My 2015 in imperfect hindsight

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As is customary for many photographers of all genres during this time of year, I started glancing over my portfolio of work captured during the year in hopes of posting a “best of” collection. I have done so since 2010.

Last year I took a very specific approach, only showing photos taken at a focal length of less than 100mm, to showcase my desire for including the greater environment in my photography (particularly when it comes to wildlife photography).

 That being said, 2015 was a different year for me in terms of travel and photography. I had some great experiences out in the field, but not all great sightings resulted in great photography. I also took far fewer photos on the whole compared to the previous years. My total amount of photos “kept” up to this date compare more with the final result from years like 2009, 2010 and 2011 when I was more trigger-happy than I am now, but after extensive culling and weeding out of images I was not pleased with.

 I think my collection below will be more reflective of specific memorable moments I enjoyed in nature, as opposed to groundbreaking new approaches to my photography and even a veritable “best of” selection. Nevertheless, I do hope you enjoy it. I want it to be an honest reflection of my year’s photography, and an even more honest reflection of the memories built up.

 Every year it just dawns on me more and more that these moments in unspoilt nature are getting rarer and rarer as wild places and natural habitat wanes and falters before the onslaught of the greed of man. I can only hope that my children will still be able to enjoy the places and species I am introducing them to now long after I am gone from this planet and they have to share it with their offspring…

 Without further tear-jerking musings, here we go. Photos are posted in chronological order (date taken) and not according to personal favouritism.

As usual, clicking on the photos shows them at best resolution and against a dark background!

 1. Painted Dog Silhouette

I seemed to spend a lot of time in the and surrounding reserves (like the Sabi Sand) this year, indeed much more than in the previous couple of years. One thing that struck me about this moment, captured in January 2015 near Pretoriuskop in the Kruger, was that I’ve seen very few distinct silhouettes of the (Painted Dog). The size and stature of the animal and their tendency to keep to the bush and grasslands probably add to this…it’s hard to get to a vantage point lower than they are at the best of times. This image was the result of a long period of waiting – as with many of my predator images – for the subjects to become active towards the end of the day.

Nikon D3s | Nikkor 500mm f4 VR | f4.0 | 1/640 SS | ISO-200
2. Starstruck Windmill

We spent a week over Easter with our family in East London (a city on the South African Wild Coast). We made a road trip of it, visiting the sheep farm of my friend Rob Southey in the Karoo desert on the way down. The Karoo is famous for its extreme weather and starry skies, and it didn’t disappoint! A hot flask of coffee and good company made getting these shots a real treat…

Nikon D800 | Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 | f2.8 | 30 seconds | ISO-6400
3. Nahoon on the Rocks

Our time in East London was primarily spent with family and having fun on the beach, but I did get the opportunity to link up with some old-time online friends for the first time in real life and enjoy a sunset shoot on the rocks at the beautiful Nahoon reef. The light did not peak as I expected it to, but I do have a distinct lack of seascapes in my portfolio and it was fun adding to them nonetheless.

Nikon D800 | Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 | f16 | 2 seconds | ISO-50
4. Mare and Foal

The aforementioned road trip ended with a 3-night stay at the Mountain Zebra National Park, a real little gem in the crown of the South African National Parks portfolio. I hadn’t been there since 2011, so this was a good opportunity to spend some time soaking in the scenic views and getting re-acquaintedwith the interesting diversity of wildlife it offers. The park is named after the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra, and has been a huge factor in the recovery of this species from the brink of extinction. Here a mother tenderly nudges her young foal as the sun sets behind the Karoo dust.

Nikon D3s | Nikkor 500mm f4 VR | f5.6 | 1/1000 SS | ISO-720
5. Gaze of Defeat

I posted about this specific moment in detail on my blog earlier in the year. It just remained with me, a very poignant gaze and aprivilegedview on the end of a life well lived in thebush.

Nikon D3s | Nikkor 500mm f4 VR | f5.0 | 1/500 SS | ISO-1100
6. Stalker

I’ll let this one simply speak for itself. A moment between Africa’s most adaptable and stealthy predator and me…with nothing separating us.

Nikon D3s | Nikkor 500mm f4 VR | f5.6 | 1/1000 SS | ISO-720
7. Acrobatics

In June, the Wild Eye team hosted the inaugural Wildlife Photography Seminar at Sabi Sabi in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Early one morning we came across an (Gymnogene) acrobatically hunting for prey in the bark of a dead leadwood tree. It was a fascinating sighting, the bird really put on a display hanging upside down from its talons at times to break off pieces of bark. It was quite overcast but some soft light hit the clouds behind the bird for some colour in the sky.Eventually, when reviewing the images later, I realised the intended prey was a colony of bats nesting in the dead tree. In this frame there’s one in its beak. Join us again next year for this inspiring event!

Nikon D3s | Nikkor 500mm f4 VR | f5.6 | 1/1000 SS | ISO-3600
8. Painted Pups

One of the definite highlights of my year was being able to witness how the Ngala pack of Painted Dogs (African Wild Dogs) brought their 17 new puppies out of the den for the very first time. My wife and I were spending time with the EWT researcher Grant Beverly who monitors all the movements and dynamics of this species in the greater Kruger area, and perchance we happened to be at the den at the right time to witness the special moment when the pack called the pups out and regurgitated food for them and allowed them to explore and play around for about 45 minutes before nudging them back into the old termite mound they’d chosen as a den site.

Nikon D3s | Nikkor 500mm f4 VR | f6.3 | 1/640 SS | ISO-1600
9. Dust and Mayhem

A photo simply cannot convey the sensory overload and general madness that is a large dusty Mara river crossing. We had quite a couple of insane crossings during the Wild Eye Great Migration photo safari that I hosted in September with my friend Andrew Beck. This particular one started after sunset at a crossing point close to our camp, so slow shutter speeds and high ISO settings were at the order of the day. After a couple of minutes the light was too bad for photography and we could put down the cameras and just soak it all in as the herd kept crossing, a leopard snuck past our vehicle to try and grab a youngster, and the smell of adrenaline mixed with dust hung in the air. I will be hosting another trip in August 2016, so make sure you check out the details HERE if you want to experience this bucket-list safari for yourself!

Nikon D3s | Nikkor 70-200mm f42.8 VR-II | f2.8 | 1/25 SS | ISO-4500
10. Graceful Grazing

This scene happened in my mind’s eye at least 15 minutes before the shutter tripped. I saw the giraffe ambling along to our right, noticed the iconic scenery with Balanite trees on our left, and instructed our Wild Eye East Africa guide to cut the engine of our Land Cruiser and wait. I told my guests what I thought would happen and what kinds of images I was hoping they could achieve – and it played out exactly like I planned. This is the wide open space of the Mara Triangle, folks!

Nikon D3s | Nikkor 70-200mm f42.8 VR-II | f7.1 | 1/800 SS | ISO-1400

There you have it, my friends.Thanks so much for reading along. I think I have had more “wow” images in previous years, certainly, but I like that I was really able to distill this selection down to key moments – in the end the moments and memories are what matter, not how creative you got and how much you pushed the photographic envelope.

Perhaps in 2016 I can do more of the latter. For now, I am getting ready to head back to the Kalahari, one of my favourite self-drive safari destinations. Look out for more images upon my return!I wish you all the very best for the coming year!

May God richly bless you in your coming and going, and in your life’s journey with those you love most.

 

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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!

Morkel Erasmus

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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