Once-in-a-lifetime Lion Encounter

Last week in South Africa I had an experience that left me with a sense of awe, one of the most unbelievable things I have seen or experienced in a decade as a wildlife photographer!

Once-in-a-lifetime Lion Encounter Video with our Ranger Omega.

As a wildlife photographer its part of my job to work close to my subjects, closer than ideal sometimes, but in this situation we came face to face with a predator, closeup, an arms length away. We got to see just how awesomely stealth a lion can be and how poor humans senses are, we never saw or heard the cat approach us. No one saw her until she was sitting on branch relaxing!!! If she had wanted to take one of us, no one in our land cruiser would not have known until after she had clamped down on that person's neck.

Up close and personal portrait. Sigma 120-300 S @220mm Nikon D500 1/800 f/4.0 ISO 560, manual mode EV -0.7

It all started earlier that morning as we were watching this lioness and her sisters play with the cubs in her pride. We decided to head out to look for leopards but as we left, one of the males jumped up and ran off at full speed, then another male did the same. We caught up with the two with a water buck in their jaws that moments earlier a leopard had originally taken down. Nothing in Africa will challenge two adult male lions over food. As we were watching the two males on the kill on our left, all of a sudden a lioness decided to climb up a dead tree next to our land cruiser on the right to get a better look.  We never saw or heard anything, yet there she was a few feet away. After this experience, our ranger Omega told me that this was closest he had ever been to a lion in his entire life!

Lioness in early morning light, uncropped image at 120mm. Sigma 120-300 S Nikon D500 1/800 f/4.0 ISO 560, manual mode EV -0.7

The situation was not as dangerous as it looks. The lions in the Sabi Sands are habituated to vehicles so they are simply seen as large objects that come and go and are not associated with humans or prey. So we were safe even though it looked dangerous. As the situation unfolded I was not afraid at all as the lioness would have already struck if its goal was to attack. Also the lioness showed no aggression or stress at all, even her ears were standing straight up and her tail was relaxed so I was not too worried but it was an awesome experience to see the completely wild and free cat just a few feet away.

More images and stories from my South Africa tour are coming next week. 

Any questions or comments please share them below or send me an email. 



St Augustine Bird Photography Workshop Report

Newborn Roseate spoonbill hatchlings in the nest Sigma 150-600 S @600mm Nikon D500 1/800 f/6.3 ISO 1600 manual mode Auto-ISO -1.7 EV

The St Augustine Alligator farm really is one of the best places, and one of my all time favorite places to hold a workshop, the location, with 700+ nesting birds in a small area makes it very convenient and easy to access. The conditions were super this year and the 5 participants all helped make the workshop a big success. 

Sigma 120-300 S @185mm Nikon D500 1/1250 f/4.5 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash

Cloudy skies at the farm turn it into the perfect place for flight photography. The birds are in breeding colors and plumage are all very active, displaying, maintaining nests, feeding their chicks, or battling over prime spots. It's hard to take a bad image here when the conditions are right.

Great egret and a glowing sunset Sigma 120-300 S @120mm Nikon D810 1/1250 f/5.6 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash

As the bird got closer and closer I tracked it in the viewfinder as it crossed right in front of the sun, I actually lost the bird in the viewfinder at one point as the strong sunlight caused lens flare that made the focus screen go completely white. This is not the kind of image you see made at the alligator farm as I am usually the only person I see actively shooting towards the sun when I am there.

Great egret incoming at sunset Sigma 120-300 S @120mm Nikon D810 1/1250 f/5.6 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash

Thanks to the warm glow of the sun causing a bit of lens flare, the color contrast with the warm and cool colors in the sky really makes for an interesting image. It's hard to believe this was all in camera and not created using filters, this is all natural!

Great egret air battle Sigma 120-300 S @195mm Nikon D810 1/1600 f/4 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash

With so much consistent predicable action at the rookery you can practice your flight photography and take time to experiment with new techniques. This is one of the few places that I still use, and will probable always use flash. My good old faithful quantum external battery recently brought back to life with new cells, worked perfectly all week with only one charge.

Great egret super flared translucent wings Sigma 120-300 S @120mm Nikon D810 1/1250 f/5.6 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash

When properly balanced the flash will open up the shadows to reveal feather details and let the back light fill the translucent feathers. Backlit birds in flight have always been a favorite of mine especially high key flight photos like this.

Great egret backlit flash fill landing Sigma 120-300 S @120mm Nikon D500 1/1250 f/4.5 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash

The nesting birds were back in force this year and the balance of different species was just amazing, you could see 5 species nesting next to each other in the same tree. The cattle egret numbers were way down this year, which is a good thing since they are not a native bird species anyway, due to the staff's hard work removing some of the invasive plants around the rookery.

Roseate spoonbill banking in early morning light Sigma 120-300 S @120mm Nikon D500 1/1250 f/4.5 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash

The spoonbills were one of the highlights this year. It's great to seem them all around the farm now. Spoonbills like to nest farther back in the foliage than other birds so they are not the easiest to shoot but it's hard to beat spoonbill hatchings.

Great egret low key Sigma 120-300 S @175mm Nikon D500 1/2000 f/5.6 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash

When faced with harsh afternoon light, which happens a lot in Florida, I like to get creative and hide harsh details with underexposure and darkening creating a low key effect. It can work very well sometimes as an alternative to normal exposure and processing.

Great egret gathering twigs for the nest Sigma 120-300 S @120mm Nikon D810 1/2000 f/5.6 ISO 400 manual mode SB800 flash

This great egret was busy gathering nesting material just a few feet above the heads of half a dozen photographers. I didn't see a single photographer even look up as the bird flew back and forth to the nest a dozen or so times. It's always worthwhile to back up and take a look around to look for a new fresh angle and way of looking at the same scene.

If you like the images you see here and would like to learn more about the techniques I used to make them you can join our 2018 workshop at the farm. The Alligator Farm workshop is always a very productive and rewarding time. Any questions or comments please leave them below or email me.


Follow this link for more info on mu 2018 workshop: http://www.robertotoole.com/workshop/florida/