The Serengeti Lion

2 March 2014NaturePhotography

Enter the world of the Vumbi pride. The lions strut and grimace, bare their teeth. One drapes a paw indolently, another nuzzles.

Photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols and videographer Nathan Williamson were determined to break new visual ground when they made several extended trips to the Serengeti between July 2011 and January 2013. A remote-control toy car and a rugged robot tank gave them an unobtrusive way to make images up close and at low angles. Two cameras were mounted on each device; Nichols controlled one and Williamson the other, a pairing that let the collaborators create a synchronized dance of photo and video. They took their time, letting the pride get used to these little machines. The robot, says Williamson, was made to be sturdy enough to stand up to a lion giving it a swat. “It didn’t need to be—the lions were dignified and just arrogantly ignored it most of the time,” he says. Night-vision cameras and goggles were used to capture images of the lions stalking prey. But most of the images and videos here were made using old-fashioned, camera-in-hand technology. Nichols shot 242,000 images and Williamson recorded 200 hours of video, often while lying on the floor of a specially outfitted Land Rover.

In this multimedia presentation Nichols and Williamson re-create the feast and famine of the plains; the purring, bleating, and roaring of these cats; the fragile balance of lion survival. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that Nichols learned to think like a lion, to game their moves, and to photograph them with an intimacy that comes from an undisguised feeling of kinship.

National Geographic at its best.