Photography & Video Underground in a Gold Mine
One of the things I enjoy the most is doing underground photography. Ever since I got my first assignment from a Gold Mine in South Africa asking whether I would be willing to travel deep underground and photograph a group of visitors who would be visiting their mine I was hooked. I was warned that the environment would be unlike anything I have experienced and I have to state to anyone who wants to do this, or ever is offered such a job, it is not like any photography job you will ever so.
Under ground the environment changes as it is artificially stimulated to sustain human life. The stope, that space at a rock face where ore is extracted, is hot, humid and dusty. It is an unfriendly and wild environment where the air is breathable, but not anywhere near comfortable. Mining is not for soft people…it requires a person dedicated, hardened and willing to work in an environment you will not experience above ground. There are men and women down there who collect many tons of ore to make just one golden trinket.
The first time I went underground I used my Sony A77 which is a crop sensor camera, but in the cramped spaces I soon discovered that the Sony SAL2875 SAM lens was just not wide enough. At the time I owned the Sony A900 as my only full-frame camera and I was very scared to take it down as it cost me so much money, but on a third trip down and noting that the A77 suffered no ill effects I took the A900 down and it was amazing! Full frame and a wide angle non-distorting lens is great! Yes, I could use wider angle lenses, but I did not want the distortion which comes with these lenses (I did try a 19mm lens and it was horrible underground).
Then I got a Sony A99
The Sony A99 change me as a photographer…it fealt as if I had re-entered the days of film, but with some super-juice! The Sony A99 is just a different piece of equipment designed around the photographer to make life simpler in even the harshest of environments. After spending so much money on my A99 you would think I would wait a while before I took it underground into the wild depths, but I had it less than a month and it accompanied me on my next available mine excursion. Why? Because the A77 and A900 had already proven to me that this class of camera is really weather sealed and more than capable of handling these extremes (and I did a wedding that next weekend with my A99!).
Now…a long time after taking the A99 underground it is still my favorite underground photography and even videography piece of equipment. There is not always a lot of light and I make do with what is down there as flash often destroys the mood. Even when shoot at ISO6400 I find the photos perfect for use in posters, booklet and even banners.
Here is a video snippet I shot yesterday on the Sony A99 while in one of the harshest environments in the world.