Behind the Shot: Large Cave Chamber

Editor’s Word: The picture “Large Cave Chamber” received Better of Present within the DPG/WetPixel Masters Imaging Competition 2022. On this article, Argentinean/American photographer Martin Broen explains how he captured his wonderful black-and-white panoramic shot of an enormous flooded cave chamber of the Chiibal Xuux cave system in Mexico.


The successful picture, captured with a Sony a7R Mark III utilizing two Bigblue video lights (f/4.5, 1/13s, ISO 6400)


Most worldwide journey was restricted in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, however there was one noticeable exception: US residents have been nonetheless capable of journey to Mexico. It was this that led to me unexpectedly changing into a passionate full cave photographer of the cenotes in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. With the right cave coaching, you possibly can entry lots of of various dive websites all inside driving distance of each other, each with its personal distinctive options and photographic potentialities. Over time, I turned obsessive about attempting to seize every location in a particular approach, and the pandemic offered the chance we generally lack as photographers to deal with one sort of pictures for a chronic time frame, permitting for fixed experimentation and evolution of various strategies.

On every journey, I’d take two or three new concepts or devices to strive. Some have been extra profitable than others, however all of them improved my information and understanding of what’s required to seize nice pictures in caves. Various kinds of mild sources, diffusers, off-camera lights, mild rails, tripods—I systemically tried dozens of various instruments and strategies, and photographed over 200 totally different cenotes within the course of.


One in all my many experiments: underwater mild trails (f/5, 30s, ISO 6400)


Large stalactites in the primary tunnel of cenote Chiibal Xuux (f/4, 1/20s, ISO 6400)


Secret Weapon

Folks usually ask me what number of dives in the identical location does it take to shoot pictures like this, and they’re usually shocked to be taught that lots of my greatest images have been captured in just one dive, usually in caves I used to be exploring for the very first time. I’ve found a tried-and-tested approach that could be very efficient. I first search for a pleasant open house within the cenote during which to place my mannequin. Then I place a light-weight straight behind the mannequin, with one or two extra off-camera lights in several areas to light up the cave. I then shoot a sequence of pictures inside a 15-minute timeframe earlier than eradicating the entire tools and leaving safely again to the floor.

The key to success is having an nearly telepathic understanding together with your mannequin and dive buddy. After almost 300 cave dives with the identical particular person, we developed our personal fashion of diving and set of sunshine alerts to speak effectively in the dead of night, rising collectively as each explorers and as a pictures crew. We steadily developed expertise and pushed the boundaries collectively, partaking in longer and more-challenging dives as time glided by, understanding that we might all the time be there to assist one another if one thing ever went incorrect. We have to have fun our dive buddies, cave guides, fashions, and lightweight assistants! In my case, all of them are the identical particular person, Nicolas Casella from CenoteXperience in Playa del Carmen. Nico has turn out to be a key element in my success taking pictures in cenotes.


Nico making a bounce at cenote Chiibal Xuux (f/6.3, 1/15s, ISO 6400)


The Successful Shot

The black-and-white picture that received Better of Present within the DPG/WetPixel Masters Imaging Competitors 2022 was captured within the Chiibal Xuux chamber (“Wasp Sting” in Maya), my buddies’ favourite cave system. Nico has been diving, guiding and coaching cave divers in Playa del Carmen for 18 years and has been accountable for the unique exploration of dozens of latest cenotes, however this one was the very first he managed to attach as a system in 2019.

The shot was taken within the greatest chamber within the Chiibal Xuux cave system, near a line that results in Cenote “Euforia”, a chamber large enough to require a three-shot panorama with a 15mm lens. A 33,000-lumen Bigblue mild behind my buddy offers the sense of scale within the photograph, and a secondary 15,000-lumen mild taking pictures sideways from behind the formations on the left brings quantity to the cave and highlights the feel of the 1000’s of stalactites hanging from the ceiling. The darkish surroundings compelled me to shoot vast open at f/4.5 and ISO 6400, whereas holding my breath and gently squeezing the set off to shoot a 1/13s handheld panorama whereas shifting between sequences of images as a result of percolation within the cave. I used to be instantly proud of the top end result, and I’m thrilled to have received my second Better of Present award within the DPG/Wetpixel Masters contest with certainly one of my absolute favourite cenote pictures.


Large speleothems at Chiibal Xuux (f/5, 1/20s, ISO 6400)


Martin Broen is an industrial design and innovation knowledgeable who loves nature and exploring the underwater world. To see extra of his superior pictures, go to his web site,, or his Instagram page.