Heaven on Earth

Changing your perspective can elevate a wildlife picture from ordinary to extraordinary, as Marina Cano shows with this surreal reflection. We learn more about her thought process as we delve behind the picture

In 2014 I was invited to photograph in the largest private game reserve in Namibia, Erindi. It was my first time and I fell in love with Namibia. It’s a magical place, wild, ochre, blue, purple, warm. The light is unforgettable and its beat will remain in your skin forever. After spending two weeks in Erindi, I went to experience Etosha National Park first hand.

In some interviews, one frequent question is about which images are my favorites. This one, which I took in Namibia on that trip in August 2014, is one of those special images. It was a finalist in the most prestigious nature contest in the world: Wildlife photographer of the Year 2015, and I'm very proud of it. That waterhole in Etosha National Park is one of the most popular destinations for wildlife photographers in Namibia. The number of pictures taken at that place is overwhelming, so it was going to be very difficult to not take another sunset image.

While the sky turned in a range of reds and oranges, I saw how the light was getting dark. A journey of giraffes approached slowly at the waterhole after sunset and stopped to drink alongside a black rhino. As the minutes passed, the giraffes were disappearing while the reflection was taking more prominence. In the fading light, only their reflected silhouettes were visible. Then I saw it. The picture had to be upside down. I wanted to create a real world with the reflection in the water: just the orange oval water, lost in the darkness with the mysterious sky. The giraffes and rhino made the rest. So I took the picture with the upside down idea in my head. A series of pictures while the giraffe and rhino were performing a parade around the waterhole, with different moments, movements, compositions... and I chose the one with the bird.

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My first impulse was to shoot with my Canon 600mm f/4 lens. I think that most wildlife photographers, we have the idea of getting closer tattooed in our veins. But, as you probably know, sometimes it is not about seeing a close-up of the teeth, sometimes the landscape and environment say much more. So I left the precious 600mm and I took my 16-35mm lens to get the entire waterhole in one shot.

When I flipped the image, another world appeared into my eyes: Heaven on Earth. An intriguing scene where nothing is as it seems. It was a dreamy picture. And what the hell, original! Because the highlight in this picture beyond the aesthetic is the originality. Flipped it was so simple but so effective.

Drinking at a waterhole is risky business for giraffe. Their awkward stature – front legs splayed and neck stooped – leaves them vulnerable to attack from predators. As a precaution they often drink in groups, taking turns to keep watch. Giraffes need only drink every few days, getting most of their moisture from the plants they eat.

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About Author

Marina Cano

I’m a Spanish wildlife photographer, based in Cantabria, Northern Spain. I’ve been taking pictures since I was a teenager, when I started using my father’s camera. My work has been published around the world and I have won several international awards.


  1. Avatar
    Francoise Vulpe on

    I’ve not a clue how the header photo was taken or of it is a compilation or has been Photoshoped but my word it is stunning. Just breathtaking, and I don’t care how it was made. Brilliance in color.

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