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Photographing Serengeti Lions Up Close Using Infrared, Robots and Drones


National Geographic photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols has spent the last few years in the Serengeti capturing NatGeo-worthy, one-of-a-kind photos of lions. The amazing photos that illustrate the story Serengeti Lions in this month’s issue of the magazine were all taken by Nichols, and in the video above we get a tiny peek at how he managed to get such unbelievable views.

Because lions spend most of their days sleeping and work mainly at night, Nichols knew that he would have to take a unique approach to get something more than your typical “portraits through telephoto lenses, mostly of things like lions sleeping under trees.”


If you browse through the photos in the original article, or you watch the videos that make up NatGeo’s special online “interactive Serengeti lions experience,” you’ll notice that he certainly succeeded. You’ll find everything from stunning night portraits, to aerial shots, to photos that look as if they were taken by someone about two feet away from a sleeping lioness.

To capture all of these unique vantage points and escape with all of his limbs intact, Nichols had to draw on all the advantages today’s technology could give him.


He used an off-the-shelf Canon with the top layer of the sensor removed so he could photograph exclusively with infrared light at night. That meant he was flying blind, with no autofocus or autoexposure, but it also meant he wasn’t capturing your typical photos of lions “squinting into headlamps.”

Nichols also took advantage of the robotics technology available to him, commissioning a robot from a company that usually makes them for bomb squads. After a cautious start, the “little tank” was able to get very close and capture photos of lions sleeping or playing from mere feet or even inches away. The aerial shots were taken using a MikroKopter that they actually crashed and had to replace a few times.


You can get a lot more detail on the how and what of photographing lions in the Serengeti by watching the video at the top or following this link to an interview Nichols gave for the magazine.

And if you’d like to see the results of several years worth of preparation and photography, check out the original article’s photo gallery or visit the interactive online experience.

(via ISO 1200)