Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Shake it Off

All is quiet, except for the sound of doves and guinea fowl in the distance.
The sky is bright blue on a winter's morning.
I am sitting in an underground research bunker in +Etosha National Park in Namibia.
He approaches from the southeast, ambling like they usually do. His footfalls are quiet, eerily quiet, like they usually are for these giants.

I see the secretion from his temples and down the inside of his hind legs - he is in musth, an aggravated hormonal state which makes elephant bulls particularly agitated.

The bunker provides protection but you still feel small and powerless when an African Elephant bull gets this close. As he approaches the waterhole he inevitably passes by our bunker.

He sees us, smells us, whatever but he notices us.
An indignant shake of the head, and the dust puffs off him.
A deliberate trip of my shutter.
I have my image.

By the way, I chose the title of this photo long before Taylor Swift had a hit song with that name...

Nikon D800
Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 36mm
Kenko PRO Circular Polariser
f11  |  1/200 SS  |  ISO-900

This photo is Copyrighted © Morkel Erasmus.  
click on the photo to view at proper resolution and sharpness

I hope you have a fabulous day!

Morkel Erasmus

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Madikwe: May 2010 (Part 1)

Hey everyone! I am carrying on my huge backlog of trip reports as and when I find the time to do so - so herewith the start of another belated adventure for you to enjoy.

Back in May 2010 my wife and I were fortunate to be invited by my friend Gerry van der Walt to spend some time in the Madikwe Game Reserve, situated in the North West province of South Africa. This was the first time we visited this interesting reserve, situated in the "Marico" bushveld of Herman Charles Bosman's lore. The entire area is malaria free and the history of the development of the reserve is quite fascinating. 

We arrived late in the afternoon, and after clearing the gate permit we drove to our home for the next few days, Nkurru Lodge. En route we encountered an elephant road block (these guys were a bit feisty and held us up for a while), a brown hyaena and a lone lion (albeit these last two were found in near-darkness walking next to the road).

Day 1
The following morning, Gerry had me up early to scout for one of the local packs of African Painted Dogs with him - this park is known for its success with these endangered predators. The prime goal of this morning's venture was to collar one of the dogs for research, a personal conservation project driven by Jono Buffey, who was also visiting Nkurru and was heading out later that day. Unbeknownst to me at the time was that a few years later I would be involved in photographic safaris with Gerry and Jono, in the form of Wild Eye!

We didn't find the dogs that morning, but we had a lovely drive and I got to see the beauty of Madikwe properly...

Later that day, we were joined by Kerry de Bruyn as well, and we set off on our afternoon drive.

A large elephant bull was our first compliant subject for the afternoon...

We spent the better part of the afternoon tracking mating lions in thick bush, we had some visual but no real photographic opportunity, and we also spent some time at the famous Tlou dam and doing some bird photography.

Day 2
The following morning we set off VERY early, heading out to an area called Madikwe Plains. I wrote a comprehensive post about this morning's events back in 2010, and you can read all about it HERE.

Following our surprise encounter with the old guy in the post above, we also found his brother (by following the answered roars in the distance) - he had a drink in front of us and then passed out like a proper lazy male lion should...

We were also treated to some springbuk rams sparring. Madikwe is one of the few places where you can see springbok and impala in the same biosphere, since it's a transition zone between bushveld and Kalahari...

A lone elephant bull and a breeding herd of elephants also provided ample entertainment on this particular drive.

A young calf in particular was chock full of attitude...

The next moment the radio crackled to life and we were notified of a sighting of the elusive Painted Dogs!! We were off, hoping they would stick around for us...

You'll have to stick around for the next episode...

Morkel Erasmus

Monday, 3 November 2014

Sleepy Eyes

I just love discovering a gem in my archives. Unlike what many people may think, I am not on safari for the better part of the year - I actually have 3-5 opportunities to go to the bush for periods of between 3 and 8 days every year, depending on leave roster at work, my Wild Eye schedule etc. So the majority of photos I put out on my blog and social media channels may actually have been taken some time ago. I'm actually just lazy in deleting excess images, so I have to inevitably go back into my archives to clean up some space. In doing so, I actually come across photos I'd forgotten I'd taken. They may not have grabbed enough of my attention in my initial processing binge after returning from that particular trip, but for whatever reason I didn't delete them initially as there was some sort of moment caught there.

Case in point, this image...

Nikon D3s
Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II
f4.0  |  1/500 SS  |  ISO-200

click on the photo to display at best resolution and sharpness
We came across this Verraux's Eagle Owl asleep in a mopani tree along the Mphongolo loop north of Shingwedzi camp in the Kruger National Park. The scene was cluttered and the bird was asleep, but something about the moment spoke to me, and I snapped it.

Fast forward to last week, when I was looking for a "fresh" photo to process for the popular "black and white challenge" that is viral among photographers on Facebook. I scrolled over this one again, and immediately saw the moment that spoke to me initially when tripping the shutter, and knew that it was a good candidate for monochrome...

After some tweaking in Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex I was happy.
The result??

click on the photo to display at best resolution and sharpness
Quite a different feel, mood and effect, right?
It's actually about more than the owl - and that's what I like.
It's not about what it evidently is - it's also about what else it is...
Photography should evoke more than it describes, if it's to be seen as an art-form...
I hope these statements above resonate with you?

Now, go dig up those gems in your own archive!
Until I write again...

Morkel Erasmus

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

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

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