Most tight portraits of lions, including mine, disappoint either because the camera is above the lion’s eye, or the distance between camera and subject is further than one would like or perhaps the lighting conditions compromise the textural detail. In most cases, it is all three of these issues and this is no surprise as lions do not live in studios and are also extremely dangerous.
The opportunity to take this portrait of the most handsome lion in Kevin Richardson’s sanctuary in South Africa came about because of the cave that we had built for our Daniel project. There was just one source of light from the opening behind my cage and by the time the light reached Yame’s face it was even and kind. This allowed me to glorify the detail in a lion’s face in a way that I have never previously been able to do.
My preference is for his look to be head on and symmetrical. I knew that even the most marginal of compositional imbalances would have a visual impact and the key was to be patient and retain concentration at all times. If I put the camera down, or had a breather, there would be every chance I would lose the moment of a true 180 degree face off.
The result makes me happy. It conveys regality, beauty and wisdom - all leading characteristics of adult lions. They are the Kings of Africa and I think in those precious moments in the cave, Yame had quite a lot to tell me.