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Lions & Other Big Cats Archives

Leopard on the Lookout

Leopard female on the lookout, Sabi Sand Wildtuin, South Africa
Caption: Leopard female (Panthera pardus) keeps an eye out for potential prey as she moves silently through dry winter vegetation, Elephant Plains Game Lodge, Sabi Sand Wildtuin, South Africa.

Camera: Canon EOS 1D Mk II; Lens: Canon EF 70-300mm USM IS telephoto zoom; Focal Length: 280mm; Shutter-speed: 1/500; Aperture: f/7.1; ISO: 400

Leopard on the move through winter vegetation
Caption: Leopard female, partially obscured by leaves and branches, makes her way through long winter grass on a morning patrol, Elephant Plains Game Lodge, Sabi Sand Wildtuin, South Africa.

Camera: Canon EOS 1D Mk II; Lens: Canon EF 70-300mm USM IS telephoto zoom; Focal Length: 280mm; Shutter-speed: 1/400; Aperture: f/7.1; ISO: 400

While both the above leopard pictures are rather cluttered and busy when compared to the classic shot of a leopard relaxing languidly on a tree branch, they do show this cat’s superb camouflage and alert demeanour as she picks her way through the winter vegetation.

Young Lioness Prepares to Swim River

Young lioness prepares to swim river

Caption: Young lioness (Panthera leo) bares her fangs in trepidation as she prepares to swim across a river to join her mother and brother on the other side, Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia.

Camera: Canon EOS 1D Mk II; Lens: Canon EF 400mm L f/5.6 USM; Focal Length: 400mm; Shutter speed: 1/400; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO: 400.

Did You Know: Lion cubs are weaned at seven to nine months, but are unable to fend for themselves before they’re 16 months old, although they start to eat meat at about three months.

Cubs stay with their mothers for about two years, at which stage they’re old enough to join the pride on hunting excursions. While young males are expelled from the pride when they’re 2½ to 3 years old, females usually remain with the pride for their whole lives.

Male lion siblings often stay together after being forced to leave the pride by the resident dominant males and will then live a nomadic life as young bachelors until old and strong enough to compete for a territory of their own, where they will have the benefit of working as a team in challenging a pride’s resident male or males.

For more about lions and their social structure, breeding, and hunting habits, see our new article, Lion Facts and Information.

Lioness with Playful Lion Cub

playful lion cub with tolerant lioness
Caption: Lion cub (Panthera leo), eager to play, paws and prods dozing lioness, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Block, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D (EOS Digital Rebel XTi); Lens: Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM Telephoto Zoom; Focal Length: 210mm; Aperture: F5.6; Shutter Speed: 1/500; ISO: 400

Additional Info: The lioness above, in a show of maternal tolerance, was unfazed by the playful cub clambering over her and pawing her in the face. Although we assumed this was a mother and her cub, it’s possible that the cub wasn’t hers, as females within the same pride will often have cubs at more or less the same time.

This allows some females to go out to hunting while other mothers care for the babies. Cubs have the best chance of survival when a number of litters are born almost simutaneously as such cubs can be cared for communally.

When it’s time to give birth, a lioness leaves the pride and has her cubs in thick cover where she keeps them hidden until she introduces them to the rest of the pride when they’re about two months old. From this point it’s possible they can be suckled by any lactating females (called allo-suckling) as pride females suckle one another’s cubs with no bias towards their own. Thus one lioness may be seen suckling cubs of differents sizes and ages.

For more information about baby lions and their relationship with other members of the pride, see our new gallery of Baby Lion Pictures.

Leopard Portrait

Portrait of female leopard (Panthera pardus), profile view, Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa.

Caption: Portrait of female leopard (Panthera pardus), profile view, Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D (Digital Rebel XTi); Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM; Focal Length: 200mm; Shutter speed: 1/400; Aperture: f2.8; ISO: 400.

Additional Info: This image was taken quite late in the afternoon in mid-winter, so the light was fading fast. Fortunately I was using a “fast” lens – a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM zoom – that helped save the day for me. I had already cranked the ISO up to 400, which I try to keep as my limit for wildlife photography, although I will occasionally push this to 800 when I have no other options.

On my rather basic camera bodies — an EOS 400D (Digital Rebel XTi) and 450D (Digital Rebel XSi) — I’m happy to accept the small amount of visible noise at 400 ISO in return for the extra shutter speed.

The EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS is a wonderful lens for wildlife photography as the big f/2.8 maximum aperture allows shooting in low light at shutter speeds fast enough to counter camera shake and subject movement, while also throwing the background out of focus.

For the above picture, I was able to shoot at 1/400 by keeping the aperture wide open, which helped ensure a sharp image. Of course image stabilization helps, but one must also take into account the 1.6x crop factor of the EOS 400D, which meant I was using an “equivalent” focal length of 320mm.

The one downside of this lens that users regularly complain about is the size and weight, a result of all the glass necessary to provide a constant f/2.8 aperture throughout the zoom range, while not compromising on the image quality expected of a Canon L series lens.

A very popular alternative is the smaller brother — the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM zoom. This is a lens that elicits only superlatives from its users, with some swearing that it’s sharper than the f/2.8. The main advantage however is its smaller size — length of 6.8″ (172mm) v 7.8″ (197mm), and significantly lighter weight — 1.67 lbs (760g) vs 3.24 lbs (1470g).

This makes it ideal as a travel lens when weight is critical but you still need superior optical quality plus weather sealing to keep out dust and moisture. The advanced image stabilizer provides up to four stops of camera shake correction, making it easier to hand-hold than its heavier sibling. For more, including user ratings and reviews, see Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM telephoto zoom.

Lion Male Standing in the Rain

Young male lion (Panthera leo) standing in gentle rain

Photo Details: Young male lion (Panthera leo) standing in gentle rain after feeding on a recent kill, Kruger National Park, South Africa. The image has been heavily cropped and played around with in PhotoShop, but I like the lion’s expression, the visible rain drops, and damp mane — all against a backdrop of typical winter colors in the African bushveld.

Camera: Canon Digital Rebel (Canon EOS 300D); Lens: Canon EF 300mm f/4L USM; Aperture: f/4; Shutter Speed 1/500; ISO 400.

Additional Info: This image was one of the first I took with my Canon Rebel, bought in 2003, during a trip to Kruger Park to put my brand new digital SRL through its paces. I used a Canon 300mm f/4 lens that I subsequently sold (to my regret) because it didn’t have image stabilization (IS).

Although I’m a fan of Canon IS lenses and believe the technology certainly helps when hand-holding in situations where it’s simply not feasible to use a camera support, I’m coming to appreciate that long lenses deserve to be placed on tripods or other supports if one hopes to get the most out of them.

One of the books I enjoy browsing is The Art of Photographing Nature, by Martha Hill (former picture editor of Audubon magazine) and photographer Art Wolfe. Many of Art’s wildlife images featured in the book were taken with slow ISO slide film using long lenses, at shutter speeds in the 1/15 to 1/60 range, yet are pin sharp — because he always uses a tripod.

My replacement for the 300 f/4 was the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM tele zoom lens, that I’ve also subsequently sold. Although I got some good pictures with this lens, many were also disappointing — mainly because I expected too much from it.

With a lens of that focal length plus a digital camera that eliminates film costs, it’s simply too easy to attempt shots that one would never try if paying for film — then be disappointed with the results. Using a tripod or vehicle support also slows you down, forcing you to think a little more about composition. Yes, you will miss more shots this way, but the ones you do get should ultimately be more rewarding, while making you more appreciative of your telephoto lenses.

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