Oct 102011

About the cave

I’ve talked about Tank Cave before…over 8km of interconnecting, labyrinthian tunnel in my somewhat local cave diving region of Mt Gambier. Tank Cave is a single level system, with tunnel depths varying from about 6m down to just over 20m at the far end of the cave. There’s great variation in the cave characteristics, from pure white breakdown rooms with flat ceilings, big dark chambers with air pockets, tight silty tunnels with scalloped walls and long, low flatteners. The shallow depths and clear water are great for photography, with well-marked permanent lines helping you to resume navigation after peering through the viewfinder for a while.

About the dive

Following the CDAA AGM, I was lucky enough to spend a week over in Mt Gambier diving with the international guest speakers. After two days diving with Brian Kakuk of Bahamas Underground, Brian got back to work teaching a sidemount course and I joined Nick Touissant of White Arrow for two more days in Tank Cave. Unlike some of the more reluctant models I’ve dived with who (understandably) just wanted to go for a dive, Nick was keen to work on great photos. A 20 minute briefing session gave me a chance to talk through some of the cave photo ideas I’ve been wanting to try for a while.

My standard cave diving shot involves a model or two swimming down the tunnel, looking into the camera with off camera strobes lighting the tunnel behind them to provide depth. I’ve described the way I achieve these shots in a previous post, and one key advantage is that you don’t interrupt the dive too much. Your models still get to explore the cave, and you hopefully get some very nice pictures out of it. I’ve done tunnel shots with tiny divers, close up faces, multiple divers at different heights and all the variations in between. After a while though, it’s time to try a different angle and I was keen to get some shots of cave divers doing something other than staring down the barrel of the lens.

The most obvious things that cave divers do apart from swimming down tunnels is to run guideline. With Nick’s company White Arrow making a number of products designed for making this easier, it seemed like a good place to start. With two small inon Z240 strobes on the camera, I equipped Nick with a third inon and my ancient ikelite substrobe, and with Steve carrying his more modern ikelite strobe we set off to find an appropriate bit of tunnel.

About the shot

Unlike the previous day’s diving with a strobe taped to his tanks, Nick was hand holding two additional off camera strobes for greater flexibility in lighting angles. This was great for me, but added a degree of difficulty to trying to put in a jump spool in a photogenic way. In the first location we tried, there was too much silt and not enough light in the right direction well before I got the distances appropriately calculated. Moving in on this second bit of tunnel, Nick placed his two strobes on each side of the tunnel, freeing himself up for the important work of posing. From here I took advantage of the excellent buoyancy skills of both divers, relocating them an inch up, down, sideways and forwards in the relatively small space.

While this repositioning was going on, our bubbles were heading up into cracks in the ceiling and fine silt was gently filtering down into the tunnel. By the time I’d adjusted the lighting, perfected the composition and managed to get the line in the shot and not across Steve’s face, the tunnel was definitely milky. One of my favourite aspects of cave photography is the impact of looking at a crystal clear shot where the divers appear to be hanging in mid air, and this shot doesn’t have that. It does show a new perspective though, and the next challenge is working out how to take cave diving action shots with pre-placed off camera strobes while the water stays clear. Time to go diving!

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