This past weekend I got to visit Pretty Well with some good friends. There is a very classic large formation inside, of which there are many photographs of. I’ve taken some larger panoramic shots in the past, but today wanted to take some quick snaps and as usual for these shots, only work with one slave flash (which is handled by a person manually firing on the count of three – see a past blog post for my method!).
Looking at the set of photographs I saw exactly what I try to explain to people new to cave photography – and what I sometimes must remind myself – regarding light placement. Underground we have no light, but this does mean we have full control of how we wish to light something up! This is quite the double-edge sword and learning to work with not just camera angle but also lighting angle is necessary to change a poor snapshot to a good photo to a great image.
Image One: The Good Photo
The good photo is well-lit, has scale that doesn’t detract from the image, and has some shadows to show depth. It showcases a pretty area and a distinct formation that is the classic one to see in this cave. A nice photo of a fun trip, with really nothing technically wrong. Past the “foggy with ghosts and spots from on board camera snaps” this is the most common type of cave image out there. And it certainly has it’s place, there is nothing “wrong” with it, it is simply a good photo.
Image Two: The Better Photo
Okay, now we moved the light source and have some very high-contrast. I like contrast, it gives the image something interesting to look at. The formations on the ceiling pop and we have a nice shadow of the model on the formation. We perhaps moved the light source too far, however, as although the negative space on the left of the formation is interesting, it is getting towards dominating of the photograph and some may not like it due to that large dark space. This, I feel, is somewhat a matter of taste, and overall I believe this image is more interesting than Image One. It makes me want to look beyond, to peer into the darkness. So I classify this as, the Better Photo. We are starting to get somewhere!
Image Three: The Great Photo
Now we fix what we didn’t like before. We have some great contrast lighting, so let’s change the framing! The shadows now provide depth, without being overwhelming in the image. Go back to Image One and look at how much better the formations pop out, providing interest. The only thing we did was change to a portrait to tighten up the frame cutting the shadows with our better lighting angle. Now we are on our way to a Great Photo.
Image Four: The Amazing Photo
Let’s go a little farther. This portrait framing is nice, but let’s make it more dynamic. Ah….we are back to a higher level of contrast giving us a good bit of darkness in the image, but now the darkness is controlled, and it flows through the image at appealing locations. Having the wall behind the formation lit up makes your eye complete it, despite it being negative space. The eye moves through the image following the line of dark and light creating a tantalizing underground landscape with a discrete yet clearly visible caver for scale. Thus, I would classify this as an Amazing Photo.
Of course, tastes vary, and this is what makes artists/photographers unique. Tastes also change and develop as we find our niche; what I shoot for now is not what I aimed to achieve four years ago, or even two years ago. So, find how you like photos to look, light up theses spaces, and work towards making your vision as awe-inspiring as possible. And don’t forget to try something different every now and then, you might like it!