Many know senior Sarah Caulley Soto for her pole vaulting skills on Maclay’s track and field team, but not everyone may not know about her passion for photography. In December of 2019, Soto and her family visited Africa for two weeks for her parent’s 20th anniversary. Soto got the opportunity to visit Botswana and Zimbabwe, as well as take photos of magnificent creatures. Through the Beck Family Innovation Center (BFIC), students can take a look at Soto’s eight beautiful photos of various animals and bring each photo to life through her Interactive Art Gallery.

“I had been used to seeing [animals] in a zoo behind cages and glass windows, so it was just really strange and surreal to be able to see them up close and personal,” Soto said. “We were at times no more than a few feet away from these animals.”

Prior to the development of Soto’s Interactive Gallery, she enrolled in a photography class during her sophomore year with upper school art teacher Kaitlyn Dressel, which began her passion for taking pictures. Last year, she took AP Art to focus on photography, and this year she is in a Directed Independent Study (DIS) centered around photo and graphic design. Soto is also the secretary of the National Art Honors Society.

Now, Soto is publicly showing off her skills with her gallery focused on the animals. Whether she was watching a lion hide behind a bush or seeing a water buffalo grazing in the sunlight near tall grass, Soto took many opportunities to capture each animal’s beauty. 

“I really just saw an opportunity and snapped a few pictures and hoped a few came out because the animals were just so comfortable around us,” Soto said. “They were moving around; they didn’t even notice that we were there. I was just taking whatever opportunity I got. I did mess around with the angles and the lightning to try to get cool shots.”

Soto took photos of several animals, including lions, leopards, giraffes, water buffalo, hippos, prairie dogs, wild cats and a few hyenas. She also took a lot of landscape photos on her phone. 

“The favorite animal that I took pictures of was probably the cheetah because it was during golden hour on the Savannah, so it was perfect, and the sun was staying in the background,” Soto said. “We had been chasing around these cheetahs, and we saw them sitting by the tree, so it was like the perfect opportunity.”

As far as her interactive photo gallery goes, Dressel helped Soto design and animate the gallery. Dressel also taught Soto how to create the gallery, but it was Soto who chose different elements of each photo to animate in order to bring the photos to life. Soto used programs such as Lightroom for lighting and color, and the digital animation was done in Adobe Photoshop. Through some of the QR codes, Soto captured a lion silently looking off into the distance with its glorious mane. As well as another lion staring right at the camera with its beautiful brown eyes.

“I thought it was really cool; I was very proud of Sarah Caulley,” senior and friend McKenzie Jackson said. “I loved the little touches of movement, and I thought about how beautiful the pictures were.” 

Soto wanted to do the interactive gallery because she wanted people to be able to see what she had seen and bring a piece of the Savannah to Maclay. Although all of the videos are less than ten seconds, they would be entertaining for any Maclay student to admire. 

Last year, Dressel had mentioned to Soto that she wanted to do an art show for her, so her DIS used a lot of time for setting up the art show. Soto’s gallery was put on display on Oct. 1, where Dressel had gathered her friends and family to view the gallery and enjoy some vanilla, chocolate and red velvet cupcakes. 

“Ms. Dressel completely surprised me for [the reveal], got my entire family and friends to come down and I don’t really like surprises, but this was a good surprise,” Soto said. “She was like ‘Soto, please don’t hate me for doing this.’ It’s definitely a little scary. I’ve never had my work on public display like that before, but it’s really encouraging and motivating.”

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