Jul 072016

Silty cave diving

We are back in Timor this week, expanding the limits of the caves we have previously discovered and exploring new caves and new areas. Luckily for me, pushing new areas in known caves means swimming through previously discovered areas first. This makes photography possible – I know what the cave discovered last year looks like, and what’s going to happen when we get in there. I can plan my lighting and instruct my dive buddies for the best shots in otherwise challenging conditions. This Timor trip is the first one where the photography has really come together to show off the beauty of this new area.

Timor diving

The limestone in Timor is soft and crumbly. It’s easy to see ancient and fossilised sea creatures in the walls underwater. There are scallops, barrel sponges, giant clams, mussels and more all pressed between layers of white silt. The wall scenery is fascinating but it also means that the rock is not well pressed together. Each time exhaust bubbles hit the roof we receive a fountain of silt in return. So while the water is crystal clear when I first enter the tunnel, it rapidly deteriorates to zero vis. There’s no in between stage of “ok” vis. It’s either stunning clarity, or can’t-read-my-gauge silt out.

From a photographic point of view this means very limited time for photos. It also means I have to be planned and careful about where I swim. Swimming straight down the middle of the tunnel is the end of photography in that section as the bubble trail behind me brings the ceiling down. Instead, I pick a side and swim along close to the wall. Once I’ve got a bit of distance on my models, a quick look over the shoulder confirms the composition and I swing into the centre of the tunnel. I have to keep moving forward to stay out of my own bubble-created silt cloud, so it’s important to start the photo run behind where I want to end up. Moving backwards is not an option!

Normally taking photos of silt clouds in a cave means someone has made a mistake. Rather than floating along serenely, they’ve kicked up the bottom or run some gear into a mud cone. In Timor the silt is unavoidable and taking photos with it has been great fun. The contrast between the brilliant water clarity and the rocks raining down from the ceiling makes for interesting images. And while I play with photos, the ongoing challenge of finding some more cave to play with is keeping everyone entertained.

To see all of my Timor-related posts, check out this link.

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