How to Shoot a Lion
The below article is a guest post from photographer John Lund. His photography career has taken him many places and he’s had the ability to photograph many different subjects. However, few prove as humorous as when he photographed Truman the Lion. Here’s his story.
The animal trainer told me that I would have to get rid of the sandbags from my studio. She was explaining the rules to me for photographing a lion in my studio. She went on to explain that he might think they are rodents and would be possessive. “Well, he can have them if he wants them!” I joked. “No” she said, “You don’t understand. He would have to kill you to keep you from taking them”. OK, lose the sandbags!
I had decided that not only would it would be fun to photograph a lion in my studio, but that shooting the big cat for stock would payoff as well. I certainly hoped it would pay off, because the cost to shoot the lion was $5,000. I asked Stephanie, the trainer and owner of Truman, the lion, how long I would get with him for that amount of money. “As long as he wants,” was her wry reply.
Back to the rules. There were five of us. Collette, an art director (I had pre-sold a greeting card idea to a greeting card company), Tiffany, my assistant, two friends and me. There were also three animal trainers each with a can of mace and a pick handle, though if you saw the lion you wouldn’t think any of those weapons would mean much in a pinch. Stephanie told us that none of us should “separate” from the pack. She admonished us that if any pieces of meat from the lion’s “treats” happened to fly in our direction, don’t try and pick them up. Avoid sudden movements, and, oh yes, if there was anything we didn’t want marked we’d better cover them up. It turns out that the lion can “spray” for fifteen feet!
Truman arrived in a trailer, which had brought into my studio. We made sure that there was no way he could end up on the streets of San Francisco before we let him out. As Truman stepped out of the trailer there was a collective gasp from all of us. His regal bearing and taught muscularity was far more impressive than I had anticipated.
I had once asked an animal trainer who worked with both of Stephanie’s big cats, Truman the Lion and Safari the tiger, which one was more dangerous. She had told me that Safari was more dangerous because people thought of him as a big kitten and tended to let their guard down, but when Truman was around there was a more palpable sense of danger. I now knew what she meant!
The two main images I wanted to create included a lion on a throne as the “King of Beasts”, and a shot of a lion trainer with his head in the lion’s mouth. We needed to have Truman in a standing position, sitting on a pedestal, various shots of his body parts, and a photo of him with his mouth open. To get a shot of Truman in an upright position I improvised super heavy-duty camera stand reinforced with a light stand. I was still nervous, as Truman weighs over four hundred pounds. One of the trainers enticed him to stand up and rest his paws on my makeshift stand by hold chunks of beef heart, on a stick, over his head. We used the same method to get him to stand on the pedestal. For his open mouth I just had to be ready for those lucky moments when he might yawn.
Most of the time he spent pacing in circles. After about forty-five minutes his circles started to get larger bringing him within a few feet of me. Stephanie said he was being sneaky about getting closer to me because he was curious. She also said that he was starting to get a little assertive and it was time to end the shoot. My $5,000.00 had bought me forty-five minutes of the lion’s time. It wasn’t long, but it was well worth it. Oh yeah, and before he left he did manage to “mark” the art director’s car.
John Lund has been shooting professionally for over thirty years. He was an early pioneer in the digital world using Photoshop 1.0 in 1990 and digital capture as far back as 1995. Over the years Lund has taught digital workshops, written numerous articles on digital photography, served as DIGITAL IMAGING’s Digital Photography Editor, been a Photoshop columnist for PICTURE magazine, served on APA”s National Digital Committee, lectured extensively and written a book on Photoshop: Adobe Master Class Photoshop Compositing with John Lund. His stock imagery is licensed through Blend Images, Getty, Corbis, SuperStock and Kimball Stock. He currently works out of his studio in Sausalito, California.
More of John’s work can be seen at www.johnlund.com.
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