How can you make photographs when there is no light? Southern Oregon University photography faculty Ezra Marcos and Erik Palmer helped a team of media students solve that problem in April, spending two days underground at the Oregon Caves National Monument near Cave Junction, Oregon.
In a project coordinated through National Park Service administrators and SOU's Digital Media Center, eight students assisted with the creation of an archive of photos that will be used for promotional and documentary purposes by the Monument. Park rangers and interns also worked with the team as it ventured underground for hours to capture these images.
"I learned a lot about how to light a cave, and how it really took a team to get really professional photos of something so dark," said SOU Communication major Caroline Cabral. "Ezra talked about how even if he'd left the shutter open for hours at a time, there still would have been little to no light in the photo. And seeing a professional photography shoot in action, and how a photographer interacts with a client was really helpful to me."
Photographing in caves is an arcane sub-discipline of photography in its own right, and one that even the instructors struggled to master. But Marcos worked out an approach to light-painting with portable strobes that brought light into the void, and the student team played an instrumental role in executing the images. Particular challenges included the Monument's Grand Column and Ghost rooms, the highest rooms in the 3.8-mile cave network.
Through trial and error, and careful post-processing, the team assembled a collection of photos illustrating the most unique, dynamic and important attributes of the Oregon cave network.