DANO Pendygrasse

odds and ends from an unusual life

Healthy Reefs Initiative Report Card.

Hi friends,

Firstly, thank you all so much for the amazing response to Captive. It's been so overwhelmingly positive. Next, I wanted to share a photo that was recently published. Usually people post their published work as an ego boost or to drum up business, but I'm hoping that you'll take a minute and look at what the Healthy Reefs Initiative is doing on the Mesoamerican Reef. The largest reef system outside of the great barrier reef.

The monitoring that HRI does is crucial to the management of the reef, and the benchmarks that are set allow scientists to track both positive and negative changes. My favourite part of the report card is that it highlights victories and not just the challenges to maintaining the reef.

So that's my photo of Ian Drysdale on the Cordelia Banks there on the cover.

Have a great day.



Transition. Part Three: Fuck it, I’m going swimming.

This blog was originally published on bneeth.com.

Around the time I became a convert to small cameras, I started scuba diving a lot. Obviously the two things would eventually meet and I’d get hooked on shooting underwater photos. I was torn because underwater photography is probably the most expensive form of photography I can think of, and it’s also incredibly difficult and prone to disaster. The thing about taking electronics a hundred feet underwater is that, well, they get flooded and ruined. A lot.

So this it how I found myself spending way more money on photography. I started off by getting a cheap housing for an Olympus Point and shoot that I had, and then moved onto a more expensive housing and strobe for the Canon G9. That was a really good rig to learn with and I managed to get some great shots with it. Eventually of course, I reached the end of the road and made the decision to house a DSLR.

What I learned with underwater photography is that it’s one of the most difficult environments to make an image, and when something spectacular is in front of you, you need a lot of really good tools to make sure you nail the shot. So small cameras didn’t last, but along the way I learned a lot.

Enjoy some shots from my underwater photo journey.


ps: click on the photos for larger versions.

A shot from the old Olympus with a grouper in front of a wreck.

Circling Horse-eye Jacks. Shot with the Canon G9. I loved this when I got it and still do. Sometimes the limitations of a camera help to make something unique.

One of the craziest looking fish you will ever meet; the toadfish. Shot with the Canon g9.

Breath hold shots with a camera rig can be tricky.

My friend Kat over the sandy bottom. Black and white is one way to deal with the deep blue hue of ambient light underwater.

Finally got a dslr housed, and the pictures dramatically improved. This is a giant barrel sponge on the edge of the reef wall in Belize.

When you startle a Caribbean octopus at night, it will either hide or make itself as big as possible. Night dive in Belize.

Macro of Coral. Repeating patterns are visually pleasing.

Classic underwater composition with a giant barrel sponge and diver.

I love moray eels. Whitemouth Moray from Maui.

Nudibranchs are essentially snails, without the shell. They are small and come in myriad colours and shapes and they mostly sit still so you can take their picture.

Balancing the flash with ambient, and then making the falloff reach an appropriate height on the mast made this one of the more challenging shots. Good thing the diver doesn’t look too goofy.

Cordelia Banks.

Hello friends,

I’ve been back from Roatan for just a few days but life is moving incredibly quickly. It’s always like this when good things happen, they tend to happen in clusters and it’s all you can do just to keep up. I’m holding on for the ride!

When I was in the water waiting to shoot the shark release, I had some time with Ian Drysdale from healthyreefs.org and we spent it discussing the Cordelia Banks on the South side of Roatan. Recently discovered, the reef there is largely made up of staghorn coral which went through a disastrous decline due to disease in the 80’s. It’s in the crosshairs of the conservation movement because due to the healthy population of staghorn and its proximity to deep water currents, there is speculation that these reefs maybe be responsible for repopulating the staghorn population throughout the entire Caribbean. Impressive. The Cordelia Banks are a rich environment for fish as well. Grouper have been seen to use the area as a spawning aggregation site and the reef is an ideal nursery for juvenile fish.

Cordelia is also located less than a kilometre away from the Coxen Hole cruise ship dock, and about 7 kilometres from the new massive cruise ship facility at Mahogany Bay. 3 or 4 hundred times a year, thousand foot long cruise ships come within striking distance of this fragile ecosystem. There is evidence of boat strikes on the reef, but still they manage to flourish. Also, Coxen Hole is the largest population centre on the island and much of the pollution filters through the reef.

So Ian invited me to come dive Cordelia to get a sense of it for myself and shoot some photos. We’re going to try to get these out there and raise some awareness to help protect what could end up being a critical resource in the health of coral in the Caribbean. We had a small window one morning between high winds and conditions weren’t ideal, but I was lucky enough to get a look at this amazing ecosystem. Take a look.


One windy boat ride. Ian smiles while Nic from the Roatan Marine Park prepares his kit.

Ian inspects a small growth of staghorn.

This coral may be as little as two or three years old.

Fields of the stuff. A rare sight these days.

And a nursery for many fish species.

Most of the healthiest parts of the reef are in less than 10 feet of water.

Sharks, crabs, divers and more.

Hello friends,

Well I’m done leading dives and trying to focus on shooting photos for the rest of this trip. I have been trying out a variety of different techniques and getting more good results than bad, but admittedly, at this point in the trip, I’m not as far along as I’d like. Having said that, I always set pretty lofty goals and have high standards for myself and I probably wouldn’t be happy unless I came away from this trip with a cover shot.

We saw two different sharks today. I found the first one, just a little baby 3 foot nurse shark, and Mickey found a 5 footer or so on the next dive. Even though nurse sharks are pretty much completely non-threatening, it’s still cool to see them.

Enjoy the shots,


Kat checks out some tube sponges

And here she is again.

An Ocellated Box Crab (Calappa ocellata) hides from me in the sand on a night dive.

Lil nudi at night.

Kat found this gaudy clown crab, Biggest one I’ve ever seen.

What is this scorpionfish thinking? Bad spot dude, bad spot.

Yes, I have a favourite coral. This is it.

Toady the toadfish in a different hole at last. So glad I could see his tail.

Mickey inspects a different scorpionfish.

These nassau grouper are following us around every dive hoping for lionfish kills.

Mickey’s nurse shark

Really like what is going on with this hungry fireworm.

Shooting the Honduran President

Hi friends,

A couple days ago I found out that the President of Honduras was coming to Roatan to participate in a shark release. It turns out that it was part of the PR push for the announcement that Honduras has declared all of its territorial waters a shark sanctuary. Nice stuff, hard to police in this country, but nice nonetheless.

So Nic from the Roatan Marine Park asked if I would shoot the release and of course I said yes. Members from the RMP and the Shark Legacy Project worked to put together the event and the sharks were transported from the pen where they have been captive for several years, onto a boat, and out to west bay.

There was surprisingly little security for the event considering the recent political climate in Honduras and after bobbing around waiting for an hour or so, a boat from AKR pulled up and there was President Porforio Lobo Sosa a few feet away. Next came the important task of waving to the press and talking to the researchers and conservationists. The President certainly seemed engaged by the process. Then it was time to release the sharks. The first one was lifted out of the holding pool with a cradle and released. He immediately swam to the wall and disappeared into the deep. The second, bigger shark did a couple laps of the reef crest before heading to deeper water.

It was all very interesting to watch and shoot photos of. I understand that there are several more captive nurse sharks on Roatan, and hopefully this will set some kind of precedent to release the rest of them. Coincidentally, we’ve been seeing a lot of nurse sharks on dives lately, several this past week. Not sure what that means but I hope it’s good.

One week till home friends. One week. tomorrow we’re trying to go to the Cordelia Banks, a reef of staghorn coral like nowhere else in the Caribbean, and a hot target for protection. Stay tuned.

Enjoy the photos from the release.


Sharks awaiting release on the boat. Giacomo, Ian, Doug and Christy standing by.

The President waves to the press.

The press.

The first shark in the sling

The first shark is away. If Marine Park Nic’s back wasn’t so big, you’d see it.

Oh, there it is...

President Lobo supervises the second release.

The second shark is away!

Roatan update

Hi friends,

So I have passed the halfway mark of my trip. Now I start to try to cram in everything I haven’t done. This past week that has included no photos, hence no posting. Micky from Reef Gliders had the flu so I pitched in leading dives all week. Lots of diving, but no camera. I snuck in a day yesterday, I’ll lead a couple more today and then a night dive tonight. Looking forward to it.

Leading is a completely different dynamic than shooting. I’m more concerned with the divers in tow, navigation, air consumption and managing issues that come up, than I am with finding things. Still I managed to find a nurse shark and a couple eagle rays have graced us with their presence.

In any case, here are some shots that have come out of the last day, and a few from before.



Weird perspective green moray.

A crap shot, but at least it’s a NUDI! Black spotted nudibranch, whose spots are actually blue.

Found this guy yesterday. Red Ridged clinging crab. Mickey says he’s quite uncommon.

Come hither turtle.


A pair of white spotted filefish let me hang out with them.

fighting male parrot fish. Grrrr.

Don't call it a comeback. I've been here for years.

Hi friends,

Well last time we spoke, I had just finished a couple semi crap days and vented a bit. It has been pointed out the shots in the last blog were not terrible or out of focus, or whatever, and I guess that’s true. The thing is, when you shoot a bunch of shots, you tend to look at the group as a whole. “Was this day successful?” comes down to percentages. If 10% of my shots end up being A quality, then it’s a pretty good day. If 1% turn out, not so much. The previous blog just followed a couple of 1% days in a row. Still there are always standouts. But sometimes even they don’t match up to the picture I had in my mind, which is the only standard I ever really care about.

Yesterday I went back to the 10.5mm lens to see if I had been overhyping it in my mind, or if it really is that good. It really is. It’s also too wide for a lot of things. I saw a pipefish for instance (which happened to be beerfish on that dive) so I needed to get proof. The 10.5mm is not very well suited. It does, however, shoot fabulous reefscapes and divers, so that’s what I’ll be bringing you a lot of today.

After all this fisheye I’m ready for a good macro dive now, and it’s just started to rain so that’s probably going to happen.

Thanks to all the divers who put up with me underwater. Kraig, Colin, Mickey, Mel, Will, and even Kelly who doesn’t yet know what she’s in for. Especially Karen who is leaving and put up with many flashes.

Enjoy the shots.


dropping in.

Mickey in Kraig’s crack.

Suddenly a giant sponge lunged out and ate Kraig’s head.

Just a beautiful coral overhang.

Elkhorn coral in the shallows. Playing with Snell’s window.

This is ready for the cover of Lionfish Weekly magazine.

Mikey found a MASSIVE head of brain coral. Kelly swam by on her first dive here.

Will helps me get a shot. Thanks Will.


Hi Friends,

Well I guess we can’t always just charge forward. Sometimes you get caught in a soft spot and slide backwards. The last couple days have been that for me.

I’ve made some lens choice mistakes, which admittedly isn’t the biggest deal in the world, it’s the kind of thing that is hard to predict, how is the viz going to be? What will be available? Well for several dives in a row I simply took along a lens that was wrong for the job. Not wasted time, but not time well spent either.

Also, I overestimated the quality of the 12-24 and shot for 2 days without really checking the files. The result was that I have a lot of soft images. Also disappointing. I’ll be more careful now knowing the limitations of the lens. Those primes aren’t looking so bad now...

As with life, when it starts to suck, you gotta push through till the other side. Here are some highlights from some bad days.


craziest tips I’ve ever seen on a giant anemone.

another spotted moray. i like shooting em and i will keep shooting em.

the tiniest starfish i’ve ever seen. wrapped around coral polyps!

star in a cup

whitenose pipefish with his creepy red eyes. this was one of the most disappointing encounters. I back focused the best shot and am left with this.

hunting. Mickey called this a “target rich environment.”

Love these. They look completely black underwater and then you hit em with a strobe. Boom.

tried to get some shots with my friend Kathryn.

still getting a feel for directing people and getting what I want.

...so I’m playing with different ideas.

working on the sunball too. this one is ok.

New lens, new options.

WARNING: Photo geekery follows. Feel free to skip to the photos.

Hi friends,

A quick photo blog with some shots from the Nikon 12-24mm that I finally got underwater. I read bunch of stuff about it online and followed Dr. Mustard’s advice on the setup. The first thing I noticed was that out of the water I couldn’t get any sort of focus with the diopter so I took it out without it. It may be that it only focuses underwater so I’ll have to give that a try, I just don’t want to waste a dive on it right now. Especially because the results without it were quite good just with the 33mm extension. There is definitely some corner distortion at 12mm though.

It’s pretty nice to have the zoom. That’s my first impression. Having only used prime lenses on my new rig so far, the versatility was really nice. On the wide end it’s just slightly less wide than the 10.5 mm that I have (which to my eye is actually a more pleasing focal distance), and the 24 end allows me some chance to achieve good results with slightly smaller creatures. Turtles are a good size creature for it, but anything smaller would have to be sitting pretty still. The Grouper shot was about perfect in terms of size. I probably would have had to get too close with the 10.5mm or maybe even the 16mm and scared him off.

I also noticed that my strobes are probably not strong enough to get any real fill on a sunball shot, unless the subject is really, really close. Shooting at 1/250th and f16 or f22 seems to be crucial to beat the turquoise band and these Ikelite 160’s just don’t have the pop to make anything happen.

I don’t shoot divers enough, so I’m going to focus on that this trip. Luckily I have some willing (or at least convincible) victims to get in front of the camera. I need to work out more of the directions, but just having the chance to work with someone instead of trying to catch moments when a diver is in the right place, is really helpful. I would like some feedback.

I’ve also included some shots from another dive with some funny creatures for my critter nerd friends. All shot with the 60mm macro.



A turtle at 24mm.

Jen and a sea fan.

Jen and a barrel sponge.

Grouper getting a good cleaning. Must have been 30 gobies on him.

Me and Jen goofing around on the safety stop.

My, what blue rings and lovely lashes you have.

Just a tiny little Zebra Sole. Look at the grains of sand, they look like boulders! Well, maybe not.

Queer little critter, the goatee blennie. I’ve never seen one in Roatan before so this makes me happy. Look at the goatee on him!

Skoobing fotos.

Hi friends,

A few more shots. Had some equipment problems and the boats have been full so I’m not shooting as much as I’d like, but here are a couple to look at. My friend Alex asked me to call diving “Skoobing” because it sounds funny. I think that should be no problem.




lil shrimp.

spotted drum


pedersen’s cleaner shrimp


back in the water.

Hello friends,

Made it to Roatan in one piece. It’s hot, the bugs are bad and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Reunions are good and it’s great to be around friends all day. Got the rig underwater yesterday and put it through its paces. Didn’t see too much but it’s nice to just be getting it dialled in. That’s the plan this month, to shoot as much as possible underwater until the big new rig is second nature to use. Thanks to the crew at Reef Gliders who are taking good care of me.

Here are a few. They should get better as the summer goes on.


White wire coral shrimp. These guys are so hard to shoot.

Grouper gets a cleaning by some gobies.

Goldentail Moray eel.

Angelfish takes a turn.

Spotted Moray eel.

Giant hermit crab churning up a sandstorm.

Mantis shrimp peers out of a little crevice.

Maui blog

Hi friends.

So as you who follow me on flickr, twitter or facebook know, I’m just back from Maui again. It gets harder to leave every time. Having said that, it was one of those trips where my priorities were pretty low on the list, lots of family and friends things on the schedule so I didn’t dive as much as I would have liked and didn’t shoot as much either. I did however, relax a lot and read a lot which are things that are sorely lacking in my day to day life. Favourite book of the trip was Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.

I’m continuing down a road in my travel photos that I’m finding deeply satisfying. Experiments that started in Sweden are developing into rules and themes that I feel very connected and sure about. I think that one of the things that hangs over the head of creative people sometimes is the “is this valid?” question. It’s hard to answer and if you need someone else to pat you on the head and tell you that it is, you can find yourself corrupted from your intentions by the desire to get more pats on the head. I’ve found that in the last couple years I’ve been liberated from a lot of habits born from shooting almost entirely with an editorial goal in mind. In the end, I’ve come to a place where personal satisfaction is then only validation I require.

I added to three different personal groups of work this trip as well as all the underwater stuff, which I’ll get to in a second. Until then, here are some impressions of Maui above water. If you click any of them they should open in my photoshelter gallery.

Baldwin Park in Paia. An outtake from my “fields of play” series.

People react to a dead sea turtle.

Big beach

Christmas day.

Private property. An outtake from my “semi-natural states/coast” project.

Who wants to go fishing?

Palm tree from the couch.


Makawao plant.

Ok, ok. One more stupid sunset.

Then we got underwater. We did some shore dives and also did some boat dives with Ed Robinson’s and B&B Scuba. If you’ve dived with either of them you know that they are both great operations. We did most of our dives at Molokini, which always provides the chance of great encounters and one dive on the St. Anthony’s wreck which I love. I should have spent more time on the surface though. It was a very short dive.

In terms of shooting, I was rusty which drives me bonkers, so hard to push yourself when you have to relearn things every time. In the end though it came together. I was shooting a single strobe, which, when it comes to balance (both underwater and in terms of lighting) was challenging. Eventually I did push my macro forward a bit, the wide angle suffered from the single strobe but I actually don’t buy into the school of thought - that is so prevalent - that says everything needs to be super evenly and completely lit. I actually think it’s a real cop out way to shoot.

So, lots of nudibranchs, no whale sharks this time. We saw a fair amount of white tip reef sharks, heard a lot of whales and saw a variety of new creatures. No boardshorts for me this time though. The water was 75 and I was in a 3/2 wetsuit. My Roatan friends have permission to laugh now.

Enjoy the set.


Waves crash over Molokini back wall.

Blue dragon nudi.

And another one.

White mouth Moray.

These guys are called Guard crabs.

More back wall.

Trembling nudibranch at Mala boat ramp.

A pair of Imperial Nudibranchs

Fried egg nudi.

This is a painted frogfish at 5 graves.

White margin nudi

Gold lace Nudi. Ooooooo, pretty.

This is a coral. An oval mushroom coral actually.

I thought this was a dragon wrasse but it’s actually a juvenile razor wrasse.

These fellas are everywhere.

This was new to me. Scaly slipper lobster.

And then home...

A week in Belize with Sun Dancer 2

Hello friends,

I’m just back from a week in Belize aboard a fantastic liveaboard dive boat called the Sun Dancer 2. The flagship of the Dancer fleet, the Sun Dancer 2 runs out of Belize City and spends the week hopping from site to site along the mesoamerican barrier reef and exploring some really pristine reef systems, much of them protected and part of a UNESCO world heritage site.

Close friends of mine will know that we’ve had a tragic year and this week away was very much what we needed at the end of an emotionally exhaustive stretch. This trip would have already been great, but that fact that the captain and hostess are Simon and Andrina made it even better.

I spent a week diving these waters in 2006 and was looking forward to getting another look at the reef. It’s very similar to what I know in Roatan, but it gets less traffic and has some creatures that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. I can’t recommend these guys enough, they are so quick to take care of every need, the food is great, and some of the best diving in the Caribbean is right under your bunk.

I finally housed one of my Nikons after years of messing around with point and shoot cameras underwater. It’s bigger and heavier, but it does the job a hundred times better.

Here are some shots.

Captain Simon. Hold his nose and air comes out of his ear...

Some really nice staghorn coral.

The spotted toadfish is endemic and found nowhere else. It took me until the last night to see him though!

First time I’ve ever seen a Spanish Dancer.

This funny little guy is called a Goatee blennie. Another first time creature for me, they are extremely reclusive and rare to find.

Fringe backed nudibranch.

This is the second Viper Moray I’ve ever seen and the first I’ve ever got a shot of.

Gorgeous little filefish.

Andrina underwater...

Andrina waiting on the stern.

Tiny little brittle star.

Reef Squid at night.

Octopus at night.

Pushing the limit of my 60mm macro.

Pedersen’s cleaner shrimp.

Horse eye jacks lived under the boat all the time.

an eagle ray.

Nice walls and fans.

Damn lionfish.

Cave full of silversides.




Night stingray.

I’m a fan of fans.

The housing gets a rest.


Back from Maui, on to the real world.

Back from my trip to Maui to celebrate my one year anniversary. We had a great 10 days in the sun and spent most of it underwater with our friends Gabe and Sarah. The highlight of the week, aside from the obvious milestone of the first year of marriage, was spending 15 minutes around 85 feet underwater with 30 foot long whale shark. This is the biggest fish in the ocean and for most of us, a once in a lifetime experience. Having spent a bunch of time in Utila, my wife T had snorkeled with Whale Sharks on numerous occasions, but to be deep underwater with one, and have it hang around, is rare and we are still amazed by our luck. I didn't have an underwater camera rig on this trip so you'll have to settle for the flickr group that was taken by our divemaster Joe. Thanks to Ed Robinson's dive operation, this is the second year we've done our boat dives with them and they are a solid operation with great people. We did around a dozen shore dives over the course of the week too, and we rented our tanks from B & B scuba in Kihei. They're a really great shop and nice people who took care of us last year and again this year.

For my scuba geek friends, you'll be stoked that we saw over a dozen different nudibranchs, some of which are unnamed and still unknown, eagle rays, more turtles than you could count, huge and tiny scorpionish, devil, leaf, and more, tons of frogfish, one of them even freeswimming, lots of whitetip sharks and some grey reef sharks, that I missed but everyone else saw, tons of different eels including dwarf, whitemouth, yellow margin, zebra and tiger moray, and just about every tropical fish you can imagine.

Here are some shots from the trip.


The "Sea Spirit", our trusty ride.

Kits on board.

Sunset from Wailea

Part of a beautiful drive on our way to a remote shore dive.

On our way to the Mala ramp shore dive.

Rays over the water, rays under the water.


Legendary Hawaiian diver Ed Robinson.

Putting summer behind me

I stumbled into a little catalog shoot this week. My friend Mark broke his hip pretending to be an 18 year old skater and rather than letting down his client he asked me to shoot it for him. It's very straightforward shooting and I'm a little disappointed that I won't be pushing any limits, but as always I intend to bring something special to the job and find a way to over deliver. All this comes a little quickly and going from sleepy third world living to hectic first world organizing is a definite switch of gears. Wish me luck.

Here is a little slideshow from my diving gallery on Photoshelter. Some of the shots are old but there are a bunch from this past summer. I'm closing the book on diving for now and moving on to the next thing. Well, at least until the end of October when we head to Maui...



scuba dive - Images by dano pendygrasse