Behind the Photo: Inside the World’s Largest Caves

Photo by Carsten Peter
Sunlight illuminates the mist inside Hang Son Doong cave in Vietnam. (Photo by Carsten Peter)

Looking at Carsten Peter’s photo of a Vietnamese cave blanketed in a mystical mist, and reflected in a crystal clear pool, it is easy forget that this is a real place on planet Earth. You could be excused for thinking this image was a product of Hollywood magic.

As a National Geographic photographer and filmmaker, Carsten has visited the world’s most extreme environments. He has rappelled into active volcanoes in the South Pacific, chased monster storms in Tornado Alley, and documented huge caves, like the one above, in Vietnam.

He is obsessed with devising innovative photographic techniques that allow him to capture dramatic, never-before-seen images of places few humans have dared to go.

“I was part of an expedition to explore a huge cave system in central Vietnam that had just been discovered the year before. The largest cave, Hang Son Doong—it could fit a skyscraper! It also has skylights, and that’s the light source in this photo and for the jungle at the bottom. The lighting and humidity in these caves made photographing them very difficult. The day I took this photo was quite misty—as usual—which made it very tricky to get the shot. I used underwater light and above water light to get different variations, but this was the photo that was published in the January 2011 issue of National Geographic,” he said.

Carsten has earned a reputation for his relentless quest to push the frontiers of exploration. His ability to document the forces of nature has earned him numerous National Geographic assignments and garnered both World Press Photo and Emmy awards.

Now, audiences can rappel, climb, and dive with Carsten, through his photos and videos, as part of his National Geographic Live! speaker series. If you’re in New York, you can join him as he shares his stories of experiencing Earth’s wildest environments, live at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on March 4.

For tickets and information, visit the National Geographic Live event page.

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Caroline Gerdes recently graduated from Louisiana State University where she studied journalism and history (her major and minor, respectively). As a native of the Greater New Orleans Area, she decided to explore her own backyard with help from a Young Explorers Grant. Caroline is currently conducting an oral history project about the New Orleans Ninth Ward. She seeks to record the community’s full history — its immigrant beginnings, the development of jazz, the depression and prohibition, desegregation and hurricanes. Caroline’s exploration is also a personal quest as her father and paternal grandparents grew up in the Ninth Ward. Her blogs reflect an inside look at New Orleans life and culture, especially the edible aspects.