Life through My Infrared Lens

If you have been following us on Facebook, you’ve probably noticed an increase in infrared photograph postings. A couple years back I decided to buy a gently used Canon EOS 60 D camera body and convert it to infrared. The poor soul basically sat on my shelf and collected dust for the better part of two years until I decided this year I needed to incorporate it into my other personal project, The Erie Project.


Throughout the year I’m going to photograph some of my favorite spots in the Erie area with both my regular and infrared camera bodies; highlighting the positives of my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania.


The first stop on my journey is one close to home — Frontier Park.  It is really hard to believe that this place is located just 3 city blocks away from my house. When you are there, you would never know that there is anything resembling urban living within a hundred miles.


I could spend an entire week photographing there and never get bored with it.


There is Cascade Creek.


Plenty of open green space


Finally, my personal favorite, a calm pool where Cascade Creek enters Frontier Park.


These were all photographed with a Canon EOS 60 D camera body that was converted to Infrared, some with a variable Neutral Density filter and others without. I will write about photographing techniques plus post processing in Photoshop at a later date.

Next up…Presque Isle State Park.

Pencil underwater

Underwater Photography 101: Capturing Images

A few weeks ago we posted the first part of our series on underwater photography…well here is the much-anticipated follow up. The following are some tips, tricks, and techniques I’ve learned over the last 9 years and how I’m able to capture the images I do.

Shark Eating Lionfish


How light and color behave underwater 

In underwater photography light acts differently than it does on land; it refracts. Think back to 8th grade science class when you put a pencil in a clear glass of water.

Pencil underwater

Before you even lift the camera in front of your face, the light has refracted twice: once from the surface of the ocean/lake, then again from the water to your mask. This causes everything to appear ¼ closer and ¼ larger than it really is. Now add a camera to the mix and the light refracts for a third time.  So if you think you’re close enough, you’re not. Get closer.



Color is also absorbed by water.  Think of the color spectrum you learned — R.O.Y.G.B.I.V. Water absorbs light in that order, with depth. Red is absorbed from the surface to 60 feet, meaning at 60 feet a red sponge will appear black. This is why we have to bring our light source with us.



(image from NAUI Master Diver textbook, page 98, figure 3-13)


Other Divers

With a regulator in our mouths, we divers can’t talk to each other all that clearly underwater. So getting other divers to cooperate for a photo requires a delicate display of hand signals.

When you stop to photograph a subject, other divers may come over to investigate what you are looking at. Many times this can ruin your shot by being bumped out of the way or scaring the animal away. For example, the below photograph was taken as I was being pushed out of the way of this huge Green Moray Eel while he was getting cleaned by gobies.

Moray Eel Underwater Photography


Focal Point

The focal point is the center of interest of your photograph. This is the part of the photograph this going to draw the audience in. In underwater photography you want to make this the animals eyes and mouth region as that is where the most interesting detail is. Case in point — the oyster toad fish.




Be Patient

Animals? Unless they are trained, they will NOT cooperate; they require a great deal of patience and time. Don’t chase the animals. No matter how strong of a swimmer you are, you cannot swim as fast as whatever animal you’re going after.

underwater photography

If you wait, and anticipate where that animal is going to go, you’ll get your shot. Trust me on this.

Patience underwater photography



When you don’t have something for the untrained eye (land lubber) to compare too, a 6” reef squid is going to look like a monster from the deep or a massive shipwreck is going to look like a child’s toy. Having something in the frame as a size reference will make all of the difference in the world. What could you possibly put into your frame underwater to do this? Glad you asked, why, your dive buddy of course. People know people and can easily use a scuba diver as a nice frame of reference as to the size of the animal or ship wreck.

Scale Underwater photography


Shoot up

A lot of major underwater publications (which shall go nameless to avoid upsetting anyone) emphasize this tip and it drives me insane. Many articles encourage divers to shoot up at all costs, without taking into account the surrounding environment.  Shooting up gives the subject an appearance of largeness. This is great in some cases and not so good in others.

shoot up underwater photography

This tip is really about angles, you need to get the best angle you can to get the image you want, period. However, you need to do this in a nondestructive way to the environment. The tip should really be: Shoot up only when the situation readily presents itself and you aren’t doing damage to the surrounding environment to do so.


So there you have it, what is going on in my crazy brain when I’m photographing underwater. Hopefully you found this helpful. Now get out there, get wet and get photographing…coming up how to properly care and maintain your housing to prevent flooding and ruining your dive vacation.


Watson Institute Special Kicks Clinic

Kicks, Sun, and Smiles: The Watson Institute

To date, this has been one of the easiest yet hardest blog posts to write. On Sunday April 27th, 2014, I had the opportunity to photograph the Watson Institute’s 2nd Annual Special Kick Clinic (sponsored by KEYTEX Energy) with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds professional soccer team at Highmark Stadium in Station Square.  Truth be told, I did not know much about The Watson Institute, their mission, the Riverhounds, or the clinic leading up to Sunday. By the end of the day that was no longer the case.

Highmark Stadium in Station Square, Pittsburgh, PA

This soccer clinic is designed for special needs children in the Greater Pittsburgh area. As you know this subject hits very close to home to me, because my nephew Jacob has autism. So watching it though my lens and seeing it through that perspective just melted my heart. I’m tearing up just writing this post.

Watson Institute Special Kicks Clinic

The Watson Institute’s mission, “though its’ family of schools and services, is to help children and youth with special needs to achieve their fullest potential in all aspects of their lives. It strives to provide programs that serve the needs of children with autism spectrum disorders, neurological impairment or serious emotional challenges with diagnostic, educational and therapeutic support: support to the families of these children through educations, counseling, wraparound, outpatient services and respite programs; and training and technical support to educators, psychologists, therapists and others working in this field.”

Watson Institute Special Kicks Clinic

Their mission was on display in full force on this particularly warm and sunny late April afternoon.

Watson Institute Special Kicks Clinic

The team members, institute staff, and volunteers, helped the kids through four different stations:

Soccer Golf

Watson Institute Special Kicks Clinic

Soccer Bowling

WAtson Institute Special Kicks Clinic

Soccer scoring station 1

Special Kicks Clinic Watson Institute

Soccer scoring station 2

Special Kicks Clinic Watson Institute

I spent the afternoon bouncing between all four stations trying to photograph as many of the participants as I could. The kids provided me with plenty of subject matter: unabashed joy that shone through in smiles that would melt even the hardest of hearts.

Watson Institute Special Kicks Clinic

On my way home that afternoon, my thoughts drifted between upcoming projects, shoots, and customer deadlines. Eventually they always came back to the day’s event and how the Riverhounds players seemed to genuinely be enjoying themselves as much as the children.

Watson Institute Special Kicks Clinic

I cannot say enough good things about the staff of The Watson Institute, their mission, and services they provide. I hope they’ll have me back until the day I officially hang up the camera. The Pittsburgh Riverhounds are a very high-class organization and they have made a fan out of this guy for life.

Underwater Photography 101|SCUBA Diving

The inspiration for the blog post came when I was SCUBA diving for a photography assignment  in Grand Cayman. I decided that I wanted to share what I’ve learned about underwater photography over the last 9 years and just how truly different it is from land-based photography. This post is, in no way, a slight to my land-based peers. However, ladies and gentleman, underwater photography is much more difficult than it looks. There are two aspects to underwater photography. The first is the SCUBA diving aspect, with the second aspect being the actual photography.

SCUBA diving photographer


In this blog post, I’m only going to tackle the first aspect — scuba diving. This is NOT a comprehensive NAUI Basic SCUBA diver course. This is just a list of factors that divers have to keep in mind at all times; things that most non-divers are not aware of.

Decompression Sickness (DCS)

More commonly known as “The Bends.” This is the big one. It generally occurs when a SCUBA diver stays at depth for too long and ascends too quickly. This causes the nitrogen bubbles in a diver’s body to come out of solution to quickly (like shaking up a soda bottle). Not only do divers have to monitor decompression time, we also have to monitor ascent rate.

30 Feet per Minute

This is the proper ascent rate we as SCUBA divers must adhere to if we want to prevent DCS (see above). As an instructor, I train new SCUBA divers what this feels like. When in doubt, this can also be monitored on our dive computers.

Boyles Law

Simply stated, this is the inverse relationship between pressure and volume. As pressure increases, volume decreases. It is the reason why we cannot, MUST NOT EVER hold our breath on SCUBA. Our lungs will burst on ascent if we hold our breath.

Breathing Gas Mix/Levels/Amounts

Until they perfect a gill system for humans (as of this blog it hasn’t left the lab/testing phase), we have to take our breathing gas with us on our backs. Under water, divers breathe compressed air or, with proper certification, Enriched Air Nitrox. Enriched Air Nitrox is a blend of gas that has more oxygen than the standard 21% oxygen that we breathe on land. (Yes, I know technically it’s 20.890797, but for the purposes of this blog we’re using 21%).  If we are breathing enriched air nitrox, then we know we have a maximum depth we can dive to before the oxygen in our tank becomes toxic. Not only do we have to monitor our time, ascent rate and depth, we now have to monitor the amount of gas left in our tanks, so we can make it safely back to shore/boat.


Proper buoyancy is key to SCUBA diving. If you are too heavy you will sink quickly and struggle to stay off of the bottom. This will use up your air supply faster than you wanted, and will leave you with less time to photograph. If you are too light then you won’t be able to get down to depth to be able to photograph your subjects. If you are neutral, or slightly negatively buoyant, you’ll be better able to control your movement up and down in the water column by simply breathing. With time and practice you’ll be able to get yourself into and out of tight spaces without damaging the surrounding environment.

Environmental Concerns

We teach our students to we leave the ocean better than we found it. This means touch nothing, take pictures (actual or mental), and leave bubbles. You can kill a coral growth that took thousands of years to grow in one second just by touching it. If you have to anchor yourself on something, have it be sand or an already dead piece of coral. We also never, EVER harass the animals we’re trying to photograph.


I don’t want to scare off any potential new SCUBA divers with these facts. Trust me, during your training you will learn these skills like the back of your hand. They will come as naturally to you as breathing on land, sleeping, or eating.  If you are interested in becoming a NAUI certified scuba diver, Divers World of Erie offers classes. I just happen to have a class coming up.


See you next week for the follow-up to this blog post –– the basics of taking photos underwater.




Grouper San Salvador Bahamas

Lionfish, Sharks, and Groupers OH MY!|San Salvador

As mentioned in our previous post, February had some pretty big shoes to fill. Knowing we were going to San Salvador, Bahamas to dive with sharks and hunt lion fish, I wasn’t concerned about being let down…

However, the trip started out less then perfectly. Our plane from Nassau to San Salvador, having mechanical trouble, was grounded and we forced to spend the night in a hotel that looked like it was straight out of 1950. I can’t really fault the hotel; it’s not every night you have to take in 16 tired, hungry, and cranky scuba divers. They fed us well and we ultimately got to San Salvador the very next morning. Michele, manager of the Riding Rock Resort, greeted us with her usual warm smile, wonderful charm and all was right with the world again.

As we were prepping for our first dive, a second ominous thing would happen. As I’m putting my strobe together, I hear…CRACK….the battery door screw breaks and I’m down to one strobe. I’m forced to make a decision here: either destroy a $100  cable or flood and have to replace a $400  strobe. Either way, it’s not an enviable position. I decided the cable was easier and cheaper to replace. Wonderful, I thought, after all that work dialing in the settings in Grand Cayman last month, I now have to start back at square one….

After all of that, we hopped on the boat for our first dive where we ran into a reef shark I came to call “Hook.”  I called her that because of the fresh fishhook that was sticking out of her mouth.

Hook San Salvador Bahamas


On the very next two dives we’d see her sister (who we ran into all week). I nicknamed her “Leader” due to the hook and leader she’s got caught in her mouth.

"leader" reef shark


Being down a strobe with a flooded cable that wasn’t meant for single strobe use, I had to photograph the majority of the first two days with ambient light. Then I figured out that if I complete the connection with my hand (i.e. bury the strobe connector into my palm and deal with a mild electrical current coursing through my body) I could get my flash to fire.

San Salvador shark


I know what you’re thinking. ”Matt, you are insane!!!!!!!!”  And you would be right! But, I justify my actions with the words of my teacher: “Do whatever it takes to get the shot.”

reef shark San Sal


On the way to San Salvador, I talked with my friend and fellow instructor, Josh, about two photographs I needed to get on this trip and how I wasn’t leaving without them. Since he was going to be hunting lionfish, Josh offered to help. It may have taken us all week, but I would say I got what I wanted.

The first shot was a reef shark coming in to take a lion fish from Josh’s spear.

Shark and Spear San Salvador

The second was a reef shark killing a lion fish in open water.

Reef shark eating lion fish


Everyone knows that this week in San Salvador is special to me because it’s my own personal Shark Week. Each of the past three years I’ve seen the star attraction in the San Salvador’s shark world: the hammerhead. Heading into this trip my total hammerhead sightings was up to an even dozen. This year would be no different, as I saw my quota of four, taking me to 16. This curious girl was the only one that was within reasonable photographing distance. I call her curious because she came from the deep, swam up the wall, and started to come shallow to investigate. When she sensed a big group, she swam off.

curious shark, San Salvador, Bahamas


Being that this is my personal shark week, you would think that the sharks would be the stars of the dives. Oddly enough they weren’t, because for me the real stars of the trip were:

The flying gurnard

Flying Gurnard


A gray frogfish — Unfortunately, I was only able to get his dorsal fin because he was hiding by the time I was able to get over to him. Great find Linda, by the way!

Gray Frogfish San Salvador Bahamas


A tunicate



And finally, our friend, Gus the Grouper

Grouper San Salvador Bahamas


As the final sun set on another successful diving excursion in San Salvador, Bahamas, the Divers World staff decided that we were not going to let the sun set on our group going back to Riding Rock. We will be heading there again in July next year when the water is a bit warmer. Yes, we’re going to sacrifice hammerhead sightings. But, for us, that is only a small price to pay to spend a warm week with our friends at Riding Rock Resort.

Sunset Riding Rock Resort San Salvador Bahamas

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