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Taking Photos

So many people have camera with them on tours but only a few take photos worth keeping. The tips below will hopefully get you started.

Be Considerate

Before anything else please bear in mind that most people are on the tour to see the caves. If you keep stopping to take photos it slows up the tour and can actually mean you miss sections in order for the guide to make up lost time. Also most guides don't mind having their photo taken but please ask first. For those people taking video, check with the guide if they mind you using your video light. Also if you intend to put your video on YouTube the polite thing is to ask the guide if they mind appearing on YouTube or their voice being part of the soundtrack.

Be Careful

The caves have steps in them as well as ceilings that may come down low. When you take a photo check where you are standing, Once you've taken your photo look around before moving off lest you knock yourself out or trip. Also we ask visitors to avoid taking photos whilst negotiating steps as well as narrow passages. Some people stop in passageways and hold the rest of the group up behind them. If someone is mildly claustrophobic this can cause them a great deal of distress. The best places to take photos are the platforms where groups gather throughout the tours.

Best time of the year

There is a best time of the year to take photos in the caves believe it or not. This time is in the warmer months from about October to May. The reason is that the caves stay the same temperature (16-17 degrees Celsius) all year round and are very humid. In winter if you take a cold camera in the cave it will rapidly fog up. If you do come in winter try and keep your camera under your jacket to warm it up, bring lens tissues and check the lens regularly whilst underground.

Things to bring and things to leave behind

A small pocket torch can be useful for checking details on your camera but please don't flash it about carelessly and especially if the guide is demonstrating cave darkness. Tripods are not allowed on cave tours although you can use a monopod. Alternatively a small bean bag can be used to help stabilise your camera although be careful. Place the bean bag on top of a railing and then rest your camera on the beanbag (Assuming you have a small camera). Why you would want to do this is explained below

Give your flash a rest

The easiest way to take photos in the caves is with the flash turned on. Hand held photography without a flash is generally going to result in blurred photos. Having said that the best photos are taken without a flash provided you can keep your camera steady. For this you will need that beanbag mentioned above or a monopod. Failing that you can always press your camera hard up against a railing to take the photo. The name of the game is don't let that camera move. Why are these photos better than when you use a flash? When you go on your cave tour there will be lots of areas where there is darkness. Afterall a cave is a dark place where we introduce light. Using a flash generally removes all traces of darkness rendering your photos 'flat' and very uncavelike. Avoiding the use of a flash retains the shadows and gives a great feel for what it was like to go on a cave tour.

Be aware of the limitations of your gear

You're possibly quite proud of your camera but believe me, it isn't a miracle worker. Your eyes are miracles - they can adjust from very low light levels to very bright levels - all in one scene. Your camera can't - unless you use clever software. The flash on most cameras is only effective out to a range of about 4 metres. Beyond that the photo will become muddy and grainy. Therefore try and use the flash on subjects within this range. If you are photographing a friend in the cave, try and get them to stand with some decoration close behind them - within 2 metres. Beyond that your friend will appear okay but the cave wall will start to disappear into darkness

Be creative

Everyone takes photos of stalagmites and their dumb friend with a cheesy grin on their face as though they have just had too much cough medication. Some of my favourite photos are of visitors watching the guide explain the cave to them. If you can get a photo of your friend watching the guide point something out your friend will possibly look intelligent and the photo will tell a story. Look up and look down - try and avoid taking photos of big objects and look for the vignettes everyone misses. Take a photo of your tour group to convey how many others were with you. Later when you review your photos its photos like these that can be used to tell a story.

Get digital and go wild

In the days of film cameras you had to stop and think whether you really wanted to use up another frame of film on a shot that may or may not work out. Now in the days of digital - who cares? With a good sized memory card you can just keep taking photos and if they don't work out - just delete them. You probably won't have many chances to take photos of the caves so knock yourself out and take lots of photos.

Get technical

This is for people who really enjoy playing with techie toys. First thing - look on Ebay and see if you can get yourself a radio control flash trigger. Mine cost about $30. One bit goes on the hotshoe of my camera and the other part goes on my flashgun. I then give the flashgun to a friend who wanders ahead and I just take photos. The depth of these photos is incredible and all your friends will be amazed you took the photos. The other thing to play with is imaging software. In particular I find software that processes High Dynamic Range (HDR) is amazing. You can use this for getting perfect shots of the Devils Coachhouse and other areas around the reserve that have areas of dark shadows but also bright highlights. A single photo can't capture the full depth of the image so you set the camera to manual and take several shots going from overexposed to underexposed. You dump all of the photos into your HDR software and it spits out an image exactly how you remember it. Magic! Just search on the net for High dynamic range freeware and you should find something. Alternatively most mid range image processing software like Photoshop Elements and PhotoImpact include this.