Capturing the Perfect Mountain Lion Shot, a Picture 12 Months in the Making

At times, wildlife photographers have to show an incredible amount of patience to get the perfect shot. Wild animals (much like humans, actually) rarely do exactly what you want them to, and when they do, you and your camera have to be prepared.

But still, how long could you possibly have to wait? Hours? Days? Weeks maybe? For Nat Geo photographer Steve Winter — who was chasing the perfect shot of a Mountain Lion with the lights of Los Angeles in the background — that patience had to extend a full year.

If you’re wondering why it took so long, one of the reasons might be that there is only one mountain lion in the world that lives in a place that would make this photo possible. The elusive cougar, named P-22, is a 125-pound 4-year-old that has quite miraculously made his home in Griffith Park, where researchers caught and tagged him.

When Winter found out about P-22, however, he had a different kind of capture in mind: he set about trying to photograph him. And in the end, he succeeded:

Mountain lion in Griffith Park

To get this shot, he set up several IR-triggered DSLRs in special housings. The cameras would go off and trigger a flash when they sensed movement. But even with the high-tech setups (three of which were stolen by an entirely different kind of predator) it still took a full year before P-22 decided to give in and pose like a good kitty.

In truth, Winter actually wanted to get two shots. The first is the one you see above, but the second was one National Park Service biologist Jeff Sikich thought was “crazy.” Winter wanted a shot of P-22 with the Hollywood sign.

As you might expect, Winter managed to get that shot too. And thankfully, that one only took two more months of waiting to capture instead of another year.

To hear the story behind the photographs from the man himself, be sure to watch the video at the top. And if you want to see both photographs, you’ll have to pick up the December issue of National Geographic when it hits stands.

(via Reddit)

Image credits: Photograph by Steve Winter.

  • Marius

    12 month ….mhm….. but that´s all that makes this special.

    i make such a composit in 30 minutes…. lol

  • MS

    Geez, I hike there all the time…I had no idea P22 was lurking nearby!

  • Cinekpol

    Should have just borrowed one from circus with a trainer. Would save 51 weeks and few thousands dollars. ;)
    Seriously though – great backstory, but shot isn’t that amazing. Though considering difficult conditions – definitely a good work.

  • Syuaip


  • aa

    in the end is not even a creative shot, just a automated happy coincidence

  • Ian

    Such a tease – I guess we’ll have to wait for the issue to see the Hollywood sign shot.

  • Rabi Abonour

    Just because a shot is difficult to get doesn’t make it good. I am interested in seeing the Hollywood sign image, though.

  • Daniel Stolte

    12 months is not long at all for a wildlife photo. Some landscape photographers spend several years, if not decades, trying to get their shot.

  • Tyler Magee

    I agree you could composite it but it also takes a lot away from the strength this image has if he had done that in my opinion.

  • harumph

    Try to get your composite published in National Geographic.

  • John Wilmot

    I can appreciate Roger Ebert’s opinion without expecting him to make his own film because his opinions are often well-reasoned and respected, but anyone naysaying this incredible photograph without backing it up with their own better effort has an opinion worth about a food stamp. A quick glance at Steve Winter’s incredible portfolio reveals a dedicated and talented photographer who has a knack for capturing moments like these with big cats, and for anyone who hikes these same Griffith Park trails during the day, the sight of this beautiful animal against the LA backdrop is at once arresting, wondrous, and terrifying. I can’t wait to see the other in the series. Bravo!

  • Tyler Magee

    people don’t realize you cant composite for nat geo…. they did a while ago for a cover and get in a lot of trouble