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How I got the shotShowcase

2023 Showcase Winner: Craig A. Elson

By January 24, 2023No Comments
Black and white photo of four gemsbok in the distance waling across a dune. Gemsbok in Light - The Descent, Skeleton Coast, south of Walvis Bay, Namibia, 2023 Showcase Best in Category, Mammals © Craig Elson

Gemsbok in Light – The Descent, Skeleton Coast, south of Walvis Bay, Namibia, 2023 Showcase Best in Category, Mammals © Craig Elson

Best in Category: Mammals

Why is this photo special?

Returning to Namibia this year for the first time in 24 years, one of the images I most wanted to capture was an aerial shot of gemsbok “small in the frame” amidst the country’s iconic sand dunes.  I love wildlife images that convey a sense of place with the animal(s) in its environment, and this can often be best conveyed with an aerial perspective.  I managed to find all these elements, and then some, on my final helicopter trip just inland from the Skeleton Coast, south of Walvis Bay.  The interplay of light and shadow, the texture of the sand, the leading lines of the animals’ tracks, and the silhouetting of the gemsbok in B&W all come together to make this image.  My work encompasses wildlife, landscape, and aerial photography and this image is the best representation of all three combined that I have managed thus far.

The technical stuff

There were no special circumstances involved in capturing this image, other than understanding how to best shoot aerial images from a moving helicopter – namely, very fast shutter speeds, a wide open aperture on fast lenses…and making sure your camera is secured to a shoulder harness!  Other than that, it was all about evaluating the scene and framing the composition.

I always have two camera bodies with me on flights – one with my “go to” landscape aerial lens, the 24-105mm f/4, and the other with my 70-200 f/2.8 for potential wildlife and abstract detail shots.  I knew that to keep proper distance from the animals so as not to disturb them but also to still capture them small in the frame I would likely need a longer focal length than 105mm.  It turned out I was just barely right, as this uncropped image is at 111mm.

Sony a1
70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II with 1.4x extender
1/3200s, f/4, ISO 250 @111mm
BlackRapid Double Breathe Harness

Photo credit:  Craig Elson Photography

About me

I am a Los Angeles based wildlife, landscape, and aerial photographer.  I began shooting nature photography sporadically more than 30 years ago as a way to document my love for travel but in 2016, after a trip to Africa for the first time in 18 years, my photography pursuits went to another level, and it is now a daily part of my life.  My favorite place to be is anywhere in Africa, capturing images of its majestic wildlife and landscapes in golden light.

I have been fascinated with the wild world and all its creatures since I was a young boy when I would devour books about wildlife and then spend hours studying and drawing pictures of what I had just read about.  Getting to travel to Africa for several months after graduation from college was a life changing experience and I have always been drawn back there, increasingly so as my photography pursuits have evolved.  I love photography because I feel it is the perfect marriage of art and science, the creative and the technical – it allows me to use both sides of my brain in a way that nothing else in life does, which I find endlessly interesting.  Several accomplished photographers I have had the privilege of traveling with and learning from have dramatically impacted my photography, including Tin Man Lee, Denise Ippolito, Paul McKenzie, Federico Veronesi, and Marc Adamus.

I am a new NANPA member and this is the first Showcase I have entered.

Memorable moments

The moment I captured this image was incredibly memorable for me, prior to it winning any awards or receiving any recognition.  I remember grinning from ear to ear as I tripped the shutter because of the sense of satisfaction I felt from taking an image that I had planned for in my mind’s eye months in advance.  I knew I had “nailed it,” so to speak.  And to have the scene in real life exceed what you had imagined was a very special moment.

Instagram: @craigelsonphotography

See all of the Top 26 winning images from NANPA’s 2023 Showcase nature photography competition.

Top 26