Images Below

Chris HOWES

Wild Places, Cardiff. 1997. xii + 268pp, 406 b&w & 29 colour photographs, 47 diagrams, supplied with laminated bookmark. Hardback, 180mm x 253mm. £22.50/$40

ISBN 0-9526701-1-9

Images BelowIMAGES 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

First published in Descent (138), October 1997

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