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Video Credit: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LIVE! S12 • E16
There are guided cave tours and then there are cave explorations. You are mostly pressed for time with the former, but you can linger a while with the latter. And the tips presented here will mostly apply to the latter. But some of these will work with guided tours provided you can act quickly enough with the settings.
Master caving first
Photo credit: Wired
Or at least be skilled enough at it.
Knowing how to navigate caves will not only help you survive, but it gives you an idea on how to protect your gear as well.
Caves are incredible structures but they can be unforgiving places as well. Exploring a cave doesn’t just involve a lot of walking; it may involve rappelling and even crawling depending on what kind of cave it is.
Cave exploration is quite the physical activity as well. And if you throw photography into the mix that means carrying a lot more than you would in regular caving sessions.
Cave photography often means being put in awkward positions just to get a photograph. And you have to learn to be comfortable with that. For example, you may shoot a photo while dangling from a rope. You have to be confident enough in your skills to hang from a certain height and not drop the camera as well.
Bring more than one lens
Caves vary in size, and finding positions where you can take great shots often means having to change lenses. If you’re on a guided tour, you most likely have to stick with one lens.
With actual caving, you are afforded time to change lenses to see what works best with what you’re trying to achieve. A wide angle lens is great for cave photography, and it’s even better if you get one with a zoom.
Learn how to be comfortable with the dark
Although you will be wearing a helmet with a headlamp on, taking it off allows your eyes to adjust to the darkness. If you can spare the time, try to explore the cave first before you start taking photographs. Yes, this could mean days before you can actually snap a photo (some caves are THAT huge) but it will be worth it. Knowing the environment is often one of the best ways to snap great photos.
Understand the technicalities of lighting
Photo credit: Nature Photography Simplified
Caves are dark places, and you have to bring external light sources to lead the way and help you take photographs. Understanding the technical details behind flash and strobe lights can help you frame better shots. Knowing the technicalities of lighting also helps you determine the best location to put a lighting source. For instance, it could be placed in the water. Of course, this might involve trial and error but you have the luxury of time during cave explorations.
Get help and be nice
Solo expeditions are interesting, but it’s always nice to have some help. Who will hold up the light for you as you try to frame the perfect shot? Since your assistants “suffer” just as much as you do, maybe even more, make sure to treat them well. It could be as simple as taking care of their meals or buying them drinks at the end of a trip.
Caves offer interesting perspectives for photography. But in order to get good shots, you must know the environment and master the technical details.