So Easy Even a Caveman Can Photograph It—Carlsbad Caverns


Don’t let the title fool you.  There are few challenges greater for the amateur photographer than trying to capture the sights buried deep within Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico.

We left El Paso Wednesday for a road trip with our eldest (12-year-old) grandchild.  That evening we arrived at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns in time for the bat flight at dusk.  Unfortunately, between the drought, brush fires, and lack of insects, this year’s migration of the Mexican Free-tailed Bats was one of the worst in recent memory.  And the bat flight on Wednesday evening was very poor.  Instead of the usual hundreds of thousands, I estimate we probably saw only a few hundred come out to feast on the tasty local flying insect population.

But is was Thursday’s scheduled descent into the caves that really drew us here this trip.  I’ve been going to Carlsbad Caverns since I was around nine years old, and over the years I’ve made this trek probably well over a dozen times.  This was my first attempt at capturing the vistas using a digital camera.  Past attempts were made with my old 35mm gear.

Flash photography simply won’t do in the caverns, although that doesn’t keep those who don’t know what they’re doing from trying it, much to my amusement.  To do it right, you really have to balance the camera on something (a tripod would be far to cumbersome on this outing) and resign yourself to taking long exposures (up to a second in some of these examples).

As for the choice in cameras, the sensor on a point-and-shoot is probably going to be too small to avoid the dreaded digital noise problem common with these cameras when using high ISO settings in dark conditions.  Thus, this time I went with my full-framed (35mm sized sensor) DSLR.  And since the large sensor on a full-frame camera is very tolerant of high ISO settings, I pushed to the limit on this photographic endeavor and took my Canon EOS 5D up to ISO 1600.  Don’t even think of trying that with most cameras, even most DSLRs.

So, no tripod and a park prohibition against even touching cave formations means you have to get really inventive.  But we’ve covered this problem before, albeit with a much smaller point-and-shoot.  On this shoot I was faced with balancing a very large camera and lens configuration that weighs upwards of three and a quarter pounds (nearly 1.5 kilos)!  Fortunately, the walkways are frequently lined not only with stainless steel railings (tubular, and thus useless here), but also with rock and cement “curbs” ranging in height from a few inches to several feet.  Finding reasonably level portions upon which I could place my camera proved to be remarkably easy.  Other shots were made using signage for balancing and bracing.

As for white balance, forget it.  I wasn’t even going to think of attempting beating the camera’s automatic white balance setting on this difficult lighting.  Thus, the pictures you see below have not been retouched in any manner other than minor tweaks in contrast, curves, and the occasional crop.  The colors, tint, and white balance are completely untouched.

For some fun, scroll you cursor over the pictures below for the titles.  One of them is an inside joke (image versus my “personal favorite”).  See if you can find it:

80 Comments

Filed under Photography, travel

80 responses to “So Easy Even a Caveman Can Photograph It—Carlsbad Caverns

  1. People with certain lifestyles might like your Hall of Giants.

  2. Wow! Those caves are incredible! I like that you took your grandchild with you…building lifelong memories together. 🙂

  3. Great photos. Looks like the perfect family vacation.

  4. Nice photographs! It is really hard to get decent lighting in there – it is pitch dark after all.

    On our last visit to Carlsbad – we took the tour to the Slaughter Canyon cave. This is an undeveloped cave – no lights, no pathway, no nothin’ everybody carries flashlights (take 2). They have been giving tours of this site for decades, but it feels like you’re the first ones in there. Very impressive and a different experience than the very managed main cave.

  5. Amy Solis

    Thanks for the photos.. We went here as a family when I was growing up! I often think of the caves. I remember the dripping water sounds and the color of the water. Nice to have a look and remember. Thanks again- Amy

  6. Great stuff, looks an interesting place!

    Rob
    http://robfranklin83.wordpress.com

  7. Flash photography + caverns – tripod= disaster lol You managed well with your photos!!!

  8. Such cool images — I’ve never been to the caves, but I hear it’s an incredible experience!

    Thanks for sharing your pix. 🙂

  9. Thanks for sharing, this would help me a lot during my next caving. ( Buni Ayu Cave Sukabumi, Indonesia)

  10. Rock of Ages, nice!

  11. I was there as a kid and loved it. But your photos make me want to go back again! Great post.

  12. From your favorite formation we see that you appreciate the ladies! LOL 🙂 We went to some caves in Kentucky a couple of years ago and they are so fascinating!!! You got some awesome shots!! Rock of Ages looks like Jabba the Hut!!! Thanks for sharing. AmberLena

  13. great shots! well done. caves are cool. slightly creepy and clostrophobic, but cool.
    http://www.icouldntmakethisshitup.wordpress.com

  14. Those caverns are mysterious and beautiful. Well described with great pictures.

  15. I love Carlsbad Caverns! I grew up in Dexter. The last time I walked past your favorite formation I told my sister next to me, “It’s a little chilly in here, isn’t it … “

  16. All I can say is WOW

  17. Very cool, something for the guys and something for the ladies. 😉

  18. Deletrius

    These pictures are great! Caves are absolutely magnificent. They have their own mysterious atmosphere. Definitely a mind blower.

  19. Incredible and wonderful at the same time; nature working with time and water creating wonders deep under the earth. Imagine what the first people to see them must have thought indeed; and good inside joke as well.

    It took a bit yet I got it.

  20. I like your photos! Congrats on being FP!

  21. Hyejeong

    I’ve been there once when i lived in NM and it was an amazing cavern.

  22. great work with the flash man….

  23. ellebyam

    nice pics.

  24. great views. under the ground and suprisingly closer to god.

  25. Great and Amazing photos… 🙂 Well done… 🙂 🙂
    https://thiyaku.wordpress.com

  26. Great pics and love your article’s title; even though you underestimate your skills for effect. Thanks for sharing and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  27. I love caving, so long as it’s the tourist kind of course. These are really amazing pics. Thanks so much

  28. i think i saw a documentary about this cave in discovery channel..

    nice photos, n congrats for the freshly pressed!

  29. wow this looks magical, great post and congratulations on being freshly pressed!

  30. God creation is incredible…congrats being on freshly pressed…Luxury Rental Bali

  31. Terrific pictures and words!

  32. I love it. Seems you managed the lights well on your snaps! Great job!

  33. There’s also a tourist destination which looks like this in Palawan, Philippines. It’s a cavernous underground site home to lots of bats and brings something to the ecnomy table, too 🙂 Beautiful place.

  34. Thanks for the photos! Carlsbad Caverns remains one of my favorite childhood memories! 🙂

  35. Beautiful pictures! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  36. lukelebeau

    Great photos! Congrats on Freshly Pressed, you earned it!

    Luke

    http://www.techmeoutallday.wordpress.com

  37. Very nice photos. It’s as mesmerizing as the water waves you used for your blog 🙂

  38. I feel like hopping in the car to check it out for myself. Very cool…

  39. I like staglactit-stalagmit cave

  40. Thanks for the great pointers on shooting in caves! I’ve often had trouble getting details sharp and in focus.

  41. Thanks for the tips! 🙂 Your photography is absolutely gorgeous. It reminds me of the photos you see in National Geographic.

  42. Looks great. If you’re ever in Bermuda, check out the Crystal Caves – also very impressive…

  43. More so than the pictures, I like the water background on your blog. Looks refreshing!

  44. GOOD ,GOOD, PICS!! THANKS!!

  45. Those caves are incredible and so are the pictures!

  46. I would like to personally thank each and every one of the the more than 2,000 people from all around the world who stopped by to view this blog on the Carlsbad Caverns. I’m truly touched at the overwhelming response I’ve received from WordPress choosing this blog for their “Freshly Pressed” page.

    I would also like to take this time to especially thank those who “Liked” this blog, those who have chosen to subscribe, and those who took the time to leave a comment. I’m truly touched by your kind remarks and encouragement, and I hope that you all continue to find future blog entries both entertaining and informative.

  47. Pingback: So Easy Even a Caveman Can Photograph It—Carlsbad Caverns (via R. Doug Wicker — Author) « Ash's Blog

  48. Nature is great!! Nice pictures!!

  49. wow beauty,…. i like how the light set

  50. I used to live near the caverns and have explored caves all over the East Coast USA as well. I must say, Carlsbad is incredible. I wondered yesterday if the caverns somehow connect to the sink hole zones in Guatemala that we have been seeing on the news this week. It would seem they are possibly connected in some way maybe yet to be discovered.

  51. Great photos – Just reminds me how much I need a proper camera! These photos actually remind me of being in the caves in Hanoi, Vietnam. Beautiful place!

  52. Brissa

    I grew up in Carlsbad, New Mexico. As a matter of fact, my family still lives there! This brings back memories:) Now we only live two and a half hours away. I am glad you enjoyed it!
    -Brissa
    adailydoseof.wordpress.com

  53. wow this good photos and stories….

  54. sedacor

    great pictures..

  55. thebigbookofdating

    These are awesome shots! I love stalactite caves

  56. This was an awesome post. It is a lesson in texture. I am an artist at heart.

  57. Such cool photos…. the bats would have kept me away though…lol!

  58. Wow, those caverns are breath-taking!

  59. Amazing photographs! Going to Carlsbad Caverns (and photographing it) has now been put on my bucket list.

  60. Wow. Beautiful images…they’re AMAZING! As people have mentioned…I’m definitely going there now. Any other places like this you’d recommend?

    • There are many beautiful and wondrous places in this great world of ours. If you search my blog site you’ll find pictures posted of Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the Canadian Rockies, Istanbul, Santorini, and many, many other great and photogenic locales. For tomorrow’s blog I’m contemplating an article on the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Park, just a few hours from Carlsbad Caverns.

  61. Pingback: There Is No “Sand” In White Sands National Monument | R. Doug Wicker — Author

  62. Tracy

    Great shots! Congrats on the well earned honor for these. This was Bobby’s favorite part of the trip, then White Sands.

  63. Pingback: Photography Tips for Caves « Arthur: the Art Zine

  64. Great pics. The post caught my eye because I’ve always wanted to visit there. Never thought of the logistics of photographing in a cavern. Thanks for sharing with us.

  65. Dan

    Beautiful!!! I loved looking at your photos!

  66. realanonymousgirl2011

    How awesome! I’ve always wanted to visit New Mexico!

  67. Pingback: Just Had to Do a Little Bragging - WaltherForums

  68. Pingback: Benson, Arizona, Kartchner Caverns, and a Bonus Restaurant Review | R. Doug Wicker — Author