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Photographing Giraffes.


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#1 Game Warden

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 01:53 PM

Photographing Giraffes.


Text and photographs by Billy Dodson - www.savannaimages.com.
 

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A friend of mine recently asked …”how do you photograph giraffes?” My initial but unspoken reaction was … (1) hold camera to eyeball (2) peer through viewfinder (3) lock focus, and (4) depress shutter button. But after a few minutes of consideration it struck me that it really was a damn fine question. That’s because, without actually thinking about it, I’ve evolved a specific strategy for photographing not only giraffes, but most all of East Africa’s animals.

The giraffe is both a beautiful and beautifully implausible animal. Outlandishly designed, they are photogenic even if they’re standing at a roadside doing nothing. But under certain circumstances they offer opportunities for world class images. I’ve outlined a few of those circumstances in the subparagraphs below …

1) Kenya is home to a couple of varieties of oxpecker … the red-billed and the yellow-billed. These birds ride the large mammals to pick off insects or stray vegetation… and as a general rule the big critters appreciate having them around. Oxpeckers love giraffes, and if the photographer catches one in just the right location the results can be spectacular. A photograph like the one below requires luck, to be sure … but it’s also made possible by maintaining awareness of the birds, where they are, where they’re likely to perch, etc. Patience is also important … sometimes the birds won’t immediately move into position, the giraffe looks away, etc. But good things come to those who wait (sometimes) and watch.

 

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2) Male giraffes compete for mating rights in the traditional way … by fighting. But they don’t have fists, large antlers or disproportionate incisors … they only have necks. And they use them to swing their heads at each other in hopes of achieving violent contact anywhere north of their opponent’s forelegs. The squabbles may seem ridiculous to the casual viewer — like slow motion play fighting — but in reality the process is executed in deadly earnest. The animals are quite capable of inflicting serious injury on each other. But what’s dangerous to the animals in this case is fortuitous for the photographer. Their lunges and contortions make them exceptional subjects for the camera. The “necking” pair below was captured at Samburu.

 

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3) A solo giraffe portrait can make a memorable photo, but I’ve found that if you catch two together in a close up the results can be much more dramatic. The key to success on this is locking focus on the nearest giraffe and waiting patiently for a second or even third one to move into the frame. There are also times when the giraffe(s) to the rear of the subject don’t necessarily need to be physically close. The second shot below illustrates this point. The two “necking” animals in the near distance make this photo much more successful than it would otherwise be.

 

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4) Giraffes tend to be shy. They’re a little less shy, I think, while they’re eating. Their facial expressions become almost comedic as they chew … and if you can catch a full on frontal shot while they have a mouthful of leaves you can capture an amusing image. If you’re a professional this is a particularly good thing, because there are many animal lovers who collect unusual or whimsical giraffe shots.

 

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5) There are times when you fill the frame with the animal and there are times when you want to capture some of the surrounding environment to place the subject in context. That’s why it’s important to look up from the viewfinder occasionally and maybe even shift to a wider angle lens. The shot below captures some of the acacias and scrub vegetation at Ndutu, Tanzania … I think it’s much more effective than a straight up, full-framed portrait of one of these animals would be.

 

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6) Baby giraffes are precious and cute … and they make lovely photo subjects. This pretty much applies to the little ones of all species. Evidence below:

 

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I’ll be writing about techniques for photographing several other species in future articles but I certainly welcome questions and from anyone at any time. Both my mobile number and email address are listed on my website at www.savannaimages.com.

Take care,
Billy D


 

All images with permission to publish on Safaritalk courtesy and © Billy Dodson.


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#2 cris

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 02:33 PM

Ok, so how can you not love that last pic?

#3 Atravelynn

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 04:07 PM

Delightful!
When you think of a rhino, think of a tree (African proverb)

#4 Jochen

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 05:39 PM

Ok, so how can you not love that last pic?


To be honest, most of the others are super too.

Another tip for giraffe; when on a walking safari; lay down. There's a big possibility that they will get curious and come closer. An upward perspective of a giraffe is simply awesome.

#5 cris

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 06:00 PM

Ok, so how can you not love that last pic?


To be honest, most of the others are super too.

Another tip for giraffe; when on a walking safari; lay down. There's a big possibility that they will get curious and come closer. An upward perspective of a giraffe is simply awesome.

Agree. All are super.

#6 africawild

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 07:15 PM

Good tips , taking captivating images off giraffes is not an easy task ( same goes to most animals ).

Another tip could be to try to take advantage of their great height for sky silhouettes ( perhaps they are the best animal for this purpose ) . While we were at sundown in Botswana having our gin and tonic i lay down ( Jochen tip with other purpose ) on the floor to get a better perspective of this giraffe against the nice orange sky color.


http://www.pbase.com.../image/90340300

Edited by africawild, 12 July 2011 - 07:54 PM.


#7 Billy

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 07:42 PM

Some great advice and tips here ... this is much appreciated.

Billy D

#8 twaffle

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 01:04 AM

Wonderful images, love the oxpecker with the giraffe close up. Some great suggestions. Thanks.

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#9 Tom Kellie

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 01:30 PM

gallery_1_403_272802.jpg  gallery_1_403_107194.jpg  gallery_1_403_81346.jpg

 

~ These superb images set the bar very high — which is GREAT!

 

Seeing them is a reminder to watch and wait for a special moment.

 

Very glad to have seen this post, not only for the giraffe images but for the helpful commentary.

 

Tom K.



#10 xelas

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Posted 30 June 2015 - 12:31 PM

Thanks to all above posters for tips.

 

Another tip: take them while drinking; not only their position is so awkward, even more interesting is their movement with head, and water splashing around. In late evening back light the effect is even more pronounced.

 

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