The attack begins

Our guide heard that a lioness with two cubs was at a watering hole in Ol Pejeta Reserve, Kenya, so he took us there. It was about 11:30 am. We spotted her in the grass. Three impalas came out of the bush and headed for the water. We anxiously waited for her to pounce. She didn’t, and they left. A few minutes later a larger herd came in, in groups of 2 and 3, until nearly 20 were present. After what seemed like an interminable wait (but according to the EXIF was only 7 minutes) one of the impalas walked into the deep mud. The lioness leapt from her hiding place and attacked, and within 3 seconds had her jaws clamped around its throat. The rest of the herd scattered, keening from across the pond. We felt an odd relief. The tension was broken. The impala died quickly – a bloodless death – and the lioness fed her small family for another day.

Specific Feedback Requested

I approached this like a sporting event. Keep the camera focused on the subject, set a high shutter speed, turn the motor drive to its highest speed, and when the action starts hit the button and follow the action. I’m curious whether that’s the common way to think about shooting something like this, or if there are other emotional or technical approaches that people find useful.

Technical Details

Nikon D850, Tamron 100-400mm at 290mm, iso 1250, 1/2000 sec at f11. I made the mistake of having a high speed SD card in the camera instead of an XQD card. Consequently my buffer filled up before the final takedown.

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Hi Joe,

Certainly a heart-stopping encounter with great drama. I think the hardest thing to do in such situations is to choose the point to concentrate on as even with a clear subject (the lioness) you don’t really know how events will unfold and oftentimes you have to make a difficult choice of whether to zoom in on the action or to zoom out and include more of the scene/less potential for clipping essential elements. In this situation I think a slightly wider zoom on the lens would have ensured that the (target?) antelope would have not been clipped. I do like the scattering pose of the rest of the group as it helps frame the lioness.

Hi Dvir,
Thank you for your comment and advice. I was very happy to get the scattering of the impalas in this shot.
I agree it is a difficult choice about which story to tell. I didn’t know what to expect, but I guess I planned on her driving into the middle of the herd, spreading chaos and crowding. I wanted to have a relatively tight frame to get her musculature and strength as she did that. Instead she went for an impala on the edge of the herd, not seen in this image, who was off to the side in the mud. She ran across my field of vision, and my 15 images were like an Eadweard Muybridge study of lion movement. If I’m fortunate enough to be in this position in the future, I’ll try to get a position on the far side of the mud so she’ll run right at me. Of course that time she’ll go in another direction.
Thanks again for your comment.