“Is it too dark to shoot in here?”, asked Tara Tree, as we were exploring one of the Kauai caves during a location scout one afternoon.
“No, I think there’s enough light. If I bring a tripod and do longer exposures,” I said, as my eyes began to slowly adjust to the darkness.
I was looking to create something a little unusual. Actually that was my internal theme during the entire 10 days of shooting at Zoefest XIII this year. Come back with things not expected.
I had scheduled Tara for my first shoot on the island. Which was wonderful, because we’d be talking about wanting to make art together since the first time we collaborated nearly five years before. And finally, we were in the same place at the same time. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on an island created by volcanic eruptions about a thousand years ago. And here we were, inside one of those volcanic creations.
The entrance to the cave was a very wide shallow opening, probably 25 meters across and maybe 3 meters tall. There was a line of trees across the road from the entrance that limited the daylight coming into the cave for three-quarters of the entrance, leaving a slightly harder light source coming in from one end of the opening. This odd happenstance of light was really quite spectacular in that it was both hard and soft at the same time. It created fairly strong shadows, but there was a soft diffusion about it at the same time.
The only challenge was, that you couldn’t really see the shadows very well with only your eyes. It was just too dark. So occasionally, as long as I didn’t turn around and look at the brighter light coming in from the entrance, or look at the display on the back of my camera, my eyes would stay dilated enough that I could see my own shadow falling on Tara, or on some other unwanted place. Whoops. Stay off to the side, Billy. The light was better on Tara if I photographed her from a three-quarters angle anyway.
It was a fairly deep cave, the back wall of it maybe 100 meters from the entrance. And even though we were shooting shortly after first light, we still had to keep an eye out for the odd tourist out for a ridiculously early walk. The good thing was, we were far enough into the cave that we’d see them long before they would see us, and certainly it would take a minute or so for their would-be surprised eyes to adjust to the darkness anyway. It’s an occupational hazard we always face when creating fine art nude photography out in public. We’re all used to it.
Tara was brilliant. She immediately dialed into the vibe of this environment. Wonderful poses that were all at once feminine, animalistic, defiant, and the suddenly peaceful. We’d shoot a bit and then take a minute to review what we were getting on the back of my camera, since it truly was a challenge to actually see what we were doing with our eyes while shooting. We’d scroll through the images, see what was working and what needed a little adjustment, and then make those for the next series of images.
We even shot some motion footage once we felt we had what we needed as far as still images went. I knew we were pushing our luck a bit as far as being tourist free as the morning progressed, but it was too good of an opportunity not to roll the dice. I’m anxious to begin editing that footage together. It’s going to be strangely beautiful.
And as we packed up our gear and began to walk out of the cave after about an hour and a half shooting, we passed a couple of tourists wandering in through the cave entrance. Couldn’t have timed it better. Nothing like making photographs under the cover of darkness.