Cave photography is the adventure photography that has me going back again and again! And as a member of a great caving club (SWCC) in South Wales that has family bunk rooms, the whole family can come along. Many of these caving photos are taken in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu (OFD), which is Britains deepest cave and passes directly below the SWCC caving club HQ, so is fairly convenient for us to visit!
As you might imagine, caves are quite dark, so some form of lighting is essential. My inspiration for lighting my caving photos is the beautiful play of light and shadow that you see when a far away caver shines their light in your direction, instead of brown mud and rock you see texture and glimmering highlights. Of course some parts of the cave are very beautiful in any light, but the most boring passage becomes great when correctly lit. I use remote controlled flashguns around the cave to backlight the scene and give that same ‘far off caver’ look to the lighting.
Cave photography is tricky in two ways. The first is that you must get yourself and your camera into an inaccessible, wet, cold, muddy location and then persuade your friends that they would like nothing more than posing for some considerable time in said location! When the models are kids, this time is usually limited to how long it take to eat a Mars bar, that being the traditional cave snack. Always have your snack break in the most beautiful location is a good plan anyway!
The second set of challenges is technical. Caves are notoriously black and soak up your puny flashgun light, and so far more is required than one might assume, the auto setting is not much use here. There is lots of mud, lots of water, and perilous drops, not a camera’s favourite conditions. I never take my best camera, but a digital camera is a great improvement over film, with invaluable feedback available on screen for these tricky exposure and lighting conditions making the hazard to the camera’s life worthwhile.
So my top 5 tips for successful cave photography with kids:
- Take snacks. You may need them as bribes along the way! A big snack such as a Mars bar is a good reason to stop in a beautiful location, and smaller sweets can be distributed for energy boosts!
- Have a plan. Remember kids little legs won’t get as far as you are used to. It’s alway best to take little children somewhere you know is safe that you have been before, but you may still suddenly find there are lots of obstacles for small people that you just stepped over before. Have somewhere in mind along the route for photos. Have a backup plan! If the plan was too ambitious, have somewhere worth visiting closer on the route that can be your new goal.
- Pack light. Minimise your camera kit size, because you need to also carry all the snacks, and possibly a kid too!
- Know your kit. Have your camera and lights assembled and as ready to go as it can be in your kit box; batteries charged, settings set, so it can be popped out quickly.
- Be quick. If you get the group in the right location eating their snack you can set up the lights and camera and test the lighting without bothering them. Then they only need ‘pose’ for a couple of shots, whether that is just looking around or maybe standing up to create the heroic silhouette! Once it’s in the bag, STOP. You might fancy taking another dozen variations, but if you hope to be allowed to take photos next time, quit before they are fed up not after!
I hope some of these pictures inspire you with the wonders of the underground world and the fun we have there!