Nov 262012

Restriction in Tank Cave

About the cave

Tank Cave is a fantastic site in Mt Gambier, with miles of shallow, interconnecting tunnels. Shallow is definitely better from a photographic point of view, as it means a lot more time to play around and reduces the impact of narcosis on the artistic vision. Another very handy feature in Tank is the way the character of the cave changes from area to area. As you can see from my previous postings, there are large chambers, long dark tunnels, small silty tunnels and bright white breakdown piles.

This variety means a great selection of places to take photos, as well as the challenge of remembering to change camera and strobe settings as you swim from one area into the next.

About the dive

Ryan was relatively new to Tank on this particular dive, so we headed out to the K section that lies between the two gold lines. After nice dive wending our way through silty little tunnels, we came back out via Lake Ayre and the 90m room, where this shot was taken. By this point I had started to fold in the strobes and reach for my dome port cover, assuming the photography was done for the day, when I noticed an alternative exit path. Right beside the usual line down the rockpile was a small rectangular window formed between boulders and the cave wall.

Silty restriction

About the photo

I suspect images like the one about are what most people visualise when I tell them I go cave diving. In reality, most cave diving is swimming through large (and in some case very large) spaces. When cave diving does live up to the stereotype, restrictions can make for some great action shots. But since moving through a restriction muddies the water, the challenge for the photographer is to find a restriction and get the camera on one side of it and the model on the other with clear water between.

The second challenge is cave conservation. As I take more cave photos and spend more time looking at them, I notice the scrapes and scars of human impact. With my attention focussed on the camera I’m sure I cause avoidable damage to caves. The Mt Gambier caves are groundwater and without flowing water through them they won’t “recover” – every rock scrape and stage drag mark is there forever. I’m even more reluctant to deliberately damage a cave in search of a photo opportunity. With this restriction both so close to the beaten tracks and formed of completely white limestone the evidence of divers passing through will be gone as soon as the silt dies down.

Lastly, there’s the dramatic challenge. My extreme wide angle lens makes caves look bigger than they are. This is great for helping large spaces look enormous but less handy for making small spaces look restrictive. The viewer tends to judge the size of the hole by the body language of the model. Ryan’s head emerging from the silt gives great perspective here and I love the extra texture of the bubbles as he squirms through the hole. I foresee revisiting this restriction for new angles in the future…stay tuned!

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