A night at the Oscars – WPY2015

Morkel Erasmus Morkel 1 Comment

I was fortunate to be able to spend a few days in London in October, attending the BBC/NHM Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards. It’s such an honour to have an image of mine awarded in the final 100 out of 42,000 entries, and to have it grace the cover of the annual coffee table book! But enough about my photo – I want to tell you about the overall experience of the “Oscars of Wildlife Photography“, and some impressions I had of the other awarded images on the night.

The whole thing was a bit surreal. My story with attending this big night actually goes back to 2010.

You see, I was awarded a “Highly Commended” in the Black & White category back in 2010 for this image…

On more than one day during a visit to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa we had some breath-taking cirrus cloud cover. As we drove past a dune on the right bank of the dry Auob river, I noticed this lone blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) against the backdrop of the clouds. Needless to say, I had to stop and capture this magnificent scene on my camera. It was more-or-less noon, so I experimented in black and white to better harness the harsh contrasts created by the midday Kalahari light, and the result was one of the best photos I have ever had the privilege of taking.

I had just been taking my photography seriously for 9 months when I captured this image, and I’d had my first DSLR for a year by the time I entered the competition. I surely didn’t realise what placing in this competition meant. When I was informed of placing in the competition, I was overwhelmed – but hearing that I would have to pay my own way to get to London and attend the awards put some water on my battery. The organisers do pay for travel for the category winners and runners up, but alas. Seeing that I had already planned a trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park for that specific October, and given the state of my finances at the time, I decided to rather stick with what I have.

To cut to the chase – I would regret that decision. Whatever my reasons and wisdom (or lack of it) was for not going, I promised myself that if I am ever lucky enough to place in the competition again, I would go to London without hesitation.

Fast forward to 2015.

I had entered again every year since 2010, and gotten images into the final round of judging every year, without cracking the nod of being one of the last 100 photos out of the 40,000+ entries every year. Seeing the calibre of photographers that were awarded, and also the calibre of photographers that entered and didn’t place, made me realise how “lucky” I was in 2010.

(for a good read on how to approach photographic competitions, read THIS POST by Gerry)

It’s easy to get despondent when you have an image that you really believe in that doesn’t make it – but I agree with Gerry – the reward is in the process and the journey. Being able to sift through your body of work with a critical eye and make that selection – that is really rewarding. And getting a placement in a competition like this surely does not mean you have arrived and that you are better than anyone else. Art is subjective after all, but there’s no denying that when it comes to wildlife and nature photography competitions, this one is the big cahuna.

When I received word that one of my photos was chosen for the 2015 WPY awards, I was obviously delighted. I think even more than 2010, because now I know how hard it is to do that. I resolved to visit London and attend the awards.

So – I got to London. The first event was a photographer’s reception at the museum where I met some of the people I’d only known online up to then. The gala event was the following evening. Hosted by my friend, ecological thriller fiction writer and one of our Wild Eye safari guests Wayne Marinovich, we headed out to the Natural History Museum in full black tie attire.

I won’t go into too much detail – it’s the kind of evening that has to be experienced in the moment…I will say this though:

As the results of this competition gets announced every year, there is quite a hubbub of discussion on the merits of each image awarded. I’ve taken part in many such discussions – obviously every wildlife photographer is going to have an opinion on the selected images, and arguably there have been choices in most years that elicit a unanimous gasp of appreciation from the worldwide nature photography community, and some that elicit furrowed brows with many people. What I can say is this – on the night, as the winners of each category got announced – I honestly did not for one second with one image displayed feel that it didn’t deserve to be there. On the one hand I think it was a very strong year of images, but on the other as well I think that being there just heightened the experience for me and the appreciation of the hard work, creativity and dedication that all of the awarded photographers put in to obtain the images that were on display. I am honoured to have been featured twice now in this competition, and feel very strongly about the credibility of this competition as a promoter of wildlife photography as an artform and conservation issues affecting our natural heritage. The winners this year are more than worthy in my opinion.

Here are some moments from the gala evening and the press unveiling the next moring…


At the entrance to the Natural History Museum in London



Look! There’s Frans Lanting!



And the winner is…

The food was top notch and the ceremony was entertaining and to-the-point. When the overall winner had been announced, they opened the exhibit for us…


Showing young Josiah Launstein from Canada his exhibits – he couldn’t make it to London and had 2 images in the “10 years and under” category.



As you exit the exhibit on the gala evening you get your copy of the coffee table portfolio book…and hey, I know the image on the cover!

The next morning I headed back for the press unveiling…and to take some better photos with my exhibition photo since Wayne’s iPhoneography skills left much to be desired (LOL, sorry my friend) πŸ™‚


An early morning interview with the overall winners…



The back-lit panel display really makes the photos come to life. This is an abstract of mud run-off by Fran Rubia from Spain



I mustered up the courage to introduce myself to the iconic Frans Lanting – what a nice guy. We also had lunch in a group with him after the press session.



And then Wayne took me sightseeing in London!


You can view the entire collection of awarded images HERE. Make sure you pop into the exhibit if you are in London or if it happens to come to your city (it’s scheduled to tour the world, even hitting South Africa from 1 December 2015).

This is my awarded image for 2015 – again in the Black & White category…the cherry on the cake is that it was chosen to be the cover of the annual coffee table book accompanying the competition!

Subjects: African Elephant (Loxodonta africana), Plains Zebra (Equus quagga), South African Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) Location: Etosha National Park, Namibia Gear: Nikon D800, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR-II @ 200mm, handheld from an underground bunker Camera Settings: f8.0; 1/640 SS; ISO-360 Post Processing: Basic adjustments, toning and monochrome conversion, local contrast enhancement, dodging and burning Story: Spending time concealed in a hide among a myriad of wild mammals that come to this remote waterhole to drink, you start looking out for that spit second when the chaos lines up into order, when you can make sense of your surroundings for 1/640th of a second, when every element in your viewfinder somehow finds the wherewithal to work together as a cohesive composition, showing you more than just the obvious ("hey, it's an elephant!"). When that moment arrives, you trip the shutter, put down the camera, and enjoy the chaos of thirsty animals at a life-giving waterhole for what it is - bliss.

I think photographers from around the world can take inspiration from the fact that this year’s overall winners of the single image and the portfolio categories of the adult competition are not full-time wildlife photographers (in that it’s their main profession and source of income).

What are you waiting for?

Entries for the 52nd competition open early in January 2016!

Morkel Erasmus

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Morkel Erasmus

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Just a regular guy, camera in hand, overcome by the beauty of the African continent, and passionate about sharing this beauty with others!

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Comments 1

  1. Haseeb Badar

    Hi Morkel !

    Congratulations ! Very nicely presented and a fun read . I never really knew that you were so new to photography when the first time you won an award at BBC , inspiring !!

    I too hope to be their one day and have a image in my blog captioned ” LOOK! THERE’S Morkel Erasmus ” !

    Best Luck for all your future endeavors !


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