Lion family time

This post is a continuation of my review of some images from a trip to the Masai Mara a year ago. I am reviewing these images to see where I can improve my techniques and look for new ways to see my subjects – a preparation for my trip to the Serengeti in March. These are very special places with wonderful photographic opportunities and good preparation is a must!

“Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.”
~Henry Ford

The cubs keep their distance from their fathers. These two large males showed tolerance but not affection. The cubs were with the males while the lionesses were trying to take down a buffalo, but with no success on this occasion. There was no drama or interaction but the image showed the relational space.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/640, f11, iso2000, 210mm

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1/640, f11, iso2000, 210mm

Early in the morning while it was still cool, the youngsters had a great time mock fighting and chasing each other around. This type of interaction can provide wonderful photographic opportunities, but watch the shutter speed.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/1000, f8, iso800, 600mm

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1/1000, f8, iso800, 600mm

With a mother or aunt like this I would get out of the way too. This cub must have been another lioness’ offspring because she would not let it near the warthog piglet she had just killed.

“Even the brave are scared by a lion three times: first by its tracks, again by its roar, and one last time face to face.”
~Somali Proverb

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/1600, f7.1, iso800, 600mm

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1/1600, f7.1, iso800, 600mm

This looks like a sub-adult male with that gangly teenager look about him where he hasn’t fully grown into his is paws yet and they look over sized. The shot is reasonable but there is no interesting behaviour and the white balance is slightly off.

“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”
~Helen Keller

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/500, f9, iso1000, 400mm

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1/500, f9, iso1000, 400mm

After a mating session these two were relaxing in the grass. I liked the spreadeagled posture of the large male, well as spreadeagled as  a large male lion can be. These two were right next to the road otherwise we would not have seen them, even in the short grass.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/1250, f10, iso1000, 165mm

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1/1250, f10, iso1000, 165mm

The next shot was about trying to catch the intimacy between a lioness and her cub. It was late afternoon down near Figtree bend and we found this lioness and her cub about ten metres away from two large males who were feeding on a kill in the bushes nearby. This lioness was very gently cleaning her cub in the dappled shade – I was captured by the gentleness of the scene.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/500, f16, iso1250, 600mm

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1/500, f16, iso1250, 600mm

Timing is very important in these situations. The essence is to try to wait for mother and cub to open their eyes. Whenever the lioness licked her cub she did so with her eyes closed. This was the only time I could get both of them with their eyes open. Again, I loved the serenity of the  scene.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/800, f16, iso1250, 600mm

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1/800, f16, iso1250, 600mm

We were quite close so I needed a reasonable depth of field hence the narrow aperture of F16. Again my shutter speeds were lower than I wanted but I also did not want to push up my ISO too much and mother and cub were not moving much.

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.”
~Richard Bach

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/1000, f16, iso1250, 600mm

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1/1000, f16, iso1250, 600mm

Out on the plain in front of the Kitchwa Tembo camp, the pride was relaxing in the early morning sun. This young male seemed to really love his mother. Again patience was required to wait for them to get into a position which showed their bond.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/200, f20, iso1600, 400mm

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1/200, f20, iso1600, 400mm

Head rubbing is a greeting and social affirmation and probably has a scent transfer role too. The females are remarkably tolerant for such a powerful animal which can also be so aggressive.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/100, f20, iso1600, 400mm

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1/100, f20, iso1600, 400mm

This lioness did not want a sub-adult to steal the warthog piglet from her two cubs. There was no biting but the message was clear. The lions seem hard-wired to go for any available prey even from their siblings. The warthog piglet was being savagely hauled around and unfortunately was still alive and squealing. This lioness was obviously trying to teach her youngsters how to tackle and subdue their prey. This is wonderful interaction but shutter speed is critical –  the higher the better as their legs are moving much faster than their bodies.

“Competition has been shown to be useful
up to a certain point and no further,
but cooperation, which is the thing
we must strive for today,
begins where competition leaves off.”

~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/320, f9, iso1000, 220mm

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1/320, f9, iso1000, 220mm

This young male looks like a “mummy’s boy”. I guess he should enjoy the closeness while he can, because all too soon he will be kicked out to become a nomad or will need to form a coalition with his brothers.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/1000, f8, iso800, 600mm

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1/1000, f8, iso800, 600mm

This young male was enjoying the closeness with his mother who was very accommodating. No other cub came up to the two of them lying there while we were watching. It is really astounding how gentle they can be with each other at times. At other times they can be brutally savage.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/640, f8, iso800, 600mm

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1/640, f8, iso800, 600mm

“Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. stay eager.”
~ Susan Sontag

Out walking with his big brother. The cubs were following the adults around who were catching warthog piglets.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/1250, f6.3, iso800, 600mm

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1/1250, f6.3, iso800, 600mm

The need to play was irresistible. You can see that this sort of play begins to develop the necessary skills to take down large prey when they are older.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/1600, f5.6, iso800, 600mm

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1/1600, f5.6, iso800, 600mm

The older cub decided that it had enough back-biting from its younger brother. A problem easily solved with a little wrestling. The younger cub was up for the rough and tumble. Again shutter speed was critical.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/800, f7.1, iso800, 600mm

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1/800, f7.1, iso800, 600mm

The wrestling became increasingly boisterous. It was great fun to watch and no one got hurt.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/800, f7.1, iso800, 600mm

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1/800, f7.1, iso800, 600mm

Subdued mischief! Just make sure you get the eyes and face pin sharp.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/160, f8, iso500, 600mm

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1/160, f8, iso500, 600mm

It is fascinating to watch how there is some form of communication between the lionesses and their cubs where the latter are told to stay put while two lionesses were trying to catch warthog piglets. The cubs know not to get in the way. I used a F16 aperture to get the necessary depth of field to get all the cubs in focus. Shutter speed was not such an issue because they were lying quietly among the rocks.

“When was ever honey made with one bee in a hive?”
~Thomas Hood

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/160, f16, iso1600, 400mm

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1/160, f16, iso1600, 400mm

A lioness and two sub-adult cubs lying on top of an earth mound. The perspective was great but I could have used a shallower depth of field with a wider aperture to achieve a more blurred background. Presence of mind is required to keep adjusting.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/125, f9, iso1000, 260mm

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1/125, f9, iso1000, 260mm

More of the youngsters gathered on the mound and one of the adults seemed a bit irritated by the pushing in and tried to nip the newcomer.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/100, f8, iso1000, 180mm

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1/100, f8, iso1000, 180mm

Living dangerously! This cub is trying to play with its father. Shortly after this shot the male snarled at the cub and it backed away to a respectful distance. We needed to wait for the unusual interactions. You can spend half an hour with nothing happening then out of the blue a cub will get up and walk over to the male and it all starts happening. This is why you have to keep focused on your subject as the action is usually over in a few seconds.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya -----------------Shooting data--------------------------- 1/1/640, f8, iso640, 400mm

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1/640, f8, iso640, 400mm

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.”
~ Albert Einstein

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,

Mike

2 thoughts on “Lion family time

  1. Eish Mike, very hard to focus on work now!! Super interaction and behaviour captured. Can see that you struggled to keep your shutter speeds up, but the cloudy conditions did make for more subtle light which enhanced your photos beautifully.

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