|Lionesses at twilight, Savute, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Since my early days of crawling after shorebirds on sandy beaches, I have tried to get eye-to-eye with the animals I photograph. It is a way to portray them as the individuals they are. To me, a lion is not a lion is not a lion. I learned that when I committed myself to covering the lives of eight lionesses in the Kalahari Desert.
Over time, their tolerance of me increased to the point that I dared to slip out of my vehicle when the cats seemed languid enough to permit an open approach. The key to this improvised tactic was to be totally focused on their body language, and to be cognizant of each catís mood. Much is revealed by their ears and tails and, of course, their eyes.
One evening the pride had scattered across a grassy plain. Two of them were already up and scanning, waiting for light to fade before they would hunt. I eased down into the grass by my vehicle, keeping close enough for a quick retreat--and making sure that my profile stayed within the vehicleís outline: These cats accepted me as part of a box on wheels, but separated from it, I might become prey. A 300mm f/2.8 lens mounted on a shoulder stock gave me the stability as well as the reach I needed, and a strobe with a fresnel attachment lit up the lionesses without overpowering the scene. I pushed my film a stop to gain speed in this low-light situation of extreme uncertainty.
Under such fluid conditions one part of my brain is focused on the animalís behavior while the other half fumbles with the numbers required for appropriate exposures. In this case however, the numbers racing through my mind had more to do with basic math. If there are two lionesses in front of me, I realized that six others might be closing in from behind.