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Orda Cave. The first underwater cave panorama in the world #

by Viktor Lyagushkin, member of the AirPano Team that is a member of the global-geography Consortium.

25 January 2013

with kind permission of AirPano

It was no coincidence that Sasha Grek, Chief Editor of National Geographic Russia Magazine (NGR), introduced me to Oleg Gaponyuk and AirPano team. Giving me their contact information he knew that our friendship could turn into something amazing. He was absolutely right - we set off on a GRAND ADVENTURE, and with each passing day this adventure becomes even more and more exciting.

My name is Viktor Lyagushkin. I work as a photographer in NGR specializing in extreme underwater photography. In search for my photo stories I go deep into the cold water, under the ice, and into the underwater caves. My friends and teammates from PHOTOTEAM.PRO always help me. Together we create stories about wonderful places and amazing people that explore them sometimes balancing between life and death. It so happens that there are only a few hundred people in the world that work in such extreme conditions; only a handful of them can handle a camera; and none of the extreme underwater photographers actually heard about spherical panoramas or knows how to shoot them. That's why when Oleg Gaponyuk told me about panoramic photography I realized that we've discovered a whole new dimension to explore. It's very hard to capture the beauty of an underwater cave or an entire sunken ship. With help of panoramic photo technique this task becomes a lot easier.

Orda Cave. Main tunnel
Orda Cave. Main tunnel

Orda Cave was our first joint project with AirPano team. It is the most extended underwater cave in Russia. Second in length in entire Eurasia, it is also the world's biggest underwater gypsum cave. It has the status of the National Natural Monument of Russia. Orda Cave is located in southwest corner of Orda village in Perm region, on the left shore of Kungur River. It consists of gypsum and anhydrite dating back to the Permian period. It has "dry" and underwater sections. Its "dry" section is 300 meters long, while underwater section is 5150 meter long. One part of the cave is considered to be the longest (985 meters) syphon in CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States). Such features as gypsum composition, low water temperature (+4 Celsius), huge underwater galleries, high water transparency, and low opacity set Orda Cave apart from other similar caves in the world. Unfortunately, harsh diving conditions make this beauty unreachable for most people. In 2010 we spent 6 months in the cave shooting its amazing galleries. Later we published a book called "Orda Cave: Awareness Project" describing the cave exploration process. So spherical panorama of the Cave became the next logical step for AirPano team and us.

Orda Cave
Orda Cave

Underwater caves are considered the hardest subject of underwater photography. Overhead environment, inability to surface when you need to, zero visibility, underwater narrows, you have to squeeze through, and complete darkness - here are just a few difficulties that one faces in cave diving; and if you plan to take pictures in an underwater cave, the list multiplies three-fold. Now imagine that you are shooting a spherical panorama! It is impossible to set up a tripod or a panoramic head, which means that you won't be able to mount your camera or strobe on a tripod. People can't stand still, but without models you don't see dimensions of a cave. There is no light source except for the one you bring with you. Radio synchronizers don't work under water. So all of the above puts you in the most uncertain place for a photo shoot. Every second every light source and every model is moving and turning chaotically, changing light and shade pattern, and altering the composition.

Orda Cave. Main tunnel
Orda Cave. Main tunnel

But we wouldn't be the best of the best if we didn't know how to solve these little problems. Thanks to Oleg Gaponyuk' and Sergey Semyonov's expertise and good teamwork, we were able to photograph these exclusive underwater spherical panoramas, which you can now enjoy.

Now that we have successfully completed test photo shoots, and all "know-how" technologies are tried and true, we can say with confidence that Orda Cave spherical photo panorama is the beginning of an entirely new series of unique underwater virtual tours that have never been done before in the world. Here are just a few locations that we plan to shoot this year: Orda Cave, the Baltic, the White Sea, the Blue Lake (Chirek-Kel) in Kabardino-Balkaria, the Tkhach Caves in Adygeya, the Issyk-Kul' Lake, and land caves of Ural.

Photographer Viktor Lyagushkin
Photographer Viktor Lyagushkin

Orda Cave. Basic Passage.

Photographer: Viktor Lyagushkin

Models: Vladimir Fyodorov, Bogdana Vashchenko,

Nikon D3x, Nikkor 14-24/2.8, Subal underwater camera housing, 7 Ikelite DS160 strobe units

We express our gratitude to Nikon, and personally to Vladimir Volkov for their help in organizing the photo shoot.

Panorama stitching and processing: AirPano

Panorama of Orda Cave, one of the most impressive underwater caves