How I Shot It - Kazumura Cave - Digital Photography School
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How I Shot It – Kazumura Cave

Kazumura Cave

I’m good at messing up stuff.  I’ll admit it.  Take for instance the photo above.  It is the final shot I took of many while in the Kazumura Cave on the Big Island of Hawaii.  And it still needs help.  In a recent post here on DPS entitled 14 Tips For Cave Photography, I explained some of the things I learned from a first time attempt at underground photography.  In this post I’d like to humbly share my mistakes while researching the topic in hopes that it’ll speed up your learning process.  My basic idea was to use the flash off camera and fire it multiple times using the pilot button.  In this sense I hoped to gain a more even lighting.  Let’s take a look at some of the shots that lead up to the final shot. (All photos are 30 second exposures)

Cave1

This is the first attempt.  I tried having my guide, Jeffery, highlight the tube to the right and attempted to light paint while using the flash.  Sometimes I turned around and you can see my light trails.  All in all, chaos.  I realized I needed to be more methodical.  And I needed something in the picture to give it perspective.

cave2

I now have Jeffery in the photo but still chaos.  You can see my silhouette created when I fired the flash directly in front of me.  Bad idea.  I should be firing the flash where I’d cause little to no silhouette.  Jeffery is still light painting and it’s not working.  Plus he was moving. You can still see light trails from my headlamp when I turned around too much.  Hmmm…..things have to improve.  I know, I’ll turn off my headlamp (and luckily not fall!)

cave3

Ok, things are settling down a bit.  I had Jeffery remain still.  He’s also pointing his flashlight into the right tube so we can see the beam of light.  Cool.  I still see my silhouette.  Bad.  But with my headlamp off there is less color difference.  I also realize I’m missing  some areas of the ceiling with my flash. And there’s a burst on the right caused when I aimed the flash at the camera accidentally.  Don’t point the flash at the camera.

cave4

I tried switching angles on this one but it didn’t help.  Jeffery is covering the most interesting feature and you can’t see his light.  And look at all those silhouettes!  Actually, they are kinda cool in a spooky way.  But not desired in this case.  I got a more even coverage with the flash but I left my headlamp on accidentally (the streaks on the upper left and the color cast on the ground).  Alright, let’s move back to the original position.

cave5

This one looks like a test.  Can you spot the multiple things wrong?  Yikes!  And Jeffery is being so patient and such a great model.  Let’s try something new.

cave6

Thinking about it, I really liked the single light beam from the flashlight.  But I still wanted to see Jeffery.  What about one single flash on him alone?    DOH!  Big mistake.  It left a perfect silhouette of the flash including a trail left by the pilot light.  I should have held it back a little.  While interesting, I still wanted the entire cave lit up.

cave

And now the ‘final’ shot.  It still needs help (like my one, spooky silhouette on the left side there), but the lessons learned from the previous shot were applied:

  1. Don’t point the flash directly in front of you causing a silhouette
  2. Don’t point the flash at the camera
  3. If possible, go without a light source for yourself.  It will cause hot spots or possible color difference like it did for me.
  4. Do put a subject in the photo.
  5. But don’t let them move. :)
  6. Cover the pilot or recycle light on the flash so it doesn’t show as a dot in the photo.
  7. Be methodical with light coverage.  I only gave myself 30 seconds, but with more time I could be more complete.
  8. Have fun and experiment!!

 

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Peter West Carey is a world traveling photographer who now is spending a large amount of time going back through 6 years of travel photo and processing them like he should have to start with. He is also helping others learn about photography with the free series 31+ Days Of Photography Experiments which builds off of the 31+ Days To Better Photography series on his blog.

  • http://www.newmediaphotographer.com Rosh – New media photographer

    Interesting. I’ve never shot in a cave before. I guess – I never thought of all the issues.

    I realize it’s counter to what people might want to photograph in a cave, but I think I might start looking for details to shoot in a more controlled area. Just a random thought.

    Rosh

  • João Gomes

    Great post!

    It would be nice to have more posts following this approach.
    For the less skilled photographers (like myself) it is very useful to understand the “way” to each final picture: what were the thoughts of the photographer while he was getting the shot, the decisions he made, the difficulties he had overcome, the mistakes, …
    It’s better than just look at a picture and read the exif data.

    This way, one not only learns to be a better photographer as he also learns to appreciate and to value the work of a good photographer.

  • Mavy

    Wow. This is a useful post specially for a newbie like me :-D

  • Rolling Stone

    A newbie thought. What if Jeffery stood back and used 3 flashlights on the two caves? With you at his side or directly behind him?
    Thanks for the lesson.

  • http://blog.woodsb.net/ Woods

    It’s really nice to have “how I made it to the final shot” explanations. Hope to see that kind of post more often !
    I guess you must have thanked Jeff a lot for his patience. :)
    – Woods

  • Adam

    Wonderful post. Such a really well illustrated and written walkthrough of your trial and error session is not just informative, being a great way to help others seeking the same photo to deal with the same errors, but I found it a pleasure to read, like a good story.

    Does your flash have a zoom setting? Shooting the flash from off camera would allow you to avoid the silhouettes. I guess you fire it where you have to, to get the light you want…
    What if you’d stood to the left of your ghost, just out of camera, and fired the flash through some sort of diffuser a couple of times, rotating it…
    I want to climb into the picture and have a look around and try lighting it myself. That’d be your fault for writing so engagingly…

    Are you likely to visit the caves again? I feel the itch of a vision not-quite-attained.

  • http://photofingers.blogspot.com sbunting108

    A Nice step by step tutorial thanks!

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason Collin Photography

    I will be sure and keep this in mind if I ever find myself having to shoot inside a cave! Caves seem to pose unique challenges.

  • http://vrillusions.com Todd Eddy

    Another (more expensive) option is to just have a bunch of speedlights outside the view of the camera, zoomed in on various features, and then just take a 1/60th sec shot. Of course that brings it’s own problems like hiding the flashes from the camera, preventing the flash from causing a lens flare, how to light deep into the cave (that could have been accomplished by going to where the silloette is and then placing the flash against the left wall and shouldn’t show up in pictures). Still an interesting way of lighting and like the walkthrough on how it was done.

  • http://brentbat.wordpress.com Brent

    Hey Peter
    Great article, thanks for sharing.

    I do a ton of night work. What I find better than using a flash is to use a constant light source that is enclosed to prevent the camera from seeing the light itself. I use a high powered fluorescent light enclosed in an old olive oil can. This way you can walk around in the scene painting the walls etc. with light and be totally invisible.

    You then just need to “pop” your main subject with a flash to freeze him and you will get the effect you are after.

    Flashes are very difficult to control as they create hotspots.

    The photos here will show you the type of effects you can get from this light painting technique
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/brentbat/sets/72157614498099373/

    If you want more info on the light, just drop me an email.

    Brent

  • http://photography.getcloseto.us/Favorites Gary W. Sherwin

    An interesting article, but you need to consider your lighting more carefully. Inconsistent lighting direction, and
    lighting from the direction of the camera flattens surfaces. Forget your flash and invest in a couple of “Dollar Store” C-Cell LED Flash Lights. Mount your camera on a tripod set it for a long exposure (60-sec) and the,
    while standing out of view of your camera, rapidly shake your flashlight back and forth and up and down to
    light the areas of the scene you are interested in. You can vary your flash light speed and time spent in various areas to accentuate or darken. Take a look at the images at:

    Thanks for your encouraging article.

    Gary[img]http://photography.getcloseto.us/CavePhotographyLightPainting/P4282494-2.jpg[/img]

  • http://photography.getcloseto.us/Favorites Gary W. Sherwin

    The URL Should Be: CLICK HERE

    Second Try!

  • Tatum

    I loved reading this. It was wonderful to see your step by step with your mistakes & how to correct them. Made me smile allot. I loved the pics though even if they wernt what you where going for. They were great.

  • Pat Monday

    Awesome photos, great insight. I appreciate it.

    That last picture is amazing.

Some older comments

  • Pat Monday

    December 2, 2009 09:49 am

    Awesome photos, great insight. I appreciate it.

    That last picture is amazing.

  • Tatum

    November 6, 2009 06:00 pm

    I loved reading this. It was wonderful to see your step by step with your mistakes & how to correct them. Made me smile allot. I loved the pics though even if they wernt what you where going for. They were great.

  • Gary W. Sherwin

    November 6, 2009 10:13 am

    The URL Should Be: CLICK HERE

    Second Try!

  • Gary W. Sherwin

    November 6, 2009 10:10 am

    An interesting article, but you need to consider your lighting more carefully. Inconsistent lighting direction, and
    lighting from the direction of the camera flattens surfaces. Forget your flash and invest in a couple of "Dollar Store" C-Cell LED Flash Lights. Mount your camera on a tripod set it for a long exposure (60-sec) and the,
    while standing out of view of your camera, rapidly shake your flashlight back and forth and up and down to
    light the areas of the scene you are interested in. You can vary your flash light speed and time spent in various areas to accentuate or darken. Take a look at the images at:

    Thanks for your encouraging article.

    Gary[img]http://photography.getcloseto.us/CavePhotographyLightPainting/P4282494-2.jpg[/img]

  • Brent

    November 6, 2009 07:21 am

    Hey Peter
    Great article, thanks for sharing.

    I do a ton of night work. What I find better than using a flash is to use a constant light source that is enclosed to prevent the camera from seeing the light itself. I use a high powered fluorescent light enclosed in an old olive oil can. This way you can walk around in the scene painting the walls etc. with light and be totally invisible.

    You then just need to "pop" your main subject with a flash to freeze him and you will get the effect you are after.

    Flashes are very difficult to control as they create hotspots.

    The photos here will show you the type of effects you can get from this light painting technique
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/brentbat/sets/72157614498099373/

    If you want more info on the light, just drop me an email.

    Brent

  • Todd Eddy

    November 4, 2009 08:53 am

    Another (more expensive) option is to just have a bunch of speedlights outside the view of the camera, zoomed in on various features, and then just take a 1/60th sec shot. Of course that brings it's own problems like hiding the flashes from the camera, preventing the flash from causing a lens flare, how to light deep into the cave (that could have been accomplished by going to where the silloette is and then placing the flash against the left wall and shouldn't show up in pictures). Still an interesting way of lighting and like the walkthrough on how it was done.

  • Jason Collin Photography

    November 3, 2009 03:58 pm

    I will be sure and keep this in mind if I ever find myself having to shoot inside a cave! Caves seem to pose unique challenges.

  • sbunting108

    November 3, 2009 04:40 am

    A Nice step by step tutorial thanks!

  • Adam

    November 2, 2009 01:47 pm

    Wonderful post. Such a really well illustrated and written walkthrough of your trial and error session is not just informative, being a great way to help others seeking the same photo to deal with the same errors, but I found it a pleasure to read, like a good story.

    Does your flash have a zoom setting? Shooting the flash from off camera would allow you to avoid the silhouettes. I guess you fire it where you have to, to get the light you want...
    What if you'd stood to the left of your ghost, just out of camera, and fired the flash through some sort of diffuser a couple of times, rotating it...
    I want to climb into the picture and have a look around and try lighting it myself. That'd be your fault for writing so engagingly...

    Are you likely to visit the caves again? I feel the itch of a vision not-quite-attained.

  • Woods

    November 2, 2009 01:35 pm

    It's really nice to have "how I made it to the final shot" explanations. Hope to see that kind of post more often !
    I guess you must have thanked Jeff a lot for his patience. :)
    -- Woods

  • Rolling Stone

    November 2, 2009 12:20 pm

    A newbie thought. What if Jeffery stood back and used 3 flashlights on the two caves? With you at his side or directly behind him?
    Thanks for the lesson.

  • Mavy

    November 2, 2009 04:53 am

    Wow. This is a useful post specially for a newbie like me :-D

  • João Gomes

    November 2, 2009 03:24 am

    Great post!

    It would be nice to have more posts following this approach.
    For the less skilled photographers (like myself) it is very useful to understand the "way" to each final picture: what were the thoughts of the photographer while he was getting the shot, the decisions he made, the difficulties he had overcome, the mistakes, ...
    It's better than just look at a picture and read the exif data.

    This way, one not only learns to be a better photographer as he also learns to appreciate and to value the work of a good photographer.

  • Rosh - New media photographer

    November 2, 2009 01:34 am

    Interesting. I've never shot in a cave before. I guess - I never thought of all the issues.

    I realize it's counter to what people might want to photograph in a cave, but I think I might start looking for details to shoot in a more controlled area. Just a random thought.

    Rosh

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