This is the National Zoo?

By Mark

Since we had the first really nice weather of the year last weekend, we and a few thousand of our closest friends went to the zoo on Saturday.  

I got a few “cute” pictures of Bao Bao, the baby panda; overall I found the whole trip was mildly depressing. The zoo itself is in pretty bad shape.  Yes, it is the start of spring, after a pretty long and rough winter but the facilities and exhibits are just worn down and sad.

Having grown up with the San Diego zoo the comparison was very stark.  The animals and exhibits there look much more vibrant and healthy.  As an example, the big cats at the National zoo are kept in a circular exhibit area.  You should be able to see Lions and Tigers and, well more lions and tigers—bears are elsewhere in the zoo.  

Nope, only one tiger family exhibit is open.  Now the mother tiger is impressive and we watched as she and her cub played around.  The other 2/3 of the exhibit was fenced off and empty.

Currently there are no giraffes, hippopotami, or even a smiling camel in residence.  If you know my house, then you realize the lack of giraffes is a serious problem. They do have a couple Asian hefelumps. 

No woozles to be found...

No woozles to be found...

The small mammal house had many vacant exhibits as well.  At least we got to see mole-rats—woo hoo.  There are also wild box turtles in the ponds—double woo hoo.

The line for the pandas was fairly long, and unlike a Disney line, the waiting process was pretty bleak.  It is pretty amazing to think that this started off no bigger than a stick of butter.  

Part of the good thing about the zoo is that it is free just like other Smithsonian facilities.  Unfortunately this means that it is dependent upon Congress to properly fund them.  They don’t and it shows.  Perhaps it is time to rethink what “free” really means when it comes to the care and display of the creatures at our National Zoo.  Helping people understand and preserve endangered and rare species is important and worth a better effort.  

They don’t forget and we shouldn't either.  As a nation, we can do better than this.

Creative Choices

  It has been a really hectic week, and when I sat down to start writing, I really didn’t have a good idea in mind.   Hoping to kick start my limited imagination I went back through the last sets of pictures I have shot.  While we were visiting the New Orleans zoo, they brought this very lovely Indian elephant out and up close so that people could pet her.  It always amazes me how they can form such deep bonds with humans and with other elephants.  For me, elephants have such patient, old eyes.Elephant As they are so monochromatic anyway, and have such interesting textures, I knew this photo would look better in black and white.  Roger and I both have raved about Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro2 before (like just last week), and it really is such a great creative tool, it really allows you to change the mood of your images, and experiment.  I processed the photo three different ways to try and show a bit of what is possible.   Silver Efex is a plug-in and runs directly from Lightroom or from Photoshop.  It automatically saves what you have created as a new image alongside your original, allowing you to play with them forever.  Advice: delete the ones you don’t like.

High key is a deliberate technique to push the background to the highest possible brightness and emphasize the highlights.  This preset then adds a yellowish tint to the overall image. I think it works better on super models.

Full spectrum processing really tries to smooth out the differences in contrast between the darks and the lights; revealing a lot more of the fine detail in your image.  In my eyes, it leads to a fairly flat image.


The one I wound up liking the best, is a preset called “Wet Rocks”.  It brought out the detail in the elephant's skin, but kept the brooding quality of the shadows as well.  I did apply a slight yellow antique look as well.  Silver Efex lets you play around until you get yelled at to get off of the computer and do something useful.

Folks, I would greatly appreciate it if you commented on which hefelump photo you liked best.  We really are interested in your feedback.