Story Behind the Shot: Cave Reflection

Combining Cenote photography, a dive model & reflection into a winning image
By Jannik Pedersen

Story Behind the Shot: Cave Reflection

Combining Cenote Photography, a Dive Model & Relection into a Winning Image

By Jannik Pedersen




My winning photo in the ‘Compact wide-angle’ category of the 2011 Ocean Art competition was shot in cenote ‘Dos Ojos’ in Mexico.

During a holiday in Mexico I based myself in the coastal town Tulum, which is a good gateway to explore the cenotes.  Prior to my holiday I had almost one thousand dives logged from years of ocean diving, but I had no experience in cenote or cave diving and only little idea of what awaited me in the underworld of the cenotes.


The cenotes of Mexico

Mexico offers some fascinating ‘Cenote Diving’ in the underground river system of the Yucatán Peninsula.  A cenote is a sinkhole, formed by the collapse of the roof structure of an underground river system. The cenote makes an entrance into cathedral-like caverns and a vast network of caves.

Cenote ‘Dos Ojos’ is one of the largest and most famous cenotes because of its easy accessibility and fascinating rock formations. It is a fresh water system with water so clear that it seems like air. The diving in Dos Ojos is done in shallow water no deeper than 10m with a water temperature around 24ᵒC, giving you plenty of bottom time to enjoy the beautiful cave system.


My camera system

I have always shot with compact cameras underwater as the price and weight of a DSLR-system still is set-back for me. Some months before I went to Mexico I invested in a Canon PowerShot S95 camera, Canon’s own housing, INON wide-angle lens and dual INON D2000 strobes (read about the newer S110 camera). This set-up allowed me to shoot in manual mode, which opened up lots of opportunities (and challenges) in capturing a better photo.


The Shot

I was fortunate to have a private dive-guide, which gave me the freedom to capture some beautiful photos of the cenote.  I informed my guide that I was planning to use him as an underwater model.  I have always enjoyed taking photos with a diver in the shot as it often creates a unique mood.

A bit into the dive I saw a reflection appearing in the roof of the cave system.  A large air pocket had formed making magical mirror-like scenery.  I quickly visualized the opportunity for a special photo and swam to a spot where I was able to capture the scenery with a reflection of my dive guide.  I did a few shots as my dive-guide slowly swam under the air-pocket. I ended up lowering the shutter-speed and increasing the flash output. Final settings were:

Camera: ISO 100, 1/8 sec. at F2.0 - Strobes: in Manual mode, full output


Diving in the cenotes turned out to be a perfect playground for an underwater photographer. There is a great variety of different cenotes, each with its unique and mysterious scenery.  It gave me lots of opportunities to play around with different exposure and strobe settings and the dual strobe system was very useful, since a strong and wide flash was needed to light up the cave sceneries.


About the Author

Jannik Pedersen is from Denmark and started diving in 2000. Since his first dive he has been fascinated by scuba diving and the ocean.  Between 2006 and 2011 he worked as a divemaster on liveaboard boats in Thailand and Burma, where he developed a strong passion for underwater photography.  You can find more of Jannik Pedersen’s underwater photography on his website:


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