Maybe you’ve heard the term “using available light” to take a photo. That is, using only the light that is there and not adding any light to the scene. Documentary photographers use the term often.
Sometimes, however, it’s more appropriate to say “using available dark” when there’s virtually no available light.
Such was the case when I went along on a survey of bats in Boulder Cave, northwest of Yakima. Bats there are hibernating this time of year making it much easier to count them as they hang on walls and in crevices in the rocky walls of the cave.
Headlamps and two flashlights provided the only light. I could have used a flash but (a) that would have completely altered the mood and character of the scene by introducing the strobe light and (b) the biologists preferred I not use the flash for fear it would disturb the bats. So, the flash stayed stowed in my camera backpack.
So, how do you make photos in near pitch-blackness? High ASA, wide apertures, slow shutter speeds, a steady hand and prayer were my answers to the challenge.
Vital stats: 1600 ASA, f2.8 for .4 seconds. I braced myself on a rock to steady the camera. It’s mostly sharp. Certainly sharp enough for publication in our newspaper and on our Web site. Or, as YH-R photographer Andy Sawyer calls it – “web sharp.”
The stats here: 1/6th of a second at f2.8, 1600 ASA. This one’s sharper than the first one so something worked better. Maybe my morning caffeine had worn off or the prayer worked. Hard to say.
Lastly, I was finally able to get a photo of a hibernating bat, a vital image for this story.
The light was provided by the biologist’s headlamp as she counted the two bats. Not much light, but enough light.
Shooting in these conditions was a little nerve-wracking because there was no “do-over” but it’s always fun to produce photos under challenging conditions. And it was really fun to hang out for a couple of hours in a cave counting bats.