And I owe it all to Odin

So, how did I get “into” photography, anyway? Well, the story starts with a tiger. And you just know a story is going to be good when it starts with a tiger…

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And not just any tiger, either: a rare white Bengal tiger. Named Odin.

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I met him back in 2004, with my old Canon Powershot A80 in hand. Streamlined, stubborn, and only four megapixels: the perfect portal to a world yet unknown. I’d never thought much about photography, only enough to know that I didn’t like to be in front of the camera. (So really, might as well be behind it.)

I was at Six Flags Marine World, which has since been upgraded (or downgraded?) to a Kingdom [of Discovery], and trainers were showing us the tigers’ unexpected love for water by throwing meat into the pool. Now, I’m not sure any of the cats I know would jump into the tub to get some tuna, but these were much more ambitious—and, it goes without saying, much larger—felines.

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Odin looked right into my lens on his third dive. I was snap-happy! Too much so to realize the value of what I had just sealed to my memory stick. It wasn’t until I looked through the photos later that day that my stomach did a little handstand—that was pretty. freaking. cool!

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What a unique display of power and agility, of ferocity and grace, of intimidation and beauty! Though really, Odin was having a great time and only scrunching his nose to keep the water out. And he looked much better for wear emerging gracefully from the water than my friend’s cats look after a bath…

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As I found out much later, Odin is somewhat of an international sensation. He’s actually received quite a bit of attention for his underwater antics. My photo of him has…not quite reached that point. But, some exciting things have happened.

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First, Odin’s good looks helped me win a third place ribbon—a small but significant step above no ribbon, thank you very much—in a local art show in high school. More recently (because how much longer, once you’ve graduated college, can you reference high school achievements?), National Geographic took notice of my Odin portrait.

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They picked it as a favorite from a user-submitted feature on their website and put Odin into a gallery. There, he was offered as a desktop wallpaper and…wait for it…a jigsaw puzzle! Every tiger’s dream.

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The photo’s semi-final triumph was selection for the Nat Geo website Photo of the Day. It was on the homepage, and was circulated around the Internet. Soon after, I got a call from Virginia. A graphic design company was working on a project and they wanted to use my photo of Odin. My photo!

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An hour later, I had sold one-time usage rights of Odin’s water ballet for use in an insurance company’s annual brochure. The company had recently signed Nat Geo on as a client, so the theme of their brochure was “aggressive risk.” The graphic designers and company reps thought my image embodied that idea perfectly. Here’s to you, Odin!

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So, that’s the story of my submarine feline photo, but there’s a little more to tell, simply because it’s cool to see:

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A while after I captured Odin’s cat dive, it became the first photo I really experimented with in Photoshop. I was still a young’n, and I’d heard of the software but didn’t really understand its place in the wide world of photography (plus, it was so darned expensive…).

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But the photo was fatally cloudy and suffered from a terrible plague: single-cast overtones. I needed to combat the symptoms—bring the color back to its face, salve some sore spots and give it 10 cc’s of contrast, stat!

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Unfortunately, the whole “stat!” part wasn’t quite realized. Like my photography, I’m basically self-taught when it comes to Photoshop, and it’s taken years of acquiring new knowledge for me to get the photo to where it is today. And, as the cycle never ends, I’m sure I’ll find out new techniques soon enough and want to revisit Odin’s post-processing to try them.

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But, take a look at how much Odin has transformed! It’s like the Beast becoming the Prince on the rooftop of his castle. (Does that make me Belle? Because I’m okay with that.) 3 photos—original, mid-process, and final product:

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