Photographing Lion on the hunt
Every wildlife photography enthusiast would love to have that exhilarating photo story of a hunt or a stalk so let’s dive into photographing this! Most hunts don’t end up in a kill, as only 30% of actual hunts are successful for these predators.
Although watching lion calculate their hunt is exciting, it remains quite difficult to photograph. How do you remove the “gore” from a good photograph?
Let’s explore Janine’s guidelines:
- Try and photograph the actual sprint, or leap by the lion while the chase is ongoing.
This type of photography is very dependent on its background though, as you have to zoom out sufficiently to photograph the entire scene. Long grass and bushes can make this very difficult.
- Photograph the kill from the side of the animal where the skin is still intact.
Usually, they try to reach their meal through the softest part of the body, which is usually the belly. Photographing the kill from the back and waiting for the lion to look over it can be a great shot while avoiding the gory detail. From a photographic perspective, it looks good to have striking furs, such as a zebra or a giraffe.
Lioness and cub at giraffe kill. © Janine Krayer
The art of the hunt
General tip: Utilize low-standing sunlight and shoot into the sun creating a golden atmosphere.
Close-up portraits of a red face – not showing the prey – compartmentalizes the scene and can look quite intense. As the feeding progresses the skeleton of the prey tends to offer amazing frames for the lion’s eyes and face.
When watching a pride kill or eat, focus on the unavoidable interaction between the lions. Fighting out pecking orders, growling, or playing while waiting for their turn provides you with great chances of telling a story. If the pride has lion cubs, they often get introduced to the meat as early as two months old. While they don’t know how to feed properly yet, they love to play around with the carcass and fight with each other for bits and bobs.
Sub adult lion rests during a feed. © Janine Krayer
Elephants, who often die of natural causes during the dry season offer a particularly great playground for cubs to play on while the adults are feeding.
Slow shutter speed of a lion and vulture. © Sabine Stols
Pro tip: look out for cross-species interaction. Any larger kill is bound to attract scavengers that compete with them for the food source. With a bit of patience from your side, the feeding site will eventually change as the pride become less interested and their tummies full up. Pride and dominance don’t allow them to give up on their prey entirely though often creating a tug of war with jackals, vultures and sometimes even hyenas that are attracted by the smell.
Lions and water
Unlike tigers, these cats dislike getting wet, making it a rare and very special occasion to witness. It often becomes comical to watch them, when they’re forced to cross a stream, swim or even feed in the water as it’s an unusual sight to watch one of the biggest predators on land, hesitating and throwing a hissy fit.
Initial hesitation often gets replaced by frequent hissing and water slapping to ensure that the crocodiles know that they’re up against a worthy opponent keeping them at an arm’s length.
Your best chance for seeing them swim or do a water-crossing in Africa is definitely in the Okavango Delta where prides are often forced to cross streams of water to access their entire territory.
Male lion exits the Chobe River after a meal. © Janine Krayer
As water is usually reflecting the sky, and representing a very strong light source, you might find yourself wanting to overexpose the lion to make sure you see all the details unless you work with spot metering, of course. Even if you do not get the chance of watching a lion swim, simply watching them drink is generally an amazing chance for great photographs. If, and there’s always an if, there is no grass in front of them blocking their noses.
Once again, you want to be on eye level when taking that shot, and capture the moment when they just lift their head, glance up or have water droplets running down their chin.
The more that come to drink, the better. However, the luckier you need to get as everything needs to line up perfectly. So their heads, faces, ears and tails, are not overlapping awkwardly.
Tip: For multiple and single lion shots, Janine would recommend a slightly smaller aperture to ensure that the snout, tongue and water droplets are as sharp as the eyes(for example, F7.1 – F8). This is another reason why a low-angle shot would be preferable, as it will then still allow for a nice, smooth background.
Pride of lions enjoying a drink. © Charl Stols
Be patient with getting wildlife photographs
As you can see, photographing these predators can be very multifaceted thanks to their social interaction. In time, knowing your subject, watching them and understanding their behaviour will help you capture gorgeous images.
From Janine’s perspective, even if a picture does not turn out to be ideal, to her, the process of taking it and waiting for the perfect shot while watching nature unfold, is the most satisfying and beautiful thing to do. That is when animals become real, as you start relating to their behaviour, and understanding their choices. An apex predator, like a lion that is often portrayed as savage, becomes worthy to protect, as you can see their place on this planet.
Conservation and wildlife photographs
Lions are listed as vulnerable as their numbers and natural habitat continue to plummet. In many places in Africa, human-wildlife conflict is a real issue for farmers and cattle herders, but creating an understanding and sharing the space with wildlife is the first step to acceptance.
Photographic tourism creates an international interest and brings money to protected areas, which in turn limits poaching and is a sure way of supporting endangered animals. While watching a growing number of cars around a pride of lion can be cringe-worthy one must understand that it is these tourists that provide indirect protection by ensuring that their natural habitats will remain intact. So next time you’re in the Masai mara, try not to worry about the other cars and just enjoy taking your photographs.
Pangolin Photo Safaris in Masai Mara, Kenya. © Janine Krayer
Game viewers are almost completely ignored by most prides as it’s something they have grown up with. To them, it is simply perceived as another piece of the landscape that happens to move sometimes. They continue as if we were not there. So while tourists can often destroy a place, they happen to be the lifeline of wildlife in Africa.
If it is your dream to come and enjoy the African game yourself one day, check out our exclusive deals. Book a free call with our travel consultants to discuss your trip to the Masai Mara, Chobe, Kalahari or Delta! In the meantime, check out our photographer’s guide to Botswana in our new e-book.