THOUGHTS FROM OUR 2019 PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR
With a record-breaking, never-before-seen 29,887 entries received for our Photographer of the Year 2019 competition, our judges had an incredibly tough time deciding on our winner and runners-up. But at the end of the day, it was the pure macro-magic of Eraine van Schalkwyk’s jumping spider that caught the eye of our judges, and she was crowned our winner for 2019.
What made this image stand out head-and-shoulders above the other macro entrants was that she managed to include so much of the habitat in her capture. So often macro photography involves tight focus and shallow depth of field, where only the subject is clear. This tiny predator appears to be surfing in a tube wave, as it gazes straight at the camera. This added sense of place makes this an excellent image.
And so we launch our Photographer of the Year 2020 by sharing with you a selection of reigning Photographer of the Year Eraine’s stunning photos, along with her thoughts on photographing spiders. Do enjoy this magnificent gallery and we look forward to another successful year of celebrating wildlife photography with you all!
“We are beginning to learn that each animal has a life and a place and a role in this world. If we place compassion and care in the middle of all our dealings with the animal world and honour and respect their lives, our attitudes will change” ~ Jane Goodall
A few years ago, while visiting Punda Maria camp in northern Kruger National Park, I stood on the bed, shoe in hand, trying to figure out the best approach to kill the spider that was on the floor. We often fear that which we do not understand – I knew little of these tiny creatures and yet I was frightened of them. It was only when my knowledge grew that my fear diminished and was replaced with curiosity.
I’m fortunate to have grown up in a family of nature enthusiasts who frequent national parks around South Africa and had a grandfather whose passion and knowledge of nature photography inspired my parents and myself. I’ve always had a great love and appreciation for the natural world and its inhabitants, but never quite respected spiders in the same way.
South Africa is home to about 2,200 described species of spiders, and only a few of those are known to produce a bite that requires medical attention. An individual’s response to spider venom depends on many factors including age, health and sensitivity to the venom (much like people vary in sensitivity to a bee sting). Should a spider bite you, it would be out of self-defence or when they feel threatened, such as when they become trapped between clothes and the skin, or if they are aggravated.
With a taste for insects, spiders perform the essential ecological role of controlling insect populations, including those that damage wild vegetation and our crops, and insects capable of spreading diseases like mosquitoes. Spiders are a food source for a variety of animals, including other invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals. The food web is very intricate, and the removal of spiders from the food chain could have a devastating effect on the rest of the food chain.
Armed with new knowledge, I set out to explore spiders and found that they’re not the malicious creatures I once thought they were. From the first time that I looked into the eyes of a jumping spider, their beauty and quizzical gaze captivated me.
That’s how I found myself reflecting in the same room in Pundu Maria, where I had once dispatched a harmless wall spider. I was here again, but with a different goal in mind. I wanted to photograph spiders, and hopefully take people with the same fear I once had on a journey with these spectacular, misunderstood creatures.
I started photographing spiders using an Olloclip for my iPhone and currently use a Canon 70D and Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro lens, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX Flash and MagMod diffusers. All my images are handheld and single exposures (not stacked). All spiders are photographed in their natural habitat.
Photography is a powerful means of communication. Macro photography allows me to capture detailed images of living organisms that are too small to be appreciated with the naked eye.
I want to thank Africa Geographic for providing the platform to show some of my images of spiders, and hope that these photographs will contribute towards an appreciation and understanding of them. Spiders and other tiny creatures are as magnificent as Africa’s bigger wildlife and are just as worthy of being respected and protected.
I’m indebted to Prof. Ansie Dippenaar-Schoeman for fact-checking and assistance with spider identification, and Vida van der Walt and Prof. Charles Haddad for assistance with spider identification.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Eraine van Schalkwyk
Eraine holds a degree in Microbiology, and it is during the zoology part of her course that she learned more about spiders, prompting her interest in spider photography. For the past two and a half years, she has spent most of her free time searching for and photographing these interesting creatures. To see more of her photographs take a look at her website, and her Facebook and Instagram pages.