A lion in the Kalahari Desert
Photo: © Chris Johns/National Geographic
CJ: The lion in the dust storm is a much different kind of story, because that's the story of a good ending to a bad day. I was working in the Kalahari Desert, right on the Botswana-South Africa border, quite a remote area. I'd gone out early in the day to meet a meerkat researcher because I wanted to photograph meerkats. It was very hot, stinkin' hot, and on the way I saw two magnificent male lions at a watering hole that we drove by on one of these sand tracks out in the Kalahari. And I thought, "Boy, those are good-looking lions." But the lighting was terrible and I needed to meet the scientist, so I just sort of logged it: "I hope I bump into those guys again."

I went to meet the scientist, but the scientist didn't show up. His assistant showed up, and then his assistant said I couldn't do anything because the scientist was gone. It seemed like a wasted day, almost. Sort of discouraged, my assistant and I were driving back and a big storm started to boil across the Kalahari in the late afternoon. And the sky started to turn black and the wind started to blow. And of course, a photographer loves bad weather—I mean, bad weather almost always gives you better pictures than good weather. So I thought, "Let's try to find those lions."

The light's fading; we're not too far from the water hole where we saw them. And here's this magnificent male. He's one of the most beautiful lions I have ever seen. He's headed into the wind trying to find shelter out there in the Kalahari and the light's going fast, the wind's howling, the sky's dark. It's getting late in the afternoon, and again, I mean, you're just shooting like a maniac.

Of course, I had to get relatively close to him because the dust storm was so thick that I couldn't cut through the dust to even see him. He was so preoccupied with the weather that he wasn't really paying much attention to me. It was one of those cases too, like the camels, where you're shooting and shooting and shooting and you've lost all sense of time. You know you have this great opportunity in front of you and somehow you've got to figure out how to capture it on film.


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