It is always exciting when you round a corner in a game park and come upon a group of animals interacting with each other. This happens all the time with zebra, buffalo, gazelles and such. These guys find safety in numbers. It is far more unusual to encounter a group of rhino. They don’t need numbers for security. In fact they don’t seem to even like being together. On my last trip to Lake Nakuru Park a few weeks ago my students and I happened upon a group of seven rhino. Granted, Nakuru is an awesome place for finding rhino, but in all my years of visiting this park I have never seen more than two or three together. Yet, on this dismal and dreary afternoon game drive we found ourselves sitting beside seven rhino. They were all in close proximity; munching grass side by side. The air was still and gentle rain showers drifted by. In the quietness of that hour the only sound we could hear was the steady tearing sound of massive lips pulling off tender blades of grass, punctuated every once in a while by massive sighs of contentment. It was an awesome experience.
Without even realizing it I had recorded 300 images on my memory card. I would like to be able to say that I had this amazing creative vision in mind as I shot. But I didn’t. In reality I was just savoring the moment – soaking it in. Artistic vision did not enter into my thinking at all. I would like to think that years of studying beautiful imagery and carefully honing my photographic technique came into play, but it must have been on a subconscious level.
As soon as I got home I was anxious to see what I had captured. The images looked dreary. The weather had been dismal and unprocessed RAW files don’t do anything to improve that appearance. None of the magic I had experienced was there.
As I began to process the images in Lightroom some of that magic was restored. I converted to grayscale, bumped up the black point, then added contrast and clarity. A tighter crop emphasized the proximity of these huge animals, the square format clarifying the pattern of the eyes, lips, horns and nostrils. I was happy with some images and I made a print that I liked, but something was still missing.
As I was preparing images for my first gallery for this website I decided to take another shot at drawing the magic out of the pixels. I took the processed grayscale image out of Lightroom and opened it in photoshop. I decided to try a technique that I had learned years ago for enhancing landscapes. I duplicated the background layer and blurred it considerably using the gaussian blur filter. Changing the layer blend mode to multiply transformed the image into a dreamy mush. Double clicking the blurred layer accesses the blend if sliders. Moving the top white slider to the left removes the blur from the highlights, but the transition is harsh. Holding alt while moving the slider splits the slider and allows for a more gentle transition leaving only silky deep blacks showing through. I brought the punch back to the mid-tones and highlights with a curves adjustment layer.
I now had an image that I felt did justice to the experience I had that dreary afternoon. Is it art? For sure it is more than just a photograph. Ansel Adams said that the negative (read RAW file) is the score and the print is the performance. I am pleased with this performance. What do you think?
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