Amata Hinkle | Sunguramy: Blog https://www.sunguramy.com/blog en-us (C) Amata Hinkle | Sunguramy (Amata Hinkle | Sunguramy) Mon, 02 Aug 2021 18:06:00 GMT Mon, 02 Aug 2021 18:06:00 GMT https://www.sunguramy.com/img/s/v-12/u843728436-o915654945-50.jpg Amata Hinkle | Sunguramy: Blog https://www.sunguramy.com/blog 92 120 Cameras for Cave Photography https://www.sunguramy.com/blog/2021/7/cameras-for-cave-photography General Thoughts
"The best camera is the one you have on you" - and this is true for caves as well. Do not be afraid to use what you do have access to, play around with lighting, and learn about framing. Almost all locations on Earth have light; underground is one of the few exceptions and so the lighting is often the most important component, in some ways more than the camera itself. These days, LED technology means great lights are on everyone's cave helmets, and so using SIT (sustained illumination technology) or light painting is in everyone's reach who has a phone on their camera.

All of my first cave photographs were with a cheap HP point and shoot digital camera that I had at the time, so think decades old technology with decades old light tech. Were they the best? Nope. Did I learn a lot? Yes. Does spending just a minute or two thinking about lighting give you better photos than most will take? Yes. Get the light off of your camera, whether by flash or by headlamp, and your results will be MUCH better, instantly. 

A photo I took over a decade ago of some formations in the UK. Spending two minutes on this photo using a friend's helmet light made it 10x better than just using the on-camera flash. I see many flaws with it now, but back then, it was the first cave photo I was ever proud of.
print-OFD_0046print-OFD_0046

 

My Requirements for Cave Cameras
I hate heavy packs and bulky gear. Small and light. I never wanted to use a SLR setup underground - have you ever lifted someone's cave pack who carries one? Eesh! I use a Pelican 1120 case and my entire setup has always been under 3 pounds; this fits in any standard daypack with ease and is easy to maneuver around, even in crawls. For a lens, I want a wide angle (20-30mm) as many areas underground are smaller. Fast lenses that let in lots of light are best so I don't have to boost ISO too much which leads to grainy images and loss of detail. (Pro tip: don't buy into super high ISO marketing, especially on any sensor smaller than ASP-C.) A hot-shoe is a must for using off camera flashes. Ideally, with the bio-work I do, I want the ability to take macro images of cave life on short notice without changing lenses. This is a lot to ask for in a small package. Very few cameras have this level of quality and flexibility, even if money is no object.
 

Lumix LX3
A lot of research brought me to this little amazing camera, which is based off a Leica camera, having the same high quality glass but without the expensive name attached. It has a very fast lens, f/2.0, which on a smaller sensor actually still gives amazing depth of field. The lens is wide (22mm equivalent) which is wonderful for cave photography. The design of the camera dials tend to keep dust out, so unless you're in waterfall mist it holds up well underground. The best part? Even in 2011 I could get them used for a whopping $100. Now you can find them under $50, if you can find them for sale. It is such a well liked camera that dpreviews in 2017 made a "throwback thursday" post celebrating it: the LX3 made a new standard for the compact class, providing good manual control and good glass and even a hotshoe.

I shot for about a decade on the LX3. The majority of my cave photography even things published by NatGeo, photos that won and placed in competitions from Alabama Outdoors to Hidden Earth, and more, all from this teeny little workhorse of a camera. Most of the images on this site are still from this camera as I shot with it for so long.

Everything from classic TAG pits...
Mystery Falls From the TopMystery Falls From the Top   Surprise PitSurprise Pit


Internationally famous classics in Mexico...

Golondrinas High SideGolondrinas High Side

 

Trips to the UK....

Just the ColumnsJust the Columns The Column in ShatterThe Column in Shatter  

 

Huge chambers in Spain...

some of the chambersome of the chamber

 

Macros of teeny tiny invertebrates...

Nesticus w/ NesticusNesticus w/ Nesticus

 

and stunningly colourful mines!

The Blue TunnelThe Blue Tunnel

The above photos are sometimes light-painted, but mostly flash photography. I use Yongnuo triggers (thanks to Footleg for that suggestion!) and a $5 flash I found at a thrift store that is nicely bright, but not a fancy or brand name one that has all the features people want for modern dSLR, hence, the price. I have yet to break that flash and it's over a decade old with cave use now. I do light painting with a 'sodacan' 3000 lumen light, but they come far brighter now than they did 10 years go. Plus, the average Zebralight or other cave-specific light people use on their helmets will do fine as these have pushed lumen barriers with modern LED technology that did not exist readily before.

The LX3 has great image quality at 200 ISO, good and easily smoothed at 400 ISO, and can be pushed to 800 without much detail loss. The f/2.0 lens means a lot of light is allowed in, and so it is just...easy...to get good photos in low light. I find it natural to use and not a struggle. It finds auto-focus well, or you can manually focus without difficulty. The hot-shoe allows the trigger attachment for off camera flash, something most small cameras do not have, and something I highly recommend for cave photography.

I find the LX3 lasts a few years underground, and I still keep one around to use as a backup. The only thing 'wrong' with it was my personal photography style was growing beyond the now-over-20-years-old technology. But, for example, a trip two weeks ago I didn't have my current camera working so I grabbed my LX3 to take, and it did the job wonderfully as we explored a section of a system not visited in 30 years.

Canyon BelowCanyon Below Dome down the 115Dome down the 115

 

Lumix LX5
For a few months in 2013, I tried the Lumix LX5, the upgrade from the LX3. It died pretty quickly in the cave environment due to the new dial layout and dial types. It also was harder to focus lock correctly. So although it offered an upgraded lens and on paper better abilities, I found it to perform slightly worse than the LX3 underground. The final images were comparable (see below), just harder to achieve, and it didn't handle the cave environment as well. Because the LX7 had the same dial/control layout as the LX5, I never tried it, but I would expect similar regarding it not holding up as well against dust and moisture.

Flabergasam OxbowFlabergasam Oxbow   Top of Cloud ChamberTop of Cloud Chamber

 

Lumix LX100
The new-and-improved line of LX cameras: the LX100 is a compact micro 4/3 camera, with updated abilities and controls with a stunningly low aperture of f/1.7, and a 24mm equivalent lens. It is a leap forward from the other LX cameras and when I realized I was outgrowing the LX3 I had to try it. It has been almost two years, and I really like it. I can push the ISO to 1600 if I really need to, but it is nice straight out of the camera up to 800. It is not as good at handling the cave environment as the LX3, but far better than the LX5. Dust getting into the lens retraction mechanism is well documented, but there is a fix involving a vacuum cleaner (yes, literally sucking the dust back out when it starts to get sticky, it works, I've done it). Because compact cameras have retracting lenses, dust *will* eventually gunk them up. Just a fact. I still love them because I do macro when I see neat invertebrates during bioinventory work, and they have a nice wide lens which works great in cave photography.  If you can afford the $350 for a used LX100 I would recommend it! (If not, stick to the LX3 for $50!)

Here are some photos from my LX100; they may look very similar to other images, but they were easier to achieve with the new lens and larger sensor and - while you cannot zoom in here - looking closer at the original image files there is a difference especially in noise handling and sharpness.

Blowing HoleBlowing Hole

Brian under bridgeBrian under bridge   Gold Level Canyon - panoramicGold Level Canyon - panoramic Kayak horizontal flowstoneKayak horizontal flowstone

 

Sony a6300
Slowly I am tiring of lens retraction issues. They are annoying, especially when it gums a camera up mid-cave-trip! Mirrorless compact system cameras have come a long way in the last decade, so after a lot of research I settled on the Sony a6300 because it would fit in my existing tiny 1120 pelican case without upsizing, it has some dust & moisture resistance (albeit not that great, Sony notoriously oversells their weather sealing), plus - all the amazing reviews - including low light functionality. I would lose macro abilities but with an ASP-C size sensor, I reasoned I should be able to crop to almost as good as a full macro was on the Lumix, especially if the image quality and sharpness were as good as reviews claimed. 

I purchased it with two 'pancake' lenses and gave it a test run in my backyard, checking out the focus lock settings and even found a fly wing to practice some "macro" with to see if I could indeed crop it heavily and have a great image. It looked promising, all was working well and the fake-macro test worked adequately. Next step - check it in a nice clean cave. I was in for a shocker.

The first thing I noticed was the display. It was black. (And so was the viewfinder.) This was shocking as I have a very bright cave headlamp, so there's no excuse for the screen preview to be black. I have never had that issue on any camera I have ever used underground. Did I take off the lens cap? Yes, I had. Weird! I finally figured out that some light bounced off the pole in the frame making it barely show on the display, so I focus locked on it. Press the shutter button. Snap!

Nothing happened. Well. I did have a completely black image; no flash fired.

I tried again. Same story.

I went over to make sure the flash and triggers were on, and the triggers were talking to each other: the test button worked fine.

I tried again. Nothing happened.

I ended up pulling the trigger off the Sony camera and manually firing it (setting the exposure to 1/5 sec and just pressing the trigger right as I clicked the shutter). This worked, the flash went off every time.

We have images! However, the focus was VERY off.

With about a dozen shots, all the same thing by the way, ONE came out mostly focused, enough to pull some sharpness in post so it didn't look that bad. Most of the shots were horribly out of focus, a total blur. As the focus lock worked above ground, this means it wasn't finding focus in the 'low light' of the cave with over 1000 lumens of light. Plus, it's hard to frame when you have basically no visual on screen, only a faint outline of a pole (so, I know the screen was *working* - and again had I checked above ground). 

I know you are wondering, so here is the photo:

Old well pipe wmfbOld well pipe wmfb Nothing complex, nothing hard, plenty of water for light to bounce around...and yet...nope. Most were a full out blur. 

A bit of research revealed that Sony does not play nice with others (worse than Apple) and triggers won't work without a soldering modification. Unless I want to buy expensive Sony triggers, of course. This cascade of issues meant it was obvious to send it back. While some may say, "You just have to learn this camera!", I can't help but feel it shouldn't be this difficult. Plus, remember, it worked above ground just fine for all of my pre-cave-tests. Therefore, I had to conclude it was the cave environment and types of lighting styles I use in cave photography that it is not compatible with. I cannot compose photos with a black preview screen. I cannot create images if the camera cannot focus. I also need my flash triggers!

 

TL/DR
Panasonic Lumix all the way. I will happily use a $50 almost 25 year old LX3 than a new Sony alpha. 
I am very happy with the LX100, and with the version 2 released, prices continue to drop, so I have a feeling it will continue to be my cave camera for a some time to come. The only other small/compact cave cameras I have enjoyed when borrowing friend's cameras were other Panasonics, even some of their micro 4/3 system cameras; the Panasonic GM5 was the tiniest micro 4/3 system camera ever built and if I can ever find one of my own, I will get it! There is just something about their builds that simply work for caves.

Panasonic GM5 with pancake prime lens, borrowed from a friend in Spain for this photo.
If only they were still made...that combo was smaller than my LX100 is!

Where are All the Spiders, Footleg?Where are All the Spiders, Footleg?

 

SLR's for Underground
If the weight of a larger system is not bothersome, then I highly recommend Pentax. Their weather sealing is matched by none, and their lens options that are *ALSO* weather sealed are fantastic (as are their non-sealed lenses) and will not 'break the bank'. I use Pentax above ground where for me size & weight is not as much of a factor. I have even prompted many photographer and cave-photographer friends convert to it. Their price points are much better for their features than other brand names; a nice brand new weather sealed set up will cost ~$700, less for used. I have (accidently) literally dunked Pentax in a lake, fished it out, and it was 100% fine. I've used it in rain/snow/freeze storms in Iceland. I've used it in waterfalls. Never an issue and as good as the day I got it. You do have to watch out for the K50 and K70 aperture control issue, so I recommend against a used one of those. On current model lines, the KP is a great budget choice.

No issues in this deluge of a flooding streamway crawl! Purposefully for this shoot I used Pentax due to the extreme wet conditions.

Wet Way CrawlWet Way Crawl

 


 

 

 

]]>
(Amata Hinkle | Sunguramy) adventure camera cave cave photographer cave photography caver caving compact dSLR explore lumix panasonic pentax photographer photography recommend SLR sony speleo speleology sunguramy weather women https://www.sunguramy.com/blog/2021/7/cameras-for-cave-photography Thu, 22 Jul 2021 01:36:11 GMT
Inclusivity https://www.sunguramy.com/blog/2021/5/inclusivity It is the mid-2010's and some famous people openly announce being trans. 
The local caving world laughs; I see their posts on the caving group pages, acting like children making fun of people for being uniquely themselves, making plenty of misogynistic remarks.

A few years later and the Black Lives Matter movement rises.
The local caving world laughs; as if it is funny that non-white-people are being routinely murdered. They wear confederate flag shirts to meetings, claiming, "it is just history!", apparently fine with the history that promotes. 

Running into misogynistic walls myself, ignored whenever I speak out for equality, I pulled back from the local 'organized caving world'. But as the years wore on, as Trump fueled these issues into pure hatred, it merely got worse. COVID-19 added a layer of complexity, and as the world yearned for relief and a vaccine developed and approved, I heard those in leadership roles claim COVID is fake, and the vaccine is only to implant microchip tracking. I heard horrible things said about immigrants, about multiple ethnic groups. 

A decade of work in the community, being on leadership boards, holding officer positions, really crumbled because there is no way to push back against such engrained and imbedded hateful views. I was even lied to about my own safety - directly - to my face. I think many women in caving experience assault, but very few speak out, and even fewer are listened to - I know I gave up.

Organizations can claim they have !!!policies!!! But, to what end? No one is ever banned. There is full tolerance of such behaviour. "Boys will be boys." Such a dangerous saying. 

Change can only happen from within an organization if the majority in the organization are willing and able to hold people accountable for their actions.

Most existing organizational structures are unable, or unwilling, to do just that. Therefore, the only way forward is to create new and better groups.

My take on the 'state of the world' as it were, is that as an individual it is hard to affect everything, everywhere. We each have a limited network of connections we make in our lives. But if we help each other grow for the better in our little bubbles of the world, the bubbles themselves grow, interconnect, and eventually combine into a large bubble and in this way we can affect change on a large scale. 

Last year I saw this neat infograph from ohhappydani in which she describes how easily it is to get stuck in the 'Cycle of Inaction', and we need to transform into the 'Cycle of Action'. And it clicked. The caving world as it is, is not one I feel particularly safe in. I also want it to be more inclusive - not just of me (queer/neurodivergent/female) but everyone else who is not the 'typical caver' (ie white cis-male). There *ARE* cavers who feel the same - and we started finding each other during the pandemic as it became quickly obvious about people's true selves during this time. Knowing there are safe people to cave with is great, but it doesn't help solve the inclusivity issues if no one knows who we are.

I struggled with how to approach that until it clicked about taking direct action, some ideas following the internet-rabbit-hole I fell into from ohhappydani's work. The ideas I found meshed great with my bubble analogy I've had for years, that it isn't about some grand scheme it's about what can you offer, what is your sphere of influence, what is your passion? Take *that* and start there. And it was actually from ohhappydani's instagram feed I found the Black Adventure Crew which is local to me, so following her advice I reached out. 

We chatted for a while and eventually did a fun intro trip with kids, but ended up not able to go far into the cave thanks to rain flooding out the main passage. We all had so much fun though that a second trip was planned almost instantly!

End for the dayEnd for the day

This time we went to a cave that even if it rained it wouldn't matter. A lot of people it was their first trip underground! If you recognise this cave you'll know there is a 'wet way' that I have often taken out just to have a different passage and can do a loop of sorts. In this 'wet way' there is a deeper watery spot that one can hop down into and see a hidden waterfall, henceforth named Mermaid Falls because that is what the group decided to call it and to my knowledge it has no official name (so spread the word, if you know the spot I am talking about!). Every single person did this extra-wet side trip: the first time I have ever had everyone jump on in after me! Adventure crew, indeed! (And I looked it up, this was my 30th time in this cave, so that is one group out of 30!)

Elephant's FeetElephant's Feet It is so much fun caving with people who actually care about each other. I may not be able to change organizations, but I can change who I cave with, and I can share my knowledge with *ANYONE* who wants to learn about caving! If you are in TAG (tennessee-alabama-georgia) area, worry about not be accepted, but want to try caving, or other outdoor activities, make sure to check out Black Adventure Crew, feel free to contact me, or check out Southeast Outside facebook group.

 

 

 

]]>
(Amata Hinkle | Sunguramy) adventure blacklivesmatter cave caver caving diversify diversify the outdoors diversifytheoutdoors diversity explore inclusive inclusivity lgbtq pride speleology women womeninrescue https://www.sunguramy.com/blog/2021/5/inclusivity Fri, 14 May 2021 00:19:16 GMT
Happy Couples https://www.sunguramy.com/blog/2021/4/happy-couples Funny how one can not cave for a month. and then multiple times in a week! And this time, only two days apart, and both very unique photoshoots.

The first was my amazing friend's wedding. We hiked all the ropes and rigging - and they their formal wear - all the way up to the cave. As my own partner and I rigged, they got changed into their fancy clothes. You can read all about the logistics on her blog "Don't Go There" so I will just show some photos.

The Scene:

1 - rappelling downThe Scene

 

Rappelling down the (rope) isle:

1t - rappeling down 04Rappelling Down

 

Both safety ropes now joined into one rope heart:

03t - heart rope kissRope Heart

Two days later, it's early morning about 8am. I arrive at my friend's house who are also biologists to travel a few hours out to a restricted access cave managed by the National Park Service in order to do a bioinventory. I am greeted with, "Hey did you bring your camera?" Why yes, of course, I rarely ever go underground without it! She replies, "Good, because I want some maternity photos underground now that I'm showing!" Oh! Yes! Okay! So in the span of two days we go from a wedding shoot underground, to a maternity shoot underground!

I suppose now I have super-niche-specialties: cave weddings, and cave baby-bump shoots!

denise 1Baby!

 

 

]]>
(Amata Hinkle | Sunguramy) adventure cave caver caving explore maternity off beat bride speleology wedding women https://www.sunguramy.com/blog/2021/4/happy-couples Wed, 21 Apr 2021 01:06:46 GMT
A Friendly Hawk https://www.sunguramy.com/blog/2020/12/a-friendly-hawk While out hiking, we spotted a sink, which is pretty common in this area of Alabama and of course as cavers we tend to check it out. It was up a steep section of hill, and Brian was the one who went to check it out. It was a hole! 

So we came back with gear. Brian, Brandi, Ben and I set out to survey this (hopefully!) new cave. In Alabama, caves have to be at least 50 feet to qualify. It is interesting how each state survey has its own arbitrary number. I am glad the Alabama Cave Survey has started keeping a database of so-called "Karst Features" which is anything that does not qualify, so at least there are records. Although frankly, my preferred method would be to include everything into the same database.

We hoped this would be a "Proper Qualifying Cave" but wouldn't know until we went down. After rigging to a convenient tree, I was first on rope to descend. Since I was the only one checking it out, I went in unmasked; although our crew is very safety-conscious and that includes being careful in this current pandemic. 

Amata on rapelEntering the HoleGoing down to check out what is there...

Being the first into a new hole in the ground requires a bit of extra awareness. The edge isn't free of debris or loose rock. The boulders overhead hanging down may not be stable. It took me a good five minutes to get the edge cleared off to not let go of stones as I continued, and I deployed the rope as I went, to prevent it from getting cut by falling rock. There were two boulders that seemed to be hanging in the air that I had to duck under, and so I tested them from the top first, seeing if they were at risk to fall or perhaps held up by things I couldn't see yet, or were well frictioned into place. Luckily, they were. So I ducked in.

Once properly into the hole it was obvious it continued! I hollered up to the surface this finding, but continued on my own to scope it out. Right now, I was not sure how stable this rocky slide was. So I stayed on rope and carefully made my way down the cobble, quite aware some were rolling out from under my feet. I heard a bit of water which is always a fun sign. I got to a few larger boulders that seemed to be holding this slippery slide of cobble up and peered over the edge (still attached to the rope), and saw a second drop with water! 

At this point, I knew I needed another rope pad, and this was clearly worth exploring further and mapping. I knew two safe places to be off rope so I could get someone else into the cave to start surveying. I went back up to the top, got more safety gear and Ben volunteered to come down and help. My favourite part of the survey is keeping book and sketching, plus I have experience finding good survey stations. Ben took the Disto X2 in hand and followed me in. A disto is a great piece of survey kit, highly accurate, and easy to use. No more peering though sights trying to line everything up within +/- 2 degrees, now, we go for +/- 0.5 or better. We can average multiple shots with ease, so unless you really want a super-duper-beyond-all-tenth-a-degree-of-doubt survey, we just take multiple forward sights to make sure there was no error with a shot, and move on. This makes surveying a lot faster AND a lot more accurate than older manual methods. We can also pick stations off of good positioning, rather than the need to see past them to the next, which opens up a lot of opportunities and also can increase accuracy further.

I found my first 'safe zone' to be off rope, ducked under some boulders to the side of the first drop, and Ben did some shots and then followed me in.

1 - Entrance pitchEntrance pitchBen making his way down to join me and continue the survey. Once down, Ben ducked into my spot and I went back on rope to continue to the next 'safe zone'. I knew I could get around to the far side of the second drop to stable ground, where I could come off rope and find a good station to set up for shooting the second drop. On my way I set the rope pad so it was all ready, and checked to make sure the rope would make it to the bottom. Good to go, I went to a stable alcove and got off rope. With the next legs of the survey acquired, Brandi joined us as we had enough space to stage three people.

Caught up on the sketching, my next task was to get down the second drop. As I started to descend it became clear there was more loose cobble than I thought around the top, and pulled the rope up to prevent it from being damaged from anything falling on it. There was a bit of an edge that they were falling from, so I cleared it, re-deployed the rope, and continued on. It opened up into a nice freehang space of proper limestone. Above near the entrance had just been mudstone walls with a bit of sandstone cobble. But the cave had made it into a stable very fossil-filled layer of limestone.

I set up a station at the bottom to shoot to and got off rope. The top of the drop was a bit drippy and cold, so Brandi was second down to get out of the waterdrops. Ben got the survey shots and I kept on sketching, then he joined us at the bottom.

The DropThe Second DropBrandi on rappel

Sadly the cave did not continue, but it was a proper cave, at a bit over 75ft of surveyed length. We all climbed back out, happy to add a new cave to the database.

Climbing back out of the second dropBrandi & Ben

Brian we found out, had been hanging out with a redtail hawk the whole time! It liked it's perches in the area, kept stretching and preening while watching the squirrels skitter around in the leaves. He managed to take this picture on his cell phone, just walking up to it!

red tailred tail

Hence the name of the cave...between the slippery slope of cobble and mud and a very friendly hawk, we went with the name Friendly Raptor Slide.

]]>
(Amata Hinkle | Sunguramy) cartography cave caver caving discover explore female speleology sunguramy women https://www.sunguramy.com/blog/2020/12/a-friendly-hawk Sat, 26 Dec 2020 20:41:33 GMT
Testing https://www.sunguramy.com/blog/2020/11/testing Just a test for this blog, and so I will show a recent photo from a bioinventory trip!

TN Cave SalamanderTN Cave Salamander

]]>
(Amata Hinkle | Sunguramy) https://www.sunguramy.com/blog/2020/11/testing Thu, 26 Nov 2020 02:03:43 GMT