About the cave
Tommy Grahams Cave is located on the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia. A large tunnel leads down from the initial entry point, moving through a more restrictive collapse area, before opening up again. This second tunnel area has an entrance to a lower section of the cave, and also ascends to an enclosed air space. With high CO2 levels, not many divers clamber over this rockpile to reach the sump on the other side. After a brief attempt at carrying my twin 100s over, I was one of the ones who decided turning back would be more sensible.
Probably the most memorable feature of this cave is the access to the water. The surface of the Nullarbor Plain lies between 90m and 100m above the water table. Unlike the other well-known caves in the area (Cocklebiddy Cave, Warbla Cave, etc) which sport huge dolines, Tommy Grahams is more of an elongated scramble down through the dry section. We dragged and passed tanks and packs of gear between us and up and down the levels, spending most of the time hunched over or crawling.
I wasn’t willing to risk assembling the camera into the housing in the dusty conditions inside the cave, and so I carried my rig down in one piece. There were more than a few anxious moments as the padded backpack came in contact with the low roof. I found it hard to worry about the camera as I would have liked, given the amount of attention my aching muscles were demanding at the time. Challenges aside, all the gear and the people reached the bottom in one piece.
By the time I got to this trip, I had a fair bit of practise in taking these kind of shots. Swim out in front, turn around without disturbing the silt, capture the divers swimming towards you. For a lot of shots, the greatest challenge was becoming a shot where the divers looked like they were excited to be doing something. Hanging out and waiting for the photo to be taken so they could leave didn’t count.
Underwater modelling isn’t helped by the mask and reg combination – big smiles are tricky. Engaging with the camera often comes as much from the body language as it does from the facial expression. Given most cave divers are not natural actors, I was keen to modify my technique to take more candid shots. With strobe arms sticking out two foot each side of the very large camera, this was about as easy as you would expect!
About the shot
This particular shot was taken about 5 seconds after Mum was caught having fun instead of posing for the camera. Off on one side to inspect a point of interest in the wall, she suddenly realised I was set up for a photo. Catching her half way back to her assigned posing position has given some more authentic movement to this shot, which is helped by the spectacular natural doorway behind. The crystal clear water and perfect functioning of every strobe mean this is one of my favourite shots.