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2011-01-20

Cave photography & conservation benefit workshops planned

IN THE WILD

A special photography project, a cave photography workshop and a cave conservation workshop will take place during the weekend of April 9 and 10 Boerne's Cave Without a Name. The series of workshops will benefit disabled veterans.
The photo project will create Virtual Reality (VR) panoramic "movies" that can be viewed on a computer projection screen. This allows people to experience the cave vicariously without ever leaving the comfort of daylight, benefiting those who would otherwise never get to see the hidden beauty below the surface of the earth.
In addition, a special hands-on cave conservation workshop will be presented by Jim Werker and Val Hildreth-Werker, chairmen of the Cave Conservation Section of the National Speleological Society.
A commercial cave in Kendall County, Cave Without a Name is decorated with unique dripstone formations and a flowing stream. The 66 ยบ F. cave offers a cool respite from Texas summer heat year round.
Entry to the cave is 122 steps down a spiraling stairway that creates a barrier to visitation by the disabled; however, all that will soon change. On a recent trip to the annual Convention of the National Speleological Society - the world's largest caving organization, headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama - in Burlington, Vermont, Cave Without a Name owner Tom Summers met photographer Peter Jones.
Jones, who has been specializing in cave photography for 42 years, was giving a presentation on spherical panoramic photography and how it applies to caves. This photo technique involves using a special tripod head that rotates not only 360 degrees horizontally, but 180 degrees vertically as well. This allows for a series of overlapping photographs to be stitched together using specialized software and turned in an ersatz "movie." When viewed on a computer, the image can be panned all around the entire scene, including straight up to the ceiling and down to the floor, captured in the overlapping photographs.
Unlike a movie, which was panned during the original filming and constantly moves based on the photographer's decisions, the VR display can be shifted to a specific area of the image and viewed in that location indefinitely or until it is moved again. Real estate companies post similar VR movies on their websites to show the interiors of houses to potential buyers.
Cave scenes certainly invite such presentations and the idea of creating spherical panoramas for his cave was immediately apparent to Summers. In addition, with his abiding respect for the disabled veterans of foreign wars, Summers realized that just because they cannot physically enter his cave does not mean that disable veterans can't enjoy the experience of seeing it from on the surface.
Shown in conjunction with a verbal presentation by a knowledgeable cave guide, veterans can experience everything that cave visitors see when touring the cave. The only thing missing is the occasional drop of water falling from an overhead stalactite to complete the experience.
Jones is part of a very small group of people who specialize in cave photography and all its attendant difficulties. For one thing, a cave photographer has to be a cave explorer to begin with and that alone limits the number of people who might otherwise consider doing it. Jones was interested in caves from childhood, but didn't enter his first wild cave until 1968 while a freshman at the University of Denver.
A year later, he bought his first camera intending to specialize in cave photography. That same year during he began exploring the caves of the Guadalupe Mountains in New Mexico and West Texas. Home to world famous Carlsbad Caverns National Park, over 400 known caves are located within the 50-mile long mountain range, many of which he has explored and photographed.
In his 42 years as a cave photographer, Jones has worked for National Geographic Television, as photographer and coordinator for a NOVA filming project, as photographer for Carlsbad Caverns National Park for their Public Domain Photo Gallery and many more projects. Prints of his work are now part of the Cavern Arts Project Gallery display in the Visitors Center at Carlsbad Caverns. He has also taught numerous cave photography workshops over the years at Carlsbad Cavern.
Coordinating those talents with Summer's vision for benefiting foreign war veterans and physically challenged citizens has led to a planned photo shoot in early April. During the shoot 12 different photo locations will be chosen from which to take the spherical panoramic series of photographs. Special lighting will be brought in to evenly illuminate the cave scenes. With the camera securely mounted on the special tripod head, 32 shots or more will be taken from one central point.
The lighting location must be shifted as the camera rotates so as not to include any images of the lights. Extreme care must be taken throughout the entire shoot that there is no movement of the camera other than its rotation or shifting of focus or aperture settings. It would be virtually impossible to come back at a later time and re-shoot the one scene that didn't come out properly, so it must be done correctly from the very beginning. After the scenes are properly captured, they will be stitched together in the computer to generate the final VR movie.
At the end of his shooting schedule, Jones will also teach a two-day Cave Photography Workshop at Cave Without a Name on Saturday and Sunday, April 9 and 10. The workshop will be limited to 12 participants. Pre-registration is strongly suggested as the class is expected to fill up quickly.
For more information about the workshop and to register, contact Jones at 207-236-6112 or pjcaver@gwi.net

Pictured: Photo by Peter Jones

Ranson Turner, a cave specialist for the US Forest Service, inspects damage to one of the Candle Tables in Cottonwood Cave in New Mexico. Using special techniques developed by Val and Jim Werker, the table was later restored to its upright position. Note the broken stalactites that hang from the ceiling.