Dec 15, 2011 - 2011 "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly"

Photo of the Week
While doing some end of the year cleaning
out of my hard drives, I stumbled across
this image I shot in 2009 on the wreck of the
Spar in NC. It was in a folder labeled, 'TRASH'. Yikes! (New)

Mike Gerken

Since I have no new dive stories to relay to you this week, I would like to share some of my poetry with you instead. It's a dive version of the "12 Days of Christmas". Relax, I'm just joking. I like having you as readers and would hate to loose you. Besides, I don't write poetry. I just have a few words to share with you this week on what was, what is and what will be for 2012. Oh yes, I also have a Photo Tip of the Week. Please read on.

Thank You
     I wanted to take this moment while the season for festiveness and sentiment is high, to thank my family, friends, readers, fellow divers, lovers of the ocean and my beautiful girlfriend Annette for your support and enthusiasm for my work. The ocean has always been a place of escape for me. A place to forget about the life above and live in the moment in the world below. For me, photography and video has become a means of transporting this feeling back to the surface to share with others.  I don't think I would be a photographer if there were no one to entertain my images and stories with.  It is because of you, the viewer and reader, that I continue to engage in this path and for this I thank you most sincerely. I hope I can continue to entertain and inform you for years to come.

A Note on Our Marine Environment
       Since I started this Dive Blog Report in May of this year, I have made a conscience effort to minimize social, political or environmental commentary with the goal of simply entertaining you, the reader.  Although I have no intentions of preaching to you about world politics I do however feel it is my duty to inform you of maritime environmental issues in future Blog Reports. To be silent about an issue so vital to myself and the world, would be irresponsible.
     As years pass by, I continue to see with my own eyes and read of other accounts, the degradation of our natural environment and, more specific to me, the marine world. One not go far to find such stories, for they are all around us in the media and out your own front door. 
A photo can speak a thousand words.
The ocean has been a source for my personal entertainment since I was a boy and more recently in life as a dive boat captain and photographer, a source of income where my livelihood depends on it. I have reached a point some years ago where I feel that this continued taking from the ocean without giving back is no longer acceptable. I have always been an advocate for the protection of 'our' marine resources, but now I am doing something about it by getting more active in environmental organizations and their causes and speaking out at my presentations. Solutions to what ails our marine world are never simple and require sacrifice and sometimes compromise. The long term result of protecting our resources is always beneficial to everyone, especially future generations. Rarely, as individuals, can anything substantial become accomplished, but as a larger body there can be no stopping a movement. Everyone can make a difference if you want to;  you just need to get involved.

2011, the Year.
The Good
2011- The Good, the Bad
and the Ugly.
     Life for me, at times, emulates the epic Clint Eastwood western film, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. 2011 was such a year for me. The 'good' was, I managed to experience with my divers on board the Midnight Express some fantastic wreck diving offshore of the Outer Banks of NC with Olympus Dive Center. It is obvious, when viewing my work, that my love of wreck diving is only surpassed by my love for sharks and there was no shortage of them this year on the wrecks of North Carolina.  The Papoose, the Atlas, the Carib Sea and most surprisingly, late in the season, the USS Schurz were all 'magnets' that attracted numerous sand tigers, dusky's, sand bar sharks and even a hammerhead or two. I shot video this year for the first time since 2008 and I was very pleased with the shark action captured on film. (see link below) 2011 was a productive year for me photographically as well. I was fortunate to obtain some great keeper shots while focusing mostly on sand tiger sharks. (click link for stills) These creatures continue to capture my attention and never cease to interest me. View the video shorts for the year and let the the images speak for themselves. 
Click Image to View Videos
The Bad
My Father in his prime.

     On a bad note for me and my family, my father, Fred Gerken, passed away in early October. My father, as well as my mother, were the ones who made it all possible for me to experience the ocean from an young age. It was these early years of boating, swimming, snorkeling and diving off the shores of Long Island, NY that left an indelible mark on me until this day. My fathers health later in life prevented him from participating in many activities including travel. To compensate, he lived vicariously through myself and experienced my life as if he was there. My photo and video works were incremental in achieving this. There wasn't a photo I took or a video that I shot that he had not viewed or even critiqued at times. He was my biggest fan, as I was his, and a supporter of everything I did. He will be sorely missed.

The Ugly
Thousands of shark fins being dried on a roof top in Taiwan.
The scale of shark finning is enormous. Photo courtesy of RT Sea Blog.
To learn more click HERE.
On the ugly side, the world seems to be hell bent on killing every last shark in the ocean for the sake of a bowl of shark fin soup. Shark fin soup is a delicacy mostly served in eastern asian countries that can fetch up to $100 or more per bowl. Sharks are caught to the tune of 65 million per year to meet the demand for this market. Most of the time the fin is sliced off while the rest of the shark is tossed back in to the ocean sometimes alive. Can it get any uglier than this? These apex predators, that are so vital to the health of our oceans fish stocks, are being wiped out at an alarming rate. This is not so much an issue of cruelty but stupidity. By destroying the upper parts of the food chain we will harm everything beneath it thus harming humans. There are many violations of our oceans being perpetrated in the world but for me none so heinous as shark finning. If you would like to know more about this and to get involved to protect sharks, please contact me at the links below. I stumbled across a Blog on shark finning and all things shark related at RTSea Blog. Check it out.
This has to stop!
Hurricane Irene 2011.
     Lastly, I'm not sure what category to place Hurricane Irene in? The bad, the ugly or even good? Irene slammed in to the Carolina Coast in late August with wind speeds sustained at around 70 miles per hour. The damage we received here in NC was minimal compared to many up north but the conditions off shore for diving were severe. Due to the 25 foot seas and the subsequent surge, the visibility was reduced to less than five feet for many weeks after the storm subsided. The subsequent hurricanes and storm systems only added to the muck. We at, Olympus Dive Center, cancelled many charters due to this and the conditions did not return to normal until after the peak season had subsided. A hurricanes immediate benefits are hard to see due to such problems. Is there any good at all that comes from them? Mother Nature isn't always so clear but, she has an agenda all the same. For example, here is a quote from a researcher at Duke University: 
"Barrier islands need hurricanes for their survival, especially at times of rising sea levels such as now. It's during hurricanes that islands get higher and wider," he said. "From a purely natural standpoint hurricanes are a blessing for islands, even though they're a curse for people who live there." Click here to read more.
     Lastly, lets not forget that adversity can be a strengthener that will, hopefully, teach people to be better prepared for catastrophes. Well at least in theory that sounds good. With that said, I'll let you decide what category to place Hurricane Irene in.

2012, the Future
Another photo rescued from the trash.
The Spar NC 2009.
     With the year nearly behind us, I for one, am excited at the prospect for 2012.  There will be new challenges to overcome, awe inspiring events to witness and, let me not forget to mention, epic diving to be had. I will continue to write this Dive Blog Report delivering dive industry news, stories, condition reports, photo tips and previews of my latest works.  This blog has been a work in progress; expanding and evolving since it started. I will continue to improve upon it with the best material I can muster.
    In addition, I will be adding a dive and photo newsletter to my itinerary of social media networking tools. The newsletter will highlight what the Dive Blog Report will contain and reach out to those who have yet to discover this sight. The first newsletter should come out early in the year. If you would like to sign up for it click on the link towards the bottom of the page.
    I have lots more to tell you in regards to upcoming presentations, photo workshops and dive magazine stories to be published in 2012, but you will have to stay tuned for the next Dive Blog Report scheduled for after the New Year. I'm not sure if I will be doing much diving this winter so I'm relegated to telling you stories from the past such as "Mike's Top 10 Dives" of all time.  From Truk Lagoon to Vanuatu to Palau and North Carolina check out my stories of the best dives I have ever done. Lastly, I would like to say Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone out there reading this. I'll see you in 2012!

Happy Diving,

Mike Gerken

Photo Tip of the Week

Nikon D300
    Bracketing is a technique used to achieve a wider range of photo results by making several exposures of the same subject.  This way the odds are more in your favor of yielding a desirable shot that does not contain over or under exposed shadows or highlights.  Changing your exposure can be done by stepping up or down your shutter speeds and/or your F-stop.  For those of you unsure of what shutter speeds and f-stops are, I can explain them quickly now. The shutter speed is the length of time the cameras shutter is left open allowing light to enter in to the camera and on to the sensor or CCD. Long shutter speeds will yield brighter images, while short ones will yield darker images. F-stops are the size of the aperture or hole leading into the cameras sensor. The higher the number of f-stop the smaller the aperture is letting the least light in. The lower the number f-stop the larger the aperture is etc. By changing your f-stop and/or shutter speed, while shooting the same subject, you will have a wider gamut of exposures to choose from in post-processing. Trying to ascertain what the perfect exposure is underwater may be difficult due to the lighting at the time of day and how it effects your LCD. (Of course learning to read histograms would prevent this problem but that is for another blog). 

Overexposed at
F14, 1/1250sec.
Under exposed at
F22, 1/250sec.
Just right at F18, 1/250sec.
By bracketing the shots of this sea fan, from F14 to F18, I succeeded in finding the optimal exposure. F14 was over exposed with highlights 'burned'. F22 was under exposed with the loss of details in the shadows. F18 yielded a better dynamic range from highlights to shadows.

Bracketing can be done manually or automatically. Many cameras, especially SLR's, will have a setting in your menu that will let you create custom auto bracketing exposures by telling the camera how many shots you want to take and how many F-Stops or Shutter Speed settings you want to change up or down, fast or slow. ie Using your light meter, select an exposure setting that you think is correct as your starting point. Let's say I set the camera up to take 5 photos stepping up two and down two starting at F5 with a fixed shutter speed of 1/100. On aperture auto bracketing the results would yield 1 photo each at F5, F5.6, F4.5, F6.3 and F4 (with a Nikon D300). You can do the same for shutter speed and even ISO and white balance but, let me not get ahead of myself. By going up two stops and down two stops from your you are covering a much broader area of exposures. Make sure the strobe units you are using can keep up with the rate at which the camera will fire on auto mode, otherwise do as I do and shoot manual. When you have the time, adjusting your exposure for a photo manually can be as easy as talking a shot, flipping a wheel or control for shutter or aperture and then taking another shot. With practice is gets easier.

Good Luck!


    If you would like to learn more please sign up for one of my online photo lessons. Each session is private and can be done from the convenience of your home with the use of a web cam and microphone. Visit to learn more or contact

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Please leave comments below. I would love to hear from you.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike Gerken said...

Here is a comment left by a reader that I accidentally deleted. Clumsy me.

Scared me with the poetry line, but great article.
The tip about bracketing is an excellent one. I know its an option on my Canons and probably most of the decent SLRs. I don't use bracketing all that often, and sometimes I tend to forget about using it. Thanks for the reminder as I really need to get in the habit of using bracketing more often.


Joe Eiche said...

Love the tips Mike. I use the bracketing feature frequently and find it very helpful for a variety of situations but most especially in those high contrast situations where I am not sure by looking at the LCD on the camera what exposure was ideal. Kinda like hedging my bets. I know my strobes can fire three shots successively but know for sure that the YS-01s weaken a bit by the third exposure which can also ruin the bracketing effect since the light is consistent like it would be on the surface without any flash at all. Additionally since my strobes are slaved my on-camera flash also weakens and sometimes needs 3-5 seconds itself to recycle. May not be a problem with the better DSLRs but my T3i's battery gets tired.

Mike Gerken said...

You can still bracket without rapid firing. When shooting stationery objects you simply take a shot, adjust, take another shot etc. This way your strobe can recycle. My next tip is going to be on reading histograms and nailing your exposure right off.

Joe Eiche said...

Hi Mike, Can't wait for that blog. I spent a HUGE amount of time learning the fine points of reading histograms over the past couple of months (for HDR) and on the surface it is invaluable. Underwater I find that there are situations where stopping to gander at a histogram causes me to miss oppurtunities and even dive time. As such I like to simply bracket. On the surface I almost never use drive to bracket shots but underwater with fish moving around I sometimes just fire away. If I might make a request I would like a blog on lens selection (I don't recall seeing one). I have been wondering about diving with my 50mm this year since it is tremendously sharp but am afraid to lose the versatility of a zoom.

Mike Gerken said...

I am pleased you enjoy my photo tips and read my blog. You can learn so much more in one of my courses though. Just sayin'.

Joe Eiche said...

Hey Mike, There is no doubt in my mind that I would learn ALOT in one of your courses and it would help my photography immeasurably. While your course is reasonably priced I am unfortunately what they call "cash-poor" at this juncture in my photography career. Hopefully next year I will have the cash to swing it but this year I have to rely on the internet and experimentation. Excellent blog again Mike.

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