Robert Arrington

Journey to the Underworld, Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

This image was taken at the spectacular Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. Ansel Adams once commented that the caverns were one of the most difficult places to photograph in his career, mainly because of the complete absence of natural light.

Today the Caverns are lit and the trails are paved, making it much easier to photograph the natural wonders of the underworld. But there are still numerous factors that will wreak havoc on an amateur photographer. First, the tungsten cavern light is very dim, turning hand held shots into a blurry mess. So a tripod is essential and much preferred over using a high ISO, which will erode the quality of the images. Secondly the numerous visitors walking on a very narrow trail make it difficult to photograph longer exposures even using a tripod. The pavement vibrates under the trample of park visitors, again making for blurry shots, even with a tripod. What to do!

To get these cavern shots I brought my tripod and arrived at the visitor's center just as the park opened. Then I took the elevator to the bottom of the caverns, descending 800 feet down into the Big Room. Because 99% of park visitors slowly descend the caverns via the Natural Entrance, I had the entire bottom level of the caverns all to myself for about an hour. The end result is what you see here.

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