Cave photography and conservation – a field of tension
A topic I take very seriously is the sensitive relationship between cave photography and conservation. There are two key arguments we are confronted with, unfortunately sometimes with good reason:
1. The impact photographers have on caves
Every now and then, we encounter traces of damage in caves that can be attributed to careless cave photographers – maybe as a result of searching for the ‘perfect’ camera position, trying to capture a hidden helictite, or finding the best place for a flashgun. And we see flashbulbs and batteries discarded and left behind. As underground photographers, we need to apply strict codes of self-discipline: we do not need to take every shot we might visualise, and we do not need to find the perfect spot for the flashgun, every time!
2. The impact cavers in general have on the underground environment
More people go caving nowadays, perhaps inspired by spectacular underground images, and this has a substantial indirect impact. However, we can control how much impact our actions have on this environment by regulating our style of presentation and the media we choose. Compare the effect an article entitled ‘Conquering the pits of hell’ (including precise directions where to find them) has in a climbing magazine, with a talk entitled ‘A delicate and fragile world underground’. We actually contribute immensely to cave conservation if we can succeed in getting across our own sense of fascination, the fragile nature and aesthetics of caves and speleothems, and the deep respect we have for these underground phenomena.