One Man’s Quest to Capture the Ultimate Wildlife Photo

Behind each once-in-a-lifetime {photograph} is a narrative. Generally these are tales of luck—of being in the proper place, at the proper time, with the proper lens hooked up to your digicam—however most of the time triumph is preceded by years of trial and error. An outlandish “bucket shot” achieved by the sheer power of the photographer’s will and persistence. The Black Leopard by wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas falls into the second class.

The Black Leopard: My Quest to Photograph One of Africa’s Most Elusive Cats is a troublesome e book to categorize. What Lucas has created right here is an element memoir, half picture story, and half inspirational how-to e book for any aspiring wildlife photographer who needs to know what it actually takes to carve out a reputation for your self in a crowded and noisy business.

It’s described as one photographer’s “quest to {photograph} one in every of Africa’s most elusive cats,” nevertheless it might simply as simply be described as “the making of a world-renowned wildlife photographer.” It simply occurs to finish with a series of photos that had been primarily unprecedented.

Lucas can hint his love of leopards to a yr that he spent in Tanzania as a toddler. In reality, his complete profession as a wildlife photographer might in all probability be traced again to that first expertise of Africa, nevertheless it was a sole leopard sighting that almost all captivated 5-year-old Will, sparking a fascination that is still with him to this present day.

The origins of his dream to {photograph} a black leopard particularly are more durable to pin down. Maybe it’s merely a matter of thriller and fantasy: in Africa, these cats are so uncommon as to be the stuff of legend. You would spend your complete life as knowledgeable safari information and by no means a lot as glimpse one, and prior to 2019, the final scientifically documented sighting of a wild black leopard in Africa was recorded in 1909. Any wildlife photographer would dream of photographing this specific animal.

However you may simply as simply assert—as The Black Leopard appears to do—that Lucas’ complete life formed him into the proper photographer, maybe the solely photographer, for this specific project. From that first sighting of a spotty leopard in Tanzania to his fascination with ever-more-complex distant cameras, to the creation of his firm Camtraptions, each pivotal second and entrepreneurial flip in Lucas’ profession helped him to good the expertise, information, and methods required to seize studio-quality photographs of this impossibly uncommon animal in the wild.

Somewhat greater than half of the e book is devoted to narrating this coming-of-age story, and at first, this narrative conceit feels virtually like a bait-and-switch. You assume you’ve picked up a e book about photographing the black leopard and right here is that this photographer telling you his life story beginning at age 5. However by the finish of the e book, the worth of this context is simple.

Talking with me over e-mail, Lucas defined how this realization occurred to him in a lot the similar manner it will definitely happens to the reader.

I at all times meant to publish the pictures in a e book—however a e book focusing solely on the leopards of Laikipia. Nonetheless, as the challenge progressed, it turned clear that there was a lot extra to the story. It appeared that the many strands of my life had come collectively completely to culminate on this challenge and I used to be impressed to inform my full story for the first time.

In the e book, the numerous threads of Lucas’ life story all coalesce into one fateful cellphone name in August of 2018. Whereas attempting to work round a irritating difficulty with a photograph safari in Madagascar, a fellow information talked about {that a} black leopard had been noticed a number of instances at Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya.

“My jaw drops. An opportunity of seeing a black leopard in Africa? I’m speechless. The remainder of the name passes in a blur,” writes Lucas, recalling that day. “As I drive again to camp in the gathering nightfall, dik-dik antelope and scrub hares skip away from the glare of my headlights and my thoughts is stuffed with visions of black panthers.”

The celebs had lastly aligned, and in January of 2019 Lucas chased these visions all the manner to Laikipia, toting six high-quality DSLR digicam traps and ten low-quality path cameras for reconnaissance.

He would spend a couple of yr touring forwards and backwards to Laikipia for this challenge, however even with all this gear and a lifetime of preparation, he couldn’t have imagined simply how fruitful that yr would prove to be. By working intently with conservationists, researchers, guides, landowners, and members of the local people, Lucas was ready to seize not one, not two, however (by his depend) over 25 high-quality photographs of this black leopard by the time the e book went to print.

“Throughout that yr I noticed [the black leopard] 5 instances with my very own eyes and solely a kind of instances was throughout the day,” says Lucas. “If I had been counting on conventional methods (i.e. photographing him by hand) I would of captured one or two OK photos with the lengthy lens. It was solely by deploying a number of digicam traps for such a very long time—and by actually coming to perceive the areas he preferred to frequent—that I used to be ready to construct up the physique of labor.”

A physique of labor that may take your breath away with each flip of the web page.

The primary digicam entice picture that Lucas captured of the elusive black leopard. This picture was shot with an infrared-converted DSLR. Laikipia County, Kenya, January 2019.
The second picture that Lucas captured of the leopard, taken with a daily DSLR digicam entice additional down the similar path as the first. Laikipia County, Kenya, January 2019.
The black leopard with the full moon setting behind. Laikipia County, Kenya, January 2019.
This huge male leopard, nicknamed “Huge Spotty,” would finally chase the younger black leopard away. At this level they had been coexisting in the similar territory. Laikipia County, Kenya, March 2019
This digicam was arrange to seize the stars, however the leopard got here previous when the moon had already risen. Happily clouds had been blotting out most of the mild from the moon. Laikipia County, Kenya, April, 2019.
One of the most stunning photographs in the complete e book. The black leopard passing by on a stupendous star-filled evening. Laikipia County, Kenya, July 2019
One other picture of the leopard, nicknamed ‘Blacky’, photographed below a starry sky. This sort of picture is extremely difficult, and the results of months of painstaking trial and error. Laikipia County, Kenya, July 2019

When you think about the indisputable fact that an extremely fortunate photographer may need one or two photographs of a black panther of their portfolio, what Lucas achieved right here begins to come into focus. However even in case you aren’t impressed by the rarity of his topic or the high quality of his compositions, there’s a ardour and enthusiasm to Lucas telling of the story that pulls you into the course of and leaves you with a larger appreciation for the craft of pictures.

The Black Leopard was much more e book than I anticipated after I picked it up. I believed I used to be getting an prolonged picture story—an extended model of the weblog posts you typically see proper right here on PetaPixel. As an alternative, I used to be handled to a life story. I obtained an trustworthy have a look at the actuality of struggling to discover your voice as a wildlife photographer. I earned just a little extra respect for the pure world. And I gained a renewed appreciation for photographers who dedicate their lives to capturing our world in distinctive and unprecedented methods.

As a photograph story, it’s unbelievable by default: one man’s quest to {photograph} one in every of the most elusive animals on Earth… what extra would you like? However as a real blue e book—a photograph e book cum memoir—The Black Leopard is ready to contact on far quite a lot of photographic highlights or nifty behind-the-scenes particulars. I’ve by no means and doubtless won’t ever exit and {photograph} African wildlife, to say nothing of an animal as iconic and elusive as the black leopard. And but, thanks to Lucas’ vivid storytelling and the beautiful physique of labor that makes up this picture e book, I really feel that I’ve skilled an inkling of this journey for myself.

Suffice it to say that the reviewer’s copy has taken up a everlasting spot at the heart of my espresso desk. My apologies to the writer… I don’t intend to ship it again.

Picture credit: All photographs by Will Burrard-Lucas and shared with permission.

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