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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Six: Vantage Point makes the difference > Giraffes, Tala Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, 2003
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Giraffes, Tala Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, 2003

Sometimes we can't choose our vantage points. Our vantage points choose us. Such is the case when we must shoot wildlife from safari vehicles. Because of their long necks, most giraffes photographed from vehicles must be shot against the sky. They are so tall that it is almost impossible to shoot them against a solid background of trees. On my fourth visit to Africa I finally was able to make the giraffe picture of my dreams. I did not find it. It found me. We came upon a large gathering of giraffes grazing on the treetops along a forested hillside. Without moving my position, I made this image, which I call "Return to Eden".

Canon PowerShot G2
1/320s f/4.0 at 21.0mm full exif

other sizes: small medium large original auto
Phil Douglis29-May-2016 23:10
Good point, Marisa. Yes -- this image does indeed refer to how giraffes much look at the world, a world filled with nourishment and protection.
Marisa Taddia28-May-2016 20:51
It really is a "return to eden ". The image of this trio of giraffes walking through the grove tells us how to be the point of view of them when transiting the environment. It is true that almost all pictures of giraffes have a sky, but in this wonderful capture you've finally managed to show us how they the giraffes "see"! Thank you for a unique moment!
Phil Douglis15-Jun-2007 04:56
Thanks, Sun Han. Glad this image excites your imagination. I wanted my viewers to feel what I felt as I saw these amazing creatures move past me above the trees.
Guest 12-Jun-2007 14:33
i mean it lift me up to their giraffes' height... wonderful! very funny horns they got
Guest 12-Jun-2007 14:30
i love this picture, it give me a life at view point of a giraffe, three giraffes at different positions creat a motion in one photo, and the immense green of the african prairie in the lush season, beautiful, i'd be extremely excited to be there at that moment if i were you
Phil Douglis10-Aug-2006 18:14
You have given a new meaning to vantage point with your comment, Zandra. You say this image gives you the feeling that these giraffes are observing us from a high vantage point -- as they peer over the trees at us. Meanwhile, my own lower vantage point stresses those trees and the magical Eden-like forest that surrounds these amazing animals.
Guest 04-Aug-2006 08:13
This is a simular concept as to teh Elepahnt shot Phil, oly in this you stress their hight instead. The two girafes inthe foreground seem like tall giants. Yes the are agile. I get teh feeling that thay didnt make a single noise as they waled through the fauna. Almost liek ghosts, apearing adn then disaperaing in a magic can nature hide such large creatures. In a way they seem to be liek somethign out of this world. Visitors that observer us from a distance, from above.
Phil Douglis18-Nov-2005 00:05
Thank you, Jenny, for your thoughts on giraffes. You are more than welcome to use this photo in your school report. And thanks, too, for you concern for them -- you can help assure their survival by supporting the World Wildlife Fund and other conservation groups dedicated to protecting these and other vulnerable animals.
Jenny 17-Nov-2005 23:07
Also this Picture is soooo Awesome I have a project to do for my school and this one is perfect for it thanks!!!!!
Jenny 17-Nov-2005 23:04
I lovvvv Giraffes sooo much they are my favorite wild animals ever to walk this earth. If something ever happened to them I would be so devastated!!!
Phil Douglis20-Oct-2005 20:59
Thanks for clarifying your intentions, Denny. I agree with what you say here. I am teaching personal expression, for personal purposes. However personal expression does not rule out also making the image as a form of communication. In fact, expression is always communication. It simply comes down to a matter of who the audience is, and what we are trying to say to that audience with our images. When I make an image of personal expression that triggers an idea in somebody's mind, I am communicating. Not a specific idea, but rather I am helping the viewer make his or her own story out of my story. This is not the way it works, of course, in other forms of photography, such as photojournalism, where the photographer is a reporter. Yet he or she is still interpreting the story the way they see it. And yes, I do agree that technical quality standards carry greater resonance when picture buyers are involved in the process. A buyer has certain quality expectations in mind, and a photographer must meet those expectations or lose the sale, or the job. That's why it so important that when we choose to criticize or make suggestions about somebody elses' photographs, that we do so with their objectives intentions and goals firmly in mind. The problem I have been having with your comments on this image and others is that your suggestions and criticisms came to me without such context and forethought in mind. I think, however, that we are gradually coming to rest on the same page.
Denny Crane 20-Oct-2005 19:33
I'm not saying that there is a right way and a wrong way. You're emphasizing expressive photography where people shoot what they want however they like it for their personal satisfaction. This is a fine goal. But other people may be bothered by weak elements that don't bother the photographer at all. So it all depends on who you're shooting for. Just yourself, just your family or close circle of friends, or the editors of National Geographic (as an extreme example). You're teaching the personal approach, self-expressive photography. In this way, probably anything is valid, as long as the photographeer is satisfied.
There surely is no right and wrong, and there are many approaches to everything photographic. I've had years of experience struggling with the editing of my own photos -- in choosing which ones are better than others -- to identify and isolate my own subjective feelings and memories of shot so they don't influence my judgment of the quality of the picture. Everybody reading things in the picture that exist only in their my minds. Other people viewing the picture will get their own personal impressions. That's what I'm sure you're saying and what you're promoting. I think that's fine. But I want my photos to say something to other people, photos that communicate what want to other people. Any arrangement of shapes, lines, shadows, and so on can evoke any kind of feelings and thoughts. A 3-year old child can take snapshots that could be mistaken for self-expressive and maybe even fine art photos if all objective standards are considered unimportant.
About the giraffe on the left. I really meant the tiniest placement change away from the border. Millimeters, . It would still be walking out of the frame, but not be quite so tight against it. The way my eyes see it -- a bit more balanced. I like this photo. The green background is really good, being without any sky in it. The slightly comical impression this photo gives to me comes from the 2-dimensionality of the 2 large giraffes. And they're static, which is why it'd be neat if the middle one was leaning toward a leaf to eat.
Phil Douglis20-Oct-2005 18:50
We both compose instinctively. And we see quite differently. I would suggest, however, that when you make suggestions to another photographer about his or her composition, keep in mind that every thoughtful photographer should have has his or her own purposes in mind when placing elements within a photograph. You make your pictures in your own way. Others will make their photographs in their own way. If I want to place a giraffe close to an edge, it is because I want that giraffe to be seen or felt as leaving the frame. If you feel strongly that that same giraffe should never walk that close to the edge, that's fine -- but it then becomes your image and no longer mine. The tone of your comments suggest that your ideas are right and mine are somehow wrong. I beleive that expressive photography does not work in that way. I grant photographers the right, and indeed obligationi to place elements anywhere they wish in a frame, as long as they have a good reason for doing so. I am using this image here to help people understand how I put together my pictures using my vantage point as a tool for expression. I have placed each giraffe within my frame for good reason. I will often imply, for example, diagonal flow, instead of obviously showing it. I try to leave room in my images for the viewer's imagination to work. Those are my reasons. They are not right or wrong. They are the way I think and see and express myself with a camera. I throw them out there for my students to learn from if they wish to do so.
Denny Crane 20-Oct-2005 10:27
I don't use rules either. I hardly know them. But we do disagree about composition. Balance is good, but not always. Imbalance is effective where it is intentional and serves a purpose, and thus not just a weakness. The diagonal line from the middle giraffe to the far left giraffe would be stronger if the giraffe were more to the left and/or the left giraffe was further to the right. In your shot, the diagonal line is broken, so it's not obvious. I feel strongly that the giraffe on the left is too close to the edge. I compose instinctively without thinking about composition. I would never have this giraffe almost walking out of the frame.
Phil Douglis19-Oct-2005 22:20
Your views on photographic composition are completely opposed to how I see composition. Somewhere, you have learned that balance is an important factor in putting a picture together. I try, more often that not, to create imbalance, which can add tension to an image, and in this case, create a greater sense of the forest which feeds these animals. I see no hole here -- the middle giraffe's neck creates a diagonal line which points directly to the giraffe at upper left, drawing the eye right through what you seem to see here as wasted space. I purposely anchored the necks of the giraffes at right and center to the left and bottom edges respectively, to imply the presence of the rest of their bodies. When I organize my images, I do not use any "rules" or predictable conventions. I place elements where I think they can express what I am trying to express.
Denny Crane 19-Oct-2005 18:35
Too much imbalance in the composition. The placement of the giraffes are not ideal. The giraffes on the far left and far right are too close to the edge, and possible too low. This leaves a big hole in the middle of the composition. The two big giraffes look cute and/but they pop out of the picture (due to sharp focus against blurry background). I get a slight feeling of the picture tilting horizontally to the left.
If the middle giraffe leaned forward to grab some leaves from the sharply focused leaves on the left, that would be a nice shot. But hey, really nice colors!
Phil Douglis18-Jul-2005 21:24
Thanks, Michelle, for your comment. I assume you are referring to Dan's flights of fancy, here, flying carpet and all. To me, making this image was like going back to the Garden of Eden itself. Talk about freaking out!
michelle 16-Jul-2005 02:39
freak it was so cool you guys would freak when you see these amazing african animals!!!!!
Phil Douglis06-Jan-2005 22:12
It is so kind of you to say that, Dandan. Getting this image was a bonus for myself as well. I have been on three East African safaris, and i had never seen a family of giraffe grazing on a hillside before. It offered a magical perspective -- all I needed to do was to recognize the opportunity I had before me and make the most of it.
Guest 06-Jan-2005 11:07
Wow! Phil, I thought you were on a flying carpet when you were taking this picture! :) It worth the four trips to Africa! I wish I could take a picture like this one day…
Guest 03-Dec-2004 09:17
love this one...perfect ...
Phil Douglis02-Nov-2004 17:45
An expressive picture can reach out and make the viewer a part of it. This one has done just that for you, Zebra. (Maybe you should change your pbase name from Zebra to Giraffe?) If my picture can stimulate your imagination in this way, it is doing what it should do.
Guest 02-Nov-2004 15:48
In my first time,I feel I am a giraffe! Now I turn right to look at my best friend Jack and his child Rose.Can you see big Tom on the hillside?He is the header.

Phil,great work!
Phil Douglis22-Oct-2004 02:03
The giraffes were on a hillside, Kamran. That was the key to this picture.
Phil Douglis22-Oct-2004 01:32
I was so sick of using the sky as a backdrop for my giraffe pictures that I vowed I would find a way to fill the frame behind these very tall animals with green trees instead. To do this, you must be able to find them grazing on a hillside rather than on a plain. And that's what finally happened here.
kmahbub21-Oct-2004 18:37
Beautiful Image Phil. Were you sitting on a tree top or Jiraffe were sitting on the ground ;)?
Guest 15-Oct-2004 00:18
Really super, professor! This could also go into your "how to beat cliche photos" gallery (as you mention, most giraffe photos are against a blue sky background). From this vantage point, I'd almost have thought you were in a tree, and thus eye level with the right-most giraffe, as wellas able to look 'down' on the far left one!
Phil Douglis26-Apr-2004 18:10
Thanks, Dianne, for your comment. That "tiny" giraffe in the upper left is not tiny at all -- it is a full sized giraffe. It is simply a lot further from my camera than the other two giraffes. It is this difference in scale that helps add the critical third dimension -- depth -- to this photograph. Whenever we shoot multiple subjects within the same frame, we can always imply depth by contrasting the size of subjects in the foreground to those in the middle ground or background.
dianne 26-Apr-2004 05:57
The tiny giraffe on the upper left corner of the image got my attention. =)
Phil Douglis06-Feb-2004 20:42
Thanks, Lara for your comment. I am not sure if these are girls or not, but they certainly appear to be growing out of the forest, and that was my intention. This vantage point makes them seem as if they are embedded within those trees -- part of the forest themselves. The trees fill the frame, and pull the picture together behind them.
Lara S06-Feb-2004 18:20
I love this shot. These girls look like they are sprouting out of the green.
Guest 05-Nov-2003 21:57
I love this one! Thanks for your comments on my India galleries. Much appreciated.
Phil Douglis29-Oct-2003 17:54
Thanks, Terry, for your kind comment. The four megapixel Canon G2 is a remarkable camera, and I still carry it with me wherever I travel as a backup to my Canon G5 which offers an extra megapixel of resolution, and allows me to crop my pictures more effectively if need be. It also has a longer zoom lens, which makes my 2x teleconverter that much longer as well -- very important for wildlife photography.
Terry Alexander29-Oct-2003 03:45
Terrific work. You really know how to get the most of that G2.

Phil Douglis22-Oct-2003 02:06
Thanks, Marianne -- that's why I use this example in my "vantage point" chapter. Earlier, I had taken pictures of other giraffes grazing among trees on flat ground. Those pictures were just like any other giraffe picture I've seen -- conventional. When I saw this group of giraffes arrayed on the side of a hill without any sky showing behind them, I knew the background would be green from edge to edge of my frame, creating exactly what you say: "an awesome perspective."
Guest 21-Oct-2003 07:23
awesome perspective!
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