Well, there they were, just where we had left them, a small pride of lions spanning across a wide range of ages. Not a one had not moved in the last 10 hours. Earlier in the day, we had parked with them, snapping a few photos, however, once you have a photo of a sleeping lion, you don't need many more. This, on the other hand was a little wrinkle. Photography in pitch dark is something of a comedy of errors. I tend to know my camera inside and out, however, turn off the lights, turn up the speed of how things move, then add the dull sound of hot lion breath and all bets are off.
I fumbled around that camera like I was trying to take a photo with a watermelon. My fingers struggled across the camera like I was poking at it with sausages. The first few moments, everything seems to fly by, but as I settled in everything got easier.
We approached from the side, not head on like the other cars. Matt was the camps photography driver, and had a good sense of where we wanted to be, as this was our third and final night, he knew us very well. We parked a bit away, in complete darkness. Matt turned off his spotlight, instead, we worked with the other drivers to light the lions for us. That provided much better lighting, nothing was straight on, this gave a softer, more portraitesk feel.
There were more things to focus on than I could count. Every time the light shifted, there was something else going on. A lone cub, three females, a pair of juvenile males . . . ok, so maybe the list wasn't that long, perhaps I need to brush up on my counting.
The light would shift from lion to lion, just long enough to snap a few images, then off to the next. They were all around us at times, walking by the car, laying at our side. They worked their way between the cars like we were a slalom course, just far more lazily. We adjusted position a few times working to get a few good angles, but in the end, it didn't matter. There were too many movements, too many things going on for it to make a difference. We finally just set the car and relaxed.
Its once we settled down that the lions started to wake up. Before we knew it, they were all around us. They moved in and out of the cars as they woke up, stretching and playing like giant kittens. It was time to keep all hands and feet inside the vehicle, the lions were ambling about, half awake within feet of the car, you could tell it was time to eat, and I didn't want to be on the menu.
I wont forget taking the above photo, leaning over the edge of the vehicle to get the right angle. As if out of nowhere, Matt swung the spotlight around to my left, lighting up a lion that was laying only a few feet away. There was nothing overly scary about that, only the realization that something so large can be so quiet. The next thirty minutes or so, we sat in silence, only the moments of automatic shutters firing and the constant sound of lions breathing could be heard.
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