The Giants Court – Carlsbad Caverns NM.

Carlsbad Canverns new mexico black and white Gavin Seim 880x593 The Giants Court   Carlsbad Caverns NM.

The Giants Court – Carlsbad Caverns NP, New Mexico, 2012

I’ve spent three days at 750 feet below the surface, photographing in the dim light with digital and film. It’s truly awe inspiring and it was one of most challenging subjects I’ve worked with and not for lack of beauty or interest, but perhaps for to much of it.

A subterranean wonderland that’s a challenge to capture in a natural sense, since natural here is total darkness. The artificial lights here have been beautifully done and you rarely see a cord or a bulb, but they are low and were designed for seeing with the eyes more than seeing on film.

It was breathtaking. One day I hiked out the natural exit, packing all my gear all the way to the top rather than use then subterranean elevator. I’ll admit it was more than I bargained, but a stunning hike and a great exercise.

Behold! The Hall of Giants! Perhaps my favorite place in the caverns. It’s Stalagmite columns like towering kings watching over the royal court. It took some time and study to gain a grasp on how this beauty beneath should be best captured, but I feel I’ve in part conveyed that feeling I had as I stood, looking on in awe.

 

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Technical Notes: Canon MK2, 24mm TSe II, 5 sec , f10, ISO320

There’s so much detail down here that it presents a challenge to keep the eye focused and I believe only suitably scaled prints will do that detail justice. The park actually had a nice collection of Adams prints on display that inspired me. I was also encouraged to read that he too found the Caverns a great challenge due to their artificial lights and tight spaces. I was not alone in my challenge.

It’s interesting to note that the issue in the caverns is really not a lack of dynamic range so much as detail and color of light. A bracketed HDR would in most cases only make this situation worse, by causing everything to run together. I found the real challenge was keeping supporting cast darker in relation to the main subject. Or sometimes even finding a main subject all. To the eye it’s a wonder, but in the camera the architecture tends to become a chaotic forest like place lit with constantly differing types of light. Using a flash (unless you could gain special access) only makes the scene flat and plain.

This is a single file, processed with Silver Shadows 2 in LR. A little tweaking and a good deal of very careful burning and dodge were used to achieve the final visualization of the main highlights on the column at around Zone 7 and the back walls around Zone 3-4.

To those entering the caverns or a place like it I would submit that a tripod is a must, and simplifying your frame to specific elements or finding light that accents your main subject while leaving background elements a few stops darker is important. You can compensate of this some in the final edits, but good light needs to start off right.

Good luck… Gav

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