Photographer Captures the Ultra-Rare Black Panther Under the Stars

Wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas has released a set of photos showing an ultra-rare wild black panther under the starry night sky. The photos took him a whopping 6 months to successfully capture.

Burrard-Lucas first successfully captured a black panther (the popular name for the African black leopard) on camera a few years ago after discovering it in Kenya. Given how difficult it is to come across one of these special leopards, not many photos of them exist. But having discovered where he could find one of these elusive cats, Burrard-Lucas has since revisited the area to capture more once-in-a-lifetime photos of it, this time under the stars.

“Photos combining animals with stars are quite challenging to achieve,” Burrard-Lucas writes. “It took six weeks to get a handful of images of hyena and lions under the stars in Zambia — and those animals were easy to find. It took a full month to get a single star photograph of a black rhino in a sanctuary full of rhinos.

“If it took that much effort to get photos with those animals, could I ever hope to achieve it with the rarest and most elusive creature I’ve ever encountered? An animal that embodies the night more than any other I can think of… A photo of a black leopard under the stars would be both the rarest and most difficult wildlife photo I had attempted to date. My ambition was clear, but my chances of achieving my dream photograph were far from certain…”

Burrard-Lucas went into the fields with help from people in the local community and set up several Camtraptions camera traps, which he designed. At any given time he had 5 to 7 of the traps deployed, with most of them set up to capture the star shot.

One of Will Burrard-Lucas’s deployed Camtraptions camera traps.

The cameras were set to shoot exposures of at least 15 seconds in order to capture the stars, and flashes firing at the start of the exposure would illuminate the panther and freeze it in the frame.

A couple of weeks later, one of his traps successfully captured a star shot of a panther… except it was an ordinary spotted leopard rather than the black panther.

The conditions also needed to be absolutely perfect for the photo to turn out correctly. If there’s ambient moonlight lightening the background, the cat shows up as semi-transparent in the resulting long-exposure photo:

Weeks passed, and then months. After 6 months of planning, setting up, waiting, and hoping, Burrard-Lucas’s perseverance paid off. He retrieved a cluster of three cameras that had been set up on a rock. The behind-the-scenes camera was found to have captured this photo:

He then checked the main cameras, and they had captured these two shots:

Shortly after that, another of his cameras captured yet another star photo of a black leopard prowling under the starry heavens.

Burrard-Lucas has published his photos of this cat in a new book titled The Black Leopard.

P.S. An in-depth review of the book will be published here in the coming days. Stay tuned!