Today, becoming famous in the world of wildlife photography is not so easy. The Briton Will Burrard-Lucas definitely succeeded, not without the help of the mysterious black leopard. We have translated for you a review from the Petapixel resource of Lucas’s book, dedicated to his adventures in Africa (and beyond).
Behind each unique photo lies its own unique story. Sometimes it’s a story of luck to be in the right place at the right time with the right lens on your camera, but more often than not years of trial and error precede the triumph. Black Leopard by photographer Will Burrard-Lucas falls into the second category.
The Black Leopard: My Quest to Photograph One of Africa’s Most Elusive Cats is a book that doesn’t fit neatly into any genre. This is both a memoir, a photo essay and an inspiring how-to book for wildlife photographers who want to make a name for themselves in this highly competitive industry.
While the title refers to “a quest to capture one of Africa’s most elusive cats,” the book could just as easily have been titled “how to become a world-famous wildlife photographer.” After all, in the end, Lucas managed to make a truly unprecedented series of photographs.
Lucas’s love for leopards began as a child, when he lived in Tanzania for a year. In general, his entire career as a wildlife photographer could be explained by that first experience in Africa, and it was the encounter of 5‑year-old Will with a leopard that most captivated his imagination.
It is more difficult to determine the origins of his dream to photograph a black leopard. Perhaps this is simply due to the mysteries and myths that surround these animals: in Africa, black leopards are so rare that they are legendary. You can spend a lifetime as a professional safari guide and never see one, and until 2019, the last scientifically documented sighting of a wild black leopard in Africa was in 1909. Any wildlife photographer dreams of photographing this particular animal.
Perhaps Lucas’ entire life has made him the photographer who could do it, from first meeting a leopard as a child to his passion for sophisticated remote cameras and founding his own company, Camtraptions. Every moment in Lucas’ photography and entrepreneurial career has helped him develop and hone the skills, knowledge and techniques it takes to create a studio-quality image of this incredibly rare animal in its natural habitat.
Slightly more than half of the book is devoted to this. At first it even seems that you have been deceived — you think you bought a book about shooting a black leopard, and this photographer tells you the story of his life, starting at the age of five. But by the end of the book, the value of this context becomes apparent.
The threads of Lucas’ life are woven together when a fateful phone call occurs in August 2018. While talking about an unfortunate incident during a photo safari in Madagascar, his fellow guide mentioned that a black leopard had already been seen several times in a row in the Laikipia National Park (Kenya).
“My jaw dropped. Chance to see a black leopard in Africa? I just didn’t have the words. The rest of the conversation was like a blur… As I drove back to the camp in the gathering dusk, the antelopes and hares running from the bright light of my headlights seemed like black panthers to me,” Lucas writes, recalling that day.
The stars finally aligned, and in January 2019, Lucas reached Laikipia with six high-quality camera traps and ten low-resolution surveillance cameras.
He spent about a year traveling the length and breadth of Laikipia, but even with all this equipment and preparation, he could not imagine how fruitful that year would turn out to be. Working closely with conservationists, scientists, guides, landowners and members of the local community, Lucas was able to capture not one, not two, but more than 25 high-quality photographs of the black leopard.
“That year I saw with my own eyes [черного леопарда] five times, and only once a day… If I relied on traditional methods (such as taking photos by hand), I could take one or two good (in the original “OK” — translator’s note) photographs with a telephoto lens. It was only by setting up several camera traps for a long time and that I studied well and understood what places he liked to visit, I was able to make such a series, ”says Lukas.
When you consider the fact that an incredibly lucky photographer might have one or two photos of a black panther in his portfolio, it becomes clear what Lucas was able to achieve. But even if you’re not impressed by the rarity of the subject matter or the quality of the compositions, Lucas tells a story with passion and passion that draws you in and makes you appreciate the art of photography itself.
“Black Leopard” turned out to be a much stronger book than me (reviewed by DL Cade) expected. I thought it would be an extended photo essay, sort of like a longer version of the PetaPixel blog posts. Instead, I got a whole life story. I got an honest look at how hard it is to find yourself as a wildlife photographer. I have a greater respect for wildlife itself. And I appreciated even more the work of photographers who dedicate their lives to capturing our world in a unique way.
As a photo essay, the work is excellent by default: the quest of a man who decided to photograph one of the most elusive animals on Earth. But also as a memoir photobook, Black Leopard touches on much more than a few moments of shooting or interesting behind-the-scenes details. I will never travel to Africa and photograph African wildlife, let alone photograph the elusive black leopard. And yet, thanks to Lucas’ vivid storytelling and the amazing amount of material that this photobook consists of, it was as if I had participated in all the adventures myself.
Suffice it to say that the copy of the book that was sent to me for review took a permanent place in the center of my coffee table. I apologize to the publisher… I’m not going to send it back.