Pro Team: Robbie Shone

Pro Team: Robbie Shone

Pro Team: Robbie Shone

This month we have a special interview with one of the worlds most accomplished cave photographers, our very own Pro Team member Robbie Shone, following his expedition into the worlds deepest cave.

Following his expedition into the worlds deepest cave, Robbie gives us insight into the way he photographs caves and where it all began.

How did you get into caving?

“A friend of mine from my fine art course at university was massively into caving and rock climbing. Reluctantly, he convinced me one weekend to go caving with him in the Yorkshire Dales. Even before we went into the cave, I was joking around saying it would be a one-time thing but within about 20-30 seconds of being underground I just remember sitting there and thinking “wow this is absolutely awesome, this is the most amazing adventure location in the world.”

A cave explorer climbing out of a Maelstrom on the fixed rope in the upper shaft originally climbed by Tim Allen.

How did you start in photography?

“20 years ago, I went to Hallam university in Sheffield to study fine art. I was into painting huge canvases at the time, mostly landscape scenes and one of the reasons for going to Sheffield was not only to study fine art but for rock climbing as well.

“Once I started caving, I just kept thinking of being in the cave and thought that maybe photography would be the way forward as I couldn’t paint in the caves. No one at the university could teach me how to light the cave or photograph it, I met many influencers along the way who would offer advice. I would just borrow equipment off of the photography technicians and for about a year I never told them what I was photographing or how I was using the equipment because I was worried they would stop me from taking them.”

Cave Explorers progress downstream in Clearwater River Cave, – The eighth longest cave in the world, Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Borneo.

How do caving and extreme photography differ in terms of technique?

“The cave is pitch black, as we know you need light to make an image. One way is to use lots of long-burning lights to make it like a studio. But that’s not how cavers see it, we only see it with the lights that are on our heads. At the core of me is a cave explorer so I try to make pictures that are representative of what a caver would see whilst making it something the public would like to see.  Therefore, I mainly just use flash. We fire off all of the flashes at once to get the perfect light.

“In terms of the extreme photography part of the question, I worked in the abseiling industry for 10 years. I became very used to handling the ropes. I’m very aware of where I am, but it’s like second nature to me to have a point of contact to the wall at all times so that makes it much easier to set up my equipment as I am not consciously thinking about the ropes or staying on the wall all of the time.”

Suspended over 250m off the floor and 250m below the roof, Robbie is all set to make a picture.

What’s in your photography kit bag?

  • Nikon D850
  • 14-24mm Lens
  • Nikon Z6
  • 3LT Leo Tripod

You recently visited and photographed the world’s deepest cave; how did you get involved in the expedition? 

“I met Pavel Demidov in 2007, who is the leader of the team exploring the cave on an expedition to China. We were exploring China’s deepest cave, we all hung out, my assistant Jeff was there, he knew Pavel too. Two years ago, Pavel’s team had been exploring the cave for several years and then they explored it further than the previous explorers. I was out in Italy for a conference and although I didn’t get to see it, I heard Pavel was also doing a talk about this achievement. I emailed him to congratulate him and said I would love to come and photograph your next expedition and he responded saying that it would be great for me to join them. Jeff came along too and then we had a big reunion.”

The lowest point in the cave. The siphon. Up until this expedition, this siphon is undived and nobody knows what lies beneath. This is the deepest point in the deepest cave in the world! At -2212m underground. Leader Pavel Demidov climbs up the rope above two swimmers swimming in the sump pool 12m below. A strong current coming up from the left hand side suggests that there might be a flooded passage below the surface, but up to now, who knows? During the flood pulse that came down through the cave a week after this photograph was taken, all of this completely filled up with water, right up to the roof.

How was this shoot different to others you’ve undertaken?

There wasn’t anything different, it was more to do with the length of time it took. Usually, you get to the cave and you’re only one day away from the entrance once you are down. It took 4 days to get down the cave and 4 days to get back up to the entrance.”

The expedition ended rather abruptly. Might you go back?  

I am going back later this month for a two-week trip to photograph the top third of the cave, particularly the entrance. Thankfully, I haven’t got to go back down into the cave this time though unless I really want to.”

This is a photograph of a lonesome cave explorer in a cave passage called 1954 (cave name – Whiterock, Clearwater River Cave). We discovered the cave in 2009 as part of a joint Anglo/Sarawak expedition to explore the giant caves of Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak, on the Malaysian island of Borneo. “We only had one magnesium wire wool filled flashbulb left! It was now or never to get this shot. It reminded me of shooting on film again. Everything that I had learnt and taught myself had to be applied here.

Was anyone injured during the Veryovkina expedition?

“There was one section near the camp where the whole volume of water went through a very small enclosed space, the rope ran through this, so we had to go through. The Russians however found a gap higher up and they didn’t go through the restrictions. One of the guys slipped and fell about 6m down due to having no rope to hold onto and gashed his leg. He could barely walk when we had approximately 1900m left to climb vertically.”

All photos: ©Robbie Shone

About Robbie

A cave explorer and visual storyteller, Robbie is recognised as one of the most accomplished cave photographers in the world. He is based in the heart of the Alps in the scenic alpine town of Innsbruck, Austria.

Visit Robbie's website. You can follow his Instagram using the links below.

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