So I'ld love to say that I'm a super cool caver woman, but the truth is that being underground scares the crap out of me. I don't know why. It's just a thing.
BUT the other thing is, I'll take pictures ANYWHERE. So when some professional photos were needed of our rescue caver friends, I decided to suck it up and go underground! I'm really glad I did and I've found that with a camera in hand, I'm weirdly much braver!
Since I found a scarcity of material on how to get started, I wanted to share what little that I've learned with you!
Before I share the tips and tricks, know this: caves are dangerous places. Don't go into a cave without people who know the cave and have experience. It takes training and equipment to get in and out safely! This is not a disclaimer because I want to cover myself, it's a disclaimer because I truly think you would hurt yourself or get lost or both without having experience/training or bringing someone who knows what they are doing.
1. Have a waterproof and, ideally, shock-absorbing case for your equipment. Caves are dirty, wet places. A friend of mine once told me that everything you bring into a cave will get terminally dirty, as in, get so dirty that it will never be clean again... and they were right! Since I did not want my camera to suffer the same fate as my clothing, we took a pelican case in with us. It had padding that not only kept the camera and flashes clean, but it also absorbed the shaking and bumps that it went through continuously as we climbed.
2. Take a few flashes. There is NO light underground except what you bring in, so flashes are a must! You greatly increase the dimension of an image by having an off-camera flash as well as on-camera. I used 3 Canon 600 EX-RTs, which I would recommend to anyone! They can communicate via radio signal which is ideal when you want to put a flash behind an object (they don't need line of sight to trigger).
3. Know that it will take at least 10 min to set up a shot... a lot more if you are setting up tripods or light stands. We had enough bodies that I positioned people around the "room" and handed out flashes once people were in position. Since I was desperately afraid of getting my equipment dirty, this was slow going. I had one clean spot (the pelican case) so I had to move that around with me to each flash location before getting the subjects in the right spot and then getting to position. This is easy in a regular room, but more challenging in a cave, where careful footing if not climbing is involved!
4. Don't bring your camera the first time you cave. It's the third time I've been in this particular cave. One, that helps me know which shots are worth spending the time on. Two, I knew what scenarios my camera would be in. Three, I had a tiny bit of experience so that I wasn't learning everything about caving at the same time as learning everything about cave photography.
5. Bring a wide angle. I usually prefer tight shots, with wide apertures, but this is one instance where you will definitely want to bring the widest lens you've got.