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Dive Photo Guide


Going Nudi in California: Part I
 January 19, 2009 @ 08:00 AM (EST)
A note from Jason: We welcome Mike Bartick to our extended editorial team. Mike  is a talented photographer who was one of the first in our featured member galleries. Mike will be working on a few ongoing series of stories, primarily focused on the often overlooked underwater photography opportunites in California. We're sure you'll enjoy them.

by Mike Bartick
Let it be known, Nudi diving in Southern California is my obsession.

I have traveled the world in search of Nudibranchs. I muck dove the mysterious black sands of Lembeh and Bali, explored the coral reefs of the South Pacific, drifted walls and dropoffs in Micronesia with a macro lense. Even Nudi hunted the diverse and surprising mixed diving of the Philippine’s. But when I come right down to it, I love going Nudi in California.
Mexichromus porterae
Mexichromus porterae

My obsession for finding Nudi’s began right here in my own backyard Laguna Beach California. Diving and shooting with my little point and shoot I would peruse the local reefs firing away. Little did I know that I was on the road to a full blown obsession?
I am not alone! I discovered, there is a world of Nudiphiles out there doing just as I am.

It was clear what I had to do. I needed serious help.
So I bought a bigger camera…and so it began…I was hooked.
Polycera atra with prevelant sex organ
Polycera atra with prevelant sex organ

The local reefs are teaming with Nuds. The ornate Spanish Shawl and Hermissendas seem to be the most common. They are easy to find for even the greenest of divers and photographers.  Every different area of California will yield totally different specie’s. Ornate Nudi’s like Caudlinas, Dendronotus, Aeolids and Doto’s make interesting species to hunt and photograph for they’re flamboyant colors and body textures.

According to Nudibranch expert and noted author Dave Behrens “California is home to over 100 described Nudibranch species. More Nudibranchs may exist that are not described”.

“California has more introduced species than other areas, this is thought to be due to our number of large ports receiving ships from foreign ports, and our extensive oyster mariculture operations years ago”.
Flabellina iodinea
Flabellina iodinea

Wow, that’s a lot of Nudibranchs in Californian water’s,

The most reliable way’s to find Nudi’s is to look for they’re food source’s first. Sponges, Hydroids and a variety of Algae’s are a favorite snack for many of these little guys.

Once found a quick search of the area will reveal if there are any Nudi’s. They can be found at depth’s ranging from tidepools, to deep outer reefs.

Recently my obsession took me to Ventura. I hopped a ride to Anacapa Island on one of the area’s premier dive boats “The Peace”. Anacapa has been a long time favorite of mine and has been a reliable place for finding Nudi’s both common and rare.
Dendronotus behrensi
Dendronotus behrensi

Our first dive site is a killer spot called Outside Coral Reef. This area is carpeted with brittle star’s, a colorful canvas for both macro and wide angle.

The water is crystal clear, crisp, cold and deep. Right away I see alpine white lacey Nudibranch lounging in the red Gorgonians, beautiful contrast. Shooting Nudi’s in cold water always seems to be tougher then warm water. Between the surge and the onset of hypothermia getting a sharp photo while shaking isn’t always easy!
Trtonia festiva
Trtonia festiva

I like to work a couple subjects at a time when possible. I concentrate on shooting photos of one Nud while keeping tabs on the other. There are really only three things these guys are doing down here, feeding, fighting or fornicating and they are usually found doing one of these things.

While shooting a Spanish Shawl I watched another Nud a head straight to a hydroid for a snack. Some Nuds like the Stearnsi love to munch on hydroids.
Austaeolis stearnsi feeding sequence
Austaeolis stearnsi feeding sequence

What makes a snap shot of a Nudibranch a great photo???, sharp rhinophores are of utmost importance. Branchial plumes are interesting, but it’s not always easy to get both sharp. Lighting is essential and a little negative space will really make the colors pop.
Diaululu sandiegensis
Diaululu sandiegensis

I like to utilize a horizontal plane of the “depth of field” as much as possible. This allows me to photograph more of my subject.  My Nikkor 60 mm lense is perfect tool for the job. To get a little tighter I use a Tamron 1.4x teleconverter. My Camera body is a D300 with a Sea and Sea housing. I am also using a dual strobe set up but dual strobes are not always mandatory.

All in all I shot fifteen species of Nud’s which isn’t too unusual. My buddies and I have shot upwards of nineteen in one day. Although a few of the subjects I photographed today are among the more commonly found. The backdrop of the brittle
Star’s made for some really pretty and colorful exposures and compositions.
Cadlina limbaughorum
Cadlina limbaughorum

While it’s true there are some more exotic places to hunt Nuds, California stands out as a definite hot spot. So pack your lenses, teleconverter, Diopters and dry suits, and make your next LAX layover a stay over.
We welcome Mike Bartick as a member of the extended DPG editorial team. Mike can be found in our featured member galleries, and you can also explore more of his work on his website.
Join us in welcoming Mike by leaving a comment for him below...


Mike Bartick
Jan 31, 2009 8:45 PM
Mike Bartick wrote:
Thanks guys, i appreciate your comments. The Nudi's here in California are really unbelievable. Im always on the hunt. I have been adding photos to the gallery sections and will continue to do so. Check back often..

Cheers and happy hunting!!..Nudi's that is...
Larry Schatz
Jan 20, 2009 3:37 AM
Larry Schatz wrote:
Great piece and photos...I had no idea there were so many little fellows on the left coast...Larry
Mark D. Glesne
Jan 20, 2009 5:30 AM
Mark D. Glesne wrote:
LOVE LOVE LOVE IT! Can't wait for posts 2, 3 ... 4?
Joel Geldin
Jan 20, 2009 2:54 PM
Joel Geldin wrote:
Thanks for the Nudi hunting tips Mike. They'll help me see more than just the "usual suspects" on my dives.
Ellen Bedrosian
Jan 21, 2009 1:17 PM
Ellen Bedrosian wrote:
I love nudis. They are such cool critters. Thanks for the tips on photographing them.
Terri K. Roberts
Jan 21, 2009 8:14 PM
Terri K. Roberts wrote:
Mike---Your nudi photography is outstanding!!! I appreicate your tips and know that they will help me improve my nudi shots. I have a D300 with a 105mm macro lens, Sea & Sea housing with two Sea & Sea strobes. I think I have to work on the horizontal plane/depth of field.....I seem to get the rhinophores in focus and not the branchial plumes. My first experience in/around Wakatobi, Indonesia, I shot head on mostly. Any other tips would be welcome! Who would think cold water CA had that variety of nudi's! Sorry though, burrr, no cold diving for me---I love the Jupiter FL warm water temps............Terri Roberts
Nancy Boucha
Jan 25, 2009 4:41 PM
Nancy Boucha wrote:
Your photos and article has waked up the world on Nudibranchs the world over. It seems that most people go for the "big fish". This will encourage them to "stop and smell the roses".

Nancy Boucha
Jan 25, 2009 4:43 PM
Nancy Boucha wrote:
Mike: Since you are getting cold while diving in California, I would like to suggest you start diving in a drysuit. It makes such a BIG difference in your comfort, enjoyment and concentration levels.
Stuart A. Halewood
Jan 26, 2009 11:41 PM
Stuart A. Halewood wrote:
Mike: Great article! I'm looking forward to the next installments. I too am a Cali Nudi lover and I think you have some excellent images there. Keep the shooting tips coming! I'm luck enough to dive the Southern Cali Channel Islands as part of my job and will be keeping my Nudidude eye wide open!
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