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Caves and Caverns
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Caves and Caverns

Shooting caves and caverns will put your existing-light photographic skills to their ultimate test.

In theatrically lighted tourist caves, such as the Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, the light is relatively dim and the spaces are vast. Flash is useless except for close-ups of stalagmites and stalactites. Even if the flash is powerful enough for wider shots, it only washes away the colorful artificial lighting. Tripods are usually not allowed; instead you'll be forced to set a very high ISO (1000 or 1600) so that you can get sharp pictures with your handheld camera. If your camera has an anti-shake feature, so much the better.

It pays to chat up rangers or tour guides in these places. On slow days, or in the off-season, they may be willing to give you private tours at a pace that allows the use of a tripod.

Spelunking, the sport of cave exploring, is a way to find caves and caverns that no tour group will ever see or photograph, but it's dangerous and physically demanding. It can be done only in the company of experienced cavers—never venture into any cave alone—and your photographic equipment will have to be secondary to necessary climbing supplies.

In many caves, one trick for lighting a large area is to place your camera on a tripod with the shutter locked open in the B position and then fire your flash multiple times to paint the room with light. The method requires experimenting, but you can use it to light any size space.

In a tourist cave or lost cavern, protect your camera from dust, humidity, and hard knocks. Store cameras and lenses in padded cases and, in very damp environments, place the camera in a plastic bag or in underwater housing. Be sure, too, that the front lens element or filter is kept clean.

Next: "Animals on Their Own"

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