Monday 2 January 2012

My Top 20 for 2011

It's that time of year again...a time for resolutions and reflection. I think most nature photographers make resolutions about visiting more exotic locations and getting that one elusive image that keeps evading them...and I would be lying if I said I don't have at least some aspirations like that. On the whole I would just like to enjoy my photography this year. It seems like it could be a year with many trips that are 50/50 on whether they would actually happen. There are also family considerations for us and therefore I think that whatever I get to photograph and wherever I do get to travel to, I would just like to take in the "moment" a bit more, and enjoy the images that I do get to capture. The past year was filled with wonderful photographic moments for me. It was also the year I switched brands from Canon to Nikon, and the year in which our first child was born. Lots to reflect on. Lots to look forward to in 2012...

I started my blogging in 2011 by looking back at my trips and best photos for the year (you can see the blog post HERE). This year I want to do the same, though I am going to structure it a bit differently. Last year I started out by wanting to pick a veritable "Top 10", but I ended up with an effective "Top 12" since I just couldn't pick between the last 3 shots.

This year I thought I would try and put together a "Top 20"...mostly because I would like to think I took more "keepers", but also because I thought I would divide it up according to content a bit more distinctly. I also wanted to at least pick something from every trip I undertook - which means that I might have excluded some images from an "absolute" top 20 perspective, but I also want something representative of the entire year and not just one trip where I might have gotten better images on the whole than on another trip.

I decided to structure it as follows:
Top 5 Landscape
Top 5 Avian
Top 10 Wildlife

All of these "lists" will appear in chronological order...thus I can't say which ones I like more than others per se...just posting them in the order of when in the year they were photographed. Due to the pixel width of the blog you will notice that portrait-orientation images will display better than landscape-orientation images. Thus I will often be posting links to higher resolution images of those shot in the landscape orientation. I can recommend clicking through to those as some of them really need to viewed at a higher resolution.

So, without further a due, let's dive right in!


Top 5 Landscape

# 1 - "Heavenly Cosmos"

I live in an area that is known for its "cosmos season" in autumn when millions of these wildflowers erupt from the soil to colour the otherwise drab grassy plains in an array of pink, white and purple. Every year I try to capture an image of these seemingly endless meadows that do them justice. I'm not entirely happy, but this is one of my best attempts to date (the sunset wasn't too shabby either). I shall be trying again soon...

# 2 - "Endless Lands"

My wife and I (along with our young baby daughter) were taking a road-trip and stopped for a well-deserved few days in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, South Africa. The cabins we stayed in sat high in the Maluti mountains (part of the greater Drakensberg range) and overlooked a marvelous vista beneath. We had rainy weather for most of our stay, but our last morning's sunrise proved useful. (High resolution version HERE)

# 3 - "Starry Starry Karoo Night"

Some of you will know that I love capturing images of the African night sky. I wish I was able to get away from the densely populated area I live in more regularly to escape the light pollution and be able to sit under this expanse more often. This image was captured in the Mountain Zebra National Park, South Africa, which is situated in the Karoo desert of the Eastern Cape.

# 4 -"Chintsa Sunrise"

We were visiting my brother-in-law who lives in East London on South Africa's Wild Coast region in the Eastern Cape when I captured this image. I went out early one morning with my friend Glen Bradshaw (check out his work HERE). It was overcast but we hoped for some good light. In the end, the sun never really showed itself, but I did like the moment I captured here. I hope to shoot more seascapes in the future, but my love for the African bush keeps me from frequenting our wonderful coastline...let's see what 2012 has in store!

# 5 - "The Sunset Rocks"

During a weekend spent with friends on the South African Highveld Meander, a route that includes an array of wonderful fly-fishing locations, I spent one afternoon photographing from a rocky outcrop in overcast weather, once again hoping the light would swing in my favour. For a few brief seconds, it did! I was focusing on some formations to the right and suddenly felt the warmth of sunlight on my cheek. I swung around immediately and had about 2 minutes to compose some shots before the sun faded again.

Top 5 Avian

Time to hit those feathered friends of ours! I did not quite do as much "focused" avian photography during 2011 as I would have hoped to...but then again my time is limited and I had so many wonderful wildlife sightings - but we'll get to that.

# 1 - "Flying Secretary"

Going into the year, my library was in desperate need of some decent images of the iconic and quirky raptor called the Secretary Bird. During our trip to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in South Africa, I was lucky to capture a pair of them. This one first hunted a snake, then gulped it down, and finally started that awkward running take-off, and I was happy to capture this pose as it took flight. These birds have now been classified as VULNERABLE according to the IUCN Red List (see HERE), with their population rate indicated as "declining". Much research is currently being done on the reasons for this decline, with answers hopefully to come. (High resolution version HERE)

# 2 - "Roller Breakfast"

I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Botswana's Chobe National Park (Savute region) and the Okavango Delta during 2011. This is part of my venture with Orient Express Botswana where I accompany a few photographers to the group's luxury safari camps in these pristine locations for an amazing photographic experience (see HERE). I saw this Lilac-Breasted Roller landing on a perch close by with a grasshopper in its mouth. Previous experience of this behaviour allowed me to prepare for this shot...I just waited for it to flip its meal into the air and pressed the shutter.

# 3 - "Spoonbill Spat"

Since a lot of my avian photography occurs close to home over weekends, I simply had to include an image from our local rookery (set on an island in the local duck pond). Having an image with great interaction and light such as this made the choice easy. These two African Spoonbills were engaged in what looked like a marital tiff. Guess who's the male???
(High resolution version HERE)

# 4 - "Vulture Mayhem"

This sighting from our trip to the Kruger National Park is one I will never forget - not only for the sights and sounds, but also the smell!! An elephant had died in the bush and the vultures were having a blast. The previous day there were apparently lions guarding the carcass, something which I would have loved to see but missed. I still need to work through many images taken at this scene but liked this one the most thus far. It's quite tricky getting an image with structure and composition from this kind of chaos. (High resolution version HERE)

# 5 - "Ebb and Flow"

I shared this image not too long ago here on SAFFAscapes. This was captured in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa, which is set in the Kalahari desert. Flocks of Red-Billed Quelea would move from shrub to shrub in search of food. The way they moved reminded me of a large organism, and once can see that predators can get confused by this. Here I tried to capture the tension between the birds that were still perched and those that had started to fly to the next spot. (High resolution version HERE)

Top 10 Wildlife

This was a really tough call to make, as I really had a Top 20 set of wildlife images alone. In the end, I had to be ruthless and cut out some of my favourites in order to get a good representation of my travels throughout the year.

# 1 - "Mountain Zebra Launch"

Since we visited the Mountain Zebra National Park and since I do love this quaint little reserve a lot, I felt it appropriate to post an image from this location. This Cape Mountain Zebra took off on a trot right as I pointed my lens at it. These animals were saved from the brink of extinction at the turn of the century after this park was proclaimed. Today it's the home of these equine beauties, as well as Cape Buffalo, Black Rhino, Cheetah, Aardwolf (we actually saw 2 of them but no real photo opportunities!), Eland and many more. You can read more about the park HERE.

# 2 -"Savute Lion Cub"

We found a pride of lions in Savute, Chobe National Park, Botswana, doing what they do best - sleeping. We left them and returned in the late afternoon as they started to wake up for the night's hunt. I liked the filtered golden light coming through the acacia trees, and how it hit this proud young cub. (High resolution version HERE)

# 3 - "Glaring Hippo"

One of the perks of my safaris in Botswana with Orient Express is being able to photograph wildlife and birds from a very low angle on small boats afloat the Okavango Delta. This hippopotamus was giving me the eye...(High resolution HERE)

# 4 - "Complete and Otter Mischief"

I stopped by the Marievale Bird Sanctuary early one morning en route to another meeting, and had some of my kit in the car. I popped into one of the hides I wouldn't normally visit and was very surprised to see a family of Spotted-Necked Otters swimming and playing close to the hide, oblivious to my presence. This was a first real sighting for me. Soon one of them emerged with the remains of a catfish it had caught earlier, and started to have at it right in front of me. I had a fixed telephoto lens on my camera and had to stand at the farthest end of the hide to get this full frame image of this intriguing character. Those naughty eyes tell it all...(High resolution version HERE)

# 5 - "Playful Elephant"

Elephants were frequently sighted during our trip to the nothern Kruger National Park...yet few of them delivered quite the image I was hoping for. This youngster was playfully twirling a mopani branch around in the very last light of the day. I love the eyes of elephants and this was a good opportunity to use the eye as a strong focal point in an image that had elephant skin everywhere, even in the background. This is a full frame image, captured at an amazing ISO setting of 6400. (High resolution version HERE)

# 6 - "Super Impala"

This is another image I actually shared as a PhotoPost on this blog earlier in the year. Impalas are very graceful antelopes, especially when they prance and run around. They often get overlooked in the Kruger Park (where this image was taken) due to their sheer numbers and how often one gets to see them. They also move like lightning and needless to say I was absolutely stoked when this image came onto my camera LCD upon reviewing the sequence I shot of this young ram jumping. (High resolution version HERE)

# 7 - "Looking for trouble"

Spotted Hyenas are fascinating subjects to observe and photograph. Their social structure, behaviour and anatomy are unlike any other African mammal. These two were skulking along very early one morning in the northern region of the Kruger National Park in heavily overcast conditions. Once again the Nikon D3s delivered at ISO-6400. I loved the similar poses here, and the B&W conversion added the mood I was looking for.

# 8 - "Leopard Ascent"

The entire story behind this image was documented in a lengthy blog post with many more images of the sighting. You can read all about it HERE. If you don't want to read all that, I'll just let this image speak for itself. Another high ISO capture: ISO-4000.

# 9 - "King of the Dune"

Ever since discovering the magic of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, I wanted to photograph a magnificent black-maned Kalahari lion on a red sand dune. This image became a reality during our recent trip. Captured in the very last light of day (ISO-3600). (High resolution version HERE)

# 10 - "Cheetah Rumble"

The cheetah sightings on our recent trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa, were out of this world. I opted not to duplicate species when posting this Top 10 Wildlife selection...if I did I would probably have filled 5 or 6 of the slots with cheetah images taken during this last trip. This one is my current favourite. These two cubs were playing with each other while their mother was getting ready to stalk and bring down a springbok for brunch. (High resolution version HERE)


Well, there you have it...I certainly would like to share some more images, but I need to leave some stock on the shelves for the "lean" periods of 2012 when I might not be traveling to obtain new images to share with you, haha. Please feel free to drop me a comment, telling me which was your favourite, and WHY? If you saw any other image during the year on my Facebook page, website or here on SAFFAscapes which you feel should have been here, let me know!

Watch this space in 2012 for many more images from my recent trips, as well as potential images from Zimbabwe, the Masaai Mara and still more from the Kalahari...stay tuned! could I exclude my favourite photographic subject of 2011? This is the one subject I took the most individual photos of...have you guessed? It's our little Aimee, our firstborn...

May you all have a wonderfully blessed 2012, filled with good light on good sightings, and with the necessary health of body and mental fortitude to follow through with all your travel plans. Most of all, ENJOY your photography! I know I am planning to...

Morkel Erasmus


  1. Wow! A very productive year, with many beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Loved the wildlife photo's the best and of course Aimee's introduction. Congrats

  3. Morkel

    Very few photographers are able to present such a diverse portfolio of excellent images.

    Well Done.

    Leo Theron

  4. Hey Morkel.

    Great portfolio of a great year. And we got to share a dop and fire.

    Favourite Landscape - Sunset rocks.
    Favourite bird - has to be the LBR
    Favourite mammal - Leopard ascent

    Hope you have another great year in 2012.

  5. Great diverse portfolio and I really love the little roller - perfectly captured.
    Happy new year and lots of good light!

  6. What fab photos lov them all. Hope you have a successful year in 2012.

    Fav Landscape--Chinsta Sunrise
    Fav Bird---Roller Breakfast
    Fav Mammal--Cheetah Rumble

  7. Hey Morkel,

    Awesome 'em all...especially the last image. She is adorable...reminds me of when my 4 year old daughter was that age. Watch out they grow way too quickly.

  8. Beautiful images Morkel! How truly fortunate you are to be able to visit so many lovely places on our continent!
    Fav Landscape - Heavenly Cosmos (I love colour)
    Fav Bird - Spoonbill Spat
    Fav Mammal - Otter Mischief

  9. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and for the kind comments everyone!

  10. Lochner Pretorius4 January 2012 at 12:26

    Wow Morkel! Well done! Ek is 'n groot fan! Dis werklik besonders! Ek hou veral van die "Roller Breakfast" een. Keep it up!

  11. Those are great! My favorite is Leopard Ascent. Congratulations on your cute firstborn!

  12. The whole idea of a top 20 for the year is awesome. The leopard ascent picture is my favourite. Not only of your top 20 but of all time. Reasons are ; 1 - Considering it is taken at Kruger it is an unbelievable image in many many ways 2 - The story behind the image captures everything about why I am so in love with the african bush.

  13. Dear Morkel, Thank you for sharing all your top photography... it is all magnificent... and also inspiration... my favourite is the leopard shot... then the secretary bird... then the King of the dune... so so so so VVWD! Cant wait for all your amazing shots in 2012!

  14. I really appreciate your kind comments Basil, Jason, Ron and Lochner!

  15. Gregor Bergquist6 January 2012 at 00:03

    My favourite would be in order:
    1, King of the dune
    2, The Otter
    3, Leopard ascent
    4, Cheeta rumble

  16. Hyenas were my favourite. The low camera angle, and BW treatment added to the "toughness" of these animals.

  17. Very impressive series of shots! 2011 was definitely a good year for you! The story behind the leopard makes it very special, but my favourite is also the hyena shot. It's full of emotion and the symmetry (not sure if that's the right word, but you know what I mean) creates an amazing effect! Well done!

  18. Really like 'Ebb and Flow' Morkel- creative and well thought out!

  19. I find all of your landscapes serene but (a strong personal opininion) a little overcooked in PS.

    Of the birds, I did enjoy the queleas. I've yet to get a decent well composed shot of these.

    .. and in wldlife, your hippo and perhaps the hyena really caught my eye.

    Last but not least, enjoy the baba, they leave home a lot sooner than you think!


  20. I truly appreciate your kind and honest feedback Laura, Peter, Chris, Mike and Gregor...

  21. As I never go to the ODP avian section, I missed your roller! Very beautiful, what a timing!!!
    I have a little something more specifically for the young Savute lion, the leo climbing and the king of the dunes (love the soft, without too much contrast feel ;-) ).


  22. Great compilation Morkel. Hope 2012 is as good!

  23. Both thumbs up for you, excellent, excellent, excellent!

  24. Absolutely awesome photography Morkel! I like every single pic and the landscape pics make me dream :-)