Dinokeng, South Africa, 2019
This white lion, named after Tolkien’s character Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, is one of the most formidable lions within Kevin Richardson’s famous sanctuary. Kevin is comfortable walking with most of the lions under his care, but this is not one of them.
Nevertheless, I wanted to take a tight portrait of Gandalf where my eyes were exactly at his eye level. This was not going to be simple. I needed to be close, but also safe. Kevin and I worked on an approach that involved shooting through an improvised latch in one of his maximum-security fences.
The first time we tried this approach in the late afternoon, Gandalf was preoccupied by other things. When he eventually approached us, the evening light was uneven across his face, which distracted from the detail. There was no shot.
But that night at camp, when I looked at the photographs I had taken, I realized the great potential of the idea that Gandalf looked like a mythological beast, and he had so much mane that I knew I could fill the frame from about eight feet with no more than a 105mm lens. He was like something out of a fairy tale—all battle scared and white— the most fearsome cat I had ever seen.
We agreed the best time to work would be just before sunrise. There would be enough light to have the depth of field I needed, but the light would also be flat and even. Moreover, Kevin thought Gandalf would be slightly more cooperative first thing in the morning.
We had our moment around 6:45 a.m. Thanks to Kevin’s extraordinary ability to work with lions, Gandalf positioned himself in the one place that my idea could succeed—and then he stood and stared me down.
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Image: 68" x 56" (173 cm x 143 cm)
Framed: 79" x 67" (201 cm x 171 cm)
Image: 45" x 37" (115 cm x 94 cm)
Framed: 56" x 48" (143 cm x 122 cm)
LARGE: Edition of 12
STANDARD: Edition of 12