Hours of setup for just one shot: Phobia-inducing video shows the difficult life of a cave photographer


posted Friday, June 27, 2014 at 6:40 PM EDT


If you suffer from claustrophobia, you may want to look away from this video. (Or perhaps just take a peek through your trembling fingers.) The folks at Joby recently took a journey to Knoxville, Tennessee, literally just down the road from your humble news editor. They were here to take part in a spelunking expedition, and to learn about an unusually challenging photographic discipline: cave photography.

Knoxville-based photographer and caver Chris Higgins was their guide for two days spent exploring local caves, and capturing them with a small mountain of camera gear. (You might think a cave would be relatively simple to photograph, but when you could be dealing with anything from narrow passages to rooms the size of a football stadium, there's a lot of ground to cover -- and you have to be able to supply all of the light yourself.) Higgins cams to the attention of Joby's staff last January, when one of his excellent caving photos took fourth place in a photo contest sponsored by Outex, Joby and LowePro.

Not for claustrophobics: Chris Higgins takes you along on a cave photography expedition

Intrigued by what seemed a uniquely-challenging environment, Joby community and content manager Zach Settewongse and web designer Joey Hillier hopped on a flight to Knoxville to meet with Higgins. Neither Settewongse nor Hillier had any caving experience, and their video of the two days they spent underground with Higgins -- edited down to appear as a single day -- nicely captures their beginner's nerves in an environment that's totally alien to most of us.

In the end, they survived the experience and came away with a profound respect for cave photography, and the men and women who've mastered the genre. (As Settewongse put it on emerging from underground, "Never again!") You'll see several of Higgins' finest photos in the video clip, and get a real sense for the unique challenge in photographing a subject where a single shot can require hours of setup, and every photon captured by your camera is one you've personally supplied.

And that's before you even consider all the climbing through muddy crevices that you've got to do to to get there. You'll find the full gear list for the trip on Joby's blog, but one look at the state of Higgins' Nikon D7000 digital SLR and Sigma 10-20mm lens -- an optic he says he favors because it hurts just a little less when written off during a caving expedition -- should tell you everything you need to know about how tough cave photography can be on your gear.

Now, if you've finished watching the video, you can unlace your fingers from over your eyes, claustrophobes!

(via Joby blog)