Join Paul Taggart for an in-depth discussion in this video Photographing Rothchild's giraffes at a preserve, part of Wildlife Photography: Nature Preserve.
- Once Cathy had the truck placed just in the right spot inside the Rothschild's pen, she got out of the truck, and almost immediately these giraffes came over, completely surrounded the truck, made this big truck look very tiny, all of the sudden. - Rothschild's giraffe numbers are so very scary low, there are less than 700 Rothschild's on this entire planet. - That's what these guys are? - That's what these guys are. Rothschild's giraffes, yeah. So absolutely critically endangered. The most critically endangered of the giraffe species remaining.
We happen to have these five boys because they were out at San Diego Safari Park, where they were able to breed with the other species. So a whole bunch of us thought it was in these boys best interest to be here, so they don't hybridize. So they stay as pure Rothschild's. We will always have the boys here. This is always going to be the boys club here. We'll never have the girls. Our closest non-genetically less breedable female is up in Canada. What we're going to have to do is use high-tech artificial insemination to save this ancient, ancient species.
- Lucky for me as a photographer, there were no females here on the preserve. If there had been a female present, I wouldn't have had the access that I did, and I wouldn't be able to make the pictures as intimate, as close to these giraffes because they'd be way too aggressive. These giraffes weren't scared of us at all. These huge heads were right in my face. I had to mix up my gear a little bit, because I was ready to shoot them from far away with a 300 millimeter lens. Right off the bat I realized, wow, this is going to be a wide-angled shoot. I put a 20 millimeter on there and started working.
They were so close that I was actually having a hard time focusing. It's kind of funny, because usually when I'm photographing people or a story, I'm always trying to get amazing access. I'm trying to get as close as possible. And this is one of the rare instances where the subject was actually too close. I was almost photographing just eyes and eyelashes. One thing that was really apparent was that I was just in the moment. I was having a ball. The crew was having fun. It was one of these life experiences that few people ever get.
Most people never get to be surrounded by giraffes, much less an endangered species like the Rothschild giraffes, which there's less than 700 of them on the planet right now living in the wild. So this is a really special moment, but at the same time, if you let yourself get away from what your job at hand is, which is making pictures, it can be dangerous, because I'm only here for a couple hours. So I took a lot of photos and wasn't really getting the satisfaction that I was really nailing a certain image. Wasn't quite sure what that image was, but I wasn't feeling it.
So I switched gears in my head, stopped focusing on having too much fun, and got down to business. Which meant me making some decisions on what I could do in this situation. So, I decided, you know what? I'm just going to focus on parts of the giraffe. I'm going to start looking at this much more abstractly. So I would photograph just the mane and the hairs on the mane. The patterns on their skin, which were amazing. Photographing just an eyeball. I actually got a self portrait at one point, of my reflection in their huge eye, which is about that big.
I just started having fun. Also, I wanted to add that little bit of comedy that I always talk about with photo essays. The giraffes have these silly tongues and they're sticking them out all the time, so I nailed off one shot that was a bit closer of just the tongue and the funny shape. I think it will make it in the final essay. It's a fun image. While photographing the giraffes, Cathy was actually doing a bit of training. - Tiger, step up. Step up. - She was also talking to me about why she trains these animals. She's not training them to do tricks or anything like this.
She's just getting them familiar with her touching their bodies so she can take samples, take care of their hooves, administer medicine, all these kinds of things. And from learning what she was doing, it kind of allowed me to realize what I can access with these animals. She would use a long stick with a blue dot on the end, and she would play these games where she could actually get the giraffes to move their heads in different places. This was beneficial to me, because once I realized what she was doing, I could start making pictures around her activities.
Which meant, for the first time, I could actually take portraits of these giraffes and not hundreds of feet away with a long lens, but intimately and up close. I was also able to photograph underneath the giraffes, shooting straight up at the sun, making it into a flare, which was fun and unique. Usually when we see these sort of zoo or preserve photographs, we're so far away and our vantage point is always the same. This was unique because the giraffes were surrounding me, rather than me looking in on them and I wanted to take advantage of that.
Shooting so many images that close with just the wide angle was getting a bit boring to me, and so I was taking note that for these giraffes I'm going to need some different types of photographs. Either now or later on in the day, I need to come here and photograph these giraffes from farther away and from the ground. I needed to get out of the pickup truck and in the dirt to make the picture I wanted. Because of our schedule, I wasn't able to do it right then, but I let Cathy know the exact kind of photograph that I wanted and that if we had time at the end of the day I would want to come back and try to make that image.
Once the giraffes started to get bored with me and the film crew, they decided to take a little break and they walked a couple hundred feet away from us. I kept an eye on them, just to see what they were doing and they started to play. And they were just having fun with each other. They've got these little horns, and they're not sharp but they kind of were head-butting each other and just being boys and playing around. I whipped out the 300 millimeter lens and got some longer shots of them, which was nice. Visually, I wanted to mix it up so it wasn't all just wide-angle photography. Also, I started to realize I don't want to just isolate these animals for every single photograph.
Part of the magic of this place is watching the animals interact together. And this was an opportunity to do that. I think I got some solid images of the giraffes. They were a lot of fun. I got to do some abstract images, so the project is going to feel a little bit more artful. But I didn't quite get the image that I really wanted from them. I still wanted to get out of the truck, on the ground, and look up at these massive kings of the wild. And in order to do that, I was going to have to come back later in the day. So I mentioned this to Cathy and she said, time permitting, yeah, we'll come back, we'll get you out of the truck, and we'll make those images.
But from there, we need to move on and visit some of the other species.