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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Six: Vantage Point makes the difference > Gargoyle, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic, 2003
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Gargoyle, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic, 2003

It may look like an easy picture to make, but it took many tries to position this gargoyle, and the Cathedral's Rose Window behind it, where I wanted them to be. Since these subjects were higher than I was, my low angle, upward vantage point was a given. I was determined to launch the gargoyle into the frame from the lower left hand corner, and make the curve of the Rose Window spin into the frame at the upper right hand corner -- giving this image dual diagonal thrusts which pull the eye through the picture. Many shots and a sore neck later, it all came together.

Canon PowerShot G2
1/400s f/4.0 at 21.0mm full exif

other sizes: small medium large original auto
Phil Douglis21-Aug-2006 22:16
Once again, Chris, your comment is right on target -- It really does matter WHAT we shoot. Rather we should be concentrating on WHY we are shooting something, and than take great care in HOW we shoot it. It is in the latter phase that vantage point becomes critical. There is a "sweet spot" for every image. We just have to find it.
Chris Sofopoulos21-Aug-2006 09:37
So strong once again the angle and framing!
A simple, touristic and with no interest photo could be an exceptional and full of interest composition, using the right angle!
Phil Douglis29-Mar-2005 18:12
Benchang, thanks for clarifying your point, which I think is a very important one. There are two ways of reading an image. You can look at the individual parts, and think about what they mean to you. Or you can look at the whole, and see what it is saying. In the most expressive of images, I think the whole must represent the sum of its parts. They are really one and the same.

Some images that might contain a fascinating idea expressed by a single part. It might succeed as a trigger to thought even more than the entire image would. However, I think you are saying that this picture works well for you in terms of both its parts, as well as the whole image. I took great care to make the prominent gargoyle -- the subject -- an extension of the sweep of the Rose Window behind it. The window does not really work here without the gargoyle, and the gargoyle does not work without the window. The two parts, while each interesting in themselves, must provide essential context for each other in order to work as expression.
Benchang Tang 29-Mar-2005 08:16
Sorry I did not make myself claer to you. In fact I myself am sometime not clear about the words I have written. When I look at a picture I am somewhat subjective and pay more attention to the impression as a whole and with not much analysistechnique.In this picture I find the gargoyle(as an object) is unfamiliar to me and and it is in the left lower corner and I find two curves and paterns, and they are all well placed and inter-connected. So for this picture I find it is a painting to itself and since my attention is absorbed in thepicture I have less consideration of the whole building. The expressivenes lies more in the impression of the wholeness or harmony in itself thanks to your composition. I wish I could make my self understood. Thank you for the care with my words.
Phil Douglis29-Mar-2005 04:50
Benchang --please help me by clarifying this a bit. I want to be sure I understand what you are saying. Thanks, Phil
Benchang Tang 29-Mar-2005 01:27
First I wrote in my comment that this is a picture that "doesn't needs a title" then I changed into "itself". Did you notice that you did not elaborate the background of the motif, just because you were riveted to the motif itself and used half an hour to finished it painstakingly and I don't care the things that out of the picture very much since it is isolated to itself. I wish what I realized is right.
Phil Douglis28-Mar-2005 18:20
As you can tell, this picture exists because of a methodical and even painful approach to vantage point. Holding your arms up over your head and craning your neck back is hard, but it is even harder when shooting a picture over and over again until all of its elements finally flow together the way we want them to.

You say this image looks painterly. One reason for that is because paintings rarely contain any accidental relationships or compromises. The painter is in complete control and can always adjust the elements of painting to his or her own satisfaction. In photography, however, we are constantly faciing tradeoffs, because there is usually something in a picture that is difficult, if not impossible, for us to control. But every now and then we are able to make pictures such as this one that are, as with a painting, free of any accidents or compromises. I think that is what you are seeing here -- an image under my complete control, with every element working with every other element to express meaning.
Benchang Tang 28-Mar-2005 13:31
With the vantage point, good composition and an even focus this picture looks like a painting itself. I really love it.
Phil Douglis13-Dec-2004 20:57
I had to laugh, Alister, about the permanent neck damage a 10D would have given me here! Every minute of every day I am shooting in far flung places, I give silent thanks that my SLR days are forever behind me. Thanks for the kind words on the composition here. It was, as you say, the vantage point (which I was constantly adjusting as I shot) that helped me organize this image to link the incongruous scale relationship expressed by the gargoyle and window, into a coherent relationship.
alibenn13-Dec-2004 16:16
Hi Phil, I'm glad you weren't using a 10D for 2 reasons, firstly at f4 the backround would definetly have been softened considerably, and secondly, you would have permanent neck damage from the extra weight. For me this image isn't just about the gargoyle, the incongruity with the rose window works extremely well, that wall looks really huge. The exposure too is very well controlled, but clearly it is the vatage oint here that makes the difference, all the exposure controlling technique in the world won't hold an image together unless the composition works. Oh right: vantage point does make a difference!!
Phil Douglis10-Aug-2004 21:08
Thanks, Joel, for commenting on this image. It's one of my own favorites as well, although I took so many shots to get that I had a sore neck for days! And thanks, too, for voting for it -- while I never solicit votes on these pages, it is always gratifying to know that someone has thought enough of one of my images or galleries to bring it to the attention of others via pbase's "most popular" links.
Guest 10-Aug-2004 13:13
Great shot, everything just fits so well, and the contrast of the colours adds something special. This one has my vote =)
Lara S08-Jul-2004 02:31
I love how the gargoyle seems to be jumping off of the side of the photo. And the fact that he is darker than the rest of the cathedral makes him stand out even more. It almost gives the photo a 3D quality.
Guest 19-Jun-2004 11:44
In addition to your advantageous use of vantage point, this one demonstrates superb framing. Everything fits so well!
Phil Douglis28-Jan-2004 04:04
Thanks, Anna, for your thoughtful and kind comment on this photograph. Your question regarding depth of focus is an important one. What you must realize is that f/4 on a camera with the tiny lens and even smaller light gathering device inside of my prosumer Canon G2 (the CCD chip) provides tremendous depth of focus at almost all apertures, unlike a 35mm camera, which would no doubt have thrown the background out of focus at f/4. Another factor affecting depth of focus is the distance of my camera to the subject matter here. The closer you can get to this gargoyle, the more likely you are to soften some of the background. But I can't get close to the gargoyle -- even my zoom lens does not take me close enough to throw the cathedral into soft-focus. As it turns out, the overall sharp picture worked very well. On the other hand, if I was using your camera -- the Canon D10 digital SLR -- to make this picture, I could choose to easily throw that background out of focus at f/4, because the D10's CCD is so much larger than mine, and your camera uses the same full-sized lenses made for 35mm SLRs. I hope this answers your question, Anna.
Anna Yu27-Jan-2004 20:05
Phil I've been looking at the picture and there is something compelling about it. At first glance it is the sharp contrast of the gargoyle in the foreground against the light stone with beautiful color in the background. Then the technical side of me wonders however did he get everything in focus at f4?? The dof required appears to be enormous. Aside from this I see what you mean by vantage of view. Thx for sharing.
Phil Douglis22-Oct-2003 02:33
Carol, you are the very first to comment on this picture, which makes me feel vindicated. I spent the better part of a half hour with my neck craned backwards, looking up at every gargoyle sprouting from this vast cathedral. I finally found this one, and kept shooting until everything in the frame came together for me. You are right, gargoyles are like clowns -- grotesque, bizarre, incongruous. Just the kind of things that both you and I seem to favor in seeking our subject matter. Thanks for this wonderful comment. At last!
Carol E Sandgren21-Oct-2003 22:30
I have a thing for gargoyles. They are really almost like clowns, aren't they, except that instead of making you laugh, they ward away evil spirits. again, inhumanly expressive face. So what is there to say that you already haven't about the fabulous angle and compostion? Your many tries and effort certainly paid off in the end. And you managed to get the gargoyle's exposure right in addition to the window's. One of my fave's of yours.
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