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Photographing Local Creeks

By Bruce Sudweeks

I have a chemical addiction to a compound that is composed of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom. I find it amazing that hydrogen gas and oxygen gas bond together to produce liquid water at temperatures between 32 degrees F and 212 degrees F. My addiction prompts me to SCUBA dive in Monterey Bay and snorkel in local creeks.

Split over/under shot of the San Lorenzo River near the Garden of Eden

Just like the local surfers, I spend quite a bit of time watching ocean swell predictions. However, unlike surfers, I wait for calm conditions with very cold water. Cold water and peaceful seas typically produce the best diving conditions. I try to SCUBA dive once a week but when the conditions are not great for diving I look for other opportunities to get wet. 

One such activity is snorkeling in Zayante creek with my closest neighbors; the steelhead trout and signal crayfish. Another addiction I have is underwater photography. I almost always bring my underwater camera while diving, paddle boarding, and hiking. I recently captured the image on the front of this issue during a trail run along the San Lorenzo River. 

Garden of Eden on the San Lorenzo River in Felton. The white lines and the green hexagons are a prism effect. In order to capture an image that has a sunburst (upper left corner), I had to set the lens aperture to allow the least amount of light into the camera (f22 aperture). To compensate for the very small amount of light I had to use a fairly slow (1/10 second) shutter speed. This means I had to hold the camera very still in the moving water. There are multiple heptagons (7-sided shapes) in the path of the sunburst to my camera lens. These heptagons are produced by a prism effect as the light passes through the dome on the underwater camera case. The colors can vary due to the prism separating white light into separate colors. The heptagon shape is due to the fact that my lens has seven metal blades that form the aperture.

My underwater equipment consists of a full-featured camera that fits in an underwater housing, weighs about 10 pounds, and is slightly smaller than a soccer ball. On the day that I captured the cover photo, I was on a mission to photograph underwater life in the river and/or hybrid water/landscape images in which some of the image is underwater and some above the water line. These split shots are somewhat challenging because it is often the case that below the water line is fairly dark and above the water line is super bright. Also, it is bit difficult to keep the water droplets from gumming up the image. I have some eco-friendly soap that I apply to the camera housing dome to help reduce the water droplets on the above-water portion of the image. 

On this particular day, I was looking to photograph salmon, steelhead trout, or lampreys in the Garden of Eden portion of the river. My photographic fishing trip was a bust so I focused on over/under images. 

Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

I have visited a number of the local creeks to capture over/under images. One of my favorite locations is Fall Creek, but Zayante, Bear, Uvas, Scott, or Limekiln creeks are good options. 

The author at work in Zayante Creek

Another fun subject is photographing the California newts during mating season which happens to land right around Valentine’s Day. Many of the local creeks and lakes are good options for viewing salamander and other aquatic animal activities. 

If you see some stranger lugging underwater camera equipment on the local trails be sure to say hello and introduce yourself. 

Bruce Sudweeks and his trail buddy, Newt

When not hiking with his underwater camera, Bruce Sudweeks writes a monthly SCUBA diving article for California Diving News. He also writes a monthly article about the wonders of Monterey Bay below the water line for the local Mountain Network News magazine.  

IG @brucesudweeks

Featured photo: Over/under shot of the San Lorenzo River near the Garden of Eden in Felton

Photos by Bruce Sudweeks

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