The Animalscape

The Animalscape

There is a kind of wildlife image that has always spoken to me deeply.

If you have been following my photography for more than a month you would have noticed that I often share these kinds of images.

I like to call it “The Animalscape”. The animal in the landscape. The landscape with the animal(s) in it.

giraffe sunrise 1 Etosha 2016
“Giraffe Sunrise” – Etosha, NamibiaNikon D3s | Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR-II@ 70mm | f5.6 | 1/320 SS | ISO-200

I guess I like it so much on the one hand because it brings together my two preferred photographic genres: wildlife photography and landscape photography.

On the other hand, and I think this is the main reason I like it: I think this kind of image paints a better context and story about the wilderness areas of Africa that are so quickly dwindling.

We cannot preserve the wildlife if we don’t preserve the habitat. And yet it is futile to preserve the habitat while killing off the wildlife. The two are interconnected, intertwined, inseparable…

elephant treeshake 1 Mara 2016
“Shake it!” – Mara Triangle, KenyaNikon D800 | Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR-II@ 70mm | f5.6 | 1/1600 SS | ISO-1000

This kind of image is all about telling the bigger story of the the species you are photographing. Where do they roam? Where do they eke out their survival? What other species live around them? What’s the weather like?

The biggest mistake you can make is to think the only way you can create an animalscape is to use a wide angle lens. Sure, wider angles work well to show as much of the environment as possible, but you either need a very big subject (think elephant or giraffe) or you need to be super close to the subject.

I often use the Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens for these shots. You can’t go too wide in most cases for fear of losing the subject in the frame. An example of a wide angle animalscape:

elephant scape 1 Chobe 2014
“Cotton Candy Clouds” – Chobe National Park, BotswanaNikon D800 | Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8@ 31mm | f5.6 | 1/400 SS | ISO-180

The wide angle emphasizes the extreme depth of the scene, the immense sky, and the elements of the landscape. The elephant is just big enough to be a key element in the composition.The mid-range zoom lens can often be used for effective animalscapes.

For this purpose my go-to lens is the Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR-II, as it’s tack sharp through the focal range, and super quick to focus.

“Long Line of Leavers” – Mara Triangle, KenyaNikon D800 | Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR-II@ 135mm | f9.0 | 1/640 SS | ISO-220

It doesn’t have to stop there, though. I find it amusing that so many wildlife photographers only feel they are using their super telephoto lenses properly if they can use it to fill the frame with a portrait of the animal’s face or full body. If a subject is deemed “too far” the possibility of a workable shot being taken is not even considered.

The telephoto compression effect can bring a different element to the animalscape. My previous telephoto was the Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II, which I traded last year for the Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR-II. You obviously won’t include as much of the landscape, but that’s not the point.

cheetah scape 1 BW Mara 2014
“Cheetah on the Plains” – Mara Triangle, KenyaNikon D3s | Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II | f8.0 | 1/800 SS | ISO-900

I hope this post encourages you to try your hand at more of these kinds of photos.I wish more wildlife photographers would venture for the contextual shot, the animalscape, to show people not just the wonderful wildlife they encounter, but also the amazing landscape in which those animals carve out an existence.

Keep clicking!

Morkel Erasmus


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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

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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