May 232011

Black and white raft room

About the cave

Burnabbie Cave is located on the Roe Plain, near the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia. Despite being relatively close to the Nullarbor caves, the Roe Plain caves are completely different in nature. Instead of huge white tunnels with blue water, sidemount access is required to get into the shallow, twisting, multi-level caves. The water is tinted yellow or green and layered with multiple haloclines causing distortion in any disturbed water. The air spaces are poisonous, with what might be high proportions of sulfur and carbon dioxide.

About the dive

On this particular dive, we were making an excursion into the Black and White Raft Room, relatively close to the cave entrance. The room is very shallow, with an air pocket above. The name was derived from the black rocks of the walls and floor, which are covered with paper thin, white calcite rafts. These form on the surface of the air pocket that sits above the room. Disturbed by divers’ bubbles and water movement, the calcite sheets drift down off the surface to stack in delicate piles on the floor.

The plan was for Harry (Richard Harris, of DiveDoc) to follow Paul into the room and attempt some video while I waited outside. Once a lap with the video camera had been achieved, I would swap with Harry and try for some stills shots of Paul. The shallow depth of this room meant we were above the multiple haloclines, leaving only the silt and floating calcite rafts to challenge photography. Calcite

In particular, we were very concerned about the small amount of water available for swimming over the piles of calcite. A careless fin kick or knee to the floor would destroy the fragile calcite rafts, and this concern added an extra dimension of difficulty to the dive. Once Harry had come back down the line past me, I moved up into the room to see what all the fuss was about.

About the shot

Paul has told us about previous attempts to photograph the unique features of this room failing, with the high contrast between the black and white floor losing the details of the calcite raft. I like this shot because it’s managed to capture detail in the floor features and give a taste of the atmosphere of this cave. However, without an explanation to accompany it, it’s hard to fully appreciate what you’re looking at.

The reflection in the rippling surface balances out the shot and gives it symmetry, and getting (very) close to Paul has captured his eyes and his expression. Being very well behaved as a model, Paul has managed to pull off the “I’m exploring a cave” face and keep the strobes all pointing in the right direction. The waves in the surface overhead give a bit of movement to a static shot. Lastly, reliable firing of Harry’s four SB105 strobes balance out the light in the picture, essential with the black walls and green tinged water in this part of the cave, while successfully avoiding blowing out the highlights of the floor.

This shot (and others of mine and Harry’s from this trip) are featured in the June/July edition of Sport Diver magazine, now out.

  3 Responses to “The Black and White Raft Room in Burnabbie Cave”

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  1. Great photo from a very tricky bit of cave

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