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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery Six: Vantage Point makes the difference > A Tigerís Fury, Bandhavgarh National Park, India, 1990
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A Tigerís Fury, Bandhavgarh National Park, India, 1990

A Tigerís Fury, Bandhavgarh National Park, India, 1990

We found him deep in an Indian forest, just after dawn. I was looking straight down into the jaws of an angry killing machine -- a twelve year old male Royal Bengal Tiger whose bared fangs were less than 15 feet away. It would be the only tiger we would meet face to face in two weeks of tracking them through the jungles of India's game parks. I burned through two rolls of film during the ten minutes we spent with him. This is the most terrifying image I have ever shot and my high vantage point provides the most menacing angle. Fortunately, I was safely perched on a wooden platform strapped to the broad, high back of an elephant. And no animal, not even this furious tiger, would dare to challenge the bone crushing potential of a huge pachyderm. The light was quite low, and in spite of my 400 speed Fujichrome film, the combination of a slow 1/15th of a second shutter speed and my telephoto zoom lens, produced a slightly blurred image due to magnification of camera shake. This slight blur adds a touch of panic to the image, strengthening its frightening impact.

Minolta Maxxum 7000i ,Minolta 100-300mm zoom
Scanned from Fujichrome 400 transparency. full exif

other sizes: small medium large original
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Phil Douglis08-Jul-2013 18:10
Thanks, Stephanie, for coming to this image. It is obviously one of my favorites. I shot it on film twenty three years ago, and it is one of the few scanned film images among the more than 4,000 pictures in my galleries here on phase. It has drawn more than 12,500 hits and more than 30 comments since I first posted it here ten years ago. I know that every time I look at it, it stirs a deeply felt surge of primordial fear. I think that is what makes this image so memorable -- we have to look that fear in the eye, and the slight blur makes the moment seem so raw and real.
Stephanie08-Jul-2013 10:06
Wow!!! This is simply amazing work and what a story!!! Those eyes and teeth are quite menacing!!! VV
Phil Douglis16-Aug-2009 05:23
It is hard for me to look back 19 years and remember all the thoughts and emotions that went through my mind as I looked at this tiger through my viewfinder. But I do remember the trust, misguided or not, I placed in my elephant and its driver. I remember losing my camera's rubber eye cup, and watching in an amazement as it fell at the feet of the tiger. The elephant driver pointed to it, and the elephant picked it up with it trunk and returned it to the driver who then gave it back to me. And when the tiger began to snarl at me as we see it doing here, I remember thinking, just as you do here, that this was not a zoo, and there were no bars or moat between myself and the fury below. And yes, Claudia, there was a brief feeling of terror, near panic, but the camera in my hands gave me a purpose that deflected the fear. I just kept shooting until the tiger turned and disappeared into the jungle. Since I was shooting slides, I had no idea what I had accomplished at the time, and I did not appreciate the level of risk I had undertaken until much, much later.
Phil Douglis15-Aug-2009 23:06
Thanks, Claudia, for coming to this image. We are very similar in how we try to express ourselves with a camera. Risk is part of the territory we inhabit. I trusted the elephant and its driver and focused my attention entirely on the tiger, paying almost no attention to technical detail as I shot. Yes, I was frightened. I was looking into the eyes of a killing machine only a few feet below me. I had no idea at the time that tigers have been known to attack elephants. All that came later. Like you, I work by instinct-- I accept what comes to me, and I try to make the most of it as expression. I look forward to meeting you and shooting with you when I come to Montreal.
Phil Douglis24-Aug-2007 23:18
Thanks, Alina. You are amusing, and your English is a lot better than my Polish!
Alina24-Aug-2007 20:48
Sure I meant amazing instead of amusing. Your photo Phil is amazing and my English is amusing :)
Phil Douglis24-Aug-2007 05:24
Thanks, Alina -- when you are photographing a furious tiger in the wild, face to face, you don't even think of feeling safe -- you just want to make the picture. The blur is critical to meaning here -- at the time I made it, I probably wished it was sharp, but I gradually realized that sharp pictures are not always the best pictures. I am not sure how amused I was, however -- I think you might have meant to say "amazing" instead of "amusing." I don't think I was smiling as I was shooting this. In any event, I thank you for joining the many comments on this, one of my most popular images. And I made it 27 years ago, on something called film. I am going back to India again next year, and perhaps I will meet another tiger there. But I doubt if I will ever get a reaction as chillingly angry as this one.
Alina24-Aug-2007 04:24
Amusing photo of wilderness. After reading your description I admire it even more. The blur creates a sense of attack. When I’m looking at those tasks here I thing I would not fill safe even in armored car.
Phil Douglis22-Aug-2006 16:34
Thanks, Dominic -- that picture is now sixteen years old, yet the moment is still alive for us all through the magic of expressive photography.
Dominic Cantin22-Aug-2006 05:38
WOW ! Excellent image Phil ! gmv.

Dominic :)
Phil Douglis24-Jul-2006 23:40
Photographs do awaken memories, Ceci, sometimes painfully so. This image has chilling power, even without such memories. Thanks for the observation.
Guest 24-Jul-2006 23:21
I was once bitten in the leg by a large German Shepard -- through blue jeans -- and can recall the pressure of those jaws, the feel of animal teeth in my calf, and the awful sense of suddenly being prey. This picture got my skin to stand up in memory, thinking of what it would be like to become this magnificent cat's dinner. Yikess! A breath taker, along with the sobering fact of how few tigers are left in the wild!
Phil Douglis20-Jun-2006 18:56
Raw and savage. Good words to define both the tiger as a species and the tiger in this particular image. I have come to cherish the blur caused by camera shake here -- every time I look it it, it reminds me of my trembling hands and the roars of that tiger only a few yards below my feet. It is as compelling an image today as it was when I made it sixteen years ago. Minolta is gone, and film itself is almost gone, but this image will survive both of them.
Brian Mosley20-Jun-2006 18:35
This is a classic image, Phil... very raw and the word "savage" springs to mind. I love that this is not neat and clear, it makes the image so real and immediate. Also, this shot perfectly illustrates the power of a vantage point. The tiger is my favourite animal... so powerful, and this image totally does justice to the animal. Well Done!
Phil Douglis24-May-2006 17:40
Thanks, J&L, for this comment. When I originally first saw this slide 16 years ago I was a bit disappointed with that blur. I was still laboring under the impression that a good picture should be a sharp picture. Yet the longer I looked at the image, the more frightening it became. I soon realized that it was this very blur that was scaring the hell out of me! I never looked at my pictures again in the same way. There is nothing wrong with "blur" if blur is at the heart of the message. And it sure is here.
Guest 24-May-2006 12:32
I think the blur adds so much to this adds life and percievement of real threat..instead of a frozen capture.
Phil Douglis25-Apr-2006 07:18
Thanks, Georgi, for your comment and question. I honestly could not tell you if this tiger is in a prone or standing position. I made this image sixteen years ago, and was so terrified by the face snarling at me that I do not recall noticing his posture at the moment, nor is that posture clearly defined here. He looked very ready to spring at the elephant, but wisely held his ground. I've very glad he did.
Guest 02-Apr-2006 08:38
WOW! When you look at this eyes, you can't see anything more. I can't hold my eyes on any other parts of that photo - only those scarry eyes, they are so magnetic, so angry. Thay wan't to kill...
Phil Douglis18-Feb-2006 00:24
Thanks, Wayne, for your observations on lions and tigers. Africa and India are entirely different places, and so too are the big cats that still manage to survive on these continents. Lions are extremely social and relatively easy to observe in the wild. They are not threatened by poachers, either. The greatest threat to lions are other lions. Tigers, on the other hand, are solitary animals, and very hard to see in the wild. They are savagely hunted by poachers, and their habitats are under constant pressure from India's exploding population. I think you may be right-- soon we may only have photos such as this one to remember their fierce and often furious defense of their territory.
Wayne Hazle 15-Feb-2006 17:09
Phil, pardon me, it is a little obnoxious to post links to another site in someone's guestbook, but I just read this CNN article on India's tigers. It breaks my heart and makes me angry. If things don't change very soon, NO ONE will ever get to see what you show in this picture
Wayne 14-Feb-2006 21:04
I just went to Africa in October 2005. It is so different to see a pride of lions just sitting around sleeping. There was definite excitement seeing leopards tucked away in tree and seeing cheetahs getting ready to sprint.

However, there is nothing like seeing a tiger. My driver for my India trip got to come on the safari drive and we saw a male and a female run across a field. He was crying afterwards, the tiger is good luck... except if you are an antelope.
Phil Douglis04-Feb-2006 00:23
Thanks, Wayne. Unlike lions in Africa, tigers in India are not easily found or seen. Glad you saw one or more at Ranthambore. We visited it as well, and loved the park, with its old castle, but did not see any tigers there. But we were certainly rewarded here at Bandhavgarh.
Wayne Hazle 03-Feb-2006 23:46
There is is nothing like the glory of seeing a tiger in India.
I love Ranthambore!
Phil Douglis20-Nov-2005 02:53
Thanks, Kelly, for this comment and the vote. I wanted you to feel a sense of panic and fear and the blur and vantage point intensifies those feelings.
Kelly Clark Moncure20-Nov-2005 02:24
wow, fantastic shot. blur ABSOLUTELY adds the sense of panic, I'd be scared if this was staring at me! voted-
Phil Douglis21-Oct-2005 20:21
Thanks, rsub8, for this comment. You bring up an interesting point. When we know that the subject of an image is real, as well as knowing that the facts which comprise the basis of an image have not been electronically changed or manipulated, we react to it quite differently than we would to a work of fantasy or fiction (as in "its only a movie!") And as you pointed out, if this image had been made in a private zoo, it would also seem less "real" than an image made in the wild, as this one was. Photographs can represent a truth - in this case a fearful and terrifying truth. If we can extend that feeling of truth by our camera position, or by slightly blurring the image, the emotional impact of being confronted with such truth can be riveting and unforgettable. Thank you for these thoughts.
rsub821-Oct-2005 12:52
The blur definitely adds to the realism and impact of the tiger. Is fear expressible in a technical way? No, it's emotional, and I think if the image were razor sharp the tiger would be much less palpable, and much more zoo-like. It really puts the viewer into the scene. An amazing image, I am absolutely riveted to it. And to think that Hollywood, with all the talent and imagination they have at their disposal, has tried to create scary "monsters" that only pale in comparison to what is living and walking around on our own planet, as you show here. It is a benchmark in that regard. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience this.
Phil Douglis21-Jul-2005 05:33
Thanks, Mihir, for telling me this fifteen years after making this image. I was told that tigers never attack elephants, and that is why I was able to make this image. If I had known then what you have just told me, I might have never taken the chances I took to get this shot, and you would never have seen it. Tigers do define fear, both at the moment and in retrospect.
Mihir 20-Jul-2005 21:24
I said I envy in the sense that even though I have imagined the terror in my mind many times, seeing it in reality must be something...because from the photos I can't estimate the tiger's size relative to me...I know the head is bigger than mine...the arms and paws are strong enough to bring down buffaloes...but to see it raging in front of you IS something.
Mihir 20-Jul-2005 21:11
No doubt over the photography, but tigers are known to make pachyderms nervous. I've read a lot about tigers and Jim Corbett even gives an account of two tigers having killed one elephant after a night long struggle. Just a little bit of info...
I envy your experience...tigers do define fear.
Phil Douglis21-May-2005 00:34
Wild and powerful! Two words that certainly reflect what I was trying to express with this image. Thanks, Amihay.
Amihay Shraga20-May-2005 11:24
Wild and powerful image!
Well done Phil

Phil Douglis08-May-2005 21:01
Thanks, Theresa. One does not walk around on the ground in an Indian Tiger reserve. It is best to sit on the back of an elephant, because you never know when HE will appear!
Theresa 08-May-2005 17:18
My first thought was that you found a camera with film in it on the ground! I would have been GONE! What a great photo!
Phil Douglis25-Apr-2005 17:51
Dodie, thanks for reliving this moment with me. That's what expressive photography is all about -- stimulating the imagination of the viewer. The emotions are coming from you, not the tiger! My image may be the trigger, but it is your own mind and imagination that are working overtime here. Thank you participating in this image.
Dodie 25-Apr-2005 02:21
One of the best pictures of a tiger I have ever seen. What an emotional impact ~whew~! The tiger's eyes appear fixated on the viewer along with his large bearing teeth, making this a personal experience for anyone who looks at this picture. What a rare experience. The drab background and the blur indicating intense movement really brings out this all his ferocity!
Phil Douglis21-Mar-2005 23:09
Thanks, Ian, for your comment on this image. Emotive is an understatement. The ground was shaking as much as I was. You are right -- it took us two weeks of searching to find a tiger in the wild. And that was in 1990. I can imagine that 15 years later, it might take a lot longer than that. You will never find a picture such as this in a zoo, either. This tiger is in a confrontational situation, and zoo animals are generally removed from confrontation. And I doubt if you can find a vantage point such as this one looking down into a tigers face in a zoo. It's the vantage point that really makes this picture as compelling as it is.
Ian Stickland21-Mar-2005 22:32
Wow, this is quite an emotive picture. It's a good reminder that these animals are built to kill, and that they demand our respect. Something they've not had for a long time and certainly don't get in zoos. I only hope that zoos aren't the only place you'll be able to see one of these magnificent animals in the not too distant future...
nividhia05-Mar-2005 12:04
Phil Douglis27-Feb-2005 05:59
Glad you feel this image as much as I did, Zandra. The softness was fortunate. I was using a telephoto lens at 1/15th of second because of low light, and what we have is classic camera shake. Perfect match for the concept of panic. I was scared down to my toes. Just as you were with your lion. Only I had a camera to my eye and he was looking right into it. I kept asking the guy who was handling my elephant if the tiger was going to attack us, because it sure felt and sounded like it. He could not speak a word of English so he never answered. The elephant was trembling, the tiger was roaring and I could feel his hot breath on my legs. He was that close. In the midst of this, my rubber eye cup fell to the ground. The driver nudged the elephant, pointed to it, and the elephant picked it up in his trunk and handed it to the driver who gave it back to me, as the tiger looked on, mystified. You are so right, Zandra. This is a primal situation, I am faced with a wild animal, and all bets are off. Fortunately, the elephant stood its ground, the tiger showed its manhood, and eventually the fuss ended with the tiger stalking off into the Indian jungle. And I burned through 72 exposure in ten minutes. This was my favorite, because it does so much more than show what a tiger looks like. It expresses, instead, what it feels like to be threatened at close range by a tiger, and it is my high vantage point that makes the picture work.
Miinerva21-Feb-2005 18:30
I can almost hear your hart beat and feel the blood pumping in the vains Phil. I had a simular encounter with an angry liones when i was in South Africa. Looking at this makes me remeber the adrenalin that pumped in my body the seconds after having seen straight in to her jaws...luckily i was in a car...unluckily i did not caught in with my camera. The slight blur and soft speeks volumes here Phil, it gives away the speed in which he or she attacks. Absolulty no time for focusing, in fact, i am impressed that you even pressed the trigger. I threw myself backwards in to the car and almost in to the arms of our driver...who by the way had no idea i had just stared death in the guess if he got supriced hehe.

This picture speeks to the primitive human that we all are inside. We are so used to see tigers oand other wild animals on TV and Zoo that we don't really consider them dangerous, only cuddly. Thsi tells us the oposite and the primitivee being inside us react on instict and moves away from the dangeour. Only the next second does the mind take back controll again and tells us that this is not real. But a warning keeps ringing in our minds...big cats and other wild animals wer dangerous to us then...and they are dangerous to us now. We need to have respect, as they have for us.
Lara S08-Jul-2004 02:35
Yikes, his face gives me chills. Love the fact that you have not centered him. It somehow makes him look like he's about to jump out of the photo. ok I'm off to look at another photo before this tiger comes alive. LOL.
Brian Gustafson21-Mar-2004 06:46

Phil Douglis12-Feb-2004 23:46
Cecilia -- thank you for this remarkable interpretation. You have an amazing ability to explain what an image means to you, and this example is no exception. I agree -- this is a highly confrontational image -- caused not only by the fierce expression, the thrust of the blur, and the contrast of the dark background, but mostly, I think, by my high vantage point. He is indeed vulnerable -- he is below me and I am above him, shooting down from the back of a huge elephant. You are correct in concluding that this vulnerability has triggered his defensive response. This image is indeed all about the survival of this splendid, yet endangered, species. Thanks again for your lucid analysis of this image. I am forever grateful.
Cecilia Lim 12-Feb-2004 22:15
What a striking image of a wild and powerful animal! The contrast of the dark background draws the focus entirely onto the tiger too! I think what sets this image apart from many of the tiger pictures I've seen is the confrontational nature of this subject, which transforms the viewer-tiger relationship into an eerily personal one. You can't help but feel that whatever the tiger is feeling is projected directly at you. And I would definitely agree that the blur motion has heightened the mood and intensity of a living, moving, furious, irritated tiger! Personally, what's most provocative about this image to me is the paradoxical idea that it is the seemingly intimidating tiger who is the one feeling vulnerable and under threat, which is causing him to lash out in defence. Dominance and vulnerability! What a raw and powerful moment about survival! All captured masterfully by you!
Phyllis Stewart14-Jan-2004 01:36
Wow, scary stuff! But you were safe on your elephant. :) What a photo op!
Phil Douglis02-Dec-2003 00:25
Anna, you won't easily find characters such as this lurking in those woods you mention. Tigers are solitary creatures, and each roams a territory as large as 40 square miles. We were very fortunate to encounter this fellow, although I must admit that still I meet him in my own nightmares now and then.

Anna Yu01-Dec-2003 21:35
I'm still having nightmares after seeing this. Don't even like walking around alone in the woods with my camera anymore.
Phil Douglis01-Dec-2003 03:54
This is one of those shots that is more frightening to look at than it was to make. When you squint into the camera's viewfinder and see this looking back at you, your mind is screaming "get the shot," and fear takes a back seat. But that face will never fade from memory, Dirk. As I said in my response to Bailey Zimmerman's comment, it was only when I looked at this transparency on my light box with an 8x lupe that I thought about all those "ifs" for the first time. I was also initially bothered by the slight blur -- all photographers prefer wildlife pictures to be sharp and clear, right? But within moments I realized what a blessing that camera shake had given this image. Blur and softness can be greatly expressive. In this case, it intensifies the terror of the tiger's snarling defiance. Thanks, as always, Dirk, for this thoughtful comment.
Guest 01-Dec-2003 02:49
Hi Phil, an unforgettable picture, it has such a strong impact, it's full of life and movement and I was glad that I could read that you take it from a safe place, your life would have finished here otherwise I think. It would be a great end for a photographer that he could finish his life with making such a stunning picture (but I'm glad it didn't happen to you). Love the light and the white of the tiger makes him popping out of his environment and great that it's not razorsharp, the blur add a lot to the mood, the expression and the whole picture. Really fantastic !!!
Phil Douglis28-Nov-2003 01:31
Once again, Marek, your comment strikes at the essence of this photo. We walk an edge between life and death as soon as we are born, and at this instant, we are all looking into the eyes of that beast you mention -- the face of death is but a heartbeat away. I thank you for making this observation -- I have always felt that this image is more than a wildife shot, but rather a reflection of our own worst fears.
m27-Nov-2003 22:24
Nobody who sees this can ever forget this image. If there is a life or death defining one, this is it. Perhaps this is the one you will remember at the end -- it is very Buddhist, you know, the beast being only a physical manifestation of our own karma.
Phil Douglis22-Oct-2003 20:03
Grrrr, indeed. You mentioned the importance of motion, Vanessa. Some photographers might have rejected this shot because of the blur caused by camera shake, due to my use of a telephoto lens at a slow shutter speed in the low light. Yet as you say, it is the implied motion (blur) that brings this picture alive and makes the terror palpable. It's a good lesson for all photographers -- when you select a picture as a "keeper", select it for what it says, not for how it conforms to the so-called "technical standards."
Vanessa Y 22-Oct-2003 17:49
Grrrr! Not your average, everyday tiger picture - and the one from the Frosted Flakes box sure doesn't look like this one! Great use of motion to bring this image alive and take us all back to that fearful day in the forest. The colors are marvelous.
Phil Douglis20-Oct-2003 02:28
BZ -- I can't ever recall being fearful while taking a picture. I am much too absorbed in the process to worry about things I can't control. However when my slides came back from the lab and I saw this image roaring at me from the light box for the first time, I must admit to a few trembles. As for Old Blue Eyes himself, I am not an expert on such things as that. I can only tell you that my scan faithfully reproduced the colors on the original Fujichrome transparency.
Bailey Zimmerman19-Oct-2003 21:30
What strength...what anger!! Holy night...glad you made it through!!
ps...I didn't know that tigers have blue eyes!!
Carol E Sandgren19-Oct-2003 01:44
Wow is that some great face! Really exciting photo!
Guest 18-Oct-2003 20:40
Wow, Phil this is totally great. The way, the guy looks at us.....I'm shivering. Great focus and the colors and contrast are amazing
Phil Douglis18-Oct-2003 19:37
Thanks, Jane, for the wonderful compliment. You are right. This is not a zoo image. I don't shoot animals in zoos because I want to to tell a story about how they live, not just describe their appearance. You are right, the grass not only is an important part of the composition, but it offers very important context as well. It's as wild as he is. It is his hiding place, his refuge. And he rises from it here to demonstrate his territorial imperative!
mamaqilla18-Oct-2003 15:32
may be the best tiger image I've seen. This does not happen at a zoo. The grass is as important to the composition as the teeth !!
"oh ! je vous en prie, M. le Tigre," dit le Petit Negre Sambo, "ne me mangez pas et je vous donnerai monbeau petit Manteau Rouge."
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