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Sense of adventure drives US photographer to capture caves

Update: August, 20/2015 - 09:31
Explorer: Ryan Deboodth is the third photographer to film Son Doong Cave with a drone, but his video has gotten the most views.

by Luong Thu Huong

Caves in the central province of Quang Binh have wowed the world with their stunning natural beauty and have stolen the hearts of many people, including Ryan Deboodth from Nebraska, the US.

Originally a software engineer, Deboodth has become famous worldwide thanks to his photos capturing the magnificent caves, which have appeared in many prestigious magazines like National Geographic, National Geographic Traveller, Smithsonian, Guardian and The Telegraph.

Deboodth was surprised by this turning point in his life, because he never took photos of caves or even entered one four years ago.

"I was drawn to cave photography because I love shooting things that have never been photographed before. I love adventure and exploring the unknown, and caves are one of the last frontiers of exploration," Deboodth said.

"I started in high school with a photography class. It wasn't until I started shooting caves that I pursued it as a profession."

The beauty of Son Doong Cave has hooked the 32-year-old engineer, and he has returned to shoot the biggest cave in the world on several occasions.

Deboodth first trekked to the cave during his honeymoon in Viet Nam, when a friend invited him to take photos inside the caves in Quang Binh.

He entered Son Doong after images of the world's largest cave had been featured in many prestigious magazines, so he decided to consult cave expert and explorer Howard Limbert, a member of the British Cave Research Association, about the angles he should shoot from to capture different images from those already published.

On his third visit, he decided to film the cave with a DJI Phantom 2 drone and a GoPro Hero 4 Black camera, aiming to capture its fairy beauty and introduce it to the world.

Although Deboodth was the third photographer to film the cave using a drone, his video is widely regarded as the best and had received most views, according to Limbert.

Deboodth's video, which captures the beautiful moment of sunlight beaming into the cave through a skylight, was aired during Good Morning America on ABC last May.

Deboodth said that such a rare moment, which lasts for only an hour from 11 to noon, was one of the most wonderful moments he had filmed inside Son Doong Cave, and the most beautiful moment in his entire life.


A photoshoot takes him at least a week to prepare for.

"I have to prepare all my gear and make sure everything is working correctly. Once in the cave it is a group effort to create the photos. I need people holding lights and people in the photos."

Furthermore, a single image can take up to an hour and might cost hundreds of dollars, depending on how many flashbulbs he uses.

Mystical: One of Ryan's favourite photos taken in Va Cave. — Photos courtesy of Ryan Deboodth

As a cave photographer, Deboodth's favourite accessory is his lighting equipment, "as without it my photos wouldn't be possible", he said. The equipment he has to prepare before each shoot includes flashes, powerful flashbulbs and led lights.

Besides his careful preparations, Deboodth's amazing photos are the result of his teams' efforts to overcome many challenges.

"Access is of course limited as the caves are in a National Park and they must be conserved.

"To get to some of the caves can involve hours or days of trekking through the hot and humid jungle carrying heavy gear. Once in the cave, one of the bigger challenges is getting enough light in the cave as most of the caves in Quang Binh are relatively large."

One of the moments he remembers most is when he flew his drone out of the second skylight, known as the doline, in Son Doong Cave.

Deboodth regards it as one of the scariest things he has done photographically in Son Doong.

"It is over 300m high from inside the cave to reach the top of the doline and as I just went about the doline I lost video feed. I couldn't see the drone anymore so I didn't know where it was. Fortunately the video feed came back eventually and I was able to bring it back down. It was a very nerve wracking and memorable experience," he recalled.

Deboodth has visited Son Doong Cave five times and spent 30 days inside it.

Alhough he has moved to China to live with his wife, Deboodth said he would take any opportunity to fly back to Quang Binh and discover more about the beauty of the caves he has fallen in love with. — VNS

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