How I got the shot: Ben Pipe on coming face to face with a lion
Contributing photographer Ben Pipe takes us behind the scenes of this close-up photograph of a lion, which was published in our June 2022 issue.
Tell us about this image.
We were in a safari jeep in South Africa, heading out to document a white rhino collaring at Marakele National Park, when this magnificent lion strolled down the track ahead of us. Our guide was in a hurry to take us to the park, but this was too good a shot to miss. I began photographing the lion head on as it came towards us — an exhilarating experience I’ll never forget. Then, as he nonchalantly passed by our car, this side view became possible. The lion paused, scanning the track, only a few feet away from us. This was a dream assignment — I could have happily spent all year working on it.
How did you achieve the shot?
I knew this was mainly going to be a wildlife assignment, so I needed different kit from a regular travel job. Long lenses were essential; I took a Nikon 200-400mm f/4, which I used when we got closer to wildlife, and hired a Nikon 500mm f/4 from Johannesburg airport. I mounted them on a Nikon D850 and Nikon Z6 II. All of the usual things like lighting and composition came into play, but I was also particularly aware of the background. That can make or break a shot, even if it’s out of focus due to the wide apertures often used for wildlife photography.
(How the safari sector is bouncing back in South Africa's north east.)
What were the challenges at play?
This image was shot from the jeep, but I wanted to be as low down as possible — eye level with the lion. However, I obviously wasn’t allowed out of the car — our guide was trying keep me alive — so I had to work with the space I had. Photographing wildlife also means dealing with unpredictable subjects. I always try to be prepared for a picture, camera at the ready, as you often only get a few seconds before the animals are gone again. Yet, this lion very generously gave us a nice long session with him.
What advice would you give someone starting out in travel photography?
Originality, originality and originality. The internet and Instagram were supposed to feed a new creative age, but I think, in many ways, the opposite has happened. Now, everyone goes to the same places to take the same pictures. This will get you nowhere — you have to go and explore a place for yourself, put mud on your boots and find the shots and angles nobody has got before.
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