Better Lion Shots

Text and photos by Jon Hill
September 2005
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Lions are one of the easiest animals to take photos of in the wild, if you can find them. It's not too tough to find them in the popular parks... just look for the line of Land Rovers and wait your turn. It's more difficult in the less-visited parks of Tanzania's "Southern Circuit". These can be brushier than places like the plains of the Serengeti and lions can hide completely just meters from the road. So when you find a pride of lions yourself and there's no one else around it can be quite special. Lions are often ambivalent toward vehicles, so they go about their business, usually sleeping, unperturbed by photographers. Getting action shots of lions is more difficult, but worth waiting for. The following shots were taken in July 2005 in Katavi Plains National Park and Ruaha National Park, both part of Tanzania's "Southern Circuit".

The following are ideas I try to keep running through my head while taking photos of these impressive animals.

1) Try to get more than one beast in the shot.

2) Don't waste your time if their eyes are closed.

3) Be ready for the action. Keep your eye on the viewfinder. This male is letting a couple of cheeky cubs know who is boss.

4) Anticipate the action. Because lions stick together, they sometimes play "follow the leader". This was the case when four lions crossed the Great Ruaha River about 40 meters in front of me. I didn't get great images of the first one to cross, but adjusted my camera settings in time to catch the next two shots.

5) Put the lions in their environment. Put that short telephoto or even wide angle lens on occasionally and see what happens, especially if the light is good.

6) Look for shots that show the intense focus that lions can exhibit. Their eyes are penetrating. Their posture often indicates directed attention and tension. They can go from complete lethargy to fully attentive in the blink of an eye. Photos that capture this can really catch the attention of viewers.

(All photos taken with either a Nikon D2x or Nikon D70 and Nikkor lenses.)

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