Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A dark future??

This blog post has been coming for a while now, since finding out more of the shocking statistics about the increase in Rhino poaching in South Africa and Africa in general of late, and since reading an article by world-famous widllife filmmakers/photographers/conservationists Dereck and Beverly Joubert about how lions, once thought the least endangered predator in Africa, are now facing extinction in the long run.

Recent blog posts by Shem Compion and Gerry van der Walt (click on their names to go and read their posts) have also served as catalysts for my thoughts in this blog post.

For me, the privilege of being able to capture forever moments of natural history in the wild places of Africa really boils down to leaving a legacy...something tangible that might still be able to be enjoyed long after all that we've seen and all that we've come to love in Africa (and other wonderful locations around the world) has passed away and been replaced by garbage dumps and concrete living quarters. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those "tree-huggers" who will chain themselves to whaling ships or despise all technological advancement (although I do think whaling is disgusting and that some technology cripples us more than it enables us to better conserve our planet) fact I do drive an SUV (maybe not as big a gas-guzzler as a Hummvee but one that at least gets me where I need to be in Africa, potholes in the roads being more dangerous than the wildlife these days), and I do live in a bustling town of industry and I do in fact work in a field that creates a bit of pollution. But one thing I know...I love Africa. I love her vibe, her cadence, her charisma, her unbridled energy and most of all, her natural beauty.

I find myself longing for days long gone when explorers such as Livingstone and Hemingway stood atop the kopjes of the African plains, and looking out in all directions all they saw was a mass of animal life as far as the eye could see. Large herds of elephants with tusks thrice as long as a man...buffalo herds that made the great wildebeest migration look like a flea circus...clans of wild dog that roamed vast grasslands and outnumbered even large predators like lions. These men could only but capture their fascination with Africa in their writing, and boy do these tales excite...grand sweeping prose that makes you yearn for times gone by with a thick lump in your throat. These days we have the tools to make those memoirs even more vivid...our cameras. The majesty and elegance and beauty of this continent of ours is now in our hands to portray to all who would perhaps stop by our blogs, read our books or stumble upon our images on a calendar or in a magazine, and if I can evoke those same feelings in at least one other person, I would be ecstatic.

The fact that poaching of rhinos (for the supposed medicinal value of their horns) is rising at an alarming rate all over Africa, and more specifically in the national parks and wildlife reserves of South Africa, has sparked these ideas into another direction. What if the only rhino/cheetah/leopard (fill in the blanks) that my children will ever get to see, are the ones that I have had the privilege of taking photos of during my lifetime??? What if I can never take them to the places I've been and show them the things I've seen, save for showing them a large print of a photo that tries in some meager way to capture the essence of the animal/bird?

This rhino bull was captured in stunning morning sidelight, and I deliberately underexposed with a moody black-and-white photo in mind to convey my concern over this species and others. I hope with all my heart to show this one to my own children one day, and then get into the car, drive to a nearby reserve and show them the real thing...

As Gerry rightly put - we need to take action on a grander scale than merely joining a Facebook group or signing up for a newsletter at Conservation organisation. How and what that involvement will be is up to each of us to determine, decide, and put into action. Until I have the funds to invest in conservation efforts and sponsor large-scale projects, I will continue to try and share the images I have the honour of taking with whoever wants to see. And I do hope we all desire very much to SEE...

Morkel Erasmus

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The narrow escape with the Lionscape...

So, I am back from a very exciting and fulfilling trip to Dullstroom and the Madikwe Game Reserve. Not only were there loads of mind-blowing photographic opportunities, but I got to spend some quality time with my wife, a few good friends and like-minded photographers like Gerry van der Walt and Kerry de Bruyn.

I thought you might get a good chuckle out of the story I want to share, as well as have even more appreciation for the image it produced upon reading it.

We set out on Tuesday morning at 5AM to drive to a section of the Madikwe Game Reserve called the Madikwe Plains...a vast open stretch of African savannah that is reminiscent of the Serengeti in many ways. We got there well before the sun peeked over the horizon, and there were some wildebeest and springbok visible on the plains, with nice mountain ridges and some clouds that were adopting glorious colour tones from the rising sun.

In a great mood to make the most of this landscape, Gerry and I hopped off the Land Rover with our cameras and tripods and started setting up in front of the Landy in the dirt road, looking to the West to capture the colours of the sunrise on the plains. All of a sudden my darling wife asked: "What's that in the road?"

When I turned my head, a cold shudder ran down my spine and tingled in the tips of my toes...even though the sun hadn't completely risen, the shape that was lying about 20 meters up ahead in the road was unmistakeably that of a full-grown male lion...and he was looking straight at us. We could certainly have broken some kind of record for high-jumping with our attempts to scramble back into the vehicle! All the while the lion was just lying there, minding its own business. It's kind of funny when you look back at it now...

Here is a shot I snapped very quickly after we'd hopped back into the relative safety of the game viewer...

As we drove closer, it turned out to be one of a coalition of 2 brothers who were dominant on these plains, but this one seemed to have bit on the short end of the stick in a scuff with his brother recently. The next moment he broke out roaring right next to us! 

A few moments later his brother answered from across the plains.

It was quite a surreal experience...they kept roaring at each other periodically, and we kept trying different photographic compositions. In the end, one of my favourites from the trip is this last one. I held my camera way down the side of the Land Rover, went ultra-wide with my wide-angle lens, and snapped 3 exposures, of which I used 2 to blend this final image together. One exposure was used for the sky and mountains (underexposed) and one for the lion and plains (zero exposure).

Here is my lion in high dynamic range...(remember to click on the images for higher res viewing)

 I would love to hear what you think about my "experience" and the resulting shots! :)

Thanks for keeping a watchful eye on my meager blog...

I will be changing the overall content of this blog to cover more of my photography than just "HDR" or "blending" since I am in the process of constructing an official homepage and will link this as the official blog to my page.

Keep shooting!!

Morkel Erasmus