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.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Video: How Crayfish Escape from Hungry Bass

Smallmouth Bass love eating crayfish, but not every crayfish becomes prey.  Sometimes they’re able to fend off vicious attacks by remaining perfectly still, by adopting a defensive posture, and by simply never giving up.  While bass eat plenty of crayfish, in this video, you’ll see the ones that get away-dramatic underwater footage of crayfish escaping certain death from the jaws of hungry bass.  Make sure you check out our other popular videos on this channel of bass eating crayfish.
(Make sure to adjust your YouTube setting to HD 1080 for best viewing results.)
Special thanks to my longtime friend and professional Foley wizard Tommy Kleinschmidt, of Berlin, Germany for the custom soundtrack for this clip.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Striped Bass Underwater

School of Striped Bass (c)Sean Landsman/Engbretson Underwater Photo
Our Sean Landsman has recently captured some amazing new images of Striped Bass in a North Atlantic coastal river.  Swimming with giant schools of stripers, (some of them approaching 30 pounds) Sean has brilliantly photographed these dazzling fish as they move downstream from their over-wintering homes on their way to spawning grounds and later to summer habitats.  See all of Sean's Striped Bass photos in our Striped Bass Gallery, and view all of Sean's exciting underwater images in our Sean Landsman Gallery.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

What Do Fish Think of Humans Who Scuba Dive Into Their Homes?

(c)Engbretson Underwater Photography

I've been photographing fish underwater for twenty five years and this is a question I've thought about a lot. I know what's it's like on the lake bottom taking pictures of fish, but what's it like from the fish's point of view?  How do they process the experience?  I can’t imagine what it’s like for them, but let's try to experience the encounter from their point of view.  Let's imagine for a moment that the roles are reversed.

So imagine you’re sitting in your living room one day and then, out of nowhere, an alien creature enters your home. It doesn’t resemble anything you’ve ever seen before. It has eyes like you do, but there’s very little about its body that you can comprehend. It doesn’t resemble anything you’ve ever seen. It’s enormous in size and you’re not sure where it came from or why it’s in your home. You’re terrified. But…. you might also be a little curious. You’re torn between running for your life, and trying to understand what you’re seeing. Let’s say you choose not to run. You keep your distance and start observing this alien life form. It’s immediately obvious that this creature has severe limitations. It seems to be clumsy and awkward. It doesn’t move with any grace or fluidity. In fact, it seems to have difficulty moving around at all. It’s also slow. This is reassuring to you because you’re certain you can outrun it easily if it approaches too closely.    Then suddenly it moves up to the ceiling of your living room and seemingly disappears. Where did it go? The entire encounter is incomprehensible to you. This is how I imagine the first time encounter would be like if the roles were reversed.

I can’t imagine what fish think of us.  But I’m always impressed with the fish that don’t immediately flee. I don’t know if I would have the nerve to hang around and observe this strange monster in the scenario I described. It’s extremely humbling to realize that these fish are braver and have more courage than I would in their situation.

I think after many repeated encounters, a certain level of comfort develops. While fish may never understand what we are, they know we’re not the otters they see who move with great speed and agility and should be feared. We’re probably regarded more like the way they view snapping turtles. Large, plodding creatures with no real underwater skills who aren’t a threat unless they get very close.

Over time, the fish begin to notice that as we clumsily move through the water, we create a disturbance. Unseen insects and other invertebrates that are hiding on plants or on the lake floor may be exposed or displaced and to the fish, they magically appear for them to eat. Maybe a crayfish is suddenly seen fleeing and again a food item is summoned out of nowhere. They may begin to view us as sorcerers who can conjure up food items by our mere presence. If they arrive at this conclusion, the entire dynamic between fish and us changes. We become viewed as a waiter or sorts. Instead of fearing us, we instead become something that should be paid attention to and even followed around so they’re able to snap up any treats that we may cause to appear.  For this reason, eventually, over time, I would say some of the fish are absolutely gleeful when they see us.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Secret Life of Walleyes

Jacques Cousteau once said, “The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish”. So, to better understand walleyes, we went beneath the surface to see them where they live, and filmed hours of high quality, HD underwater video of walleyes in their natural habitat. This compilation clip takes you beneath the surface to see big walleyes in their world, relaxed and at home.

I think every fisherman and anyone who spends time on the water wonders what it looks like beneath the surface of our lakes. Frankly, many waters are too murky to see well in, and that kind of defeats the purpose of underwater filming. In our underwater videos, we concentrate only on lakes with outstanding visibility. What good is underwater footage if you can’t see the fish clearly, right? In our films, you’ll see well-lit underwater scenes, in sharp focus and in stunning high definition clarity. The underwater world of our lakes and rivers are magnificent places and we wouldn’t be doing them or the fish justice if you we didn’t show them at their best. (Make sure to adjust your YouTube setting to HD 1080 for best results.)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

New Underwater Paddlefish Images

Paddlefish (c)Jennifer Idol/Engbretson Underwater Photo
Today, we're excited to add more than a dozen new Paddlefish pictures to our online galleries.  Our Jennifer Idol has beautifully photographed these prehistoric fish on a recent diving trip to Tennessee.  Paddlefish populations are in trouble and are rapidly declining due to pollution, overfishing, and habitat loss (often associated with the construction of dams). These fish are becoming rarer every year, so encountering them and photographing them in the wild is becoming more difficult than ever.  To see all of Jennifer's new Paddlefish images, visit our Paddlefish Gallery here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Amazing Fish Gifts For Your Home or Cottage

We've partnered with Realfish Inland Series for a line of amazing fish floor mats. These are so stunning when you see them in person. The photos of the mats don't do them justice. They make great gifts for fisherman or fish lovers. Our Largemouth Bass floor mat is pictured above.  Realfish USA also has a really cool selection of cutting boards featuring our fish images.  Again, these are high quality made-in-the-USA products.  To see the full line of fish mats and boards, go to Realfish USA and check out their Inland Series.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Long-Time Fish Photographer Joins Our Team

Flathead Catfish (c)Garold Sneegas/Engbretson Underwater Photography
Today we welcome Garold Sneegas to our team of expert underwater fish photographers.   Garold is an award winning underwater photographer who's been filming North American native fish species since 1970. His images have appeared in a great many books and magazines and he was one of the first to extensively photograph freshwater environments. His select images are now represented by Engbretson Underwater Photography and can be licensed through our website.

Monday, January 30, 2017

What Are Wisconsin's Clearest Lakes? 2016

Time for my annual list of the clearest lakes in Wisconsin.  Every year, I consult with Jennifer Filbert at the Wisconsin DNR.  Jennifer manages the data for the state-wide citizen's lake monitoring group. They're a network of individuals, usually lake-front property owners who monitor and regularly take a variety of water samples from lakes all across Wisconsin.  The data they compile helps to give us a look at how our lakes are doing. One of the many tasks lake monitors perform is to take regular sechi disc readings.  This is a universal way of assessing and comparing water clarity.  I'm always interested in knowing which Wisconsin inland lakes are the clearest.  Every year, Jennifer sends me a spreadsheet of some really comprehensive data that I'm happy to share with you.  Here are  the lakes that recorded the highest average water clarity in 2016. In short-here are Wisconsin's clearest inland lakes and their average water clarity in 2016:

1)   Crystal Lake, Marquette Co. 30 feet
2)   Lake Owen, Bayfield Co. 26 feet
3)   Blue Lake, Oneida Co. 26 feet
4)   Pine Lake, Waukesha Co. 25 feet
5)   Whitefish Lake, Douglas Co. 25 feet
6)   Lake Lucerne, Forest Co. 24 feet
7)   Paya Lake, Oconto Co. 24 feet
8)   Big Newton Lake, Marinette Co. 23 feet
9)   Black Oak Lake, Vilas Co. 23 feet
10) Maiden Lake, Oconto Co. 22 feet

To see the lake list from 2015, click here.  To see the lake list from 2014, click here.  For the lake list from 2013, click here.  And for the 2012 list of clear lakes, click here.