Dramatic Studio Portraits of Big Cats by NatGeo Photographer Vincent J Musi


National Geographic‘s Vincent J Musi will quite literally do whatever it takes to get the animal portrait he’s looking for, including kneeling in urine while singing Tom Jones’ “What’s New Pussycat?” to a growling Snow Leopard… hand gestures included.

Fortunately, the trick works (was it the hand gestures? he wonders), “mesmerized and captivated by [his] theatrical prowess and virtuosit,” the Snow Leoppard stops and stares at the yummi, camera-wielding steak. One down, seven to go.

Musi was at Roanoke, Virginia’s Mill Mountain Zoo, on assignment for National Geographic, trying to capture studio portraits of all the 8 ‘Big Cats’ when the above scene took place — photos he is now selling to help save those selfsame endangered animals.


The images are striking to say the least. Studio lit against a black background, the cats jump out at you and, in some cases, look like they are literally going to pounce out at you. When we spoke to Musi about the photos, he explained how each came to be:

We created a studio space for each cat in their enclosures and worked closely with the experts at The Houston Zoo, and Mill Mountain Zoo. We also worked closely with these captive but untamed animals. It took two weeks to make just 8 portraits that would serve to represent these cats in crisis around the world.

Two weeks during which they ensured that the animals were never stressed or scared, although that was not always the case with the photographer:

No photograph we make is worth endangering or stressing an animal for but the photographer is always fair game for getting sprayed and having the life scared out of him. The animal keepers call this ‘enrichment.’ You learn your place on the food on the chain with these top predators very quickly.

Here’s a look at some of the images Musi captured during his time at the two Zoos:












Now, these dramatic, powerful photographs are being given a higher purpose. As he explained on his and NatGeo‘s Instagram accounts, prints of these beautiful photos are being sold to raise money for the National Geographic Big Cat Initiative.

$50 from each $300 8-print portfolio and $10 from each $75 individual print sold will go straight to the Big Cats Initiative. The prints are 7×7-inches printed on 8.5×11-inch paper. To learn more, see more photographs (including BTS images), or if you’d like to purchase any of these prints, be sure to follow Musi on Instagram and then head over to his website by clicking here.

Image credits: Photographs by Vincent J. Musi and used with permission

  • Jeff Ladrillono

    WOW. I’d be scared shitless making those photos.

  • Peter Gurdes

    give me those cats and i can do the same images. they are kind of boring from a lighting perspective.but i envy the opportunities these guys have….

  • StronglyNeutral

    I have to agree with Peter that the lighting is rather uninspired. Many of the images come across as flat, under-exposed, and dimensionless to me. I’m not saying capturing the images wasn’t a challenge or that the images are bad, I just don’t find them as awe-inspiring as the writer of the article. Just kinda, meh, OK.

  • fast eddie

    Agreed. Maybe a slight bit of snap in the whites and highlights.

  • tonyc0101

    good find! and, and I agree.

  • StronglyNeutral

    Yes! I remember those. To me, those are beautiful. I prefer the lighting, the compositions, and poses/captures. Overall better images. Thanks for that!

  • Adam Cross

    thoroughly depressing.

  • Chou Bidouh

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think cougars and cheetahs are not considered big cats. In fact, there are 7 big cats, these photos show 6 of them, lacking the Sunda clouded leopard.

  • Trevor Dennis

    Goodness. That was interesting and instructive, and the images beyond impressive. I wouldn’t say the above images are underexposed, but they did use a lot of subtraction, which suggests tight lighting, which would need the animals to stay in one fairly small spot. I got the impression the above are zoo animals, and the animals in the other link, were at least to some extent trained.

    Try Google images with ‘Yann Arthus-Bertrand horses’ for a similarly treatment with — you guessed ;-) — horses. I have the book and it is one of my very favourite photography books. Yan carted the huge backdrop and portable lighting gear all round the world to get the pictures, but it helped that he was sponsored by an airline.

  • Jeff Ladrillono

    Give me paint and a canvas and I can make a painting very similar to a Pollock, but I didn’t.

    Let’s appreciate give credit to those that are actually making art.

  • fast eddie

    I’ll correct you, then :)

    List of the 7 big cats:

    Genus Panthera –
    Snow Leopard

    Genus Acinonyx –

    Genus Puma –

  • gregorylent

    i sooo hate zoos .. effing humans, such idiots

  • Fullstop

    Beautiful animals. I think the scared scientists were looking at these cats in the same studio. Now that’s something to really be scared of!
    I’m kidding, these are majestic cats.