Jun 032013

Shaving brush formation

About the cave

While I did get a dive in over this weekend just past, a crappy weather forecast led me to leave the camera behind. In reality I should have taken it as the vis and the ocean conditions were fine. But I didn’t, and I find myself with no update for you this morning, so I’ve gone back to the archives to look for an interesting photo that hasn’t had exposure up here yet.

I dived in McCavity Cave (the wet bit of Limekiln Cave) up at Wellington back in early 2012, guided by the fantastic Greg Ryan. I talked about it at the time in the post here, noting how the cave was larger, darker and milkier than I expected and I had to adjust to conditions on the fly. The Shaving Brush formation is a major stalactite/stalagmite pillar in a large central chamber of the cave and was on the photography hit list. Previous photographic attempts had been on film and with the advantage of digital sensitivity I was able to push light through most of the chamber – but not in a particularly artistic way.

Reflected cave diver

About the dive

Divers being what they are, my two buddies decided after a while to move on to other, more interesting bits of the cave. I wasn’t quite ready to leave the formation behind, but also didn’t want to lose them. As I moved in closer with camera in hand I saw this opportunity for a whole new perspective on this massive formation. Rather than trying to fit in all in the one shot I could highlight the detail and emphasise the size at the same time.

About the photos

It’s shots like these where the need for reliable off camera strobes really shows. Both the shot before this one and the shot after had one only diver visible and only one off camera strobe. By keeping in mind the 2 second recycle time on the strobes and timing the peak of the action, I captured both divers. This shot was also one of the first I’d taken where sidelighting the foreground really brought out the red in the rocks. I used this technique to good effect in Murra-el-elevyn a few months later with the bright orange rocks you can see here.

The second photo here is one of my enduring favourites that didn’t see any love from the competitions I entered it in. We were heading towards the exit at the end of the dive when I looked up and noticed the outline of my buddy in a small airpocket in the ceiling. By finning backwards I was able to keep the right angles as he slowly moved forwards. Holding the strobe to light the white calcite pile outlined him as a dark silhouette against the white background. The perspective is distorted here, with the diver 5m away and below me and the bubble of air at arm’s length, part of the reason reflections can be so hard to play with.

McCavity was a brilliant dive – large and shallow with diverse photographic opportunities. Now I’ve looked through these shots again, maybe it’s time to get myself back up there.

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