• December 26, 2013

Pictures We Love: Pride of the Serengeti Lion

Alexa Keefe

National Geographic’s Proof blog invited the photography and design teams of National Geographic magazine to look back through the hundreds of photographs from the over 75 stories published in 2013 and select one photo that spoke to their heart, intrigued them, inspired awe, made them smile—in short, to choose their favorite photo from this past year. Over the next several days we’ll bring you a round-up of the breathtaking, the touching, the extraordinary, the imperfect, and the beautiful. All of the photographs below are by Michael “Nick” Nichols, from the August 2013 story “The Short Happy Life of the Serengeti Lion.”

Lions kill lions. C-Boy, defending his interests, confronts that peril on a daily (and nightly) basis.

Kathy Moran, Senior Editor, Natural History

My favorite photograph of 2013 has to be one of C-boy the lion. I’ve worked with photographer Nick Nichols for 20 years. “The Short Happy Life of the Serengeti Lion” is the 15th story that we’ve collaborated on for the magazine and the one that I have most wanted to do. I love big cats. For me, this image is the culmination of years of research, planning, and advances in photographic technology coming together in a simple yet powerful way.

Lions come alive at night. By photographing C-boy in infrared black and white, without intrusive flash, Nick made the most naturalistic images ever of nocturnal lions. His photographs revealed lions as we rarely get to see them—in the dark, attuned to everything happening around them, in their element. When you look at C-boy, you know that you are playing in his world. It was a privilege.

C-Boy mates with a Kibumbu pride female. After fathering cubs, a resident male can be displaced by other males. His young offspring will then be killed by the new males or left to die.

Alice Gabriner, Senior Photo Editor

It’s hard to pick one. I don’t have a favorite food, song, or movie, so how do you choose a favorite picture? When editing a magazine story, I look at every frame shot by the photographer and whittle down one by one. In much the same way, I approached this exercise by relooking at every image published in 2013 and then narrowed my selects until just a few remained.

There’s a beautiful Abelardo Morell from Olympic National Park that I would love to hang on my wall. Sebastiao Salgados’s Siberian herders stand out because—well, he’s a master. I’m drawn to the subtle cinematic quality David Guttenfelder captured in a picture from North Korea of a woman standing next to a fish tank. Having worked with Ed Kashi on his northern Nigeria feature, I’m particularly moved by his depiction of women running on railroad tracks strewn with garbage.

Nick Nichols’s multiyear opus on lions is filled with iconic imagery. Yet, in the end, reflecting on the merits of each photograph—again and again—the most unusual, for me, is this scene of mating lions. Perhaps Nick’s passion for this project comes through and mirrors the ferocity portrayed. In any case, it’s unforgettable.

Hildur, C-Boy’s partner, frequently makes a long run to visit the Simba East pride. A coalition that controls two prides must maintain vigilance over both.

Tess Vincent, Photo Coordinator

Love at first sight. No phenomenon could better describe this image and its effect on me.

When Nick’s assignment images started rolling in, I remember my eyes being drawn to this particular one early and often. I felt like the lone patron of a tiny museum, and, somehow, I discovered something new each time I revisited this piece.

The tale of the Serengeti lion has been one of the most significant stories for me while at National Geographic, and Hildur, pictured here, one of its most compelling protagonists. This still (which is anything but) is a synthesis of beauty and burden, an illustration of the majesty of the Serengeti as well as the hardships of its inhabitants.

When I first saw it, I felt hypnotized by the grace and movement in front of me; I could almost hear the swish of the grass and feel the rippling sinews of Hildur as he ran a punishing distance from one territory to the next. I wasn’t looking at a photograph; I was in it. And I was swimming in the painterly swirl of the Serengeti as it was brushed by the fading light of dusk.

As I came to know this story more, though, I wasn’t only seeing Hildur’s streaked mane and primordial power; I was seeing each rib in his cage, each vertebra in his back, the indisputable evidence of an uncertain life on the plains. This image strikingly brings us into the intricate world of lions and all that makes it so extraordinary.

A male often asserts his prerogatives. C-Boy feasts on a zebra while the Vumbi females and cubs wait nearby, warned off by his low growls. Their turn will come.
Ken Geiger, Deputy Director of Photography

One of the most amazing stories I’ve seen in the short time I’ve worked here is Nick Nichols’s photo coverage of “The Short Happy Life of a Serengeti Lion.”

Not only is this image hauntingly beautiful, as are many images in the story, but what makes this image gripping is the moment created by the intensity of the lion’s eyes combined with the intimacy of having the camera on the same level as the lion. Those two factors create such a gripping image that I’ve never tired of seeing it.

I also have such an amazing respect for this set of images—they reset the bar for all brilliant wildlife photography. Nick, along with the gift of time on the ground, used and cobbled numerous pieces of technology so that he could capture never before seen images of lions. That kind of dedication to the craft of photography—and using every tool available to tell a story that moves the dial on lion conservation—is a pleasure to behold.

If you haven’t had a chance to see this story online, in all of it’s multimedia glory, then treat yourself by clicking on this link: The Serengeti Lion.

View these photographs and more in our interactive Year in Review.

There are 66 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. jackie lopez
    February 5, 2015

    u put apic of them mating really we dont want to see that i mean really they are having sex

  2. Mari Pereira Olinto
    June 26, 2014

    I too love lions ! Nice your photos !!

  3. Renee
    May 16, 2014

    These photos are absolutely beautiful. And they deserve every bit of praise they get. Everyone questioning the validity of the zebra photo has obviously not studied it enough. If you look closely, no those are not stitches. Maybe the lion had killed the zebra and waited to eat it? It’s a decomposing animal. The skin of it is not going to look very good since it’s DEAD. Quit questioning everything and just appreciate the beauty of what you have before your eyes.

  4. rocky chaudhry
    March 20, 2014

    RIP .C Boy

  5. Cat
    January 8, 2014

    Please review photo, appears to be staged???Carcass appears to covered by a zebra blanket

    January 7, 2014

    Amazing and very very beautiful

  7. vin weathermon
    January 7, 2014

    Lance, no it wasn’t staged! You are seeing hair from the tail. The shot is fantastic.

  8. Judy
    January 6, 2014

    My favorite is C-Boy, so majestic. All of these photos are amazing. I LOVE lions because they are so beautiful, so brave. I also LOVE Lions because I am a Leo and so is my husband.

  9. Lance
    January 6, 2014

    The picture of the lion with what appears to be a zebra coat ,note the stiching on the front right. Was this staged?

    January 6, 2014


  11. Lisa Dorfman
    January 6, 2014

    Beyond words…Thank You

  12. Randy de Mars
    January 6, 2014

    Next best thing to being there! Stellar photography.

  13. Sharon
    January 5, 2014

    The video with still photographs takes my breath away. I loved the article, even cried and celebrated with the pride but these videos capture even more intimacy on a level never before seen. Kudos for an amazing job well done!

  14. Lauren Cormier
    January 1, 2014

    The portrait of C-Boy lying in the grass is without a doubt one of my fav 5 from 2013 – and I’ve seen hundreds of NGS photographs!! It looks like an intimate moment between the lion & the photographer.

  15. andre
    December 31, 2013

    o leão mesmo no escuro mostra sua graça, se tira os méritos dos fotógrafos ótimo trabalho para bens !!!!

  16. Lorie michel
    December 31, 2013

    Thank you Michael for your dedication and patience in honoring one of the greatest animals on earth. Superb photography!

  17. Nauman Ahmad
    December 31, 2013

    These pictures are superb. I like them. http://sdfds.com.au/

  18. bettina ledesma
    December 30, 2013

    So Glad I review this page. Tess Vincent note on Hildur, was truly an education. Tho i love animals en their natural habitat, the way this picture was explained, made me love then more. Is like having Vermeer explained why is so magnificent. Sent my nephew, lion eating, (he loves cat), suggesting he could invited for sushi…Each photo, black and white, superb too, such gift for us all. Thanks, you all belong in NG.

  19. falconwood
    December 29, 2013

    Felt proud to be parked amidst two National Geographic expedition cars at the main gate back in September 2013 🙂

  20. suvendu samanta
    December 29, 2013

    Verry Hungry with love

  21. Shalu.
    December 28, 2013

    quit nice……..

  22. karunakaran
    December 28, 2013

    These resembles the life. Those are fantabulous especially the 1 with zebra…

  23. jose ramon sanchez pavon
    December 27, 2013

    Exelentes fotografias del rey de la selva en su habitad natural.

  24. edson andrade
    December 27, 2013

    Really nice.

  25. Terry Marshall
    December 27, 2013

    Well I do really love to watch and read about things in the National Geographic..they show youeverything in the clear light reflected on it.

  26. Soran
    December 27, 2013

    Veri beutifull

  27. noureddine
    December 27, 2013

    good pictures

  28. D. Gallant
    December 27, 2013

    amazing pictures….cannot wait to see more of 2013…thank you

  29. Elsie Barone
    December 27, 2013

    Yes please let me know when you have new ones.

  30. massimiliano
    December 27, 2013

    sono affascinato,ogni documentario,che vedo in generale resto incantato, i leoni che grandi

  31. Devendra Patel
    December 27, 2013

    Daringly excellent photographs taken.

  32. Delicia Sánchez
    December 27, 2013

    As each one of the people whose comment a read I really love big cats. Wacth theyrs photos in the place to where they belong really captures me and my imagination. I felt my breth away waiting the lion run and vanish.

  33. Martha Soto
    December 27, 2013


  34. parveen
    December 27, 2013

    nice photo

  35. Mwasimba Mpoki
    December 27, 2013

    I come from the land of Serengeti,Ngorongoro crater,Mt Kilimanjaro,I’m proud to ses the animale from my country’s national Park feature here but poaching Will finish them all.

  36. papyfariala
    December 27, 2013

    jsuis presque chaque jour nat geo wild comme emission les zardi docteur cool les mostre les aventure de bradi bar

  37. murad
    December 27, 2013

    Its good for know wield life

  38. ravichandran
    December 27, 2013

    excellent shots, hats of photographer

  39. aungthanhtun
    December 27, 2013


  40. Mary Casey
    December 27, 2013

    Love the picture of lion alone at night I’d frame that one!

  41. Larry Wiens
    December 27, 2013

    I thought the photos were amazing. Especially the black and white ones,

  42. Tathagata Roy
    December 27, 2013

    give me more picture like those

  43. kaiser
    December 26, 2013


  44. Barbara Szela
    December 26, 2013

    Beautiful photos. Amazing how you can capture the Lions moods and habits.

  45. Crane Chen
    December 26, 2013

    Thank you for sharing.

  46. Fairly Maria
    December 26, 2013

    I’m just amazed^^ I don’t have words to say. Especially “The Gaze of The Lion”

  47. Carole
    December 26, 2013

    I love the pictures of nature, wildlife in particular

  48. Gerald
    December 26, 2013

    I love your pic and the realness behind them

    December 26, 2013


  50. Kathleen Peterson
    December 26, 2013

    great job catching lions being lions

  51. Peter Sinclair
    December 26, 2013

    The dream of shooting wildlife (with a camera of course) on the Serengeti! Natgeo photographers are simply amazing at what they do.

  52. Arree Clay
    December 26, 2013

    In awe of the photos…just raw and gutsy! I LOVE LIONS!

  53. Dripta Sarkar
    December 26, 2013

    simply beyond the description of words…….

  54. ajaz
    December 26, 2013

    شي حلو

  55. Libuse
    December 26, 2013

    Absolutely astounding…epecially the first black and white photograph.

  56. Harry Fierlier
    December 26, 2013

    I love nature

  57. Harry Fierlier
    December 26, 2013


  58. Dony
    December 26, 2013

    Programa en espańol, sería más bueno, si no es mucha molestia,??

  59. jackie childs
    December 26, 2013

    These photos are so beautiful they almost look surreal

  60. Laura Hopkins
    December 26, 2013

    Awesome pictures,doing what I always wanted to do when I grew up. Thanks

  61. Destry Clarke
    December 26, 2013

    Fabulous photos! Love Nat Geo. keep up the fantastic work!

  62. Leonardo Chirinos Zúñiga
    December 26, 2013


  63. Leonardo Chirinos Zúñiga
    December 26, 2013


  64. Enrique Ostojic
    December 26, 2013

    Great pictures this animals are more alive at night because they darkness as its ally.

  65. Jan Wilson
    December 26, 2013

    i love all of these pictures! I can’t wait until i see the rest.

  66. Tuula Tuveskog
    December 26, 2013

    i LOVE lions. These fotos is beautiful. Georgius.

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