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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Two: Travel Incongruities > Descent from the dune, Namib Desert, Namibia, 2002
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Descent from the dune, Namib Desert, Namibia, 2002

Some of the largest sand dunes on earth can be found in Namibia's Namib Desert. My photos of the dunes themselves did not effectively convey their vast size, until I was able to incorporate something else in the picture to give these dunes a sense of scale. The incongruity in scale between the tourists descending the dunes, the man among the trees at the base of the dune, and the vast wall of sand itself tells us how huge these dunes really are.

Canon PowerShot G2
1/400s f/4.0 at 12.5mm full exif

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Phil Douglis05-Dec-2005 17:07
You analyze this image very well, AJ. You point up the incongruity here in terms of contrasting scale, and you note the degree of abstraction that is present as well. Often it is the degree of abstraction itself that creates the incongruity, and sometimes incongruities can create abstraction. The two are inseparable here.
Guest 05-Dec-2005 15:09
this works very well for me, the fact that 2 people seem to be strolling down this immense dune (as if out for a stroll in the park) is a superb contrast (to the expected) ... I like the fact that it is given us a fragment of a story (where are they going, what are they doing, do they know the 3rd figure?) so it is in a way an abstraction, too --- it is composed brilliantly, too, the eye settles on the foreground, but then begins to climb the dunes, slowly, as if struggling, and then the unexpected walkers come into view : excellent
Phil Douglis11-Nov-2005 05:20
You are right, Marguerite. It is all in one's point of view. My people are small here because that is the point I am trying to make with this picture. This is perhaps the biggest sand dune in the world, and that is how I wanted to tell the story.
Guest 10-Nov-2005 00:54
The people look so small....
it's all in one's point of view.
Phil Douglis23-Aug-2005 18:00
Good eye, Ramma. I try to make everything count in my pictures. Nothing goes to waste. I take great care to include only elements that tell my story. Everything else must go.
Ramma 23-Aug-2005 09:28
This is 1 of the best pictures in this exceptional Gallery. everything shown in this pic serves a purpose, the trees,the person near the tree, the 2 people descending down the dune, and the dune itself. A very well composed picture !
Phil Douglis06-Jan-2005 19:29
Zandra, you are a masterful reader of pictures. You describe the importance of eye flow in grasping the double scale incongruity here. I intended you to see that man under the tree first and compare him to the size of those trees and then to the dune that fills the rest of the image. Only later, do I want you to suddenly discover the second and more striking scale incongruity -- the couple descending the dunes from the upper left hand corner. That comes as a real shock. They are so small and the dune so large.

But you don't just stop there -- your imagination then takes you to Namibia, where you can see yourself sitting on that dune and absorbing the massive silence around you. So this picture is doing more than stimulating you visually. It is also stimulating your sense of hearing as well. The more of your senses a photograph can stimulate, the more sensual it becomes toyou and the more involved you will become in it.

This image was made under gray skies in the morning. I was on my cruise ship's shore excursion, Zandra, and had no choice as to the timing of my visit or my photography here. I could not wait awhile until the sun set to make an image with warmer tones because our cruise ship sailed that afternoon. By sunset we would be far out to sea. Sadly, I would never get to see these great sand dunes in the glow of the evening sun.

You are right in your criticism of the pale tone of the sand here. Under gray skies, the sand lacks warmth and texture. However, if I darken it in Photoshop, the man under the trees becomes a silhouette, instead of a real person, and the trees lose their color and detail. They eye will go them, but it will not linger. The people on the dune will become more sharply defined against the sand as well. Right now, they are as pale as the sand itself, and are thus more obscure. The result: darker sand would create a picture with more pleasing color and texture, but not nearly as shocking in scale incongruity because we would "give away" the "surprise" too soon. We might be enhancing our effect, but we would be diminishing content. What do you think about my reasoning here, Zandra?

I am glad I fooled your high-tech eye with my focal length choice as well, Zandra. No zooming here. I used the widest focal length on my G2 digicam that I had -- 35mm -- and on top of that, I mounted a 24mm wideangle conversion lens. So this image is a true wideangle shot. I moved in on on those trees to make them dominate the image, yet the expansive view of this wideangle focal length allows me to embrace so much more of the dune than I would have been able to do with a telephoto lens. As Mikel pointed out in his comment, the wideangle lens also made the people on the dune look much smaller in size than they actually were. (Wideangles do things like that to you!) Their small size gives this picture its ultimate scale incongruity. So both my lens choice and my vantage point were critical factors in creating this image.
Guest 06-Jan-2005 15:45
It is the people that makes this picture work. It adds a sense of scale to the dune and tells us how massive it is. The people in the corner makes a good addition to the one man among the palm trees, as he alone would not be able to really demonstrate the scale. It is those to people who demonstrates the slope, withut them the image woud apear much more flat. I find them to give depth to the image. It is also a nice composition as i start by the trees and then"climb" the slope up towards them. They make me explore more of the picture. I find 2 incongurities here. First the scale but also the two people at the top left corner themselfs. I did not expect to find anyting more in the image the the trees and the one man. It was a plesant suprice to discover that ther was more to this photo then i noticed by a first glanse. I think that is what appeals most to me in tis image. I can not help but to wonder what it woudl feel like to sit on that dune and just look out over the sand. So quiet...mustindeed be realxing, but at the same time scary as ther is so much empty space around you. I have no sence of direction in this image, part from up and down. I wonder during what time of the day you took this Photo Phil. Would it be possible to wait a while until the sun started to set, to have more shadows in the picture. I think it woudl bring it to live some more. It would also give the sand a warmer and also a richer colour i belive. I find it a bit pale...beutifull still but it coudl be even better. Now of course, you would have had to ask those people to stay with you, in there current positions of course...but i am sure you would be able to convince them hehe ;-)

I was supriced by the focal length Phil. As when i look at the picture i get afeelign that this is rather is croppe by zooming, due to the lack of reference points. I would not have guessed it was taken with such wide angle.
Phil Douglis23-Dec-2004 21:29
Glad to see you make the connections between this image, Mikel, and my similar use of tight framing to create incongruity by abstracting the subject, in my Guggenheim, Midway, and Container vessel shots. You are correct about the importance of the size difference between the man in the trees and the couple coming down the dune. I discussed this issue at length with Filip below, who had suggested that I crop out the man and the trees altogether. Such a crop would have destroyed this image, and left me with but one incongruity instead of two.
Guest 23-Dec-2004 21:06
And if that was not enough, the croping off and seeng just sand makes it mighty don't forguet of the scale incongruences of the Gugenheim, the Midway, or the Container vessel. Though there is also something further, with the palm trees and the man between them you could have made a good scale incongruance but the other two tourists going down the dune gives a huge incongruity, in part since the perspective of the lens you used makes them quite smaller then the first individual under the palm trees... hope that at least there was some watter in that mini oasis because it seems like if they were realy lost without any other visible references. ;)
Phil Douglis12-Dec-2004 20:46
Thank you, Alister, for recognizing the importance of both the figure in those trees as well as the couple coming down the dune at upper left. I intend this image to create visual surprise after visual surprise, just as it has for you, and hopefully providing a learning example in scale incongruity in the process.
alibenn12-Dec-2004 16:45
Well, I should have expected this from an image in a gallery showing examples of incongruities!! When I looked at the thumnail, I was instantly reminded of images I have seen taken of White Sands NP in New Mexcio, which inevitably show stands of low grass, with a nice sand wave abstract. All are usually perfectly exposed and composed. So, when I open this and see the figure down amongst the trees and as my eye gets drawn round the left side to the other two figures, it was just, WOW!! That's a big sand dune. A good example..
Guest 03-Dec-2004 18:34
Yes the difference in proportion is amazing between the man below and the men descending. A perfect documentary shot, I'd say.
Phil Douglis30-Nov-2004 21:13
No, Filip, I have not been to Dunhuang -- I've only traveled to China once, but certainly hope to return some day. I am going to take exception to your suggestion regarding the presence of the man under the trees. I felt he is essential to this shot because of the dual scale incongruity he brings to the scene. His size tells us how big those trees are, and the trees now can tell us how big those dunes are. And when we finally see the tiny figures coming down the dune at upper right, we have a much better grasp of the scale incongruity involved here.
Guest 22-Nov-2004 14:22
Have you visited the sand dunes in Dunhuang, Gansu in China? If you didn't than one day you must go...they are simply spectacular. I really like this shot and I like how you placed the people in the shot as well, to add scale and drama. What bothers me, though, is the person in the foreground behind the small palm trees...might be only me, but I'd rather he wasn't there. Perhaps if you cropped the image a bit differently and only had the two people walking down the dune with a few trees hugging the lower right hand edge of the frame the shot would work better. Just a thought.
nut 03-Nov-2004 12:18
Yeap, it's about scale.
Phil Douglis22-Oct-2004 20:14
I love the way you see, Zebra. I never saw the C before. Obviously my instincts as a photographer caused me to compose the picture that way, linking the people at the top to the man and trees at the bottom. I never noticed the curve of that dune on the left, and the extension of that curve running to the right of the couple descending the cliff.
Guest 22-Oct-2004 19:49
A huge "C" lies there.
The "C" show me a very very wide space.Different things in different distance to me,but they compose a nice picture.Because the immense "C" link them.
Phil Douglis12-Aug-2004 19:35
You are the first to comment on the level of the sand compared to those trees, Bryan. I looked at the trees as unburied trees with short trunks, but then what do I know? When you raise this point, another level of meaning enters the picture. Not only is this image about scale incongruity -- it's also about the fact that this huge dune might not be permanent -- it could well be shifting with the winds. Thanks for this observation.

Guest 12-Aug-2004 19:24
Phil, I love the scale you've been able to convey here. However, I believe what I like most is that the foto conveys constant movement of the sand (whether that is true or not) --- the first detail of the foto that I noticed was the tree nearly covered by sand. Clearly that was not the case some time ago or it would not be dead or dying now. Beautiful foto! Bryan
Phil Douglis02-Jun-2004 20:21
I agree, Dirk. I have photographed in the Arctic, in Antarctica, and in some of the most barren deserts on earth. I am always struck by the power of contrasting colors. The fewer colors there are, the more striking the contrast. Although this shot is all about scale incongruity, it is also about color incongruity, as you point out in your comment. Thanks so much.
Guest 02-Jun-2004 14:46
Beautiful and very well executed. That looks like very big ananas plants. I love (but never been there, only saw it in pictures and documentaries) deserts and both Poles, the less there is to see, the less colors there are the more I seem to be impressed. Deserts and both Poles are almost minimalistic landscapes with a very small pallet of colors but they work so well for me.
Selvin Chance26-Jan-2004 03:40
Lovely perspective.
Phil Douglis11-Dec-2003 18:39
You are the first to leave a comment on this picture, and I thank you for doing so. I am delighted that you were moved by the scale incongruity here -- which I feel is strengthened by the fact that I did not include the top of the dune in the picture. It makes this sand dune, one of the largest in the world, seem even larger.
Jill11-Dec-2003 13:27
I caught my breath when I opened this.
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