Oil Rigs-Ellen and Elly

A Friday phone call from a friend had me packing my gear and heading to the oil rigs on Saturday morning. I could never pass on the chance to dive the rigs! 

Testing new gear is always fun, especially when it works. Today I had a chance to test the new cutout clamps from ultralight, The new 8K torch from Kraken Sports and the new Sea and Sea YS-D3 Mark 2 strobes.

The local oil platforms in Socal. Ellen, Elly and Eureka, regarded as "The Rigs" to local divers, are active, oil producing and processing facilities just a few miles offshore in the San Pedro escarpment. The Pillars, beams and crossmembers that supports these bohemoth megastructures have become an incredible habitat for fish, sea lions and other marine life. From the waterline the rigs are all business. Loud with banging and hissing, pipes banging, catwalks, burn off valves with flames, truly an un-natural and industrial site above water.

Map of the oil platforms in the Southern California area

All of the dives are performed live with the boat backing as close as possible allowing divers to jump in and swim into the underbelly of the beast. The industrial noises are joined by barking sea lions which you can hear once the boat is close enough.

Ellen and Elly are an oasis in a desert of open water

Swells rise and fall around the pilings creating vertical surge as well as horizontal, the constant movement around the pilings can make for a tough dive so be ready for a rodeo.

Rows of bit guides

Man and industry put the rigs here but nature is trying to claim them with growth of all different varieties. The platforms are somewhat antiquated and many are scheduled for removal but what then? The argument being that the benefit of leaving the structures in place far outweighs those of removing them. One look at these structures underwater and its easy to see that it might be better to leave them. 

Colorful cup corals

Underwater the hardscape of the rigs are alive and thriving with life. Often surgy, the current moves through the rigs carrying all kinds of organisms that sticks to the supports under the structure. The growth recruits more animals, creating a thriving secondary habitat for wildlife. Cup corals, muscles, scallops, giant sea stars and anemones, even colorful brittle stars, carpet everything. Like an oasis in the open ocean, these man made structures are vertical reefs pushing up from the deep providing shelter for rockfish and more.

Colorful Anemone's and brittle stars    

Diving here is possible year-round although the conditions aren't always favorable.  My favorite time to dive here is July/August and lasting through October when the water is calm  the visibility is at its very best and there's plenty of sunlight. 

A bright orange Damsel fish, caring for her eggs

I prefer to shoot wide angle on the rigs. Yes, there is plenty of macro to shoot here but the story is best told with wide angle photography. Im using my tried and trusted wide angle conversion lens to cover both bases, just in-case. 
The water can be bluer near the surface but quickly darkens in the shadows and as you get deeper, the water closes in, becoming jade green. Having strong lights helps to navigate through the maze and to bring out the color. 

Plumose anemone-Metridium

At around the 100 foot mark the alabaster white colored plumose anemones can be found growing amidst the cup corals. The white detail is tricky to expose while maintaining a bright background. Im using Sea and Sea YS-D3 strobes with domed diffusers which helps to even out the exposure for this. Using a low powered strobe flash and slow shutter speed helps to retain decent lighting for both.

Salp chain drifting through the structure of Elly

Jellyfish and salp chains drift through the structures regularly so keep an eye on the water column. Fish, such as these chubs and senoritas eat the little crustaceans that live on the salp chains as well as feeding on the salp.

Static lighting using the Kraken 8k WRGBU video light

I used static lighting on dive 3 to shoot this really large sea star that was attached to the piling. The white balance of the Kraken 8K torch is spot on. 

Cabazon at rest, Static lighting using the kraken 8K WRGBU video light

Cabazons can get enormous heads resembling pitbulls and often times found on eggs. They are a subject that I seek out whenever i'm diving the rigs. 

A Cabazon in. defensive posture-Sea and Sea strobes

Another great day to be on the water with friends and on another adventure at sea.

Dive Boat Magician

I highly recommend diving the oil rigs whenever the chance arrises. The unique habitat of hard and soft scape created by nature and man have never married together as well as they do here.

All images shot with Nikon D850 | Sea and Sea Housings | Sea and Sea YS-D3 Mark 2 strobes | domed diffusers with the exception of the Starfish and Cabazon.
60mm with the Kraken wide angle conversion lens 

Special thanks to:
Sea and Sea underwater imaging. See my review here-YS-D3 review
Kraken Sports Kraken Sports
Ultralight Underwater Control Systems ULCS
Erika Helms for inviting me
Magician dive boat for surface support