The ultimate guide to taking photographs of lions

According to the WWF  there are only 20 000 lions left in the wild.

It is important, now more than ever, to document our lions before we lose them. Photographing lions for conservation helps inspire a love for these animals, triggering efforts to save them. Here is my advice on how to take a photo of a lion.

Download FREE eBook featuring 40 proven fundraising techniques to finance your next overseas experiential adventure

Perched at the top of the big 5 list is the majestic lion in all his glory. It is a definite bucket list capture for wildlife photographers and cat lovers alike. Their feline charm is hard to ignore.

Here is my advice to set you up for the perfect photograph of a lion.

  • Plan your safari for the winter months, the bush is not as leafy as it would be in the summer. The lions will be easier to spot and track and it is not as hot so you wont cook in the African sun. The heat can also make the lions lazy, they are unlikely to hunt in the heat of the day, opting rather for a loaf in a shady spot.
  • You are not always spoiled for choice when choosing a spot to photograph wildlife. If you can position yourself so that the light/sunset is behind you. This will give you the best chance of a well lit cat.
  • Catching light in your subjects eyes separates good images from great images. Do this by getting your shot when the lion is looking in the direction of the sun, its a waiting game really. Golden hour is the best time to manage this type of shot. The lion is much less likely to be looking at the sun at midday, it would roast his eyeballs.
  • You’ll need a telephoto, lions are more natural when they are not too close to people, that and you don’t want to catch yourself too close to a wild lion in the first place. Anything from 300mm should do the trick.
  • I mentioned golden hour earlier, another reason to shoot at this time is to highlight the similarly coloured fur. Gorgeous, glossy fur looks its best when bathed in sunlight.
  • Make your self comfortable but alert, you may be there a while. Like I said these guys are lazy, getting a noteworthy photograph of a lion can take many hours.
  • Lions can look ferocious when they yawn. Don’t be discouraged if you spot lions that are lying around, their yawns can be great photo opportunities. Yawns often even look more powerful than roars in pictures.
  • Look for natural framing if you can because a grassy or branchy frame can add interest to your photograph.

Some behavioral cues of lions

  • Lions are most active at night so if you are hoping for an action shot then dusk or dawn is the prime viewing time.
  • Lions, like cats, are very light footed. If you see one start stalking by moving slowly, low to the ground and softly then brace for a pounce shot.
  • Female lions that are feeling amorous will rub up against he males and present their posteriors or bellies to their prospective lion baby daddy.
  • Not all rubs are for increasing the cub population however. Lions also lick each-other, bump heads or rub each-other to socialize and form a strong bond with the pride.
  • Speaking of cubs, mom lions keep their cubs tucked a way for a good two months to protect them. They also will ferociously defend their cubs if rival lions attempt a pride take over.
  • If a lion is going to engage in a “play fight” they will usually bow before hand to prove that there is no ill intent.

I hope this article helped prepare you for an awesome lion photography experience. Remember to take water and sunscreen with you.

If you are looking for an opportunity to photograph a lion or other big cats check out our wildlife and travel photography course.

Happy clicking!

Discover wild Africa on a photojournalism safari assigment

Robyn Green

Blogger Profile - Robyn Green

Robyn brings with her a serious passion for people and animals alike. She also teaches a workshop called Social Media and the Independent artist. The workshop is aimed at helping freelance photographers, writers and film makers build their online presence.

Kickstart your wildlife media career!

Find your perfect wildlife media speciality program