May 092011


Pics ascent

About the dive

Piccaninnie Ponds is a spectacular freshwater cave formation in South Australia, where spring water filtering up through the limestone has created beautiful formations up the walls. Normally the water is crystal clear on entry, with limitless visibility. After swimming across the First Pond and through the fringing reeds, divers descend into the canyon-like Chasm, where the Dogleg at 40m can be seen from the surface. At the far end the Chasm develops a roof to form the Cathedral.

Brown vis in the first pond

On this particular dive, I turned up at the Ponds with my parents to discover recent rainfall had led to muddy water running off the surrounding swamp and into the First Pond. Vis here was about a metre, and I had a bad feeling about getting any photos I would want to keep.

We headed across the top of the First Pond in the murk, and over the reed curtain to the surface of the Chasm. Here, the clear water welling up from below was counteracting the effect of the swamp-filtered rainfall, with a mixing layer near the surface.

The Chasm is relatively wide as it drops to the Dogleg at 35 to 40m. Descending before my buddies, I tried to stay neutrally buoyant while upside down, and holding my breath to keep my exhaust bubbles out of the shot and off the walls. From memory, this shot was taken at about 25m.

About the photo

Taking photos of divers from below can lead to strange perspectives, especially with the distortion of the 14mm lens. Without a point of reference for which way is up photos from above or below can confuse the viewer. Here, Mum’s exhaust bubbles trailing behind her help explain which direction the action is happening in. For this shot, I liked the combination of different diver eyelines – up and away and down at the camera.

I tried to take this shot again over a year later, and found that the sunlight streaming into the Chasm in the middle of the day completely blew out the sky above the divers. The mixing layer of murky water at the surface on this day saved this shot for me.

If I was to take this shot again, I’d most likely aim for a late evening dive, or hope for cloudy weather. Ideally, a bit more light on the walls higher up could be achieved with an off camera strobe or two, but getting these to fire with high ambient light is tricky. Off camera light would allow for less on camera light or a higher f-stop, reducing the corner softness and silt in the bottom right hand corner.

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