A Beginners Guide to Underground Photography



practical side of things. >

·Manual set-up

·Lightpainting/open shutter

·Slave flash based

·Types of slave trigger unit

Shot Set-up .

·Direction of light sources

·Type of lighting used

·Intensity of each source

Getting started and, more importantly, getting good results has never been easier in the digital age. This doesn’t mean its child play, far from it, but the advent of the affordable digital camera has meant that the one of the real problems in underground photography has been removed - namely being able to see the result right away and therefore to see if your lighting was right, that all your flash’s have triggered etc. before leaving for surface!

This means far less disappointments when you get home and process your photos, though don’t be fooled that you won’t get them! I’ve been doing photography in mines and caves for some three years and have built up my equipment over that time from a variety of sources (photo of which is below)and now have a good variety of kit, but there are still times when I come back after a days shooting with little of decent quality. Sometimes this can be due to environmental factors, such as humidity, or technical problems, such as flash units or slave units not working, or getting wet or simply bad luck. Another thing that might stop a shoot is the presence of bats in a system they don't usually occur or in a area usually clear. Bats are protected by law and photographing them is illegal without a license.

Don't let any of this put you off though, it's a very rewarding hobby and some of the photos you take can become important in years to come in places that, for whatever reason, become inaccessible, or artifacts of industrial archeology that rust, rot or otherwise decay in the mines, underground quarries and other such sites. Also formations in natural caves can be destroyed by weathering, flash floods and human activity and, unlike such wonders on the surface that are easier to photograph, you maybe the only one to take to effort to record these feats of nature or works of man.

practical side of things

How does one get started in this interesting pastime?

Well, obviously the first thing to consider is your camera. Although digital is easier to use, a good old film SLR will serve you well, though expect to get a lot of black or otherwise useless prints come though the post in your first year or so - even at the best of times, a good photographer can't reasonably expect to get more that 50-60% of the photos they take to work out. This is similar for digital, but these can be easily be deleted on the camera at home on the PC and they cost nothing. Its also easier to see what went wrong fullscreen that on 7x5" print!

This is also the hidden cost of using film - the camera will no doubt be cheaper but both good film and processing costs, and all prints and negatives need to be scanned before you can share then on the web or use programs like PhotoShop to work on them.

so what's the best camera ? well ifyour going with film thena good simple SLR is the best with full Manuel settings, changeable lenses, a shutter that can be locked open and has a good range of settings and a tripod mount is all you really need although some have used them with mixed result compact film cameras are verylimited and you soon get very frustrated with them and at the price you can get a decent second hand SLR now theirs not going to be much saving financially.

auto focus and electronic SLR's such as canon EOS or similar can also get very good results with a little more investment involved these are more likely to produce good sharp images and with a dedicated auto-exposure flash and one or more slave guns are a good choice for film camera although they are generally a little less robust in construction and more susceptible to water damage due to the fare more complexelectronic controlledmechanisms.

as to digital cameras the cheapest least bulky option is a good compact, in choosing one of these your looking for something with at least 3 megapixel resolution preferably more in the region of 5MP and the more Manuel features such as exposure and aperture set-up and timer settings the better, the other things that need to be considered which compacts is that most of them use a preflash setting for auto exposure set-up so these can only used with a special digital slave unit such as the firefly 3 or used on a timed exposure on tripod and lightpainted with flashes or headlampsetc.

however by fare the best camera for underground photographer is a SLR type or full digital SLR, there many types and makes of digi SLR these days and less and less of the SLR types cameras around like the Olympus c5050 and Nikon 8400 both very good underground cameras but have now ceased production for a list of camera models that have been tested by me and other underground photographers click here. my current camera is a cannon EOS 350D which has proved a very good choose for a semi-professional underground camera.

.........on to next page> Techniques.