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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)


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.


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!)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!!


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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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