Podcast Episode:

Show Notes

Mola-Molas, Oil Rigs, Virtual Reality… Oh My!

If you have ever wanted to know what it’s like to dive in the colder waters of northern California, dive off an oil rig, do a black water dive… well, you gotta meet John Bernhelm!

We were lucky enough to have John volunteer his time to talk with us about his amazing dive experiences, both locally in Monterey, California, as well as all over the world.  He’s also an underwater photographer and shares various underwater photos with us to help tell the story of his journey.

John’s also a game developer, and used his love the ocean to contribute to the development of a cool underwater virtual reality experience.   We cover all this and so much more in our fantastic interview with John.  Please have a listen or watch the youtube stream.  I promise you that he is so energetic and inspiring that you will will finish ready to grab your reg and be itching to get back in the water to get a dive in.

If you happened to be listening or have listened to the podcast already (head to the bottom of the page) and wanted to check out some of John’s photos, you’ve also come to the right place.  Let’s have a look at a few highlights:

John’s Gear and Underwater Photo Journey So Far

John started his underwater photography journey with a Canon Elph, but now shoots with an Olumpus TG-5 in an Olympus housing, and recently started working on lighting with 2 INON strobes.  (As mentioned on earlier episodes, Olympus makes great underwater rigs and is a good launch point for people starting to get really serious about underwater photography).


John resides in northern California, and takes advantage of it by diving regularly in Monterey and other spots near him, allowing him to get a dive in at least monthly.  For those that have not done California diving, the experience of diving through a kelp forrest is very surreal:


John tells the story of how ocean sunfish, or mola mola’s can often be seen here, but are usually much smaller variety than the ones many of us think of.   Because of this, they are both prey and play-things for the resident sea lions in northern california, and often can be seen on the sea floor having been victims of a sea-lion play session:

A mola mola was the unlucky victim of a sea lion’s play session



Oil Rigs

One of the many local dives that I have always wanted to do is dive an oil rig off of southern California.  John walks us through what the experience is like and what you can expect.   He happened to go with a group of underwater photographers at BlueWater Photo, and he even won a photo contest that they had on the trip in the amateur category for this cool picture of a small sea anemone surrounded by sea stars.

New Zealand

Continuing with the cold water theme, John tells us about his dive experiences on his trip to New Zealand, diving Milford sound where you can find things that normally dwell in deep water at much shallower depths.  Beautiful black coral can be found at shallow depths.  John points out that living black coral actually appears white when alive and healthy.  This rare coral species looks likee a beautiful tree:
John’s quite the nudibranch enthusiast, so it’s not a surprise that his favorite shot from his New Zealand was this huge Wellingon Nudibranch that he found just a few feet below the surface of the water:


Moving into slightly warmer waters, John tells us of his dive experiences on the ‘Big Island’ of Hawaii. Dive enthusiasts know that the 2 things to do are watching mantas at night and doing blackwater dives.  John talks about both experiences and also shares a special spot that you actually can go and snorkel with the mantas on your own at night if you are brave enough!

Virtual Reality

We circle back to talk about John’s full time job as a VR & video game developer.   He got the rare opportunity to combine his love of the ocean and sealife with his job by helping to develop the VR experience “The Blue: Deep Rescue” by Dreamscape Immersive.  If you happen to be in Los Angeles, Dallas, Columbus, OH, or Dubai, you can experience it for yourself!  Dalton and I will be checking it out for sure!

Todd’s Pick

Although we didn’t get to chat about his trip to Thailand, John caught this fun picture of barracuda in what appears to be a chaotic frenzy of other fish both big and small.  I love the sense of motion and chaos in this picture.  Just one of many great pics, John!

See More Of John’s Work

Check out Johns instagram page here: @johnbernhelm

Watch It On YouTube:

If you’re the visual type, you can watch our discussion with John on Youtube: