Not all National Parks are created equal, and Mammoth Caves is a stark reminder of that. Luckily, most of this cave is dry, so waterproof gear isn’t really necessary for this trip. Group tours forbid the use of tripods, so a camera that can do well in low-light conditions is a must!
Here’s how to prepare for photographing Mammoth Caves National Park:
1. Charge your batteries! (And bring a spare!)
Most tours at Mammoth Cave are over an hour long. The two tours we took were three and four hours long! Your eyes are working overtime in the dark, and so is your camera. There’s no place to stop for a break along the tours, make sure your battery is charged and your spare is close by just in case.
2. Get a camera that does well in low lighting situations
Being able to crank the ISO without too much noise is a must for these dark conditions. There are sporadic lights along most of the cave routes to guide you along the path. That being said, some tours move at a quick pace, and a fast shutter speed is a must to get sharp images. I used my Sony RX-100 to document our cave exploring.
3. Look Up
The cave rooms are huge. There is so much to see in front of you that it is sometimes easy to forget to look up. Above the cave paths, there are thousand-year-old cracks in infrastructure, stalactites forming strange shapes, and even a stick that was somehow wedged in a gap in the ceiling, 30 feet off the ground. Keep your eyes looking all around you, you never know what you’ll see.
4. Lead the pack
Some tour groups can have upwards of 50 people. The closer you are to the front of the line, the less you’ll be playing catch-up. Stick near the Park Ranger leading the tour for the most photo opportunities. As an added bonus, you’ll get even more behind-the-scenes information that the back of the group isn’t hearing.
5. Bring a water bottle
On our four hour tour, there were two stops along the way for water and bathrooms, but on the three hour tour, there was no stopping for the entire duration of the hike. I know this list is supposed to be about photographing the park, but nothing sucks the inspiration out of a photographer like the distraction of thirst.
6. Leave the Tripod at home!
You can’t bring your tripod on your cave tour. Seriously, don’t do it.