Thursday 30 December 2010

My Top 10 for 2010

I really can't believe we are at the end of seems like only yesterday when we walked into this year all excited about the big things that were set to happen in our famlies, our lives, our cities, our countries and our world. Like any and every year 2010 had its fair share of ups and downs. I'm going to abstain from getting all deep and philosophical in this post (heck, those who know me well know that I do that often enough!)...and focus on one of the things that I can honestly say had only ups for me this photography. Ever since taking up this hobby (read: obsession), I have been privileged to get to know and learn from many great photographers, and looking back over the past year I can really see how my own craft has grown, evolved and morphed into what it is now.

This past year has been filled with wonderful road-trips, safaris and memories that will last a lifetime. I have once again realised what a privilege and honour it is to live in a country as diverse and beautiful as South Africa, and I truly hope I will be able to explore even more of our wonderful continent in the years to come. I was also humbled to be among the winning photographers in the BBC Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards for a photo I captured in 2009.

So I set myself the daunting task of choosing my "Top 10" images for 2010. The title is actually a misnomer - because it is a personal choice of 10 images that were memorable for me during the year. It might be that some of the images were chose because they remind me of the wonderful trip that was taken more than they strike me as being photographically exemplary...yet each one is indeed special to me, and I hope they will be to you.

What also makes this a VERY tricky choice for me is that I am essentially a "photographic all-rounder wannabe" when it comes to nature photography. I have a special affinity for wildlife but I love my landscape shooting and also avian photography. Choosing 10 images from the whole year that represents this wide array of photographic subjects I cover throughout the year is a daunting task!

Here they are, numbered from 1-10 but arranged in chronological order based on when they were captured. It is also worthy to note that there might be "better" images still lying unprocessed on my hard drives...only time will tell!

1. "Welcome to the Rainbow Nation"
 I remember so vividly the day this photo was taken. We were out in the Sabi-Sands Game Reserve with Marius Coetzee, and we were trying our best to dodge the on-and-off thundershowers that were prevalent at the time. Just as we came into a clearing - we noticed a herd of buffalo...and as we approached, the sun came out and voila!...a massive double rainbow appeared right over the herd. It was just one of those epic photographic moments. I captured many shots of this scene, but the ultra-wide angle which shows the full rainbow takes the cake for me.

f11  //  1/160 SS  //  ISO-200

2. "Overwhelming..."
The South African Highveld it notorious for its massive thunderstorms in the summer. It's also particularly notorious for its bland landscape...miles and miles of grassland interrupted only in places by clumps of trees (usually intruder-species at that). Yet, sometimes those 2 notorieties come together very nicely - as was the case on this day in early May 2010. We were away with friends for the weekend to a fly-fishing lodge in the area of Dullstroom, Mpumalanga, when on one afternoon I noticed an ominous bank of cumulus clouds building up over a lone tree on a ridge some distance away. I used a telephoto lens to add some compression to the elements and also make the tree more prominent. Sometimes, less just is more...

f8.0  //  1/1000 SS  //  ISO-320

3. "Coming Out"

Even though I had a few avian photographs that I am excited about, 2010 was a year in which I slightly neglected the birder in me. I'm hoping to change that in 2011! This wound up being the only bird on the 2010 Top 10 list. At the end of May 2010, myself and 2 friends, fellow photographers Hendri Venter and Mark Dumbleton set off to the Lowveld town of Malelane, to the farm of JC and Suzaan Rousseau. Our mission: photographing a Pied and Malachite Kingfishers from a small boat set adrift on a little pond. This was my best result from our 2 days spent trying to capture these little missiles. We used small bream (a kind of fish) captured in the same pond to bait the birds - thereby optimizing our chances of capturing the diving action where it happened.

f5.0  //  1/3200 SS  //  ISO-2000

4. "Madikwe Lionscape"
Some of you might remember this photo from a more comprehensive blog post earlier in the year. It was taken in the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa, on a glorious morning where we had this lion all to ourselves, roaring his lungs out. For much more detail about this particular sighting, check out the previous blog post here. On this particular morning I was fortunate enough to share this moment with my wife, Gerry van der Walt and Kerry de Bruyn.

f4.5  //  ISO-400  //  Blend of 2 exposures

  5. "Kalahari Dawn"
Photography is all about "painting with light"...what you do with the light available at the time and from the vantage point you are looking at. For nature photography in general, it's all about the first hour and last hour of the day...that's when the light is at its best. If the weather plays along and it's not overcast, the next issue you face is actually having something to photograph when the sweet light hits. Early one morning in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in June 2010, we were lucky enough to come across a herd of springbok grazing in the magnificent light that was filtering through the camelthorn acacia leaves.

f5.0  //  1/5000 SS  //  ISO-1250

6. "Dune Stalker"
When compiling this list of images, I was initially under the impression that I would have a lot of predators in these 10 photos, simply because we have had such a plethora of great predator sightings in National Parks all around South Africa. Yet, when I whent through the images, I could really only pick 2, especially since the collection had to be a holistic look at the year through my lens. This young male cheetah was stalking along a dune in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa, during our trip in June 2010. I love giving animals some "breathing room" in my images, and this was no exception - there were streaky clouds in the sky and the feline was walking on top of a calcrete ridge, a typical landmark in the Kalahari desert.

f8.0  //  1/1600 SS //  ISO-400

7. "Karoo Sentinel"
I had to include one "starscape" image, especially as a reminder of the many nights we spent under the magnificent African night sky. This image was captured in the Karoo desert, South Africa, more specifically in the Mountain Zebra National Park. I had the fortune of the rising full moon lighting up the mountain in the distance. I opened the shutter for 25 seconds to enable the sensor to capture as many stars as possible yet prevent it from capturing too much of the earth's rotation. The foreground and aloe were painted with an LED torch bounced off my hand for a warmer glow and to spread the light more evenly around.

f3.5  //  25/1 SS  //  ISO-1600

8. "Black Rhino"
How could I not include a rhino image in this collection, especially in light of the knock that the rhino population in Africa (and to my shame, in South Africa especially) has taken in 2010? Increased poaching (fueled by a narcissistic and idiotic notion in the Far East that the horn of this wonderful creature is good for your love life) has placed an immense strain on these animals and the commited rangers who have to guard them with their lives. This sighting was special in that it was one of my first close encounters with a black rhino (the more endangered and elusive of the two). I will however NOT disclose where it was taken...such information is detrimental to give out at this time.

f8.0  //  1/640 SS  //  ISO-400

9. "Sunrise over Goera Pan"
This is one of my favourite landscape photos of 2010. I don't know if I am biased (I probably am), but this shot just oozes a "take me to the Kalahari" feel. This was taken on a farm about 100km south of the entrance to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa. I also shared this photo via a "PhotoShare" blog post earlier, which you can read here. When I look at this shot, I feel like I am standing on that dune again, with the rising sun hitting me full in the face...

f22  //  ISO-100  //  Blend of 4 exposures

10. "Elusive Feline"
I have not shared this sighting on my blog yet, and I will probably write a thorough blog post about it sometime in the near future. Suffice it to say that in more than 20 years of annual trips to South Africa's nature reserves and National Parks (in most years visiting more than one park more than once) I had never seen a caracal in the wild...until October 2010 when myself and a friend were lucky enough to come across 2 separate caracals in the space of 20 minutes in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park!!! We followed this scruffy-looking female for more than 5km before she approached a nearby waterhole for a cautious drink. This shot was captured on her approach to the typical feline fashion.

f7.1  //  1/800 SS  //  ISO-400
 There you have it.......oh stuff it! Since I'm in a sharing mood and it was such a strenuous task selecting the right variety of shots for this post, I might just as well share my 2 "runners-up", the 2 images that just-just didn't make the cut. They will make the cut now, though, turning this Top 10 into an effective Top 12.

11. "Squirrel Rocket"
First of the "almost-made-it" bunch is this fleet-footed little guy. You might remember seeing him in my post about panning shots. These ground squirrels are real characters in the Kalahari desert. I was lying flat on my stomach in the Two Rivers rest camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, trying specifically to portray the speed of these blokes by panning with a slow shutter speed. This shot came out exactly how I wanted it to...out of hundreds of attempts.

f14  //  1/50 SS  //  ISO-200

12. "Pinning Mom"
Last, but not least, this super-cute lion cub gave us a very special sighting in the Sabi-Sands Game Reserve. It was the only cub of the litter, and the only cub in the pride. She was playing with its mother and she was getting kind of irritated with her cub. Sadly - "Supercub" didn't survive the year, which makes this image even more special.

f4.0  //  1/400 SS  //  ISO-1250

There! That officially ends the list...

May you have a very fulfilling 2011. I'm not going to wish that it all goes well and prosperous, because we all know that life just doesn't work that way. I will wish that you learn from the hardships, bask in the joyful moments, grow through the struggles, savour the love and come to the end of 2011, look back on it and not regret a thing.

May your camera also produce wonderful images and memories...

Morkel Erasmus

PS: I'll only blog on this site again next year ;)
PPS: If you enjoyed this post, please do drop a comment on the blog!
PPPS: Also remember to check out my official website and my Facebook page (links on the sidebar as well).


  1. Awesome Collection mate. Enjoy 2011 even more!!!

  2. Wow ek moet se Morkel flip dis awesome foto's rerig van die beste wat ek al gesien het..Kan net dink die lekker memories wat saam dit kom..Love die manie wat jy elke foto verduidelik het ook..

    Cheers buddy

  3. Great shots all round Morkel. Well done on a year of great images. Look forward to see more of your work in 2011!

    Hope you and your wife have the most amazing New Year!!


  4. This is a great collection Morkel! Really something to be proud of.

    Good luck with all your endeavours in 2011!

  5. A perfect collection Morkel for a 2011 calendar. 2,5,6,7 are my favourite and quite moody. Hats off for the kingfisher - I am still struggling to get one. All the best for the 2011 and I am looking forward to see more of your posts on BPN. Sylvia

  6. thanks so much for the kind comments, folks...

  7. A great selection of images for 2010 Morkel. Love the ground squirrel and the B&W's. Arne

  8. WOW, awesome pics Morkel. Can't wait to see more of your pics in the new year.

    Have a blessed 2011.


  9. I recognize a lot of these!!! Great set and hope you have a Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

  10. A beautiful collection, Morkel!
    Gorgeous 5 and 7!!
    Best wishes for 2011!


  11. thanks a lot for the kind words Wolf, Roman, Danie and Arne...

  12. Pieterjan Grobler2 January 2011 at 14:47

    Awesome Top 12. My favorite No is 6

  13. Yeah these are all super shots Morkel, and there is a super diversity here too.


  14. thanks Pieterjan and JC for your kind comments...

  15. Lovely expect more exceptional shots this year from you Morkel.
    And all the best for this year.

  16. Morkel, indeed a collection to be veeery proud of. I love the highveld thunderstorm...all that energy and power.
    Looking forward to more great works from you


  17. Jaw droppingly good! Superb work, Morkel.

  18. A super collection Morkel. Must have been difficult to choose, but in the end the selection is a nice cross spectrum of you photography.


  19. Thanks for your comments Sidarth and Allan!