Jan 302012

Into the light in McCavity Cave

About the site

McCavity Cave is used by local cave divers to refer to the underwater portion of Limekiln Cave, part of the Wellington Caves near Wellington, NSW. Approximately a 5 hour drive from Sydney, Wayne and I flew up from Melbourne one Friday night to check out the cave diving. McCavity is notable for a couple of reasons, the first being the underwater stalactites and stalagmites.

The second reason is the unusual entrance. After climbing down through the dry cave to a chamber known as Central Station where gear is assembled and drysuits are donned, divers duck and crawl through the last section down to a small hole. Recent rains had brought the water level up to the top of this hole when we visited.

A seven metre hookah hose from a scuba tank allows you to manoeuvre yourself slowly down the hole in drysuit and harness, as seen in the second photo below. Once underwater, each tank is passed down on a rope and clipped on underwater. Sidemounts in place, the camera was gently passed through next and I moved to the side to let me buddies in.

Getting into McCavity Cave

About the dive

Luckily McCavity is nice and shallow, and I reached a maximum depth of 8m (25ft). This means the ten minute wait for each diver to get in and get geared up underwater doesn’t make too much of a dent in your full tanks. Once Wayne and Greg were ready we headed off slowly down the permanent line in this very dark cave.

Perhaps because I knew McCavity was quite shallow, I was also expecting it to be small. In fact the cave is up to 12m high and 15m wide in places (36ft x 45ft), and black walls and slightly milky water absorb dive lights and give very little back. Looking behind me, my buddies were points of light in black space, and this made co-ordinating shots a little difficult.

In addition to this, the milkiness of the water meant I was seeing a lot of flare around the off camera strobes. Trying to get good shots of the formations was a key aim of the two dives we did here over the weekend. While the flare was a drawback for some shots, it also provided great opportunities for backlighting.

About the shot

This shot was taken towards the end of the second dive, on our way back to the entrance. The line in McCavity runs towards the top of the cave and between the stalactites from the centre of the roof. Swimming back towards the entrance I took multiple shots of divers weaving their way through the formations. Off camera strobes lit different aspects of the cave and the lead diver briefly pointed one backwards, creating a halo of light for the second diver to swim into.

This effect isn’t possible in crystal clear water as the strobe creates a single point of light. The milky water, which had been increased by our two days of diving, helped create the rays of light you see here. The second off camera strobe on the rear diver and the on camera strobes have helped light the foreground and show  the texture and colour of the decorations. I like this photo because it reminds me of diving the cave – formations up close, inky blackness below and dazzling white lights moving through space.

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