May 302011

For your eyes only

About the cave

Junee Cave is located just out of Maydena, Tasmania, about a 90 minute drive from Hobart. Unlike the caves in South Australia and Western Australia, Junee is a river cave system, with rushing water flowing out of a dark hole in the ground. A ten minute walk along a beaten track beside the stream, where an interpretive sign by the cave entrance is just the beginning of getting to where this shot was taken.

Having climbed over the tourist viewing platform and clambered down to the water, the would-be cave diver needs to lump the gear about 300m upstream inside the cave. Unseen under rushing water, a rocky floor that gets unexpectedly deep in places makes this more challenging than it should be, and the water is between 6 and 8 degrees C in summer.

Fortunately, there’s a nice little mudbank to recuperate and assemble dive gear before descending into the chilly water. The sump is again about 300m long and only descends to a maximum depth of about 18m. Swimming upstream against the chilly water in poor vis, I bumped my head against the black ceiling more than once. The “guideline” thoughtfully laid in years previous is thick rope, attached to lead and concrete blocks to resist the winter flows. Eventually, you swim up a sandy slope at the other end, to find all that effort was worth it.

The chamber between sumps one and two is about 300m long, and spectacularly decorated with stalactites and calcite straws. From the high ceiling where you surface to the low passageway covered in calcite straws before sump two, the whole area is beautiful.

Equipment challenges

This particular photo was taken in the days before I invested my life savings in a housed dSLR system. My little 7MP Canon ixus travelled into the cave in a dry tube, wrapped in the tea towel that I used to dry my hands before extracting it. A mini-tripod in my drysuit pocket gave me the opportunity to take long exposure shots using my primary torch for lighting. Camera gear

The puny on camera flash was also good for triggering Dean’s off camera strobes. Given the water temperature and damp atmosphere, getting these shots relied on holding your breath while taking them. Exhaling near the lens inevitably resulted in spotty fog being picked up in the photo, which meant a lot of scrambling around on uncertain surfaces and one very near miss with the tripod and camera combination tumbling down the hill towards the river.

About the shot

Walking through the river in the cave, I was looking for places with a bend in the river that would allow me to set up the tripod on the bank and get a shot straight down the river. Having a model in the shot gives some perspective to the decorations on the roof, and the off-camera strobe provides necessary light and gives a glow to the water. In taking these shots, we both discovered that being an above water model can be more challenging than one would think – and candid shots with people looking cheerful are especially difficult after 3 hours wading through 7 degree water.

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