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A manual of underground and flash photography: cave photography for cavers, by Chris Howes

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From the dustjacket:

Caves form a fascinating, unique yet hostile environment which presents a supreme photographic challenge – one which, all too often, aspiring underground photographers fail to overcome. Here, within the pages of Images Below, is the answer in the form of a complete manual of underground and flash photography.

Written as a clear and comprehensive how-to-do-it recipe book packed with numerous tips, there is something for newcomer and enthusiast alike. Images Below covers the basics of equipment and photographic techniques, working with single and multiple flash (and other, more unusual light sources), then continues with specialised topics such as close-up, cave life, archaeology, underwater, video and stereo photography. A final, invaluable section gives detailed advice on composition, analysing your work and identifying errors, and caring for your pictures.

Whether you are making a day-trip to your nearest cave or heading far from home on an expedition, here are checklists of equipment to take and things to consider. Nowhere else will you find such detailed advice on solving problems or pushing your creative abilities to the limit.

Images Below is lavishly illustrated with over 450 photographs, diagrams and tables – many of them in comparative sets showing mistakes and successes – which help make this the authoritative volume on underground photography. If you are a sport caver or mine explorer, whether you use an automatic compact camera or an SLR, your success rate is guaranteed to rise. Here is your major source of solutions which will stimulate new and refreshing ideas and projects. If you rise to the challenge, you cannot afford to be without Images Below.

If you are looking for photographs by Chris Howes, please see our sister site: Wild Places Photography (opens new window).

For the companion title: To Photograph Darkness

  • Author: Chris Howes
  • Binding: Hardback
  • Size: 18cm x 25cm
  • Pages: 280
  • Illustrations: Over 480 photographs, tables and diagrams in b&w and colour
  • Publication date: 1997
  • ISBN: 978-0-9526701-1-7
  • Other: Supplied with laminated bookmark

Images Below


Preface
Acknowledgements
Production notes
Introduction

SECTION ONE: EQUIPMENT
1    Cameras and lenses
2    Flash
3    Accessories

SECTION TWO: BASIC TECHNIQUES
4    Camera basics
5    Working with flash
6    Multiple flash

SECTION THREE: SPECIALIST TECHNIQUES
7    Close-up and macro photography
8    Automatic cameras
9    Alternative lighting
10  Expedition photography
11  Underwater, stereo and video photography

SECTION FOUR: ATTENTION TO DETAIL
12  Composition
13  Assessing your work
14  A touch of history

Conclusion
Bibliography
Photographic and caving glossary
Index
  • Outdoor Writers' Guild/Fuji Professional Award for Photographic Excellence, 1997

  • Winner of the Tratman Award for excellence in speleological publications, 1997

  • The International Congress of Speleology in Switzerland, 1997, awarded Images Below second place for the best speleo publication produced during the preceding four years

NSS News by Djuna Ivereigh

WITH Images Below, Chris Howes contributes the most comprehensive English language manual on underground photography to date. (Perhaps in any language. I haven’t gotten much past the pictures in Photographier Sous Terre or Photografia del Mundo Subterraneo).

Beginning cave photographers will easily recoup the value of Images Below within a few rolls of film and a carton of bulbs. The more experienced will delight at an insider’s view into a mind that is equally creative at meeting technical challenges and at achieving a breathtaking photographic style that is simply trademark 'Chris Howes'.

The book is divided into four sections, including fourteen chapters. Section One, covering equipment, is worth the purchase price alone for circuit diagrams of various bulb-firing units and Dave Gibson’s robust slave kit (the inner workings of the Firefly). Here, too, you’ll find innovative tips for fashioning an easily removable glass lens cap (to compose shots in wet or muddy caves) and discover a better use for chicken pot pie tins than chicken pot pie. (Overall, we get the impression that, given a bit of film, our author could craft incomparable photos from materials gleaned out of rubbish bins and second-hand shops. And why not?)

Section Two is concerned with basic technique, but even seasoned pros will want to read carefully. Appropriate emphasis is here given to exposure considerations and lighting angles. Open flash vs. slaved techniques, mixed entrance and flash light, and the use of multiple flash are well-covered. A few not-so-basic techniques, such as shifting focus for extreme depth of field (and a common pitfall of this strategy) are also discussed. Admirably, Chris reflects on some human-interest concerns of the 'much-maligned' cave photographer, as well, including good tips on communication between photographer and assistants.

Section Three delves into 'Specialist Techniques'. A full thirty pages are devoted to close-up and macro photography. The author reviews standard accessories and exposure compensation, as well as more offbeat ideas for homemade reflecting panels and a ring flash substitute. Special considerations for documenting cave archaeology, history and biology are also addressed here. A chapter on automatic cameras offers workarounds (such as outsmarting a DX sensor) for cameras that do not allow manual settings. The 'Alternative Lighting' chapter sparks our creativity with discussion of filtration, show cave lighting, 'painting with light', reciprocity failure, and modification of standard helmet lamps to create more realistic-looking models. The author even dishes up recipes for homemade flash powder, complete with guide numbers. (Danger, kids! Don’t try this at home!)

A chapter on expedition photography stresses fastidious preparation, with ideas on equipment checklists and maintenance kits. Again, the author does not overlook personnel considerations; recommendations for agreements on photo teams, copyright issues and sponsor commitments are offered. A chapter on underwater, stereo and video photography admirably goes beyond the call of duty for such a book. Aficionados of such disciplines will be grateful for the rare coverage. The uninitiated just might be lured into a new endeavor.

The fourth and final section of the book explores 'Attention to Detail'. The first chapter invites photographers to transcend technical concerns and fine tune such elements as composition, 'mood', and the careful posing of models. Readers are challenged, as well, to exploit the specific strengths of color and black-and-white films. A chapter on 'Assessing Your Work' gives a comprehensive guide to troubleshooting, as well as ideas to improve images through manipulation in either the darkroom or on a computer. Exhibition of photos for a slide show, competition, or publication is also addressed. A chapter on history does not, as one might expect, summarize the development of cave photography. This topic was quite thoroughly covered in the author’s earlier work: To Photograph Darkness. The history of underground and flash photography. Perhaps due to the author’s experience in dredging up the past, he stresses the responsibility of the cave photographer as a creator and maintainer of historical records. We are urged and instructed on how to conserve and adequately caption our irreplaceable works.

Throughout, Images Below is generously endowed with tables, bulleted summaries, explanatory diagrams and, of course, photographs. Clearly, the book is well-suited to the visually-oriented photo-enthusiasts that will make up its audience. A particularly helpful feature is the shorthand notation that describes the type and direction of lighting for each photograph within its caption. Very clever! The author also went the extra mile by including photographs of equipment (both in the studio and the field) as well as comparative sets of images that dramatically show the effects of various techniques, problems, lighting angles, etc. The majority of the book is presented in black and white, the medium for which the author is certainly best known. An interior color section is used to good effect by highlighting special issues discussed throughout the volume. Thankfully, the superb printing reproduction does justice to the author’s fine photography.

To be sure, Images Below is a technical, how-to manual, But rest assured it’s nothing like reading the owner’s manual that came with your latest photographic equipment purchase. I’ve yet to unearth a single gem of British humor in my Nikon manuals, for one. Moreover, Images Below is the work of a photographer who’s generous enough to allow the retelling of his countless trials and errors in hopes that his readers might avoid just a few. And twenty-nine years of experience clearly shine through in the author’s relaxed, altogether readable discussions about even intimidating technical issues.

The computational conundrums of multiple flash exposures, for instance, are reduced to a rule of thumb so simple, it’s easy to overlook. Ratios of key and fill flashes, the author suggests, can be controlled by establishing standard aperture numbers (2.8, 4, 5.6, etc.) as flash-to-subject distances (insert favored units at will). A flash placed at 5.6 metres, therefore, will provide half the light as a flash at 4 metres, or a quarter of light from a flash at 2.8 metres. So by the inverse square law... Well, you better just get the book before I make this more complicated than Chris did.

Fortunately, Images Below makes no pretense to remove all mystery from its subject matter. Flash guide numbers, the author cautions, are not immutable standards, but rather reference points to consider in context of the particular cave environment. And the issue of 'correct' exposure is addressed more as an artistic concern than a scientific one. Repeatedly, the need for the reader’s own experimentation is stressed. If Images Below were a cookbook, measurements would be none too precise, and ample suggestions to 'season to taste' would be sprinkled throughout. This is a book designed as much to inspire as to educate.

If you ever even think about taking a camera underground, you’ll want your very own copy of Images Below. No one’s going to be loaning this one out. (Unless, perhaps, you sneak a copy from a newsletter editor for 'review purposes only'.)

Read Images Below cover-to-cover first, then keep it close at hand. It’s a fine read and an indispensable reference.

Djuna Ivereigh (nee Bewley), NSS News, Vol 55 (12), December 1997

Stereo World by Tex Treadwell

Secrets of an Underground Photographer

WHEN Images Below arrived my wife began leafing through it, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the photos of caves. Two hours later she handed it to me and shook her head. 'I don't know how he does it. Those photos are amazing.'

'How he does it' is the subject of this magnificent volume, and the crisply-written, beautifully-organized text coupled with copious examples (all taken by the author) should make it the final word on the subject. For those of us who enjoyed his earlier To Photograph Darkness. The history of underground and flash photography, this comes as no surprise. Howes knows his subject and, just as importantly, knows how to put it across in a form that's not only readable but usable.

Two points should be emphasized: first, while this book uses cave photography as examples, it's also an excellent general text on the use of flash. Second, though he does start with the absolute basics needed by an amateur, the book is so complete and thorough as to be useful to even the most advanced worker. Beginning with selection of equipment cameras, lenses, flash and accessories), he then outlines the basics of working with flash of all types in every conceivable situation. This is followed by discussions of specialised techniques such as close-up, underwater, video, and stereo photography. Finally, he deals with artistic composition, the touch which can transform a dreary documentary photo into an esthetically memorable image, and nobody is better qualified than Chris Howes to write on this topic.

In summary, if you have aspirations of progressing beyond a point-and-shoot camera with built-in flash, buy this book. It'll not only make you a better photographer, but also give you immense visual pleasure in the process.

Tex Tredwell, Stereo World Vol 24 (3), July 1997, p35

Underground Photographer by Kim ap Rhys

IMAGES BELOW. A manual of underground and flash photography, the latest book from Chris Howes, will be a welcome addition to the library of any cave photographer. Indeed, as the title suggests, the book is a useful manual of flash techniques for all photographers using flash, whether underground or not.

Images Below is a comprehensive technical reference - illustrated throughout with relevant and beautiful photographs. It covers the subject in one accessible and well designed book, which will be of use to both experienced photographers and novices.

Although the book is not intended as a 'coffee table' product, the sheer number of photographs means that it would not look out of place on any caver\'s coffee table. The reproduction of the photographs is excellent, and it is obvious that a lot of care has gone into the layout and production of the book.

Chris covers his subject in depth, with plenty of practical examples and photographs of the techniques and equipment. The writing style is very readable, and the explanations clear and well thought out. Images Below is certainly no dry textbook, although Chris must have spent plenty of time on research before ever setting pen to paper.

It is good to see a photography manual where the author has so obviously tried out all the equipment and techniques he discusses, and has found out the advantages and pitfalls the hard way, to the benefit of the reader who will learn from his experiences. I am relieved I don't have to find out for myself what can happen to an ammo box full of cameras when submerged in water!

The first section of the book covers equipment; cameras, lenses, flash (both electronic and bulb), flash slaves, and accessories (such as tripods and bags). The second section deals with the basic techniques of underground photography, with plenty of detail on how to best position flashguns for the required effect and work out exposure. The third section covers more specialist techniques including stereo, video, underwater and close-up photography, automatic cameras, alternative lighting, and expedition photography.

The final of the book section covers composition, assessing your work, and the archiving and storage of photographs.

Images Below is full of surprising little details, like the way the DX coding works, flashbulb guide numbers and bulb flashgun circuitry, as well as Chris' own lighting code. A diagram of this also printed on the supplied bookmark. The bookmark is laminated, so presumably would even survive a trip underground, tucked into a camera box for reference.

This book is worth having purely for the fine examples of Chris' work it contains, but if you are interested learning more about cave photography, and improving your own work, you must buy this book.

Kym ap Rhys, Underground Photographer (7), Autumn 1997

Caves & Caving by Gavin Newman

IMAGES BELOW is without doubt the most comprehensive and authoritative volume on cave photography ever published, and is backed and immensely strengthened by the reputation of its author as a world class cave photographer. It is often said that those that can, do, and those that can't, teach, but in this case it seems that the master who does has also chosen to teach.

In 1987 Chris produced his very popular Cave Photography. A practical guide, a seemingly comprehensive guide to the techniques of cave photography. But his new work takes this a step further, giving an even deeper look into all aspects of the art. Fourteen chapters are arranged into 4 sections covering Equipment, Basic Techniques, Specialist Techniques, and details such as composition, self criticism and history. The new volume retains Chris's innovative code system used in the first book to describe the flash positioning and settings used in each photograph. To help the reader still further the book comes with a laminated bookmark with a diagram demonstrating these code positions printed on it. Along with the code attached to each caption in the book, this makes it very easy to see how every picture was taken.

And what of the photographs themselves? All too often textbooks on photography use pictures to make their point with no real thought to the quality of the image. Not in this case! The pictures are superb and plentiful (nearly 500 I believe), as is the reproduction quality, and are widely accompanied by diagrams and illustrations clarifying the specific points being made. A short colour section covers some specific colour related issues but the book's real strength lies in the black and white images which alone made the book worth buying, regardless of whether you have any interest in how they were taken.

All in all a superbly comprehensive piece of work and essential reading for anyone with any interest in cave photography, or even just an interest in caves or photography for that matter.

Gavin Newman, Caves & Caving (80), Summer 1998, p31

The Photographic Journal by Graham Saxby

CHRIS Howes is a speleologist and a photographer of distinction. This is his third book on cave photography, and has already won an award. Images Below is, strictly, a textbook, a manual of cave photography, but, apart from presenting a great deal of information and advice for cavers, there is much to be learnt from it by those photographers who have no intention of ever entering anything more cavelike than a cathedral crypt.

Cave photography demands lightweight, tough and more or less waterproof equipment. It also mandates either flash or a high-intensity light source (flashpowder and magnesium ribbon are not to be spurned). Howes discusses the equipment in detail, warning particularly against the inadequacies of automatic exposure control in these environments. He shows some sympathy with compact and even throwaway cameras, particularly the waterproof type. He goes into details over depth of field, flash guide numbers and cumulative flash exposure calculations, and reciprocity failure, things you may have thought you could forget about in these days of automation. You can for the most part forget about automatic focus too. There is plenty of information on silhouette lighting, close-up and macro work, photography of flowing water, special effects and the situations where colour is more appropriate than black and white.

The photography is immaculate: Chris Howes has a Fellowship for his cave images. Cave photography is one area where black and white has always reigned, and the author is one of its acknowledged masters. He is no mean writer, too. Strongly recommended, and not just to cavers.

Graham Saxby Hon FRPS, The Photographic Journal, Vol 138 (8), October 1998

Descent by Paul Peppiatt

IMAGES BELOW is certain to become the definitive reference for all serious cave photographers for many years to come. Even if you only dabble in the craft, or have an occasional need to photograph new discoveries, your proposed dig site or an unrepeatable caving holiday, you will find some good tricks to provide consistently clearer photos. If you want to provide better illustrations for the club journal, or to pass around a packet of prints in the cavers’ pub, your snaps will be greatly improved by an understanding of even half the lighting techniques demonstrated here. In short, this a deep book, but it is accessible to any caver that has ever wanted to record a cave view to share with others.

The author describes – clearly, and from personal experience – all types of camera and lighting equipment, from the cheap and simple to the highly specialised. Whatever camera you already have, you can produce better cave photos if you give them a little thought.

The book is richly illustrated with the author’s evocative style of cave photography. Although a professional photographer and a long-standing Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, he makes the point strongly that many of his best images were made with very basic equipment. The mystery and beauty of the underground world are captured on film in a way that any caver will recognise and enjoy. It is worth owning a copy of this book for the simple pleasure of experiencing the atmosphere of the cave – without the inconvenience of having to get wet yourself; several photos made me shiver at first viewing.

The writing – although of necessity technical in some parts – is clear, concise and suffused with a caver’s dark humour. The cleverly set-up picture used to illustrate the throwaway comment ‘never switch on a wet flashgun’ had me in hysterics for a long time. The descriptions of logistics’ misadventures on expedition – and the subsequent improvisations there and elsewhere – will bring a wry chuckle to any caver who has ever suffered from kit missing or failing underground.

The layout and production of Images Below are to an exacting standard; a superb piece of bookmanship and printing that complements the writing and photography. The photos are reproduced with meticulous care and, even if you have seen Chris’ original exhibition prints, it is good to have reminders in one convenient volume.

Experimental ideas for the future are also offered, and the manual is neatly rounded off by a discussion – with appropriate illustrations – of advanced digital techniques and, aptly, the preservation and conservation of our cave photographic heritage. The book – a companion volume to Chris’ earlier history of cave photography, To Photograph Darkness – is fully referenced and bears a glossary and comprehensive index.

As a measure of its worth, Images Below won second prize in the International Speleological Congress competition [in 1997] for the ‘most significant caving publication since the last congress’, four years ago, no mean accomplishment. For myself, as a dabbler in cave photography, the book has given me several new ideas to play with. If you are thinking of buying this book as a Christmas present for another dabbler, make sure that you give it to them as a very early present; they should have opportunity to study it very thoroughly before the holiday period, which could be a good time for a leisurely underground escape to try a few photo ideas ...

Paul Peppiatt, Descent (138), October 1997, p28

Olympuser by Ian Aston

THE name Chris Howes, FRPS, will be familiar to many readers through the medium of his excellent cave photographs which we have published on these pages in past years. As a very experienced caving photographer he is the ideal person to write the definitive manual on the subject, which is what this is.

He is an OM [Olympus camera] user and the book very much reflects this, but it is a superb book of reference on all branches of photography. The chapters on flash are masterly, covering every aspect of this essential subject (in his situation!). Close-up and macro photography are fully covered, there is nature photography, composition and a useful section on assessing work for publication. All this aside it is an interesting book to read, describing as it does a world most of us will never enter yet find fascinating.

The book contains well over 450 photographs and diagrams. We warmly recommend this super book.

Ian Aston, Olympuser (53), Winter 1997/98

SUI Newsletter by John Kelly

IMAGES BELOW is Chris Howes' latest work on the subject of cave photography. Containing 280 pages, this comprehensive hardback book covers almost everything that you need to know to get involved in, or improve, your cave photography.

Divided into four easy to follow sections, the book covers equipment (including how to make your own bulb flashgun, etc), basic techniques, specialist techniques and, finally, attention to detail. There is a lot of useful reference info included.

The book is well laid out and will be useful for the complete beginner in the cave photography field and those who need information to improve their techniques and results. It will also keep your camera and flashes alive longer! A must have on the cave photographer's shelf.

John Kelly, SUI Newsletter (41), October 1997, p3

International Caver by Tim Stratford

THIS is Chris's long awaited manual of underground and flash photography, and it certainly seems to have been worth the wait. This is an authoritative work, the author being one of the world's top cave photographers, and the tips which can be gained from it should improve everyone's results, both expert and beginner alike.

Images Below covers the basics of equipment and photographic techniques, working with single and multiple flash (and other, more unusual light sources), and then continues with specialised topics such as close-up, cave life, archaeology, underwater, video, and stereo photography. A final, invaluable section gives detailed advice on composition, analysing your work and identifying errors, and caring for your pictures. Nowhere else will you find such detailed advice on solving problems or pushing your creative abilities to the limit.

The reproduction of the photographs is excellent and many of them have been used in comparative sets to show mistakes and successes. The book is well laid out and printed on quality non-glossy art paper. There are many well drawn diagrams and tables which make the book easy to use.

If you have only a passing interest in cave photography or take your camera on every trip, if you are a beginner or a seasoned photographer, you should buy this book. There is something in it for everyone.

Tim Stratford, International Caver (21), December 1997

Pelobates by Simon Davies

CHRIS HOWES ... has finally produced a book for the likes of me. It is a complete guide to underground photography with useful hints on composition and lighting. I have always looked at some of the photographs produced in such books and through – how is that done? What lighting? Flashbulbs or guns? Chris Howes has thoughtfully attached to every photograph a guide with position and type of flash and in many cases the stop number, the film type and even how the photo was developed.

If underground photography is something you aspire to or like me occasionally dabble then this will provide a useful reference. Everything is covered from how to sort out focusing to how to deal with that annoying mist and fog that surrounds some photos – the trick apparently is to move the flash farther away from the lens!

As ever there are literally hundreds of photographs to admire and dozens of diagrams. There is an interesting exploration on alternative lighting styles including the exciting use of lengths of magnesium ribbon (where can you get this stuff?). Croydon members who have lurked around S. Wales long enough will recognise our tame (if infrequent) diver in the form of bespectacled and be-bearded Malcolm Stewart in many of them. Clearly it is the offer of immortality which gave MS the patience for so many photo trips!

Chris' writing style is lively, informative and as ever with a gently humorous touch that we see in Descent. This book is probably going to become the de facto standard for underground photography guides. It will in future no doubt become the reference text for those learning the art. One final word – the prize for gratuitous mention of the title goes to Wild Places Publishing for managing to squeeze the title of the book no less than six times onto the inside of the dust jacket.

Simon Davies, Pelobates (Croydon CC) (75), January 1998

UBSS Proceedings by Steve Cottle

IN 1987 Chris wrote Cave Photography. A practical guide. This book in itself was an invaluable guide to getting started and continuing to take underground photographs. Images Below is its improved successor and not only gets you started but elaborates on many types of equipment and techniques. It gives sound advice on choices of camera, flash guns and the full range [of] accessories and consumables, some of which may be a bit esoteric and elaborate for the majority of cave photographers. Details of working with electronic flashes and bulbs to the best effect are well explained and the lavish underground photographs are complimented with good explanations.

One of the most useful additions to this book is the bookmark. It helps on every pages by giving a quick reference to the way that Chris identifies his flash positioning in the [now] familiar E1, B4 system (describing electronic or bulb flashes and their position relative to the person carrying the flash). A system easier but not necessarily better than the meticulous way in which Francoise-Marie and Yan Callot detail every photograph with distance, type of flash, film and exposure in Photographie Sous Terre.

The advanced photography is complimented by even the most basic systems such as automatic cameras. These are well explored, giving the advantages (and many disadvantages) of using automatic cameras but are nevertheless still worth a try if you have nothing else and you can get some good results.

The only thing this book wants for is more colour. Most of the exhibitions and slide shows seen these days are composed mainly, if not solely of colour photographs. The few colour shots are only used for specific reference to certain items and in that respect are not as well composed as those in the rest of the book. It is also worth mentioning some of the other chapters, such as macro photography, alternative lighting (flash powders, carbide, etc.), multiple flash work and composition. All of these are well illustrated and show that sometimes practice, trial and error are what will give the best results. Even bad photographs are used to good effect in the book by analysing them and telling others of mistakes made, to improve their pictures, in the assessing your work section.

Unless you are very good at French, when this book's small amount of information about colour photography can be enlarged by reading Photographie Sous Terre, it is without a doubt a must for the new, the keen and the experienced cave photographer.

Steve Cottle, Proc. University of Bristol SS, Vol 21 (1), February 1998

The Science of Imaging by Graham Saxby

ONE of the best books about flash photography is Images Below, by Chris Howes (Wild Places, 1997). Ostensibly about cave photography, it contains more hints and tips about flash than the average overground photographer might ever need, as well as some magnificent photography.

Graham Saxby in The Science of Imaging 2nd edn, 2001, p132

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