1/250s @ f/6.3 ISO 320 @ 280mm (w/1.4x TC)
Photographers have their favorite photos and I’m no different. Obviously the photo has to have some artistic and technical merit, but often the bias comes more from the back story (the circumstances surrounding the capture). This is one of those photos for me, and although I’ve shared this image many times before (and even its back story) I will do so once again. I prefer shooting my critters in the wild, but I photographed this particular lion at the local zoo (Parque Zoológico del Centenario) in Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico (January 2014).
In the middle of 2012 shortly after arriving in Yucatan, Mexico Sylvia and Raul Ponce de Leon (founders and owners of The Yucatan Times newspaper) approached me. They wanted to know if I would be interested in being their staff photographer, a position I accepted and held for about a year. It was a great experience but I quickly tired of the mundane shooting assignments: politicos, the rich & famous, and various social events. My interest was shooting wildlife, nature, and street scenes (it still is).
During my time at the newspaper I became involved with two non-profits as their unofficial (official) photographer: the Kaxil Kiuic Biocultural Reserve and Puuc Jaguar Conservation. About the time I left the paper Sylvia and Raul sold it to Jose “Pipo” Urioste who has since become a very good friend (along with his entire family). When I took this photo of His Majesty I had been gone from the paper about six months but still had my press credentials. I had an idea about doing a feature article on the local zoo and submitting it as a freelance photojournalist. I did and it was published.
This is one of the photos that illustrated my article. I took it early in the morning with its soft warm light, which not only provided nice catch lights in his eyes but also enhanced his already beautiful fur coloration. I was shooting with my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM telephoto zoom lens with a 1.4x teleconverter giving me an effective focal length of 280mm. I was also really close. The result almost looks like I shot it in a studio with professional lighting but I didn’t. The image is tack-sharp and perfectly exposed, and I added a vignette around the edges of the frame to further highlight his face.
I love this shot and the memory it evokes. What a great morning I had spending time with the various animals, up close and personal, especially this big cat. When you look into his eyes you can see the power, intelligence and intensity there; he was the boss and he knew it. On his turf (in the wild) I would have been insignificant and at his mercy. Getting that close to a big cat is intimidating but thrilling—I’ve also photographed Jaguars and Pumas closeup while trekking Latin America. Even though His Majesty was a captive animal he was a joy to photograph (click on image to enlarge).
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer, World Traveller
La Serena, Chile