“Lion photography is like a quest for me: to capture that dream image of a king animal in the middle of a lost paradise.” Laurent Baheux.
For tourists on an African safari the aim is to see and photograph as many animals as possible, but for Laurent Baheux it has become a lifetime’s work. He has a deep connection with the creatures and can pinpoint the exact moment where he felt he had to devote his time to telling the stories of these unique animals.
“A lion was standing on a rock, his eyes embracing the vast plain with calm and serenity, the wind blowing his imposing mane,” he explains. “He seemed at one with the nature that surrounded him, all in the sublime sweetness of the morning light. It was a timeless moment with optimal shooting conditions: nothing very spectacular, just a scene inviting contemplation, a moment conducive to reconnection with wildlife. It is my quest to capture these magical seconds.”
Laurent’s quest reveals itself through his powerful black and white images revealing more than the mere physical form of these animals. Instead they become characters in their own story, which is something that Laurent hopes will raise awareness and help with the conservation efforts.
But why the choice to shoot in black and white?
“For me black and white is the essence of photography - just light and shade,” Laurent explains. “By using black and white, I can focus more easily on the shapes and composition of the image. The colours fascinate us, but they also act as a distraction and prevent a deep study of the photographed subject. Black and white allows a more personal interpretation.’
Laurent uses three different Sony cameras to capture his images - the Sony α9, α7R III and an α7 III. Each camera serves its own purpose, depending on just what he is trying to capture. The α9 is built for speed - enabling Laurent to photograph the big cats sprinting at 20fps - whilst the 42.4 mega-pixel of the α7R III enables the tiniest details to be captured. The α7 III acts as an all-rounder with a good dynamic range and fast autofocus capabilities.
What is common on all three cameras is the way that Laurent uses the electronic viewfinder to compose and view his image in monochrome: “The electronic viewfinders of the Sony cameras allow me to shoot this way,” he says, “and I love this feature. I can even customize the contrast levels to my own personal taste so I know what the image will look like before I press the shutter.”
With the camera set, Laurent is ready to shoot. He never plans his images in advance, instead allowing nature to lead the narrative. Lions are wild predators, and alongside their majesty, there is also an underlying sense of the sheer power of these creatures.
Laurent tells us, “as a storyteller I never prepare my shots - I know that the spectacle of nature will always be beautiful and unpredictable. I want to keep this candor and this contemplative side. I do not want to impose anything. This means that my photographic quest is therefore infinite.”
Lions are fascinating animals that have an incredible presence,” he continues. “You cannot forget a meeting with a wild lion in its natural environment. A face-to-face encounter is amazing because we feel all its strength and power, but also all its fragility and the tenderness it releases.
The face to face closeness that Laurent produces gives the viewer a feeling that we could reach out and touch the lions in his images. However, the truth is that Laurent maintains not just safe working distance, but one that allows the lions to behave naturally, so that he doesn’t impose himself on them, and therefore on the image.
“I’m often asked how close I am to the animal. In fact, I'm never very close.” He goes on to explain, “I generally use the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master lens, or the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 telephoto lens, sometimes even with the 2x converter for an 800mm focal length. It is these long lenses that give the impression that I am close. For wider shots that show more of the habitat I also use the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master lens. Each lens helps to tell a different part of the story.”
He continues, “I also don’t use a tripod, relying instead on the in-camera and lens based stabilisation. This allows me to be very mobile which is essential in helping me explore and create interesting compositions.
And for those wishing to tell starting telling the story of the wildlife around them, Laurent has one key bit of advice – “Always be ready because nature is so special the same scene will never happen twice.”
"No cage, no pens, no circus, no zoo. In freedom, in the wild. Captivity is a physical and mental torture for every living being. Animals like men"