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Photographing Lions

Perhaps more than any other species, lions often represent a photographic challenge to the first-time safari traveler. As charismatic as they are, these big cats spend significant amounts of time lying around resting; they typically allow safari vehicles to approach very close, and many novice photographers return from safari with an album full of high-angle, close-up shots of sleeping lions - which hardly does justice to the "King of the Beasts". Instead, try to capture images that convey energy, vitality, and majesty.

 

 

Be ready for action. If you are lucky enough to watch lions on the hunt, it can be an incredibly memorable experience that is often over in seconds (more often than not ending in failure) - check all camera settings (including High Speed Continuous drive mode) and be prepared before the action begins. Whenever lions are on the move, there is a chance for excitement, so be ready!

 

 

 

Take a step back. Often, on approaching a lion sighting, guides will stop a few times to read the situation before moving in - take advantage of this to capture some "lion in habitat" shots before you close in for the close-ups. 

 

 

 

Signs of life. Although lions often appear to be comatose as they lie sprawled on the ground, their senses of small and hearing are on high alert, and they will often suddenly sit or stand up to survey their surroundings - if one lion does this it will sometimes trigger a chain-reaction and others nearby will also perk up (eyes forward, ears up). Be patient and wait for this dynamic moment, then snap quickly before they return to slumber.

 

 

Look me in the eyes. Again, if you're patient for a few minutes at a "recumbent lion" sighting, there's a very good chance that a pride member will wake up and look straight at you. It's an eerie feeling, and makes for a dramatic shot. If you can capture catchlight (sparkle) in the eyes, it just adds to the energy of the image.

 

 

 

Look for cubs. Most baby animals are cute, but lion cubs give new meaning to "adorable". And they're not nearly as sedentary as their parents - any time there are cubs at a sighting be ready to capture images of them jumping on their parents, pestering their sleeping relatives, play-fighting, and stalking butterflies.

 

 

 

 

The MGM Roar. Actually, it's just a yawn (roaring lions look as though they're battling constipation), but don't tell anyone. Mouth wide open, teeth bared, and a ferocious snarl on the face, a yawning lion looks sinister; it's also often an indication that the pride is getting ready to start hunting. Keep pressing the shutter release to capture a series of images, and then choose the best one.

 

 

 

It's all about light. Between their tawny golden coats and fiery amber eyes, lions were just made to photograph in the early morning and late afternoon light. This is not always a factor within one's control, but be sure to "work the scene" when light conditions are right.

 

 

Use your imagination. As with any wildlife scenes, look for mystery and narrative - a lion emerging from the mist of the Busanga Plains or silhouetted against an Okavango sunset, a lone lion and a lone acacia tree on the endless plains of the Serengeti. Look for opportunities to include more than one animal in the image (as long as they are all adding value), look for patterns (ears all pointed in the same direction), reflections as they drink, and unusual perspectives (looking up at a lion on a mound). Lions represent majesty and danger, and creating images that portray this can be a fun element of your safari.

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