Monday, June 2, 2014


I try to photograph wild animals in the same way that I would photograph a human being. The difference is that I have to wait for the animals to present themselves, to ‘pose’, for their portrait. In this way, I am attempting to show the animals as sentient creatures not so different to us (although frequently they are better than us...but I digress).

Just as a portrait photographer might be captivated by a striking, characterful face on the street, so I'm drawn to a particular animal that I want to photograph.

So it was with this lion. I spent seventeen straight days with him. Waiting. But all he did was sleep - hour after hour, day after day -under a boring cloudless blue sky.

Finally, on the evening of the eighteenth day, a monumental storm rolled in. Just ahead of the storm came an incredibly powerful wind. The moment that the wind hit the lion, like a freight train, he sat up, facing into the wind, smelling the game on the air. After all these days spent in each other’s company, he was oblivious to me taking photos so close to him.

Shot as always on medium format black and white film without telephoto or zoom, the photo has shifting planes of focus that occur in camera at time of shooting, using a very crude poor-man’s version of a tilt shift lens. Some think they can achieve this in Photoshop, but that’s a physical impossibility - this ‘effect’ can only be achieved in camera.

Meanwhile, it is necessary to mention that the lion population of Africa is plummeting. There are now just an estimated 20,000 lions left across the entire continent, a drop of 75% in just 20 years.

In the Amboseli ecosystem, where Big Life Foundation operates, the organization I co-founded to help protect the wild animals of that part of the world, so far we are succeeding in maintaining the current lion population, through a compensation fund for the local communities when they lose livestock to predators. Go to to learn more.

The photo is published in “A Shadow Falls” (available again after a long time out of print, available on Amazon), and in “On This Earth, A Shadow Falls”  (available again in July. SIGNED copies of the new printing are available now at


  1. That decisive moment that Henry Cartier-Bresson talked about fits beautifully here. Wonderful!

  2. Amazing, You certainly set the goal standard for taking photographs. You have inspired me to sell all my Nikon dslrs and move to the Leica MM (as a crutch) and the M6 for my next trips to Africa. Any chance you can tell us the type of kodak film and scanner you use? Thanks Nick, Glen Weaver, Wash DC.

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  5. Hey Nick! Your images are some of the most compelling I have seen.

    I love these posts and your essays as they give some insight into your technique. One thing I love that you do that provides such differentiation is the use of normal perspectives with potentially dangerous animals. I was hoping you could comment on what it's like to be so close to some of these animals making images.