Cave Survey begins at The Caverns

The Caverns, or as cavers know it, Big Mouth Cave, is a music venue in Grundy County, Tennessee. I made my second trip there this last weekend to photograph the beginning of the survey of the cave by Sewannee Mountain Grotto members, Kyle Lassiter, Kristine Ebrey, Sue Milburn, and Martha G. Bryant. I attempted to recreate my photos from the first trip in 2015, and I include those for comparison.

2015/11/21 2020/06/14
Big Mouth Cave twilight, Grundy County, Tennessee 1
Big Mouth Cave twilight, Grundy County, Tennessee 3
Big Mouth Cave entrance, Grundy County, Tennessee 2


Caving Camera Gear

Caving gear 2

What follows is a list of equipment that I use (and is pictured above) to photograph caves. Caving equipment is not itemized.

Each component of this is very important and serves a purpose. Pelican cases are necessary to protect your equipment from mud, water, and impacts. Taking a camera caving without having some form of protection like a Pelican Case is a sure way to find yourself replacing your camera and lens sooner rather than later. It's a small investment with a big return.

The flashes and transmitter are important because there is no light save for what you bring in a cave. Having multiple off camera flashes allows the photographer to compose the scene as they like. Other lighting options also work, but none work as well for capturing people or dynamic movement. Flashbulbs also will work to do this, and depending on what bulbs one uses can have amazing output. The problem is that they are one use items. The advantage is that you can shoot at f/11 underground.

The tripod is one of those things that I sometimes use and sometimes don't. For a long time I used it, then I stopped for many years, and now I am back to using it. I find the tripod allows me to try numerous lighting options without having to keep reframing the image. This lets me cheat in post and mask multiple images together to get even better lighting. It also allows for the production of large scale panoramic images underground.

Getting soft lights is nice in many cave environments, and for that I have a single Gary Fong diffuser (I would have two more, but there is no room).

No matter what, taking your gear caving will wear it down faster than most any other hobby. Be sure to clear your gear between uses, remove batteries, and store in appropriate conditions to maximize its lifetime.

Some final thoughts for additional stuff to include in your caving gear pack:
1) Lens cloth / washcloth
2) Desiccants
3) Photography scale
4) Ziplock bags with batteries (I label them used and not used)


Hiking Camera Gear

I've been doing more hiking lately, and as I'm getting back into it I'm finding that I am needing to rethink me solutions. Caving gear camera gear is heavy, and it has to be to protect one's equipment. But in a scenario where you're hiking, you have the luxury of losing some weight. This is what I've been carrying lately for when I'm hiking:

Let's explore each of these items. First, there's the Canon EOS M6 Body. This is my camera. The next two items Canon EF-s 10-18MM and Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 are both lenses.

The 10-18mm lens is my workhorse. It can shoot macros, and it is perfect for expansive landscape photography. It's nearly fisheye, but you'll find that it doesn't have the gimmicky feel that a fisheye lens does. The polarizer is for this lens. The polarizer lets me reduce glares and reflections, which makes taking photos of water, or anything wet so much better. It will darken the sky as well, creating deeper blue colors without the ugly side effects of post processing. The compact tripod is also perfect to pair with this lens for bracketing photos or for shooting a long exposure on a waterfall. The tripod folds up quickly and stowes away in my backpack fast.

Below is an example of a landscape I shot using this set of gear.
Orange Falls, Cumberland Trail, Possum Greek Gorge Section, Hamilton County, Tennessee 1
The 50mm lens is an amazing portrait lens, but more frequently when I'm hiking I find myself pairing it with an extension tube and the mini tripod for taking macros of plants and animals I encounter.

Below is an example of a macro I shot using this set of gear.
Geotrupes sp., Cumberland Trail, Possum Greek Gorge Section, Hamilton County, Tennessee
Other considerations should be made for how you can safely carry this equipment in a backpack. What I often do is bring a fleece jacket and put that in my backpack and use it for padding between water bottles and my camera gear. A ziplock plastic bag or two will cover you in a pinch for waterproofing your hardware if you find yourself in a downpour.