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.

Southern Oregon University faculty and students working in the Oregon Caves National Monument

"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.

Photos from the project illustrate unique geologic features, and help document the scale of the caves

This work with the Monument continues SOU's practices of bringing compelling project-based learning to students in all of our media disciplines. Other governmental and non-profit partners in the region have included Southern Oregon Public Television, Crater Lake National Park, Kid Time Childrens' Museum, Lotus Rising Project, Rogue Valley Farm To School, Southern Oregon Film and Media, and more.

"Our interest primarily stemmed from the fact that the Oregon Caves has never really had a formal effort to get some digital images of the cave for our archives," said George Herring, the chief of interpretation and education for the monument. "We thought we might work with SOU to get the material and the talent there, and we thought it might give students exposure to a type of photography and a creative challenge that they might not get anywhere else."

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