If you have big cat fever, it’s time to get into the bush. Remember these tips to take better shots when you come face to face with leopards or lions. By Romi Boom

It’s not all about the head shot

You do not have to get close enough for a tight picture. Even though we all want a yawn with huge canines showing in our portfolio, taking a photo of your cat in its environment can be far more pleasing. Rather portray the complete wilderness package, which consists of both wildlife and scenery. Try to capture the true experience if possible, not just the subject. Zoom out from time to time and include the surroundings with the animal – it tells a better story.

Focus on the eyes

For emotional appeal, the eyes in a wildlife photograph should not be out of focus. People are naturally drawn towards looking at eyes and if we can’t see them, or if they are blurred, we feel disappointed. If you manage to capture the sun glinting in the pupil, you get bonus points – this livens up the picture.

Picture by Tracey Slaven

Lion by Tracey Slaven

Be patient

This is one of those wildlife photography tips that really will improve your wildlife pictures. The most interesting animal pictures are the ones where they exhibit some kind of behaviour other than sleeping or walking around. Big cats are notorious for lazing about. Lions are the laziest animals of them all, always sleeping or snoozing (for 20 hours of the day!), but a safari without lion pictures can be very disappointing. Most of us have hundreds of lion pictures, and they all have one thing in common – the big cats aren’t doing much in the pics.

Wildlife photographer Shem Compion calls lions “useless for any decent photography” hence they feature very low on his agenda. Even so, he has a lovely collection of lion shots, which he ascribes to patience. Brilliant lion behaviour might include two males in a brawl, chasing each other across grassy fields, a lioness licking her cub, or a male roaring. Such scenes make up for all the times we watch lions sleeping on the road. Early morning lions are usually quite active and full of beans, just what photographers look for. Considering the law of averages, the action will eventually happen – but you have to be out there.

Leopard and porcupine-Shem Compion

Shem Compion-Wild Shots

On a self-drive safari in Kruger you might well spot a leopard resting on a branch in a tree, but it could take a long long time before it stretches and claws its way to the ground. Even if it disappears out of sight in the tall grass, do not drive off. For all you know, it may be creeping closer, only to explode out of the cover to charge the impala grazing nearby. You are likely to get great photographs of the chase, with impala scattering in all directions.

Keep your camera ready

Good opportunities don’t present themselves for long. Taking a leopard picture is a serious challenge because they make themselves so scarce. Normally when you get lucky, you spot one of these elusive, dappled cats for a split second only before they saunter off into the bush. Almost everyone has enjoyed sightings of leopard around noon, so even though they are mostly nocturnal, you should remain alert throughout the day. Mostly you come across them walking along the road or lying on a branch in a tree, so keep an eye on large trees in the area – your photo opportunity might be where you least expect it.

Picture by Heidi Watson

Yawning lion by Heidi Watson