Caverns and Tripods

One of my favorite shots of formations in the cave

One of my favorite shots of formations in the cave

Caves are dark.  Really dark.  In fact, the darkest places on earth.  They are one of the few places you can go where no light penetrates.  Of course, most cave tours don’t let you experience total darkness.  This would be a problem trying to make your way through the narrow, rocky path with slippery spots, tripping hazards, and so many places to hit your head that the guide has special names for the worst of them.

Sabre Tooth Tiger--definitely could have used a tripod

Sabre Tooth Tiger–definitely could have used a tripod

But, some cave tours do turn off the lights for a moment so you can experience what total darkness is really like.  The expression “can’t see your hand in front of your face” came from cavers.  It is absolutely true when you are in total darkness–you have to imagine  your hand is where you think it is because there is no visual confirmation.

The Iguana formation

The Iguana formation

Obviously, just about anything that contains the root “photo” in it doesn’t work in total darkness–photosynthesis, a photodiode, photoreactions, and certainly not photography.

After all, “photo” means light and when we’re talking about total darkness, we’re talking about rendering anything based on light useless.  Our own eyes as well as our cameras are unable to see anything in total darkness.

Mini-stalagtites growing from the ceiling

Mini-stalagtites growing from the ceiling

That said, I wasn’t trying to shoot in total darkness.  I was trying to shoot in the dim lights provided on the tour.  This isn’t much light.  There are a few choices to make in these conditions:

  1. Crank up the ISO setting as high as is tolerable.
  2. Sacrifice depth of field for a larger aperture opening to allow more light in.
  3. Use a flash.
  4. Use long exposures and set the camera on a tripod for sharpness.
Waterfall formation

Waterfall formation

I decided against choice 4.  While I could have asked to see if bringing along a tripod would be a problem, I felt there was too much risk of damaging formations and/or tripping over them if I were trying to carry my big, bulky tripod through the cave.

I brought a flash unit, but decided against using it because, in part, of the un-predictability of flash bouncing off strange shapes and formations.  Plus, I only had one flash and it was going to have to be on my camera.  I was confident I would not get the kind of lighting I needed from that.

Big room view

Big room view

I did open up the aperture a bit (from f/22 to f/16) to get a slightly faster shutter speed even if meant slightly less depth of field.  I definitely cranked up the ISO setting.  However, I drew the line at 8000 ISO.  Higher ISO settings get too noisy for my tastes, especially when the scene is quite dark.

This meant shutter speeds as slow as ⅖ of a second.  That may sound like barely an instant, but it’s actually quite challenging to hold a camera perfectly still that long.  In the end, I was mostly pleased with the images I got, but all would have benefitted from a tripod.



Let Your Colors Burst

As it turns out, the next shoot I did after the Mainx24 Parade was yet another parade.  Since I’m not ready to blog about another parade yet, I thought I would jump to the end of the evening and go with the fireworks display that closed the holiday celebration.

I always see these fantastic fireworks shots that have zero smoke in them and just streaks of color shooting across the sky.  I don’t know how they get those shots.  I’ve spent a little time searching for tips on how to prevent smoke, but none of them seem to help much other than the possibility of doing something in post processing to darken the smoke so it blends in better.  I guess I will have to experiment.

As it is, the video was made from the 550+ shots with no post-processing.  I will pick a few for post-processing later.  Today, I was only up for making a movie.

The irony of me making a movie out of my stills is that my camera will shoot video.  I have used it to shoot a video once so far.  I didn’t think I could see well enough to focus manually and I found the autofocus function quite disruptive.  I also discovered iMovie, the only video editing software I have, removed the feature to easily capture stills from video, so you have to go through a couple extra hoops and use another application to get a still from video.  I find this annoying.  Since I generally want stills, it seems easier to shoot stills and make a movie later if I want a video.

I didn’t plan to shoot the fireworks.  I just happen to have a great view of them from my balcony and it seemed a waste not to shoot them.  I did several things wrong during the shoot.

First, forgive me for repeating myself, I didn’t plan to shoot the fireworks. As a last minute decision, I was rushing to get setup on the balcony and failed to notice in the dark that I had part of the top of the balcony in the frame.  This is going to result in more cropping than I planned for.

Second, about half way through the show, I couldn’t remember if I had focused at any point or not.  This is not the time to have memory failure.  Although, I suppose it is better than at the end of the show.  I couldn’t really notice when the focus changed in the video, but the background buildings look blurry.

Third, I forgot to change the ISO setting from shooting very dark scenes and trying to get a faster shutter speed.  This led to much shorter shutter speeds than I would have liked.

Finally, I also forgot to set it on aperture priority and I was shooting so fast, I didn’t check the images.  Alas, I blew out the images with really bright bursts.

Other than that, my shots are great.  🙂

Night Moves

I don’t know much about event shooting (besides the fact that it makes me nervous), but I figured having some photos of the crowd would be a good thing.  Since the crowd at the Acres of Darkness event was standing in line for the haunted trail, I figured that’s where I needed to be.

This presented a special challenge:  Large groups of people clumped along a line that spanned about 50 yards.  Add to that, ridiculously little light.  Even with my ISO setting all the way up to 25600, with an aperture of f/22, I needed a 1.3 second shutter speed to get the shot of the line.

Funny, I don’t remember ISO 25600 being in the table of reciprocal settings to get the same exposure with different ISO, shutter speed, and aperture combinations.  I still shake my head, remembering how excited my dad was when he discovered 800 ISO film.

In any case, getting 50ish people strung out in a line to all hold still for 1.3 seconds was not an option.  I experimented with even longer shutter speeds to see how much blur I got and whether I liked the effect or not.  I like the mood the slight blurring creates for the halloween theme quite a bit, actually.  The motion makes it seem more interesting somehow.

I might have gotten a bit carried away when I decided to try to create ghost images as people entered the trail.  I asked several groups to “slow walk” as they started down the trail in the hope of creating some really great apparitions.  This didn’t work out so well.  The people created more of a haze in my image instead of actual ghosts.  Next time, I will have them stand still for approximately 1/2 the time my shutter is open and see if that creates more of the effect I’m looking for.

On a more positive note, I added an entertainment factor no one expected.  The people I asked to slow walk turned the assignment into the hokey pokey, robot moves, imitations of the 6 million dollar man (although I’m not sure any of them were old enough to have heard of him), and even a brief line dance.  I, on the other hand, did not do any dancing.

I find it an interesting psychological experiment:  ask people to perform and unusual but simple task and their self-consciousness causes them to turn it into something more usual, like dancing.  Or, maybe it’s more of an act of embracing a moment of silliness and just rolling with it?  Whichever the case, we all laughed a lot.