1989 "Juracao " Expedition Final Report
Picos de Europa, Spain
by Martin Hicks
Having been on six previous OUCC expeditions to the Picos, I reckoned I was probably getting the hang of the photography. With due deference to all the exceptions, most of the Picos caves are of rather predictably boring nature: tight rifts, followed by large shafts, followed by tight rifts, etc... Nevertheless, it all tends to be on a human scale and lends itself to my usual set-up of three medium-sized electronic flashguns and one small bulb gun, all linked together by infra-red slave triggers. The camera carries a small trigger flash which fires off all the other flashguns simultaneously. This has the additional benefit of allowing shots to be hand-held, rather than having to use a tripod.
After the 1988 expedition, it was obvious that my tried-and-trusted set-up was in need of a rethink if I was to photograph some of the larger passages in 2/7's lower reaches. The standard solution is more fire-power, usually provided by flashbulbs the size of 100W household bulbs. These are expensive, bulky and very fragile. Although suitable for the Caves of Mulu and China, I was not convinced that they would be suitable for a self-contained, four day photo trip in a deep Picos cave. My prejudices were confirmed when I subsequently saw the condition of tinned food arriving at the underground camp! I decided to keep things as simple as possible and make use of my existing gear, both on financial and practical grounds. The only additional items required were an extra bulb gun, a small tripod and a cable release. All the gear for a four-day trip, including film, batteries and flashbulbs, fitted into two five-inch ammunition boxes. This arrangement allowed standard techniques to be used on the smaller subject matter, guaranteeing at least a certain measure of success; after four days underground, the last thing you want is several rolls of useless film.
In the really large passages, such as the London Underground and the Big Ledge, I placed the camera on a tripod and asked people, to "spray'' their flashguns around while the shutter was left open. This presented one major problem: how many flashes did they need to fire? With no experience of the technique and only a hazy recollection of the rules, I used guesswork and a feeling that if I were going to err, it would be on the side of over illumination. Twenty seemed a nice round number. Positioning the multiple flasher(s) behind rocks ensured that all those subjects who were in shot would not be directly illuminated, and also kept direct light out of the lens.
The system certainly works, but requires an extra element of organisation (and complication) and means that each shot takes substantially longer - and everyone gets even colder. On receiving the developed slides, it was obvious that the overall level of illumination should have been increased on one or two of the shots, but overall the technique worked well enough, and can be recommended when the more conventional techniques are impractical. Thanks must also go to our sponsors, Ever Ready Batteries, who supplied the batteries used in the flash guns, and Boots, who supplied the film.