About Those Roads

Morkel Erasmus All Authors, Morkel 20 Comments

If you’ve ever visited Southern African National Parks and Game Reserves, you would have encountered animals on roads.

Now, I don’t mean impalas or zebras, I mean the big cahunas.  Predators.  They do love those roads, don’t they?

Perhaps it’s the freedom of walking along without thorn bushes scratching you all the way, perhaps it’s the nice soft feel of a scraped road on weary paw pads…point is that predators love using man-made roads to patrol their territory.

Many in the photographic fraternity frown upon including the road in your photos, as it detracts from the ‘natural look’ of the image.

I’ve got a few thoughts on this:

1. As a first choice, first-prize situation, yes I would prefer photographing that lion in a clear area off the road and in natural surroundings.
2. Often, the area next to the road is thicker than a politician’s skull.
3. Often, that’s the only shot you’re getting from the sighting.
4. I say take it. Take the photo and include the road, but be smart…USE the road.  If it’s a dirt track – use the tracks as leading lines. If it’s a tar road, look at a monochrome conversion as you’ll have a clear view to your subject and it will eliminate the odd colour of the tar road in the otherwise natural surroundings. I’d rather have a photo of the sighting in the road than none at all. We once came upon 5 cheetahs choking and eventually devouring a springbok lamb in a dirt road in the Kalahari – now tell me you won’t go ahead and take photos of the sighting despite the fact that there’s a “ghastly” road in it?

Here are a few photos I’ve taken while on safari (either in self-drive National Parks or guided in private Game Reserves) which include animals on the road and which I feel still work.

They probably won’t be portfolio shots at the end of the day, but not every photo has to be.





I’d love to have your thoughts on this – leave a comment on this post and tell me how you approach this?

Until next time, keep shooting!

Morkel Erasmus


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Comments 20

  1. Mike Blackburn

    Great post Morkel. I’ve sat in photoclubs where excellent photos have been pulled to shreds because there is a road in it. AFAIK in nature categories in many salons there is not allowed to be any man made elements in the photos. Pretty sure a road would fall foul of this.

    HOWEVER, i am of the opinion that a great photo is a great photo, whether or not it includes the road. If you see a Pangolin you aren’t going to not photograph it because it is on a road. I can’t recall ever looking at an image with a road in it and wishing that the road wasn’t there.

    Keep posting pics of animals on roads.

    1. Morkel Erasmus

      Hey Mike. Always good to hear from you! You’ve raised some good points – I never even thought to mention Camera Clubs (oh, the horror!). Took me a while to figure AFAIK out, got it now…in the end, even if you participate in Camera Clubs (I do too!), we should avoid the trap of shooting for the acceptance of the club. We need to create photos for ourselves before we think about how others will perceive them. Whether that would include a road or not is up to each photographer’s preference…

  2. Heiko Müller

    Love all these photos, Morkel. Roads are a reality, for the wild animals just as well. And they do take advantage of them. So there is nothing wrong with a road in the photo.

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  4. Lennart Hessel

    Fun reading your thoughts in this the matter Morkel.

    I can´t see no right or wrong and I would say that it is always up to the photographer and what he/she want to portray. I would always take the opportunity and capture the moment, just to document it. We don´t live in a “perfect” world so why should we always try to portray it like it is?

    Best regards

    1. Morkel Erasmus

      Hi there Lennart. Good point, I think often we try to eliminate the human element from our nature photos to keep it looking “pure”, or perhaps even to evoke a nostalgia in the viewer of a time and place where the hand of man wasn’t as pronounced and even sometimes devastating on our planet.

  5. Christi

    I am not a photographer, but I am a lover of nature and all it’s inhabitants. When I looked at the above photographs, I didn’t notice the roads. Well, yeah I did because you pointed them out, but when I looked at the first picture, wow, that’s all I saw was “wow what a beautiful creature” and then did see the road. Had this not been an article on the subject of roads, most likely I wouldn’t have noticed them. I am now going to explore you website and enjoy whatever art you have created. You have a beautiful eye for you subjects. Look forward to seeing more.

    1. Morkel Erasmus

      Hi Christi. Thanks so much for your very kind compliments!
      I’m glad you didn’t notice them. Us photographers often fall into the trap of thinking everybody viewing our photos sees things exactly like we do. A good example is the frequency with which calendar publishers just cut off parts of the images to make them fit the calendar in ways that the photographer never would…maybe because they know the majority of people who look at the calendar wouldn’t notice. Feel free to go to my website and drop me a comment there as well if you have any further questions (you can also reply here, of course).

  6. Dave Barnes

    Interesting. I have very seldom taken a photo of an animal in the road as I am not mad about it.
    But I am also the first one to disregard camera club and or forum rules and norms and capture an image as I see fit. Very often the images that stand out dont follow the crowd. 🙂

  7. Jim Robertson


    Bottom line ? If the image pleases the photographer, that is all that should matter. (yes others liking it too always helps ! 😉 )

    Mike Blackburn mentions the Camera Club issue of the roads (hand of man). In my experience, that only applies to designated NATURE competitions. Images of nature with hand of man are welcome in other competitions or general viewing. This is not just a camera club “rule”, you will find it in some/many other organizations running photo competitions as well.

    I have many “nature” shots that I can’t enter into a NATURE competition (just like I have many other images that aren’t eligible for themed competitions) but all are eligible in and “open” or “general” competition.

    The “hand of man” rule is one that has been around for years, and is no longer being adhered to by a few organizations for NATURE competitions recently. At least most don’t require the scientific name of the subject which they used to….

    1. Morkel Erasmus

      Hey Jim. Thanks for your thoughts. Of course, competitions are competitions…yet we should also not fall into the trap of taking photos for competitions or specific competitions. Sadly there are many photographers out there who go to great lengths to take images they deem worthy of something like BBC WPOTY but though the images look natural they put the animals under immense pressure to get those shots.

  8. Brett

    Man created an unnatural “scar” that has changed some animals behavior, we gotta live with it.
    First and foremost I am out there to enjoy the wild, I accept what is laid out on my photographic table as it is – record the moment, road or no road. IF I will not disturb the subject in any way ONLY then will I reposition myself to improve the shot. Your last line speaks volumes … “though the images look natural they put the animals under immense pressure to get those shots”

  9. Gemma

    I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to take a photo just because an animal was in a road. In fact I often like the juxtaposition of the images. I think the whole idea of separating “human” and “nature” is pretty artificial anyway. Would anyone, for example get all snobby about taking a photo of a lion using an elephant trial?


    Even if there we no animals on the roads, you’d capture it perfectly! Thanks for this very useful info; you’re spot on when it comes to interesting/worthwhile sightings being on roads. I click away regardless, hoping that the light/shadows on the road will be flattering to the subject. Will be taking all your advice into consideration. Great website, well done all of you.

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