I recently asked some of my followers on my facebook page what topics they would like me to blog about. One of the requests was about how to decrease the time spent taking a photo underground, perhaps not for “professional” shots but for decent snapshots of the trip.
Firstly, I should explain part of the speed is about understanding your photography kit and working with a lot. Eventually you just know what setting your camera needs (and you should have it programed already – most decent cameras will remember last settings, and/or have custom programmable options) so potentially it’s all set before you even pull it out of your bag. It also has a lot to do with who you cave with – do you have a regular helper or helpers? Do you explain how to fire a flash to someone before you go underground, or, more ideally, use the same person every time? The more you work together with your cave buddies, the faster these things go.
Not to be overlooked should be how you pack your kit. If you put your camera and such on the bottom of your cave pack, how are you supposed to get to it quickly? It should be on top for easy access. When in an area with many photo opportunities, I won’t even repack between shots, I have a carabiner on the outside of my cave pack to clip my camera case to for a short jaunt.
Additionally, I use a simple kit. I have a flash gun. A. Singular. One. I don’t even mess with slave flashes on a normal trip. I have a buddy fire it for me on the count of 3. So long as no one close to the shot has their light on, it won’t pick up their ambient helmet light. A 1/2 second or second exposure is plenty long enough with a well timed partner. No tripods, no muss, no fuss.
Light painting, on the other hand, is something I use for close up shots, shots to cut through fog, or huge pits. It will be more time consuming typically, as there is painting variance shot to shot. In addition, for the long exposures of light painting one must set up a tripod or set the camera somewhere, which takes extra time and effort. The flash gun method I find by far to be the quickest. I don’t even mess with changing settings on the flash, if need be, I change my aperture or ISO on my camera if it’s too bright.
My standard rule of thumb is if I am not seeing what I envisioned within 3 shots, it’s time to move on. Some days, the angle just doesn’t work, or the fog is getting in the way too much, or <insert reasons here>. I just don’t see a need to fiddle relentlessly. If I can’t get the shot, clearly I am lacking the skill at that time and day to achieve what I vision. Simple as that. At this point, usually the first shot is what I wanted, or it’s close, and a few tweaks and few shots later is correct. This just comes from experience and understanding your particular photo gear. Still, I’d recommend if you aren’t seeing the results you want in 5-10 attempts, change your approach completely or move on.
This past weekend was a trip to Roaring River. It was not a photo trip, so certainly not one to spend a long time taking pictures. However, it is a very limited access cave on private land that takes a long time to get access and permission to. I definitely wanted photos! The cave itself is not very decorated in the way of formations, but the name is very accurate, there is a river, and it does roar! (For my UK readers, it reminded me of the streamway of OFD1. There was one spot I had some déjà-vu!) What interested me most was the structure/layout of the cave, and the lovely scalloped limestone. The beauty was in the rock and water itself rather than standard formations.
Luckily, Mark was along on this trip, and he dabbles a bit in photography and understands how to use a flash. There was one area in particular he commented on, and I agreed it would make a lovely photo. Keep in mind we are towards the end of a group of eight people, sloshing through cold knee-deep water with decent current.
I quickly pulled out my flash and handed it to Mark, and we grabbed Tina to model in the shot. We took two photos. The first didn’t light up the crevasse above us to my liking, so I yelled (it was a ROARING river) upstream to Mark to point the light upwards more and hold it up closer to the crack. Fired a second shot. Satisfied, I quickly repacked and we were back with the group within a minute, we were delayed not more than 2-3 minutes in total. The result?
I rather like it! It’s probably my favorite shot of the entire trip. Daresay I would categorize this as a “professional” shot even. But yet, it took a only a few minutes, and didn’t delay us or the group in the slightest. I don’t know if anyone even noticed we were gone!