IT WAS NOT long ago that I was utterly devoted to my macro lenses when I dived locally. I worked hard to build a portfolio of colourful local nudibranchs and blennies, largely ignoring the fact that there were photographic subjects in local waters that were greater than three inches in diameter.
This is not an unusual pursuit. It’s a fact that incredible small marine life abounds in California while great visibility does not, and it is very difﬁcult to produce a lovely wide-angle image on days when the water colour is more muddy brown than Caribbean blue. However, a few missed opportunities were enough to convince me that I needed to change my outlook: ﬁrst was a friendly sunﬁsh approaching for a scratch, next a harbour seal biting at my ﬁns, and ﬁnally a huge sea nettle jellyﬁsh pulsing past me on my safety stop. I decided that enough was enough. I dug out my shiny dome port and purchased the widest ﬁsheye lens available, and I never looked back.
It isn’t all sun balls and shark reﬂections. When we mount ﬁsheye lenses to our cameras around here, we’re well aware that we chance coming home with nothing to show for a day on the water besides ﬁsh butts and backscatter. The rewards, however, can be worth the risk, for the Golden State offers some of the most incredible and varied wide-angle imaging opportunities in the world.
Wrecks and Rigs
The 366-foot (112-metre) HCMS Yukon is the most well-known wreck dive in Southern California, though its fame has rightfully spread internationally. Located a short distance outside of San Diego’s Mission Bay, this purpose-sunk Canadian destroyer can provide multiple days’ worth of incredible diving. Its superstructure and propellers are famously covered with brilliant corynactis anemones and clusters of giant white metridium anemones, and large schools of blacksmith commonly swirl above the structure.
Although the Yukon tends to attract the most attention, plenty of other artificial reefs in the area deserve equally lavish praise. Among our favourites are the Long Beach oil platforms, dive sites that are accessible out of Los Angeles-area harbours. Anemones, sponges, and tangles of starfish and brittle stars coat the intimidating steel beams, and close inspection can reveal a multitude of fish life, such as cabezon (a type of sculpin), scorpionfish and greenlings.
California sea lions love to buzz unsuspecting divers, and they are often in pairs or small groups, making for wonderful photo opportunities. Perhaps best of all, since these towering structures are located in the open ocean – extending to depths of between 250 and 700 feet (60–215 metres) – they also offer divers a chance to see swirling schools of baitfish and a wide array of pelagic creatures, such as jellyfish and molas.