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Steve Winter: p-22

Work / Photography

The story behind how a very patient photographer shot Los Angeles’ mountain lion

Patience can be a virtue in photography, as Steve Winter knows. It took the American wildlife photographer 15 months to get the shot he craved; a mountain lion that lives in a Los Angeles park walking in front of the Hollywood sign. When he did finally manage it, he admits he was a little disappointed by the lighting, but that’s how perfectionists are and perfectionism can be tricky when working with subjects as unpredictable as big cats.

Steve is a multi-award winning photographer who has shot grizzly bears and rhinos on location, but he has made a particular name for himself photographing big cats – including snow leopards, tigers and jaguars. He had long been interested in mountain lions and was at the dentist when a friend excitedly got in touch to tell him that a mountain lion had been spotted in Griffith Park, an unlikely habitat bounded by motorways. Steve’s more used to working in remote jungles and forests but became obsessed with the idea of capturing p-22 (as the lion is known) against the backdrop of the iconic sign.

Of the four cameras he set up in Griffith Park three were stolen but the one that really mattered remained. His assistant had to crouch down in front of the lens, mimicking the height of the lion and making sure the sign would be visible. If anything tripped the infrared beam, the camera would start shooting. After that all they could do was wait.

“You have to believe this is going to happen. And the belief comes from spending all that time tracking and understanding behaviour.”

Steve Winter

“You have to have an incredible amount of patience and ultimately, faith, that all those days and weeks you spend learning where the animal goes, you are going to get your shot,” Steve told National Geographic. "You have to believe this is going to happen. And the belief comes from spending all that time tracking and understanding behaviour. I call it ‘zen and the art of camera trapping.’“

Sure enough more than a year later, he got the shot he was hankering after; p-22 padding downhill with the Hollywood sign in the background. It was one of several incredible shots collected taken during the project – in fact so extraordinary are they that coupled with Steve’s particular lighting style that some have accused him of Photoshop trickery. But in fact Steve’s terrific photos are a product of technical skill, a little luck and a great deal of patience.

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Steve Winter: p-22

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Steve Winter: p-22

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Steve Winter: Griffith Park

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Steve Winter: Griffith Park

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Steve Winter: Griffith Park

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Steve Winter: Griffith Park

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Steve Winter: Griffith Park