Lying down with a Cheetah

Lying down with a Cheetah

I often extol the virtues of being able to photograph wildlife subjects at eye level.

There are a couple of ways to achieve this, and the most obvious question that comes up is what to do about cases where you are in reserves or national parks that restrict you to being in a vehicle at all times…

Through careful vehicle positioning, reading the lay of the land and predicting the positioning of the animal relative to that can go a long way to achieving that high-impact eye-level image. Good use of telephoto lenses and their compression factor can also aid you here (parking a bit further so the relative perspective to your subject appears lower).

The use of special underground bunkers are also a recent development that have ensured that photographers are able to get close to their subjects and shoot from a ground-level perspective.

The most special and electrifying way to do this, though, in my humble opinion, is to be on foot with the animals. There are a couple of places that allow you to be out and about, and with the right guide present you can have a magnificent wildlife experience (regardless of the photos you bring home). You’ve seen me post photos from Mana Pools in Zimbabwe, where walking safaris is a big drawing card…but there’s a reserve that recently opened up in South Africa that boasts painted dogs and cheetahs that are quite habituated to humans on foot, and they are still fully wild and hunt for themselves. This place is called Zimanga Private Game Reserve, and the owner, Charl Senekal, has gone to great lengths over a long period of time to habituate his wild born free ranging predators to human movement and presence.

I captured this photo of one of the male cheetahs of Zimanga late one afternoon earlier this year. I was lying flat on my belly in the bush, a mere 15 meters from him. He was totally relaxed – until an elephant bull stumbled upon us, smelled him, and chased him up (as Charl and I made a careful retreat back to the vehicle, haha). These experiences always mean so much more to me than the actual photos.

Nikon D3s
Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II
f4.0  |  1/320 SS  |  ISO-800

Lying down with a Cheetah
click on the photo to view at optimal resolution and sharpness
Here’s a photo Charl took of me in action…

Those of you who are attending the PHOTO & FILM EXPO at the Dome in Northgate, Johannesburg this coming weekend, be sure to check out my talk at 16h00 on Friday afternoon (31 October 2014) where I will discuss the concept of context and creativity in wildlife photography. Come say hello!

Morkel Erasmus


Morkel Erasmus

I used to relish writing these kinds of “bio” pieces and would flaunt the odd impressive word and use dashing grammar to make it sound like I am a boundary-shifting photographer. These days I prefer stating it in much simpler ways, much more relatable ways, much more believable ways… The fact of the matter is this: I love Africa. I love its people, its wild places and its wildlife. I love being immersed in these places, observing and photographing the fall of light on the land and the daily lives of the creatures that call it home, and presenting the results to whoever will take a look. To me, nature photography is all about being in the moment, and capturing that moment in a way that can relate to someone who didn’t have the privilege of being there with me. Sometimes I am able to capture a unique vision of the scene before me, and sometimes I just capture it the way most folks would according to classical photographic guidelines. Yet I always enjoy sharing the images and experiences and imparting the knowledge I have, both in-the-field and later online or in presentations, workshops and courses. I also just simply enjoy capturing and sharing the beauty of God's creation! The greatest thing I’ve found about wildlife and nature photography in Southern Africa is the unity and familiarity of the community of people that share this passion. We come from all walks of life and all cultures and backgrounds, yet our passion for our natural heritage and our dream to see it preserved for future generations binds strangers together and fuels conversations around campfires long after other people have run out of conversation and energy. Join me on a WildEye adventure to experience this sharing community spirit and learn to anticipate that fleeting moment and be ready for it, learn to immerse yourself in the experience without losing focus of your photographic goals…and above all, learn to see Africa anew… because there are none as blind as those who look but do not see!

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Morkel Erasmus

Since picking up a DSLR camera for the first time, a little over 3 years ago, Morkel has been invigorated with an unbridled passion for the photographic art form. He has grown at a tremendous pace and put immense energy into the creation of his images. He absolutely loves spending time in the wild places of his native Southern Africa. From a young age he has been visiting legendary wildlife and outdoor locations, including the Kruger Park National Park and the Drakensberg Mountains, with his family. Now that he has found a way to share the natural beauty of his homeland with the rest of the world he is regularly out on photography trips. An Industrial Engineer by profession, and an accomplished artist in genres like music and poetry, Morkel has always enjoyed whatever allows him to express his creativity to the fullest. Photography turned out to be the perfect "marriage" between his engineering brain and artistic soul. "I hope that in some way I can raise awareness through my imagery of the plight of not only our wildlife but also the fragility of the last remaining wilderness areas that they call home.” Morkel was recently honoured for his commitment to his craft by receiving a "Highly Commended" for one of his images in the 2010 BBC Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. He is based in Mpumalanga, South Africa and even though he prefers going on safari with his family and friends, Morkel also leads the odd photographic safari and has recently begun presenting workshops in post-processing techniques.

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