Photo Training Carroll Cave Trip, September 21, 2008

Participants: Rick Hines (Trip Leader), Jeff Grigg, DJ Hall, John McGuire, Lori Schultz, Max White
Trip Goal: To train cavers interested in cave photography on the use of multiple slave flash units.

John McGuire, DJ Hall and I loaded my van and pulled out of my drive on the south side of KC at 7:00 AM Saturday, Sept. 20, as planned. We would attend the CCC annual meetings at the Schoolhouse on Saturday and cave on Sunday.

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Click to watch on YouTube

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We made a pit stop in Clinton for food and gas. The gas pump was extremely slow. I got impatient and left as soon as I saw we had enough fuel to make it to the schoolhouse.

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Following the meetings Jim Helwig, DJ Hall, John McGuire, and Dale Curtis and I took off in my van to look for Toronto Springs, Joe Cave , and the Willows Restaurant. We found Toronto Springs conservation area but with a light rain falling our short search for the springs along the Wet Glaize failed. We did find and enter Joe Cave where DJ pointed out an upper passage he had visited on a prior trip. We stopped at the natural entrance to Carroll Cave and visited with two “fishermen” camped in the entrance. We observed that the breach in the rebar gate has gotten larger. We did not find the Willows Restaurant so we went to Camdenton and dined at Senior Peppers.

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On Sunday morning we found Lori Schultz and Andy Isbell at the campfire. They rode down with Dr Jay. His work delayed their departure and resulted in a 1:30 AM arrival. Having promised Lori breakfast, John, DJ, and I joined her in the van and took off to find the Willows, this time with better directions we headed for Linn Cree. We found the Willows restaurant and had a fine but some what rushed breakfast since our main interest was not to delay getting underground.

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As we headed back I noticed the fuel gauge on empty! We hoped we could make it to Montreal to fill up. We did but unfortunately the Montreal gas station was closed on Sunday morning. We headed back to the schoolhouse with DJ betting we would not make it. Soon we saw Mike Hartley coming toward us flashing his truck lights. He had a message to deliver but as I stopped I noticed a red gas container in the back of his truck. He graciously handed over 5 gal. of gas and we again headed for the schoolhouse, DJ still betting we would run out of gas before we got there.

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Finally at the silo by about 9:30, we suited up for the photo trip. Bill Gee’s team was already in. Jay Kennedy and Dale Curtis, who were originally signed up for the photo trip had chosen to help Bill on his trip to replace stilling wells. Ropes were rigged in the silo for our use and Jay had left other gear in the silo for our use. Bill Pfantz was there to help us with gear and even worked on a burnt out light in the basement. We started down the ladder a little after 10:00. I decided to leave the video lights on the surface and focus our training on multiple slave flash shots and forgo painting with light and other time exposures that would require a tripod.

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At the base of the ladder we opened the photo gear to get started. DJ and I were each carrying a Nikon 8400 camera with an IR flash. The cameras were packaged in ridged waterproof cases with heat packs to help keep the cameras dry. Each of the other four on the crew carried two Vivitar 285 flash units with a custom hardwired Wein Super Slave SSL triggers. Each flash unit was packaged in a roll-down dry bag with a hand towel. Two of the eight units failed during the trip but after a low temperature bake in a convection oven at home they are now working fine. I will use heat packs in the flash bags in the future.

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(Technical note: The Wein triggers and Vivitar flash units were modified to eliminate the cable connection between the two. I had cut in to both and soldered the electrical connections and formed them into a single unit using RTV silicon rubber. The standard cable connection was prone to causing the flash to trigger when a momentary break in the connection occurred due to relative movement. Self triggering would not normally be a big problem if you are carrying only one slave. If you have 8, not only are the odds of a self trigger 8 times higher but when one slave fires, they all fire. That is not only an annoyance but quickly drains batteries.)

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We tested the gear and learned how to operate the slave units by taking several shots from the base of the ladder of the Angel formation looking up Thunder River Passage. DJ was behind the camera.

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From there we moved down the Carroll River passage toward the water barrier stopping frequently for photos along the way.

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Near the water barrier at the dry rimstone dams we took photos inspired by a photo by Terry Sherman that used light transmitted through the thin formation to capture their translucent nature

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At the water barrier we experimented with a flashback technique that uses a flash on the far side of the subject pointed directly at the camera.
Since most of the group was not wearing a wetsuit we turned at the water barrier and headed back to get a few shots at Thunder Falls . Since we knew communications at the falls would be very limited, we did as much planning as possible before we arrived. We took a few shots from the top of the falls and then five of us headed for the splash pool at the base of the falls. John stayed at the top of the falls to operate a slave unit from there. At the base we kept some of the flash units in the transparent dry bags during use. I had forgotten that some of the dry bags were not clear but rather yellow or light blue. This added some new color to the falls.

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From the falls we headed back, staying in Thunder River to the base of the ladder. We were out by 6:00 PM. Dr Jay, Andy Isbell and Bill Pfantz greeted us at the surface. Bill helped get the paperwork completed and the silo locked up.

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John, DJ and I headed for Camdenton, still on empty, with DJ still betting we would not make it with out using the Hartley gas. I bet we would. As we approached the first gas station in Camdenton I slowed to make the turn and the van died. I struggled to make the turn with no power steering. We coasted in and slowly rolled to a stop just short of the pump. The good news is that the hose just reached when stretched full out. The bad news is that the fill up was well over a hundred dollars.

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I do wish to thank all who participated on the trip. It was a pleasure meeting and caving with Jeff and Max for the first time and a pleasure caving with Lori and DJ for the first time. It was great to do a little catching up with John who I haven’t caved with in many years. I will do another photo training trip so if you are interested let me know and I will add your name to the list.

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As you can see from the photos, DJ has mastered multiple slave flash cave photography. I look forward to seeing more of his work. More photos from this trip will soon be available at CarrollCave.org.

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Rick Hines

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