Living on the Wild Side: The Life of a Leopard



500mm 1/160 f5.6 iso 400

When it comes to the Big Five, the Leopard (Panthera pardus) is among the most difficult to photograph. In fact, my first digital capture was back in 2007 when I came across a unique encounter with two lions at the base of a tree, eagerly watching a leopard way up in the foliage. You can see this encounter here 

Over the years Ive gone from seeing one per safari to now seeing three to four, over a 2 week period my record is five.

What you might encounter

During the day, with some hunting, you can be lucky and find them resting in the bush or up in a tree.

Leopard in shade
500mm 1/1000 f65.6 iso 1400

leopard in bush
400mm 1/1600 f6.3 iso 240

From this high viewpoint, they can effectively observe both prey on the ground and in the distance. Furthermore, as a photographer, this is also the easiest way to spot them. Typically, you will see their long tail hanging down, which looks ‘out of place’ among the branches.

On a few rare occasions the conditions have been ideal and I’ve come across them walking in the open or looking for small prey on the ground. This one was my first open encounter from 2007

Leopard during the day
500mm 1/800 f5.6 iso 800

Leopards tend to be most active from dusk to dawn so getting a kill shot is almost impossible.

Mara Kenya Leopard 2
This image has been taken in almost total darkness. I had to switch the camera to manual focus and bump the iso to 20,000! Without the sensitive chip of digital camera it would be impossible to see the leopard with the naked eye. Watching it move slowly in the grass as it tracked a group of wildebeests was an amazing unique safari experience.

Their style of hunting is different from most cats. Lions typically hunt in groups by stalking their prey, slowly surrounding them and working together to isolate a weaker member of the herd, pouncing as the animal tries to escape. Cheetahs use speed as their primary weapon.

Leopard sitting facing front

Leopards rely on stealth to get close to prey (mostly antelopes, deer and rodent) They move with their whole body less than an inch from the ground maintaining a low profile. When they are within 16 ft. They pounce and use their powerful jaws to bring down the kill. They are capable of taking down animals as heavy as 150kg compared to their own average weight of 10-40kg.


Small kills get eaten right away, large animals get dragged to a safer location and hauled up as high as 19ft into a tree. The leopard will feast on the kill over several days or even a week. Surprisingly the kill doesn’t smell as much as you would expect. Having the carcass hanging means that the blood can drain and the meat spoils at a slower rate.

leopard with a wildebeest kill
480mm 1/1000 f6.3 iso 400

leopard with kill

Most of the time, I come across leopards by chance. However, during my last trip, I ventured into an area known for being prime leopard territory. Initially, after a search lasting around 90 minutes yielded no sightings, on our way back to camp, I was fortunate enough to capture some shots of a playful leopard sitting and rolling in the grass (see below).

There really is no standard time for how long you have to wait for a good image. The next day I went back to the same area and immediately captured the close up shot of a female in a tree that you can see at the base of this post. I spent around an hour watching her so I could get a clear image and avoid as much foliage as possible.

Indeed, seeing a leopard with a cub is another exceedingly rare and captivating wildlife encounter. Their litter is normally 2-4 cubs with only 50% surviving past the first year. The mother leopard will often hide the cubs in thick bushes, away from predators and humans. Consequently, capturing a shot of the mother and her cubs remains an image I’m still diligently working on obtaining!
155mm 1/320 f4.5 iso 500

leopard in grass
155mm 1/320 f4.5 iso 500

Leopard backlit
250mm 1/400 f4.0 iso 320

You will notice ive used a  variety of focal lengths. While the leopards I come across tend not to be shy, my typical focal length range for photographing them falls between 150mm to 500mm in full frame. On average, 400mm is my most commonly used focal length.

leopard face close up
500mm 1/1000 f5.6 iso 220

leopard front view
210mm 1/250 f5.6 iso 200

For many years I have photographed the leopard at the top of this page. This year I was privileged to be asked by the rangers to officially name her. I called her Sarah.
I hope she will have a long and fruitful life.

Gear Used:

Nikon D850, D810, D700, D80  200-400 f4, 200-500 5.6 All shots Hand Held

More about leopards

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2 Responses to “Living on the Wild Side: The Life of a Leopard”

  1. Lisa Avatar

    these pictures are amazing, I am going on a safari to South Africa at the end of April, however I am a complete beginner and I have a Nikon D3300 and just bought a sigma 50-500mm lens (although considering changing this for something else) Please could you give me some tips at shooting, anything you think that might be helpful, especially in those low light situations you mentioned. Many Thanks, Lisa

  2. Bryan Pereira Avatar
    Bryan Pereira

    Hi Lisa,
    My blog post:
    Will give you some tips on getting the best from your safari

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