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Larger Mammals Archives

Giraffe Using its Tongue to Pluck Green Leaves

Giraffe using tongue to pluck leaves

Photo Details: Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) at full stretch, using its long tongue to pluck choice green leaves from upper branches, Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Canon Rebel XSi 12.2MP); Lens: Canon 70-200 F2.8L IS USM; Focal Length: 200mm; Shutter speed: 1/400; Aperture: f/8; ISO: 400; Exposure compensation: +2/3; Date: 28 Oct 2009, 8.49am.

Additional Info: The giraffe has a long, prehensile tongue (i.e. adapted for grasping, especially by wrapping around an object) that can be up to 45cm (18″) long. This, combined with a dextrous upper lip, allows the giraffe to manipulate the branches so it can get its tongue in between thorns or twigs and strip only the succulent leaves. In this way it can feed selectively while still consuming the quantity of foliage needed to sustain its massive bulk.

In the above image, the sky is totally washed out with no detail as I over-exposed by 2/3 of a stop. It was overcast yet reasonably bright, conditions in which the camera’s meter can easily be fooled when aiming up at a subject with plenty of sky in the background. In these circumstances, the meter can be unduly influenced by the bright area, expsosing for the sky and under-exposing the subject — so you end up with a nicely exposed sky and a giraffe in silhouette.

But I wanted the giraffe correctly exposed, showing detail in its face, and to achieve this I was happy to let the sky blow out. Although our eyes can adjust to see both the detail in the foreground subject and in the backround (or in the shadows and highlights), digital sensors (and film) don’t have sufficient latitude to show both correctly, so compromises have to be made.

Exposure compensation, where a degree of over-exposure is selected (the + side of the indicator), is usually necessary when aiming the camera upwards where there’s bright sky in the backgroud, as when photographing a giraffe’s head or, more commonly, a bird in the upper branches of a tree. In the same way, you may need to under-expose slightly ( – side of the indicator) if you want to make your subject darker, as when photographing a wet elephant.

Elephant Picture Using Fill-In Flash

Elephant picture using fill-in flash

Photo Details: Elephant male (Loxodonta africana), front-on view, Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Canon Rebel XSi 12.2MP); Lens: Canon 70-200 F2.8L IS USM; Focal Length: 75mm; Shutter speed: 1/125; Aperture: f/4; ISO: 400; Exposure compensation: -1; Flash: Sigma EF-500 DG ST external speedlight; Date: 30 Oct 2009, 5.42pm.

Additional Info: We came across this elephant bull quite late in the afternoon on a cloudy, rather dull day. Usually, because of the light, I wouldn’t even have bothered taking a shot, but decided to experiment using an external Sigma flash attached to the camera hot-shoe.

I didn’t want the sky to blow out as would happen if I exposed to show detail within the dark tones of the elephant, so under-exposed one stop, using the camera’s exposure compensation button, and relied on the flash to add light to the main subject. I only had time to take a couple of shots before the elephant moved away.

The flash has slightly over-exposed the winter grass in the foreground, but at the same time has thrown additional light on the elephant, particularly the tusks, and added a catchlight to the eyes (not visible at this size), while the sky has retained detal, albeit not very interesting.

I’ll use this image as reference for future shots where the sky is really stormy and dramatic. By under-exposing the sky slightly and adding extra light to the main subject via electronic flash, preferably off-camera, one should be able to get some interesting results.

The big trick of course is to keep it looking natural as possible, unless you’re deliberately aiming for a surreal effect.

African Buffalo Horns

African buffalo bull (Syncerus caffer) showing horns and central boss

Photo Details: African buffalo bull (Syncerus caffer), side view, showing the massive horns, with another bull in the background showing the horns from the front, Elephant Plains Game Lodge, Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D (Canon Rebel XSi 12.2MP); Lens: Canon 70-200 F2.8L IS USM; Focal Length: 200mm; Shutter speed: 1/400; Aperture: f4.5; ISO: 400.

Additional Info: Both male and female buffalo have horns, but it is only the males that develop the heavy shield or protuberance across the forehead where the horns meet. This shield, known as a “boss”, is a keratin sheath covering the actual bone of the horn. Females lack the keratin on the boss; instead, this area is usually covered in hair.

Mature male buffalo will use their horns as weapons when challenging each other for mating opportunities and is the main reason they have horns, with defence a secondary function. Horn length can reach 160cm (5ft 4″) along the outer curve in large males, with a horizontal spread greater than 90cm (3 ft).

Buffalo bulls, particularly when solitary, are quick-tempered and regarded by safari guides and hunters as extremely dangerous, which is why the buffalo is included in Africa’s “Big 5” of dangerous animals. Others of the Big 5 are lion, leopard, elephant, and black rhino.

Elephant Stripping Bark

Elephant using its trunk to strip bark from a branch

Photo Details: African elephant (Loxodonta africana) stripping the soft bark from a branch, using its trunk to grasp and pull the branch through its teeth, Elephant Plains Game Lodge, Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D (Canon Rebel XSi 12.2MP); Lens: Canon EOS 80-200 F2.8 zoom; Focal Length: 80mm; Shutter speed: 1/250; Aperture: f2.8; ISO: 400.

Additional Info: An elephant’s trunk is without question the longest, strongest, and most dexterous nose in creation. It can kill a lion with one blow, yet at the same time is gentle enough to caress and calm a baby elephant. The trunk, which has two lobes on the tip that act like fingers, is an essential tool for gathering food, and is used to pull leaves from trees, pluck tufts of grass from the ground, and strip bark from branches (as in the picture above).

It’s also used to suck up water, which is then poured into the elephant’s mouth. Other uses include showering dust over their bodies, rubbing their eyes, greeting one another, trumpeting, smelling danger – or a potential mate – and snorkelling when crossing deep water.

Elephant Bull Shading its Eye

Elephant using trunk to shade its eye
Photo Details: Elephant bull (Loxodonta africana) walking by, apparently using its trunk to shade its eye from the bright sun, Tembe Elephant Park, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Canon Rebel XSi 12.2MP); Lens: Canon EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM; Focal Length: 190mm; Shutter speed: 1/160; Aperture: f8; ISO: 200; 28 July 2009, 2.20pm.

Additional Info: I’m making a risky assumption here, but the way the elephant walked along, then raised his trunk and deliberately placed it over his eye and continued walking, certainly looked like he was using his trunk to shield the eye most exposed to the bright sunlight. Of course all manner of conjecture is possible – maybe the eye was injured and extra sensitve to bright light; possibly this elephant simply prefers at times walking with his trunk raised like that; maybe he was blocking out the sight of the elephant hide in which we were sitting?

Location: Tembe Elephant Park is situated in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, where it shares a border with southern Mozambique. The park, covering 300 square km, was developed by the Tembe Tribal Authority and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the conservation body responsible for conservation in KwaZulu-Natal.

Tembe was established in 1983 to protect elephants that historically migrated between South Africa and southern Mozambique, but had been traumatised by poaching during the civil war in Mozambique. The park is now home to more than 200 elephants which are reputed to be the largest in the world.

Tembe Elephant Park is currently working with Africam to enable a webcam to stream video and audio from the elephant hide in the park. See Zulucam for more on this.

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