The Shaft is a beautiful dive, and an impossible cave to photograph. After I finally achieved that classic shot of the sunbeam down the middle of the hole, rockpile lit up and diver frozen up in the shallows, I declared I never needed to take photographs in there again. And yet, two summers on I was headed over to Gambier with my parents for a fun family weekend with a Shaft booking in place.
A couple of weeks beforehand Kelvyn was chatting to the landowners about the long-discussed intent of opening the site up to rebreathers. While there have been “special interest” dives in the Shaft on rebreathers previously regular diving has all been run on open circuit. Letting a broader group use their units is a big step forward and this weekend just passed was a trial run to see how it might work.
My folks are still on open circuit so I abandoned them to Kilsby’s for Saturday morning and jumped in the Shaft with Damo and Helen of DKG Drysuits. I discovered getting into my unit on the surface was easier than getting into backmounted steel twins. The rEvo is more balanced to sit upright while floating on the surface. Unit on, bailout attached, camera in hand and an off-camera strobe bungeed to each person’s dil tank and we were off.
Taking photos in the Shaft is hard work. The walls are black and while the water is clear, it’s also milky. Light tends to flare off the strobes and create blue halos. These look great around the off camera strobes but much less cool when they come from on camera strobes and obscure the photographic subjects. The key is to get the on camera strobes just bright enough to trigger the off camera strobes and provide a little bit of fill light, without flooding the front of the picture. The other hint is the usual underwater one – get closer! Close ups of divers don’t help to show the majestic of this giant place though, so I spent more time trying to frame divers from afar.
The photos were also easier on the rebreather. I have previously found in the Shaft that I had to keep moving forward. After three exhalations the silt would start raining down from the ceiling above and the milky water would turn to spotty water. Being able to stop, compose and wait for my models to swim through the frame without worrying about a silt explosion overhead made life much easier. The top photo of Helen floating along one wall at depth on the rEvo shows the difference between bubbles and bubble-free. The off camera strobe mounted on the back of her unit is lighting the milky water in a very nice halo, rather than a trail of spotty silt in the water behind her.
The second shot here is my favourite from the whole weekend. I was about 10m above my buddies at this point at they circumnavigated the rockpile. With strobes off I was at ISO 1600, f2.8 and 1/25 of a second to capture the torch beams flicking across the bottom. From this shot it’s also evident that someone needs to upgrade their primary light! And the last shot here was taken on the way back to the surface via Kelvyn’s very nice winch. I had accidentally sent my lens caps for the camera dome up with my bailout bottles. Instead of sending the camera to the surface unprotected I clipped it to myself for the ride out. Since it was there and the lens cap was off I took a few shots downwards as I spun towards the sunlight. I like the sharp fins and the motion blur of the rocks, as well as the way the droplet of water at the lowest point of the dome merges with the ripples on the surface of the water. It was a nice end to a great morning of diving and suddenly I’m looking forward to getting back in the Shaft again, bubble-free.