Nov 21, 2011 - Wow!

A Double Header on USS Schurz
Sharks, Sharks and more Sharks.

Check Out New Video Within This Blog!
Scroll Down to bottom for Photo Tip of the Week and more dive news.

Photo of the Week
A large pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins approaching the Olympus  from the starboard side.
     "Wow", was about the only word my intellect could muster when asked how my dive was on the USS Schurz this past Sunday with Captain Robert from Olympus Dive Center. I have never seen more than a handful of Sand Tiger Sharks on this wreck in my entire career diving here. The more than 75 that we saw with the 50 foot of 'viz' on the first minute of our first dive broke that record clearly. With video camera in hand I was like a kid on Christmas morning the moment you first catch site of a pile of unopened gifts. "Whoa look at that one" or "Geez that's a titanic one" I ranted in my brain not knowing where to point the camera. I broke one of my cardinal rules when filming Sand Tigers or any sharks and that is, "never loose your cool and stay calm". With such awesome subject matter all around me I didn't know if I was coming or going. I started out filming the large concentration of Sand Tigers but they began to roam out in to the sand making it dodgy to find my way back as I lost site of the wreck. I glanced over my shoulder and there was Robert marking my return angle. With that shot down it was off to see the rest of the wreck. Within a minute or two I spotted a nice size Giant Southern Stingray galavanting down the length of the wreck heeding me no mind. Soon after that one swam out of range there was another lying in the sand chilling out. I managed to get a nice close up of this 'guy' before he up and skedaddled only leaving yet another giant right behind it.
Carcharias taurus or Sand Tiger Shark. (Stock)
Meanwhile, there were dozens of jumbo Groupers with colossal Amber Jacks and a Cobia or two gliding about the wreck. Let me not forget to report a strong population of full grown Lionfish on the wreck as well. More than any of us has seen so far in 2011. Overall, there was quite a display of marine life on the Schurz today. At this point I was a border line 'spaz' down there sucking up my air zipping from one shot to the next lugging my cumbersome camera around. The bottom line though was I was having a good time and getting some decent video (see the link below). Robert was the cool calm and collective one down there kicking gently down the wreck as though this was just another stroll in the park. 
Divers waiting for the pool to open.
     After about 25 minutes of an exhausting but great dive it was time to put a death grip on the anchor line and stagger back on up to the M/V Olympus. For the past two days I was a stowaway on Capt Robert's boat while the boat I skipper, the Midnight Express, was back at the dock. This time of year attracts only the hardiest and most patient of divers (such as the ones we had on board this weekend) who dared not to give up on the 2011 season here. Sure the wind blows a little more steadier this time of year and the water temps tend to dip in to the chilly zone but when you can nail a pair of dives such as the ones we hit on Sunday it is all worth the extra effort. The group we had on board today was a mixed bag of divers from as far away as Maine. Kudos to you guys for winning the longest travelled award this weekend. Many of them were here for the entire weekend whereas a few dropped in on Sunday only while a few others had to head out on Saturday. 
     Speaking of Saturday, the Olympus originally was scheduled to go on a lobster excursion to the 'Lobster' Wreck. The wind however kept us inshore on a 60' dive, the Indra. "The Mighty I" though only had about 15 feet a 'viz' and 60 degrees on the bottom. It was ok enough but not what the crowd had in mind. You take what you can get sometimes in NC and wait for the epic days such as the dives the following day. Patience is most certainly a virtue.
Capt. Robert Purifoy at the helm of the Olympus.
     So getting back to Sunday's dives. The group on board of course had as good a dive as me the first go and got to see plenty of cool things on the Schurz. Robert and myself talked up the dive for a while saying how much we really needed it while everyone relaxed on the boat in the near calm seas. Clear skies and temps in the upper 70's, by the way, didn't hurt the feel good vibe on the boat. It was just one of those days. 
     My first dive was so good I decided I would make a second jump and head in while the other divers were in for their second. The dive went pretty much like the first one but maybe I was a little more methodical in my approach to video. There was still plenty of solid shark activity about and with divers adding to the shots it was even better. The current however began to pick up during the dive and pretty soon it was heavy finning to gain traction back to the anchor line. It was at the moment when I reached the ascent line that I realized something. I realized I needed to get my butt back to the gym. I was huffing and puffing and feeling the legs burning. On the way up I had a look around to see how the other divers were faring and from my perspective all seemed to be ok and holding tight to the anchor line. I surfaced and dragged myself back on to the boat and plopped down in to my seat and pried the skin tight 3mm hood off my head nearly ripping a layer of my face off in the process. Once all were back on board the Olympus got under way and started our trip back to Morehead City with near flat seas and continues sunny skies.  End of story. Well not quite, it gets even better.
A pod of Dolphins coming over to play.
     About one hour in to our journey, Robert eyes a pod of Spotted Dolphins at the surface nearly dead ahead of us and starts to slow down to see if they wanted to play. As luck would have it they did. As we got closer it was apparent that this was a very large pod with a 'guestimate' of about 40 and maybe more. Some were riding the wake behind us while others raced the boat under the pulpit. My still camera was blazing away while Robert made loops around and around the pod. Passengers watched from the upper deck and the foredeck as well. After I had a few stills recorded I grabbed up my video camera to capture the action. The highlight of this encounter was when a group of at least 20 Dolphins all swimming in a tight formation, paused off our starboard side for a good minute or two and stared at us. Well I guess it can be said we stared back at them as well. One can only wonder what they were thinking while gazing at us. All at once the pod took a breath and dived under the boat surfacing on the other side. This cajoling went on for many more minutes after this with some individuals doing flips and jumps in front of the camera. What hams. I have seen Dolphins in the wild many times and swam with them on many other occasions but their presence never gets boring to me. They don't need an invite to my parties.

Capt. Robert watching the Dolphins.
Click here to view Mike's
USS Schurz Video
(Video file is large so please be patient when loading)

     All in all it was a fantastic day offshore and not just the diving part. The weather with calm seas and sunny warm skies contributed to the feel good atmosphere on board. Once back at the dock a handful of divers had such a  good time they conspired to charter the boat last minute for the following day. Unfortunately, the reality of life prevented gathering enough divers to make it happen. I'm not sure if this will be my last dive trip for the winter but if it was then what a way to end it. There is a chance other trips may be booked on the Olympus this season so if your reading this and want to go diving, call the shop and check out the schedule. We would love to have you.
Photo Gallery of the Week

Dolphins under the pulpit.  It doesn't get any better.

Gavin Vollmer. Mate extraordinaire.

Capt. Robert giving a briefing.

Danny Facciola chillin' at sunrise on the Morehead Waterfront.
Mate Bud Daniels hamming for the camera.

These guys drove from Maine just to go diving for the weekend.
You guys rock!
Geared up and ready to go.

The jump!
The splash!

Mom and daughter dive team. 

Greg Davis tossing a dock line to the Bud Man

Nema camping out on the Olympus dock. Go Nema!
The group of 'Dive Hards' on board the Olympus from Sunday Nov. 20, 2011.

Mike's Photo Tip of the Week

Shooting With Models

      Sometimes a photo with a single element in the composition such as a coral head or a wreck or a marine fish just isn't enough to grab the attention of the viewer. A second element needs to be added. Quite often this can be a diver or a model. The human element as it is known adds action, a little mystery and denotes the activity of diving. Lastly, a diver in the composition adds scale and perspective to the shot which is useful when you want the viewer to see how small or large an object such as a wreck is by comparing to the size of the diver. Magazines for example most often prefer models in their photos since most are in the business to sell dive gear and travel. What better way to do this than to have a diver in the photo wearing equipment and diving in a beautiful locale. It's pretty simple really. Using models can be very tricky though.  Getting someone to pose in the exact spot you want them without being able to verbally communicate is not easy. Here are a few tips.

Can you tell how large 'The Lady' is? Not really.
Can you tell now? Absolutely.
     1- Find a diver to model for you that has exceptional buoyancy control and overall dive skills. Having someone silt out your photo would not be good.
     2- Communicate thoroughly with your model before you get in the water on what your mission is and how you are going to achieve it. In other words share a detailed plan. It will save lots of frustration for the two of you.
     3- Use and learn predetermined hand signals so communication underwater is easier and the dive is safer. ie What signal means level off or what means look over there? etc.
     4- Both photographer and model should have a good attitude and enjoy what they are doing. Anger and frustration will show up in the shot.
     5- Make sure you have your model sign a release form if you suspect you will use the images for commercial use.
     6- Come to an agreement before you get in the water as to what the compensation for your model will be if any. Sign a contract if necessary.
     7- Miscellaneous: Model should pose with legs together and one knee bent only slightly unless otherwise instructed. Legs should not be wide apart. Hands should be at side and not crossed or folded. Model should look over shoulder of photographer or at subject that photographer is shooting with at least one eye visible to the lens; two is better. Never stare at the lens unless asked to. Wet suit color should not blend with background color of the shot. Gear should be streamlined and minimized. Mask shape and skirt should highlight models eyes. Single lens masks sometimes work best with clear silicone skirt. Use props such 
as a very powerful hand held flashlight.

A perfect pose. The shark looks bigger than it is
because the diver is swimming in back of it.
     By using a model correctly and effectively you stand a better chance of nailing an image that tells a story or brings it to life. Both model and photographer need to be patient in the beginning until you form an underwater relationship and can communicate with simple gestures or body language. Once you have a better idea of how each of you work underwater, the keeper shots will start rolling in more frequently and naturally. Good luck and happy shooting.

More News

Give the Gift of Art
     Christmas is around the corner. If your stumped what to get your friend, family member or loved one for Christmas then think no more. Give the gift of art. Please visit my web site and browse my online store of fine are prints.  My work is very diverse and appeals to a wide audience and is printed with nothing but the finest archival papers and inks. Find out more at the previous link.
UW Photo Gift Certificates
     I am now selling gift certificates for my Underwater Photo Lessons online at this link: Click Here. If someone you know has been desiring to take a lesson but continues to procrastinate then pick up one or more certificates to get them motivated. A nice feature of this gift is the certificate has no monetary value printed on it. Click on the Pay Pal tab on the web page, enter the information required and within a few days your printed certificate will show up in the mail.  Contact Mike at a future time to arrange your photo course live on line via a web cam or in person one-on-one if you live within a short distance of Morehead City. Contact for more info.

Thomas S
      Olympus's 6-pack charter boat, the Thomas S, made it out on Sunday as well but to the wreck of the Naeco for a 140' tech dive. I was not there but word has it they also had a stellar dive with 50 foot of viz and 68 degrees on the bottom.  That's right, I said 68 degrees and in November. The Naeco is a few miles closer to the Gulf Stream. Reports indicate there were more Sand Tigers than you can shake a stick at, turtles, Groupers and anything else you can think of. If you have small groups of divers who still want to go out this Fall/Winter call up the dive shop and ask about the Thomas S schedule.

Shark Conservation
     There has been a lot of progress being made towards the world protection of sharks from over fishing and practices such as shark finning for the making of shark fin soup. Sharks are caught, their fins removed sometimes while alive and the corpse thrown back in to the sea. Societies around the globe are uniting to end the senseless slaughter. Florida for example has just enacted a law stating that it is illegal to land and kill any Hammerhead Shark or Tiger Shark species. When caught they must be released alive into the water. Congratulations Florida! Canada recently banned the possession, sale and trade of shark fins in their most populous city, Toronto with Vancouver right behind them. There is a long way to go before these important apex predators are saved from decimation and even extinction. If you care get involved. Contact,, PADI's Project Aware or many other organizations that are out there and help the cause.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mike Gerken

Mike Gerken
Please remember to share this Dive Blog Report.
Thank you!

Please visit Mike's web site
to peruse his portfolio of underwater photography, view his video excerpts from his documentary films and purchase fine art prints from his online gallery.

If you wish to dive Graveyard of the Atlantic contact

Olympus Dive Center, Morhead City, NC.

Visit Mike's Facebook Page at
and click 'Like" to receive future updates.


November 12, 2011 - Year in Review

Olympus Year in Review

The 2011 Olympus crew  on the foredeck of the M/V Olympus.
     My 2011 dive season at Olympus Dive Center in North Carolina is very sadly all but over. The vessel I captain, the Midnight Express, has no more trips scheduled so far this year. Overall it was a great season. Sure, the weather was problematic at times but between 'blow days' and hurricanes there was some stunning diving. I can remember the many ecstatic faces climbing the dive ladders after epic dives on the U-352, USS Schurz, Atlas and my fave for the year, the W.E. Hutton aka Papoose. For me, what will be most memorable about the 2011 dive season was the multitudes of sharks seen on the wrecks and not just Sand Tigers but Dusky's, Bull and even a Hammerhead Shark or two. For the first time since 2008, I shot UW video and managed to capture five dives on tape highlighting these shark encounters. You can check them out here at my web site: Evolution Underwater Imaging. It was also a banner year for photography. With visibility sometimes in excess of 50 feet, conditions were optimal for shooting. I was very pleased with many of the images I collected, some of which that have already been published or plan to be published soon. Please visit this link for a look at all the 'keeper' shots from this year: Click Here.
One of my favorite images from 2011. 

A quintessential shot of a Sand Tiger Shark. Taken on the
Atlas Tanker 2011. (stock)

Just because I sound like I'm done running charters for this year doesn't imply that you should cross off the Outer Banks from your 'to do' dive list for the remainder of 2011. Olympus's flag ship, the M/V Olympus, captained by Robert Purifoy, has dive trips scheduled throughout the month of November. Please contact them at the link above to find out what the schedule entails. If the weather is good you might find me on board getting my last dives in and trying to score a few more photos or video clip or two. The dive conditions are still optimal and will stay that way for much of the Fall and even the winter so don't give up on Olympus just yet.
Mate, John Thompson was a true piece of
work. His 'flare' will be missed.
    Some have already been asking me if I will be running the Midnight Express next season in 2012. At this point, I honestly have no idea. It all depends on what happens over the winter. If I return next year to Olympus I will most certainly do so with a smile on my face. I have had in the past and continue to have some of my all time greatest dives here and without Olympus Dive Center as the staging ground it would not be possible. Headed up by Robert Purifoy, I am honored to be working for what I consider the apex of professionally run dive operations in the US if not the world. The staff at Olympus are more than just co-workers, they are an extended family. A special thanks goes out to the crew of the Midnight Express, Mike Phillips and John Thompson. We worked hard, played hard and experienced some outstanding dives this past season. Without these guys watching my back I would have lost a lot more of my hair out there and I cannot afford any more hair loss thank you. 
Other mate, Mike Phillips helped balance
John Thompson's presence.
My photos have appeared in publications on a regular basis in 2011 and wanted to take it to the next step in publishing by writing. Writing has been a new pursuit of mine and this year and I am pleased with the results thus far. I always accept and appreciate comments on my stories to get ideas on what you, the reader, enjoys reading. So drop me a line anytime or add comments at the bottom of the Blog. is a popular diving forum and social networking internet site where one can go to buy and sell gear, find dive tips, chat with like minded individuals and read articles. I just published my first story on that appeared on their site last week. It is the same story posted on my September 22nd Blog titled, The Spar: "The Cutter With the Most Gold" except with some revisions and a few new photos added. Go check it out. It can still be seen on the home page. 
     Wreck Diving MagazineDiver Magazine and SCUBA Diving Magazine have all agreed to print stories written by myself with accompanying photos for editions to be released in 2012. I will be posting more on these stories as it happens.

Speaking Engagements
      Eastern Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, NC has graciously asked me to do a presentation for their students and staff on the evening of November 17th at 7PM. I will be presenting on a variety of topics from wrecks and the documentary films I produced on them as well as having diving and photography as a career. I will also be speaking about the need for protection of sharks. The decimation of shark species worldwide can have and already is having a serious impact on overall fish stocks if something is not rectified very quickly. Come to the presentation and learn more. Location is at the East Carolina Heart Institute at East Carolina University, on Heart Drive off Arlington out by the Hospital. I hope to see you there.
      Beneath the Sea is the largest dive expo open to the general public in America and this year they have accepted my photo workshop titled "Wide Angle Wreck Photography and More" to be presented at the show on March 23-25, 2012. Wreck photography has been my favorite subject to shoot and it can be said that I specialize in it. For a small fee you can sign up for a three hour presentation and learn some of my tricks and techniques for capturing the essence of a shipwreck. I will have more info on this to come.
     Stay tuned for potential dates where I will be hosting photo workshops at trade shows or dive centers around the US. I have no set dates as of yet but I should have some soon. If you are part of a dive center or dive club and would like me to be a guest speaker or conduct a workshop please contact me at For more info or visit this link to my web site: Click Here.  If your an individual I am also available for instruction in person or live online via web cam.

Photo Tip of the Week
A gratuitous quantity of dots, specks and crud, otherwise known as backscatter,
can ruin an otherwise perfect shot. 
     Have you ever had a great photo ruined by thousands of tiny white or brown dots strewn all about the image? If you said, 'no' then you're lying. 'Backscatter', as it is known in the industry, which is the direct reflection of strobe light off of suspended particulates through the lens and on to the sensor creating an image that looks like numerous tiny mirrors. These minute reflections muddle an image and distract your eyes away from our subject. They are the bane of every photographer at one time or another. There are ways to eliminate or reduce the amount of backscatter with these few simple tips.
     The simplest way to avoid backscatter is to dive in clear water with minimal suspended particles. No particles equals no backscatter. Easy right? I wish. Well, we don't always have the luxury of diving in said conditions so what next? Do not create any more suspended particles on top of what is already there. Superior buoyancy and finning techniques are critical to not kicking up the bottom and only come with training and practice. When you are shooting on the sea bed or wreck be sure to not kneel or stand on the bottom whenever possible. 
Proper finning such as this will minimize unwanted silt
and cut down on backscatter. 
Your fin action will most certainly ruin a photo subject and possibly alienate you from other divers and photographers. By hovering over the bottom with your knees bent and fins off the bottom you will prevent the silting up your photo area. If you must absolutely sit on the bottom then be very careful to not kick up silt but, very few will succeed in doing so. Shooting a subject that is up current from where you are kneeling will pull the silt away from the photo area and help you if you have to touch the bottom. Some divers prefer to use small metal poles, pointers or pokers to assist them in staying of the reef. I see these merely as a crutch that will prohibit a diver from obtaining superior buoyancy skills. A diver with top notch buoyancy does not need one. Also, in the hands of a sloppy diver those little pokers can cause damage to marine life even though they are very small. You will be amazed at how well you can not only hover over a reef area but change position ever so slightly with minor fin tip kicks only. It just requires lots of practice.
Built in flash units, such as the one depicted here, are the worst for creating backscatter.
The closer the strobe is to the port the worse the glare and backscatter.
     Sometimes no matter what you do the environmental conditions will still prove challenging when there is a lot of silt or particulates occurring naturally in the water column. Heavy rains, steep seas are but a few weather conditions that will cause excessive silting. If this is the case, here is what you can do. First extend your strobe arm(s) out as far as you can or as far as your subject will allow you. The closer the strobe light is to your dome port the more likely the strobe light will emanate out and directly back in to the port. For example, stand in front of a mirror and shine a flashlight directly in to the mirror in front of your face or slightly to the side in to your face. You might find the light is more likely to shine right back in to your eyes. Now hold the flashlight out at your side and shine it on your face in the mirror. You will now see that the light is reflected off to the side and not in to your eyes.  
The illustration shows strobes pointing inwards which is
not always a desirable position.
The same holds true for your strobes reflecting light off particles, through the port and on to your camera sensor. If you find that when you move your strobes out to far there is a dark patch in the middle of your image then you need to pull the strobes closer in and point the core of the strobe slightly outwards away from your subject utilizing the fringe of the strobe light in your exposure more then the core. Not only will backscatter be cut down but sometimes you will get more desirable softer edges on your subjects with this 
Slightly pointing strobe units outwards can cut down
on backscatter greatly by redirecting strobe light
away from lens port.
slight tilt. Adding a diffuser over the strobe can help cut down hot spots but even with this addition the center of the strobe may be to intense and direct. This factor also depends on the model and make of your strobe units. Some are more intense in the center than others. This slight adjustment in strobe angle will help in reducing or even eliminating backscatter all together and works well with both macro and wide angle photography.
      Even when you use all the tricks in the trade taking photos there is one more you can use in post production. When you have a winner shot but still has a fare amount of specks on it there are post photo tricks you can utilize to rid your photo of this backscatter. In image processing softwares such as Photoshop there are tools you can use such as clone stamps and filters to eliminate those irksome specks. This segment will not get in to the use of these tools though. You will have to do some research or call Mike for a photo lesson. Hey, a man has to eat ya know.
      In closing, sometimes no matter what you do though the water quality will be just to crummy to take photos without backscatter. When conditions are like this you can either call it quits, turn for home and look for a bar to drown your sorrows in or spend the time in the water practicing your dive and photo skills. You might not yield quality photos on dives like this but you may learn something that will help you out in the future. Practice, practice, practice is the name of the game. If first you don't succeed....well you know the rest.

Next Weeks Blog Report

DVD Documentary film,
The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon
      Truk Lagoon is a keyword that will set off thoughts of the worlds greatest wreck diving in the minds of sport divers around the world. With more than three dozen wrecks to choose from it is epic in scale as a dive destination. In next weeks' blog I will tell you about my five years living and working in Truk Lagoon on the liveaboards, Truk Aggressor II and the Truk Odyssey. It was here where I became inspired to film my second documentary film aptly titled, The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon. In this film there is more than 40 minutes of narrated and archived film footage as well as ninety minutes of my best underwater video that was selected from nearly 60 hours of total footage. In my Dive Blog Report I will tell you all about the making of this film and what it took to get it done. Until next time....

Happy Diving!

Mike Gerken
Mike Gerken

Please remember to share this Dive Blog Report.
Thank you!

Please visit Mike's web site
to peruse his portfolio of underwater photography, view his video excerpts from his documentary films and purchase fine art prints from his online gallery.

If you wish to dive Graveyard of the Atlantic contact

Olympus Dive Center, Morhead City, NC.
Visit Mike's Facebook Page at
and click 'Like" to receive future updates.