Photographing Washington’s Caves with Light & Motion

A male caver holding a propane lantern while exploring the 13,042 foot long Ape Cave near Mount St. Helens in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest of western Washington State. The cave is the third longest known lava tube in North America. The cave is open year round and has a easier, shorter lower cave section and a slightly more physical and longer upper cave section.

The 13,042-foot-long Ape Cave near Mount St. Helens in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest of western Washington State, the third longest known lava tube in North America.

I recently set out across Washington State with my longtime friend, Chris Staudinger, (the male half of the itinerant, travel writing duo Captain & Clark) to get a taste of the local subterranean wonders and to document our trip with scotch, cameras, and the latest in rugged, battery-powered continuous lighting.

We didn’t break any new barriers in the world of exploratory spelunking but we were awed by the beauty, light, geology, and history of the world beneath us. And we came back with some fun content.

Religion often metaphorically references the heavens as above us. But as we experienced the lava-sculpted walls of the 2.5-mile-long Ape Cave, the walls glistening like quicksilver from moisture, the voluminous, 65-foot Cheese Caves, the glinting ice formations of the Guler Ice Caves, and history-rich Lenore Caves (inhabited off-and-on more than 5,000 years), paradise seemed just as likely to be below. It was an underground playground of shifting shadows and light.

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The versatile Stella 2000

To really experience the beauty of almost any cave though you need light. 10 million iPhone screens worth (it’s the new candle power). Because although powerful headlamps, flashlights, and spotlights are great for watching your feet, they don’t create an even, ambient light that reveals the neat features all around you.

One option is to Indiana Jones that shit. Chris brought a 700-lumen Coleman propane lantern which provided great coverage and had the added side perk of looking super classic in photos.

As cool as the old prospecting lantern was, it alone couldn’t bring out the features and contours of the far reaches of the caves. Fortunately, a couple boxes from the rad people at Light & Motion showed up just prior to our trip which meant I’d have a chance to demo their new high-powered, continuous LED lights – the Stella 2000 and Stella Pro 5000 (the numbers refer to max lumens output).

Catered to professional photo and video production, the lights are lightweight, rechargeable and waterproof down to 100 meters (my favorite part). They also have a slew of optional light shaping/modifying options including, barn doors, warming or cooling gel adapters, 50-degree optic focus attachment (standard is 120 degrees), hot shoe adapters, and pistol grips.

I ran two Stella 2000s and one Stella 5000 at low-to-mid power while shooting in the dark over the course of 2 full days and the 2000s were still at over half battery life. The 5000 was at almost 75% still.

If remote location shooting is your thing your are constantly on the lookout for equipment that is compact, versatile, tough, reliable, easy-to-use and lightweight. Those things in one place are pretty hard to find though. More weight usually means going slower and missing shots. So when it comes down to what goes into the pack and what stays, few things make the cut. If it’s between bulky camera batteries, light modifiers, and light stands there are times when I’d rather just take the whiskey and avoid the hassle.

The powerful Stella 5000

The powerful Stella 5000

But I can honestly say after putting Light & Motion’s new Stella continuous LEDS through the ringer while scrambling, crawling, and climbing through a series of wet Washington caves that Light & Motion has made one of those rare, true essentials for backcountry shooters in need of reliable light. The slightly smaller Stella 2000 likely offers to best value truly remote pursuits when weight is a major issue but for the output (and still packable size) of the Stella 5000 I found myself bringing both often.

These aren’t hollow words. For low light outdoor photography and video, these guys are the solution. Try them for a few hours in tough shooting conditions and you’ll cave. The ability to have reliable, waterproof, no-maintenance, no-flicker light with long battery life and great modifiers is worth any delayed grottofication while saving (the 2000s retail at $850.00 and the 5000s at $2,300). Of karst they are worth every penny. That mite be all my cave puns. This article is eroding rappeldly…

Check them out at http://www.lightandmotion.com/.

 

A man holds a lantern up to get a better view of the frozen chambers of the Guler Ice Caves near Trout Lake, Washington.

The frozen chambers of the Guler Ice Caves.

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Chris in Ape Caves

A male caver holding a propane lantern while exploring the 13,042 foot long Ape Cave near Mount St. Helens in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest of western Washington State. The cave is the third longest known lava tube in North America. The cave is open year round and has a easier, shorter lower cave section and a slightly more physical and longer upper cave section.

Chris in Ape Caves

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