A Rappeller’s View: Unique Cave Photo Technique

Almost two years ago I caught a “oopsie” image during my first trip to Surprise Pit, a 404-ft pit inside Fern Cave in Alabama, USA. I was setting up for a typical shot and accidentally pressed the shutter button, capturing by complete accident a rappeller coming in for landing.

The result intrigued me. I started to wonder how I could capture a full rappel in these deep dark spaces. Not a photo of the pit, a photo of the RAPPEL.

Typical pit shots follow certain formulas. Stage people on ropes to fire flash bulbs. Have someone shine a light / fire a bulb / fire a flash at various points, often stitching images together in post process. Even flash powder! A combination of these techniques is often used as well.

The whole point is: Light up the pit.

That’s not what I wanted to do. And that is what makes this unique.

On top of the unique point of view – not the pit, the rappel – I wanted to stay true to my overarching technique of minimal and light gear. I wouldn’t be making or using any custom lights, large cameras, fancy lenses, etc. Simple is my form.

Using a Zebra Light (standard caving headlamp used by many around here, costs <$100), Lumix LX5, and a mini tripod, is all it took! It weighs under a pound. Technically, the Zebra Light shouldn’t even be on the scale, as it’s just the standard headlamp always in use.

There was no setup.

No external lighting of any kind.

No communication of where to look or what to do.

Just a rappel.

“3…2…1…On Rappel!”

I open the shutter for 60 seconds.

Brian lands and starts getting off rope.

Shutter closes.

The result?

A photo of the rappel. The streak of the rope. The spinning.The moisture and fog in the air. What the rappeller sees, you see.

This isn’t a photo of Mystery Falls, it is a photo of what it is like to rappel Mystery Falls.

That is what makes it unique.

National Geographic #caving

I was scrolling through National Geographic photos, seeing what cave shots came up. Clicking one link leads to another and I ended up looking at photos tagged with caving, and was happily surprised by what I found!

Page 1, the top 16 favorites tagged with #caving, have FIVE of my photos, including the 2nd and 5th NatGeo community most popular.

Out of curiosity, I also clicked on “editors’ favorites” – the National Geographic editors do look at the photography and pick what they like best. There is only one for #caving. Recognize it? 馃檪

Hidden Earth!

I will be at Hidden Earth this year! I am excited to attend. And yes, look for my entries in the print salon!

I visited the UK in 2010, very early on in my days as a caver. In fact, my 7th-12th ever cave trips took place there. I found the people and clubs there to be wonderful – and they love taking people caving! I am looking forward to returning. My caving route this time around will include Mendip, Dales, and South Wales.

My trip to Ogof Ffynnon Ddu (OFD) in November of 2010 was the start of my cave photography, so to speak. It was on that trip that I started to understand what it took to take pictures in caves. It was also the trip when I decided I didn’t want to be a standard cave photographer, lugging around huge Pelican cases and heavy equipment.

With the help of Ferret, a fellow caver and photographer on the trip, I took what I think is my first halfway decent cave photo:
OFD to this day remains one of my all-time favourite cave trips, both for the trip company and the cave. I look forward to seeing it again, repeating the OFD1 round trip, and hopefully many others in the system!

If you can’t get to the UK, but are interested in seeing OFD, do check out their amazing virtual tour! It is so well-done, that despite only seeing OFD once so far, I can repeat our trip without a false turn!

We and Caves: Balkan Speleology Photo Contest

I’m super excited! I just heard that at the 3rd Balkan Photo Contest “We and Caves” (organized by SpeleoClub Prista-Ruse), I took 2nd place in BOTH categories:

Category 1: We and Caves

Category 2: Beauty of the Caves.

There were 54 photographers from across the world represented and 168 photos in each category.

Of course I couldn’t be there to receive my awards but they will be sent to me (and it’s too bad the flight to the speleology conference was so expensive…ah airlines, when will you lower prices so I can travel internationally more often?).

In addition, my winning photos are in a photo exhibition that just opened in Montenegro and bounces around other Balkan cities for the next year! I hear there may be a calendar printed from the winning entries as well for 2014 but I am unsure about that detail.

Please check out the other amazing winners as well! Lots of great work from around the world. https://www.facebook.com/groups/124833477580102


Definition: Kayaking to watch a bat flight.
tr.v. bat路yak路ing, bat路yaked, bat路yaks
Origin: Best known origin is in the caving region of TAG (Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, USA) where there are a couple locations of bat hibernation caves close to bodies of water. In the warm summer months when they fly out to eat at dusk, they are visible from a boat on the water in such locations. As many cavers are interested in other outdoor sports such as kayaking, doing night kayaks to view bat flights became a natural merge of the two.