Cave Photography - Beginners Ultimate Guide / by Amr Tahtawi

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Egypt’s is filled with photographic opportunities, including those below the surface. I recently took a beautiful mesmerising trip to Wadi Sannur Cave protectorate 10 km away from Beni Suef city and it was a very special experience - If you want to know how to go there and what you need read the latest Olé blog post. It felt good to spend 2 full hours experimenting with shooting in the cave. Along with online research i did before going, it was a fun learning experience for me and I’d like to pass on what I’ve learnt. Let’s start with some basics.

1- Protect Your Gear

As silly as it sounds, it's one of the most important aspects of cave photography because rocks don't like camera, trust me i've tried it. It’s important that you keep your camera well covered while exploring a cave as The surface are usually uneven. you can use camera pouch or a backpack to keep your gear safe as you enjoy your discovery.

2- Bring A Tripod

I knew i had to stay still while shooting, I mean what good are cave shots if they're hazy and blurry, so i brought my lightest yet steadiest tripod. It made my shoot easier than it would have been without. Some caves might not allow use of tripods so check before you go.

3- Use A Remote Shutter Release Or Self-Timer.

Camera shake can turn a good photo into a bad one. To go home happy, you have two options; use a remote shutter release cable or your in camera self-timer. Usually inside a cave you'll find yourself wanting to shoot for a long time hence a long exposure (often 30 seconds)

4- Bring A Wide Lens

Bring your widest lens. you can find caves in all shapes and sizes but you'll have to capture scenes on a larger scale. I’d suggest starting around 18mm for an APS size sensor or 28mm for full frame. I knew i would use my 10-20mm and I loved the outcome. On the other hand, you'll need some close-ups if you want the full story of the location which you'll find perfect with a tight prime or telephoto. While bringing your gear remember, caves are filled with moisture, mostly airborne, so try to keep changing lenses to a minimum if you can.

5- Use Manual Focus

Usually Caves are not that well lit and that's where manual focus comes in. So to stop your camera from confusing wrong focus points you'll have to control it yourself. If you’re using a wide angle lens and the subjects are distant with minimum light and hard focusing, turn the focus ring till infinity mark and shoot. You can always review on the LCD and retake it with adjustment as needed.

6- Lower Your ISO

This is the beauty of having a tripod. wether you're using flash to light the scene, or taking a long exposure shot you may still have a lot of shadows, that's a cave.. remember? So to stop noise from creeping in, use the lowest ISO.  I’d suggest 100-400 depending on location's light and your camera's capabilities. Mine were shot using ISO 100 yet I believe it got the job done, now i can print them Big enough with no noise.

7- Shoot In RAW

For me shooting in RAW really is the only way to come out happy from a cave shooting. It gives me far more control than a JPG can in the digital darkroom later for a lot of variables like; exposure, white balance.. So it's preferred to go home with RAWs rather than JPGs.

8- Bring your Off-Camera Flash

It's fun to experiment with off-camera flash in a closed environment as the cave. If you're asking why not use my on-camera flash, simply results are flat and two dimensional. With an off-camera flash you can introduce more shadow, depth and mood. If you are a flash fanatic, why not get your 5 other flashes and some color gels for a creative play.

9- Put A Person In The frame

It's preferable to have a reference point so as to scale the place you're shooting. Bare in mind that close up shots won’t really look good with a human in it, the larger scale shots come out better with someone standing, posing, or interacting with the cave in any possible way. a bit of a challenge but you’ll need to pose a friend and have them remain still for the exposure or they'll just show up blurry with a longer shutter speed. A lot can be done with a person in a cave, at least that's what i found through my photos.

10- Wear A Head-light

A head-light is very handy in such places where you want to focus on the beauty and composing your shots instead of worrying all the time about your path. When your hands are free to setup a tripod and frame the shot the whole process will be more enjoyable.

Soon i'll be posting a before and after shots on my facebook page of some Cave captures to help you get a better shot in your next care adventure, have fun, shoot safely and above all Enjoy.

Special thank to my friend Amr abdelwahab founder of Astrotrips who invited me to such a stunning revelations. Huge thanks to all my friend who posed for me and i'm grateful for your friendship. Sannur Cave protectorate is a forgotten gems a the protectorate was declared as a closed area right after it’s discovery then opened again lately to invite a lot of curious photographers and geology fans through organised trips.