My Artist’s Statement

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. My goal as an artist is to seek out the beauty that has been packed in to the natural world and draw attention to it.

Mike at art exhibitYears of study and training have instilled in me a visual awareness of the world around me. Quality and direction of light, highlights and shadows, lines, forms, and textures, subjects and backgrounds.  These are the fundamental elements of composition and design. I notice these things in my surroundings – constantly.

Experience on over 80 photo safaris in Kenya over the past 15 years has refined my photographic vision and technique. Tack sharp, beautifully lit animal portraits are no longer enough for me. I now endeavour to capture intimate interactions between animals, a striking posture, a gesture, direct eye contact. This adds emotional impact to any image.

An animal’s environment is a critical part of who they are, but I choose to minimize the distracting elements of the African bush and include just enough of an animal’s surroundings to suggest where it is. I often desaturate colours and blur backgrounds in order emphasize the subjects in my compositions.

The marvels of modern photographic equipment make it possible to record huge amounts of image data. As a technician I strive to capture as much raw data as possible while in the field. As an artist I decide which data to keep and which to eliminate. Photography is not like most other visual arts. In drawing or painting the artist adds the medium to a blank canvas until the artwork is finished. In photography the artist starts with everything and is tasked with removing elements until all that remains is his artwork.

cool cheetahI take great artistic liberties with my photo art images. I will manipulate pixels, add graphic elements, enhance textures, paint in tonalities, clone out distractions, and gradually craft the image I want to share with my audience. I want to show them wildlife in a way they have never seen it before. In doing so I hope to draw people’s attention to the amazing intricacies God has imbued in His creation. And maybe even inspire them to take better care of it. The proceeds of this show will be donated to Care of Creation, an organization dedicated to preserving nature, and teaching people how to take better care of it.

I believe my purpose on earth is doxological. For me, praising God means noticing something beautiful, interesting, or cool, and then drawing attention to it so that others can see it too. To the praise of His glory.

Michael James Gaudaur

Kijabe, Kenya

April 8th, 2013

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Photo Art Exhibition and Sale

photo art show poster

I am excited to announce my first public photo art exhibition and sale. The event will be held at the Sarit Centre exhibition hall in Nairobi, Kenya on April 12th to the 14th. Admission is free and proceeds from the sale will go to support the ministries of Care of Creation an organization dedicated to teaching people how to take better care of their environment. I would love to have you drop by.

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Chill Cheetah Texture Blend

Cheetahs are my favourite animal. They always appear so chill and relaxed. This mother was poised on a termite mound, casually scanning the savannah for her next meal. There was some gentle back light, and the background was nice and soft due to a 500mm lens. This resulted in a pretty pleasing image right out of the camera. Here is a view of the unadjusted RAW file.

Chill Cheetah

Chill Cheetah


These images are created by combining a colour and a black and white version of the cheetah image using the overlay blending mode. Then a detailed mask is made to reveal a a image of a textured old concrete wall on the background layer. A burn and dodge layer was used to tone down some distracting highlights and add depth to some shadows. Finally, a vignette layer was used to tone down the edges and keep the eye in the centre of the image.

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Preening Ostrich Texture Blend Fine Art

african ostrich blended with a textured background

I am excited to be preparing for my first fine art exhibition in April. This is pushing me to dig deep into my photo archives and re-process some of my old favourite images from the past.

This ostrich image was taken at Melewa, Kenya back 2004. Back then there were three ostriches that would come right into camp and graze between the tents. I was actually able to shoot this image while sitting in lawn chair next to my tent.

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Zebra Herd Texture Blend

zebra herb on stone texture background

Yesterday I went for an “African Photo Safari’ with two of the 13 year old boys from our dorm. Now, in reality we just walked around the guard trail that encircles our campus. But, it was in Africa, and we did take 240 pictures… of rocks. I was seeking interesting textures to blend with animal image from my real African photo safaris. The boys were not really impressed, but I got some great textures to work with.

This image of a zebra herd standing at the top of a hill seemed to have all the ingredients of an interesting image, but still lacked the impact I was looking for. I was drawn to this herd of Zebra for two reasons. First, they were on the top of a hill with nothing in the background behind them, and, secondly, they were all facing the same way. Usually when you approach a herd of Zebra you are presented with a large proportion of zebra behinds. In this case the reason they were all facing towards me is that we parked next to a bush under which two large male lions were dozing.

original image of zebra herd

I didn’t like the way the colour image looked, and was pretty sure a black and white version would work better.  Here is the conversion to black and white using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

black and white conversion of zebra herd

I liked the simplicity of this image. Because the zebra were at the top of a hill there was nothing distracting in the background. However, I still felt it was lacking something, so I started searching for an appropriate texture to add to the background. On the stone path near my house I found a stone I thought might work.

stone from path

Opening both the black and white zebra image and the stone image in Photoshop I changed the blend mode of the zebra layer to multiply. I liked the result right away, but found that the zebra were getting lost in the texture of the stone. That’s when I started slowing masking out the stone under the zebras, especially around the faces. I used a very soft brush with the opacity reduced to only 15%.

So here again is the final rendition.

zebra herb on stone texture background

Let me know what you think.

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Color and Tonality

elephants grazing in long grass black and white

It is a marvel of modern engineering that allows microscopic red, green, or blue filters to be placed over individual light-sensitive cells on a camera sensor allowing us to capture the full range of colours of the scene in front of us. Software gives us the ability to manipulate those colours, even changing the relationships between colours. How we adjust the various colours can have a huge impact on the tonal values of an image.

unaltered RAW image of elephants and clouds

Here is an unaltered RAW capture of three elephants grazing on the Masai Mara. As we were driving back to camp for lunch I was intrigued by what I was seeing in the sky. The powerful deep blues and the fluffy white clouds were very dramatic. A wide angle lens (20mm) and a polarizer added to that drama. I exposed for the clouds because they were the most significant players in the scene. The elephants and the trees played supporting roles. The fact that there were three of each was a happy accident.

Back home in Lightroom I set to work to start shoving the colours around to increase the drama in the scene and try to convey some of the exhilaration I felt on that day in the Mara. The big open spaces and hugeness of the sky are things you need to experience to really grasp. But Lightroom allowed me to help you to get a bit of a sense of what it would have been like if you could have been there with me. Here is what I came up with.

elephants grazing under fluffy white clouds colour

This was accomplished with the following Lightroom adjustments. I brightened shadows, increased clarity, and lowered the whites slightly to bring back some detail that was blowing out in the clouds.

lightroom basic adjustments

I found that the blue of the sky and the green of the grass were too close in tonality. Despite the tremendous depth in the scene, the image still looked flat.elephant image with only basic adjustments

Dropping down to the HSL panel I deepened the blues of the sky by reducing the luminosity and then I increased the brightness of just the yellows and oranges on the grass. This not only brightened the scene and increased the feeling of depth, but it also added some interest in the grass by more clearly defining the darker clumps of green.

HSL lightroom adjustments

A slight tone curve adjustment enhanced the contrast in the sky and the grass while leaving the shadows and highlights alone.

tone curve lightroom adjustments

Here is the final colour version.

final colour image of elephants and dramatic clouds

I was really starting to like the textures of the grass and the clouds, and the elephants for that matter. If you want to show off texture, you remove colour. Colour distracts us from texture. Without colour our brains look for other sources of information and texture becomes far more evident. Here again is the black and white rendition of the scene converted in Silver Efex Pro 2.

elephants grazing in long grass black and white

In the black and white conversion process I was able to further reduce the brightness of the blues and brighten up the yellows. This further increased the contrast between the grass and the elephants drawing attention to the small portion of the image area they occupy.

So, as a visual artist one of your tasks is to analyze the colours and tones in the scene before you and decide how to manipulate them to achieve the desired emotional response in your audience.

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Use Luminosity Blending to Combine Color and Black & White

a regal looking lion reclines on a small hill.

Photoshop’s luminosity blend mode adds some drama to this lion shot.

While on a long drive yesterday I was listening to some old podcasts of Nik Radio episodes. They were interviewing Australian fine art photographer Tony Hewitt. Tony mentioned a image editing technique that I thought sounded interesting. He suggested using the luminosity blend mode in Photoshop to use a black and white version of an image to add drama and character to the color version using the luminosity blend mode. So I used the majestic lion image from my last post to experiment. The results blew me away.

Here is the technique.

  1. Edit your color image as normal. Lots of color and texture are nice, but no need for excessive clarity or contrast.
  2. Send a copy of the image to Nik Silver Efex Pro and choose a fairly contrasty black and white conversion. I used Noir 3.
  3. Bring both images into Photoshop. Use the move tool to drag one image on to the other. Hold down shift so that the images will be perfectly aligned.
  4. Make sure that the black and white version is on the top layer.
  5. Change the black and white layer blend mode to Luminosity. This allows the brightness of the black and white layer to add drama to the color version, without affecting the color at all.
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Majestic Male Lion on a Mound

fine art image of a majestic male lion resting on large termite mound

After strolling right past our Land Rover, then mating with his lady friend, this majestic male enthroned himself on a large termite mound. A few minutes later the female killed a wildebeest, which he helped her devour. I think we should call him Riley – he got the life!

After some basic adjustments in Lightroom, I took this image into Viveza to try to enhance the the rich color contrast between the golden yellows of the lion and the deep blues of the background. While there, I lowered the structure of the background and then set a new control point to bring back  the structure in the lion’s face.

color version of fine art male lion on termite mound

The color version edited in Nik Software’s Viveza.

I was still looking for something that would convey the majestic nature of of this regal beast. Ultimately I found what I was looking for using the “Film Noir 3” setting in Nik’s Silver Efex Pro .

For comparison, here is a jpeg of the original RAW file.

unedited RAW image

Here is a JPEG of the unedited RAW file.

So please let me know which version you like better.

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Editing Long-nose & Crooked-tusk

fine art image of two elephants

final image


A 50mm lens is not commonly considered a go to lens for an African photo safari. But I was determined to come back with something different from this safari. With this in mind I was intentional to pull out my lesser used lenses. As we sat for nearly an hour with a family of grazing elephant they continued to move closer to our vehicle. In fact, they got so close I was able to capture two elephant and the rear-view mirror of our Land Rover in a single 50mm image.

two elephants and our mirror

two elephants and the Land Rover mirror

Long lenses tend to compress perspective in a scene, while a ‘normal’ lens is said to render a perspective of the scene most like human vision. These pictures do look very much like what we saw just looking directly out of our window. Another aspect of 50mm lenses is the ability to use very wide apertures. My Canon EF 50mm f/’1.4 is not very sharp wide open, but I have found that stopped down to f/2 it is tack sharp. So here is what the unedited RAW file looked like.

unedited RAW file

unedited RAW file


lightroom basic panel adjustments

lightroom basic panel adjustments

  1. The first step was to tighten up the drop a little to remove the distractions of the road and eliminate the dead space behind the foreground elephant.
  2. Next priority was to tweak the Lightroom Basic panel sliders to wash out the background and lighten the elephants.
  3. It seemed important to retain some of the grass in order to give both elephants a “place” in the image. Without the grass they seemed to be floating. This was accomplished with the recovery slider.
  4. Increasing the black slider helped give the elephants some definition. An image usually needs some solid blacks to anchor it.
  5. Boosting clarity adds texture.
  6. Reducing colour saturation also shifts more attention toward shape and texture. When the eye does not have the visual cue of colour, it will give more weight to information from other sources.
lightroom basic panel adjustments

lightroom basic panel adjustments

Using wide apertures to photograph subjects with bright backgrounds will usually produce magenta or green coloured fringes along the edges where dark meets light. These are called chromatic aberrations. I was able to eliminate them very easily in this image by reducing the saturation of the Magenta and Purple sliders in the HSL panel.



Lightroom adjustment brush overlay

Lightroom adjustment brush overlay

I thought that the top of the elephant’s head was a little washed out and her trunk needed a little more definition to draw the viewer into the image. I set Lightroom’s adjustment brush to -0.9 exposure and painted detail back in to those areas. You can use the ‘o’ key to see the overlay that you are painting.

The image seemed a little cool, so I used Lightroom’s Split Toning panel to add a little brown to the shadows (hue 41 and saturation 28).

For the last step I needed to send the image to Photoshop. There was actually a third elephant in the scene. You can just see the back end of the little fellow behind his mother’s back leg. I used the clone stamp to create some white space between the mother and son, and then lassoed the son, hit the delete key and chose to fill with content aware fill.

There you have it. Let me know what you think. If you found this at all helpful please use the buttons below to share it on your preferred social media. You can subscribe to these regular tutorials using the RSS feedfollow me on Twitter, like AfricanPhotoArt on Facebook, or circle me on Google+.

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Topi Sunrise image wins high commendation

dramatic sunrise behind herd of topi

highly commended

Despite the fact that this site is dedicated to artistic renderings of images, one of my straight, unmanipulated images was awarded a high commendation in the Wild Eye nature photography contest. Read about the image and the back story on my Kenyan Photo Safari website.

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