Engbretson Underwater Photography

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

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.