Photography trip to Atwells Tunnel Cave

Michael Caslin, Bryce Schroeder, and Matthew Weiss traveled to Atwells Tunnel Cave, near Ceres, Virginia, to take pictures with Matt’s photographic lighting system.

We got permission to visit and photograph the cave from Mr. Atwell, a dairy farmer, on whose land the cave entrances are located. We got a bit lost, but had the mutual good fortune to encounter Mr. Atwell’s son, who was having trouble with a jammed gate. We helped him move the gate, and he told us where to find the cave.

The creek was running a bit higher than in the entrance photo on the map, but we had no problems getting into the cave. The cave is not very long, but is mostly straight and has a relatively large entrance, resulting in a comparatively large twilight zone. The main stream passage was very easy going, and we had no problems taking lots of pictures. Cave life was comparatively abundant: a raccoon, numerous spiders, three salamanders (each of a different species), a non-albino crayfish, some cave crickets, and many daddy longlegs (Opiliones sp.) were seen. Extensive evidence of raccoon activity in the cave was noted, as was a turtle carcass in the extreme rear of the cave.

The stream passage terminates in a sump. There are two substantial side passages with rimstone and other formations. This is a short but sweet cave. Since this was a photography trip, of course, we were still able to spend many hours there.

Matt’s cave lighting system, based on compact fluorescent blubs powered by inverters or buck-boost converters, performed well, although it still has some portability and ruggedness issues that would preclude use in a more rigorous cave. The buck-boost converter, which converts the battery voltage to a higher DC voltage, seemed to be the better system overall. (Since a compact fluorescent blub’s integrated ballast ordinarily rectifies the incoming AC power anyway, this makes some intuitive sense.) In my opinion, this system makes composing cave photos very easy, although the relatively long exposure times that are required compared to flash means that pictures of human subjects are difficult. It does make flowing-water effects easy that are not readily possible with flash, as seen in the waterfall photo. I suppose that it is somewhat similar to photographing a lighted show cave.

[edit] Fixed typo.