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Lions & Other Big Cats Archives

Lion Male, Close-up of Head and Shoulders

Lion male (pathera leo) close-up head and shoulders

Photo Details: Male lion (Panthera leo) staring into the distance after he and another male had put a small herd of buffalo to flight, Kruger National park, South Africa. Interestingly, after the two lions headed off in pursuit, the buffalo herd, comprising eight or nine old bulls, regrouped and chased them off.

Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Canon Rebel XSi 12.2MP); Lens: Canon 70-200 F2.8L IS USM; Focal Length: 200mm; Shutter speed: 1/1000; Aperture: f/4; ISO: 200.

Additional Info: The above image was taken as the lion paused on the side of the road, close to our vehicle, allowing me to take a portrait-type picture. The aperture of f/4 at full zoom (focal length 200mm) is sufficiently wide to throw the background out of focus, allowing the main subject to stand out.

A few moments before, I took the picture below, also at full zoom and at f/4. Because the lion is further away, more of the subject is included in the frame, giving a three-quarter or head and torso view. Depth of field has also now increased, with more background detail visible. (While depth of field is usually increased by using a smaller aperture, it is also increased by any change that makes the image of the subject smaller, such as using a shorter focal length lens or moving further from the subject, as in this example).

Although the extra detail that results from more depth of field can be distracting, in this case it’s not too bad and serves to show the subject in its location — the African bush, and definitely not a European or American zoo.

Male lion (pathera leo) three-quarter view

The third picture (below) was taken while the lion was moving, at a focal length of 80mm, and shows the lion in full-figure, with even more background detail, again placing the subject in context. Although in this case it was a combination of circumstances — moving subject plus cars jostling for position on the road — that dictated composition, I like to shoot close-up, three-quarter, and full-figure shots of wildlife subjects whenever possible. You never know which one might be more useful to a magazine or book publisher.

Lion male (panthera leo) full-figure view

While the light was quiet bright, allowing fast shutter speeds of 1/1000 at ISO 200, the image stabilization (found on all telephoto Canon L lenses) also helped to eliminate the camera shake that’s inevitable when you have people in a vehicle changing position as the the action unfolds.

Lion Male Licking His Back Leg

Lion male (Panthera leo) licking his back leg

Photo Details: Close up of adult male lion (Panthera leo) turning his head to lick his back leg, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Block, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D (Digital Rebel XTi); Lens: Canon EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM; Focal Length: 300mm; Shutter speed: 1/800; Aperture: f5.6; ISO: 400.

Additional Info: Strong side-lighting brings out a range of textures in this image, highlighting the mane, white “beard” and whiskers of the lion, while leaving the rest of the subject in shadow but with enough detail to see the facial features.

Side Note: For anyone using a Canon digital SLR — or thinking of upgrading from a compact to a Canon SLR — the range of lenses available is mind-boggling and liable to cause confusion and numbness of the brain.

In an effort to take the mystery out of complex descriptions and codes and help pinpoint the right lens for specific camera models and photographic applications, please have a browse through this article on Squidoo: Canon SLR Lenses. It’s rather long, but will equip anyone prepared to read it with good overview of Canon SLR lenses and how to decipher the identifying codes.

Leopard Lying on a Rock

Leopard on rock

Photo Details: Leopard (Panthera pardus) lying on a rock against night sky, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Block, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D (Canon Rebel XS 10.1MP); Lens: Canon EOS 80-200 F2.8 zoom; Focal Length: 200mm; Shutter speed: 1/60; Aperture: f2.8; ISO: 400; External flash; 29 May 2009, 6.30pm.

Additional Info: We spotted this leopard during the early part of a night-drive (6.30pm, winter) and were fortunate that it opted to settle comfortably on a rock, as if posing for us (or because we’d ruined its hunt – see below).

I took the picture with a flash mounted on the camera’s hot-shoe. I’m not crazy about taking flash photographs of animals at night, mainly because of the harsh shadows cast by the flash and the “red-eye” effect that often occurs. Luckily in this case the leopard’s pose against the night sky eliminated the shadows, while red-eye is minimised because the animal is looking away from the camera.

There is, however, an additional reason that is making me question the use of flash for photographing wild animals at night, and that’s the sensitivity of their eyes to bright light. The whole issue of game viewing at night is a contentious one. The “night drive”, for which you need spotlights to find the animals, is a popular safari activity, but the bright spotlights evidently cause distress to the animals and, certainly in the case of predators, interfere with their hunting.

Roddy Smith, a veteran safari guide based in Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, is vehemently opposed to the use of spots at night, unless they’re covered with red filters. According to Roddy, “night-drives using conventional white spotlights are as intrusive and disruptive to animals going about their after-dark business as papparazzi are to royal girlfriends”. Read more about the use of spotlights in Roddy’s article, Safari Night Drives and the Red-Light Experience.

Cute Lion Cubs

Lion Cubs

Photo Details: Lion cubs (Panthera leo) take time out after wrestling and rolling around in the grass, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Block, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D (Canon Rebel XS 10.1MP); Lens: Canon EOS 80-200 F2.8 zoom; Focal Length: 200mm; Shutter speed: 1/250; Aperture: f2.8; ISO: 400; Date: 31 May 2009, 5.03pm

Additional Info: At this age, around four to six weeks old, lion cubs are very like domestic kittens – cuddly, playful bundles of fur. But the size of the paws is a dead giveaway, a sobering reminder of how big, dangerous and distinctly uncuddly these cats will eventually be.

When I was in Mashatu at the end of December, I photographed two different male lions mating with one of the pride females, so it’s more than likely that these cubs are the result. Lioness gestation period is 110 days, which would make the birth date around April 20, meaning the cubs are approximately six weeks old, which could be about right.

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