Sergio Pitamitz is a travel and wildlife photographer based in Italy, but he works with entities in the USA. He is a National Geographic Society contract photographer, and his images are represented by NatGeo Creative, Corbis, and Getty Images. His work has taken him to every continent in over 70 countries around the world, from the Americas to Australia; from the Arctic to Antarctica; from Africa to Asia and the Middle East. His photos have appeared in hundreds of publications worldwide.
When not on assignment, he also teaches photographic workshops and leads private photography tours in east and southern Africa.
Editor’s note: I started following Sergio Pitamitz’s Facebook page via a recommendation from another photographer (I wish I could remember who that was, so that I could give credit where credit is due. Possibly Dave Brosha, as I respect that talented guy enough to give any recommendation of his a try). Since clicking “Like” on Sergio’s page, I’ve been treated to a stream of astonishing lion photos from the Masai Mara. The day I saw this one, I found his contact info and emailed him at once, hardly daring hope for an answer from a man working for the National Geographic Society. His response? “Why not?”
That was followed by Sergio’s next email in short order, containing his remarkable story, despite the fact that he’d been up practically around the clock editing images the entire previous week. I suppose that I should no longer be surprised at the superabundance of generosity among prolific producers of first-rate work. It’s part of that kind of character to be enthusiastic and excited to share their knowledge and experience. Nonetheless, I always feel a jolt of gratitude and wonder when I open my email inbox and find something like the following narrative. Thank you, Sergio Pitamitz, for sharing the tale behind this captivating image.
Sergio’s Story: I was taking pictures in the Masai Mara during the great migration season when I found a lioness walking alone in the Savannah. Usually, lionesses stay with the rest of the pride taking care of the young and cubs. They rarely walk alone, unless they are looking for cubs—which are kept hidden from the rest of the pride until they are 3 months old—or are mating. I decided to follow her to understand the reason of this unusual behavior.
After a few hundred meters, a big male lion came out from the bush! He approached the female, and they mated. Lions leave the pride for 4 or 5 days—commonly called the honeymoon—and they mate every 20 minutes or so; a very painful and weary process to get the female pregnant.
My policy has always been: if they accept me, I stay; if they don’t, I leave.
The lion couple was pretty friendly, and they didn’t move away from the car, positioned at 40 meters from them. Suddenly, the male growled toward us, and I took this image.
It was the last one before we left, because it was clearly a warning saying: “Go away from here”. They wanted their privacy, and it’s very important to avoid disturbing the wildlife. My policy has always been: if they accept me, I stay; if they don’t, I leave.
Understanding animal behavior is a big part of being a wildlife photographer. If I didn’t know the behavior of the lions, I would have continued on my way, missing this picture.
P.S. from the editor: for readers who wonder about the “secrets” and methods behind great images, studying the stories will quickly show that certain patterns and consistencies emerge among different photographers. Sergio’s takeaway lesson for wildlife photography is “know your subject’s behavior”. If you’ve followed this series, you might notice the striking similarity here to the message of Dave Gignac in another Photo Stories article.
Photo Stories is a series that provides a look at how our favorite images were made.