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Stalagmites, stalactites and low light

By August 30th, 2021Out and about3 min read

Below the earth’s surface in southern Tasmania’s Huon Valley lies Newdegate Cave (Hastings Caves). From the moment you step in from the outside world you are surrounded by its ancient dolomite formations.

As you enter the cave, all you can say is ‘WOW’. The sheer scale and grandeur of what you see in front of you is mesmerising. It’s such a tranquil environment – all you can hear is the sound of water droplets falling and the echoes they create. Over millions of years this is how the cave has become what it is today – imagine what it may be like in another million years!

Before we go on any further, for anyone whose primary school geology has temporarily escaped their memory… remember this?

Stalactites have to hold on tight
Stalagmites might grow to heights

I promise you that this is the only geology lesson in this post.

What to consider when taking photos inside a cave…

With so much to photograph, choosing a scene or subject to showcase in your image, and choosing how to compose it, can challenge your photographic creativity. There are so many different formations – columns, curtains, stalagmites and stalactites just to name a few. Accentuating the light and shade that surrounds the formations is one option. Another option is to focus on the varied colour tones or the many intricate patterns and textures – the finer details of this natural phenomena.
You choose your subject, but what’s the light like? Even with artificial light sources (as there usually is in public access caves), the low light of a subterranean environment is challenging for any photographer. However, an understanding of ISO, aperture and shutter speed, and the relationship between each, will certainly help with this.
It’s often that photographers are restricted to handheld photography in a cave.  Tripods are generally not permitted to be taken inside primarily due to the fragile nature of the ancient subterranean formations. It’s also a safety precaution too. Shutterbug Walkabouts frequently obtains special permission allowing photographers to use tripods inside Hastings Caves Tasmania.
To achieve a good image, you need to ensure your shutter speed is sufficient to compensate for handheld photography and the low light conditions. Alternatively, find an ingenious way of stabilising your camera (without a tripod) to avoid motion blur during a long exposure.

Getting to Hastings Caves

Distance from Hobart
125kms (south)

How long to drive there
1½ to 2 hours from Hobart

Huon Highway via Geeveston

Read more about Hastings Caves on the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service website


  • David says:

    Could you please include some indication of good iso, focal point and shutter speeds?
    Also, after mentioning several times that tripods are not allowed, there are two images showing the photographer with a tripod!?!

    • Coreena says:

      Hi David, thanks for your comment. It’s not our intention to provide camera settings via our blog posts unless the article is about camera settings specifically. For this article we simply want to provide a few things to think about for the type of photography being engaged in. In response to your feedback about the photos with photographer using a tripod, we have reviewed our post and the original words “Tripods are generally not permitted to be taken inside” remain relevant. As this article was originally written to complement a nature photography weekend that we ran, and for which we obtained special permission allowing participants to take tripods inside, we have since updated the post by adding “Shutterbug Walkabouts frequently obtains special permission allowing photographers to use tripods inside Hastings Caves Tasmania”. Thanks again for your feedback. Coreena

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