to go to my Home Page and View My Underwater Fish Pictures

First Blog & Great Fish Books

I look forward to sharing my pictures here as well as some of my experiences as a freelance photographer. My work takes me underwater to some of the most beautiful lakes and rivers in the upper Midwest. I look forward to hearing from other divers, fisherman and photographers who travel these same byways. 
Below are some terrific reference books you may be interested in that have featured some of my underwater fish pictures.