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Thread: Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

  1. #1

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    Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    Hi All,

    Planning a trip to the nearby caverns and wanted to consult with the collective you before I drag the 'ole camera prolly with my Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 lens.

    The lighting will vary from pitch blank, flash lights to harsh sodium vapor lamps. Lots of reflection off pools of water, walls, stalites/stagmites, etc.

    The walkways will vary from wide, high caverns to very narrow, low walkways. I've been told to add a lens hood for no other reason then as protection against the narrow cavern walls.

    Any and all advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

    Scott

  2. #2
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    Re: Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    I took some photos in Carlsbad Caverns a while back and I was surprised how fun it was. Here's some quick tips that come to mind from that outing:


    • Bring a tripod
    • Use a lens hood (not just for protection, but also to minimize lens flare from all the harsh/localized lights). In fact, flare can be such a problem that you may even want to hold your hand out on the side of your lens, or to stand between your camera and the light source (but out of the shot, of course).
    • Make sure to bracket your exposures (the dynamic range is often huge, and you may want to combine these later)
    • Try using your flashlight to "paint"/illuminate the least visible structures during the exposure
    • Make sure to have a wide range of focal lengths (although I found that I was using the wide angle lens the most). This will also depend a lot on the type of cave you'll be visiting, but from your description it seems like you'll have both confined spaces and open, expansive areas.
    • Compose really carefully; you can often make the most of harsh lighting just by positioning the stalagmites/etc in front of the light sources. You can also often make the most of artificial lighting if you ensure that several different types of light sources are illuminating your composition at the same time. This way the weird white balances act to enhance regions of the image instead of adding an even and unsightly cast to the whole image.


    Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?
    Canon EOS 5D Mark II
    Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM - 15s f/11.0 at 24.0mm iso200

    Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?
    Canon EOS 5D Mark II
    Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM - 30s f/11.0 at 65.0mm iso200
    Last edited by McQ; 5th October 2010 at 10:25 PM.

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    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    There is not much to add to McQ's post. However here are a couple of points:

    1. Don't try to use flash
    2. Don't worry about color balance - the lights in various caverns are usually multicolored
    3. Use a remote release for your camera on the tripod. Using the self-timer can work but, really slows down the photographer
    4. Bring a flashlight to read your camera settings
    5. Make sure that you have all your equipment (batteries, CF cards, timer, etc.). I once ended up on the bottom of Carlsbad caverns NM with batteries only for my Canon XT and a remote cord for only my 10D.

    Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

  4. #4

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    Re: Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    Excellent advice and pics by the way. I have a big and heavy bogen I normally like to use but not for an hours long Cavern tour. Do you use a ligher 'travel' tripod?

    Is it possible to take hand-held photos let's say at 1/30 sec and sacrafice some DOF and/or ISO?

    Thanks!

    Scott

  5. #5
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    Quote Originally Posted by plankton View Post
    Is it possible to take hand-held photos let's say at 1/30 sec and sacrafice some DOF and/or ISO?
    Hi Scott,

    If the lens has IS and you're using a fairly wide angle lens, then yes. How much DoF you lose and noise (through high iso) you get depends upon the lighting levels.

    You will need a decent DoF though, I wouldn't compromise on that, whereas noise can be taken out afterwards in PP.

    Read the recent Techniques page on camera shake with handheld photography for tips, but a tripod and remote release is definitely your best bet.

    Pictures ruined due to camera shake and/or insufficient DoF can't be fixed after, largely noise can, assuming you have Neat Image, Noise Ninja, or similar.

    Cheers,
    Last edited by McQ; 6th October 2010 at 04:37 PM.

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    Re: Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    Quote Originally Posted by plankton View Post
    Is it possible to take hand-held photos let's say at 1/30 sec and sacrafice some DOF and/or ISO?
    Sometimes, but with the above examples this unfortunately wouldn't have been possible. The best one could do with the first photo would've been 0.25 seconds at f/4.0 and iso1600, but this is really sacrificing depth of field (and getting a sharp hand-held shot at 0.25 seconds is really tough without stabilization and something to set your camera on). In the second example, 0.5 seconds would've been the best you could've gotten at f/4 and iso1600. Of course, you can always push the ISO even higher, but iso3200 is getting really noisy (especially with a scene that has lots of shadow tones). You could also try f/2.8 (if available) -- but again, this is sacrificing too much depth of field for an otherwise expansive cave shot.

    Quote Originally Posted by plankton View Post
    I have a big and heavy bogen I normally like to use but not for an hours long Cavern tour. Do you use a ligher 'travel' tripod?
    Also, I use an old Gitzo 1228 mountaineer tripod. It's reasonably light.

  7. #7
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    Re: Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    I was in a spectacular cave a couple of weeks ago.

    Apart from the huge differences between black shadows and bright lights shining straight at the camera producing horrendous flare, the constant trickle of visitors meant a lot of hanging around waiting for people to move out of the frame; it’s surprising how cold you can get underground, even in a hot country.

    Because of the huge variations in contrast, I shot for HDR. For each individual frame, I took five bracketed shots from 1/3rd of a second to 25 seconds (f8, ISO200) and spent several hours post processing the images (could have spent a lot more!) for a 360VR of the place; I can’t post the result here because it’s a flash file, but if you’d like to see it, please click the top left thumbnail here:

    http://www.cretephotography.com/360_virtual_tours.htm

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    Re: Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    Scott, to answer your question about tripods...

    I use two tripods. My main tripod is a Giottos MT-8180 with a MH-1300 A/C head. However, despite this tripod being of graphite construction; it is still at 7.1 pounds (3.22 kg.) a bit heavy for a long day of walk-around and boonie tromping photography.

    My travel and boonie tripod is a modified SLIK Pro 330DX. I switched from the heavy stock pan-tilt head to a much lighter Adorama Flashpoint F-1 A/C head, I also switched from the stock center post to the optional shorter model; although I could just as easily cut off a portion of the center post to save weight.

    The result is a very lightweight 2-pound, 2-ounce (1.02 kg.) tripod that I can carry just about everywhere. It can support my 40D and 70-200mm f/4L IS lens with ease. The IS system of the 70-200mm lens allows me to leave IS on when shooting. This dampens any camera movement. I have used it with good results in some relatively stiff breezes in Utah's Canyon Country.

    Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    The SLIK next to my Giottos...

    Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    The only shortcoming is that without raising the center column, which I usually refrain from doing, the rig is fairly short - as shown in the accompanying image. However, I can live with a bit of bending to have a light, sturdy and relatively inexpensive travel tripod. You usually cannot have all three qualities in any one tripod. I could also use a right angle finder to reduce the need for my ancient back to bend...

    Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 7th October 2010 at 06:33 PM.

  9. #9
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    Very good Tim - can't even see the tripod legs

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    Re: Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    Make sure that the caverns permits the use of tripods. Of the last three caverns I went to only one permitted tripods or monopods. Mammoth Caverns did not permit any kind of camera bag. I was forced to leave the camera case for my point and shoot in the car.

  11. #11
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    Re: Down and Dirty - Camera settings for Caverns?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Humphries View Post
    Very good Tim - can't even see the tripod legs
    That’s because there wasn’t one Dave, I was using a pair of sky hooks

    (thanks )

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