Getting Close With Wild Beasts (and Cute Meerkats)

Photographer Burrard-Lucas reveals how he gets amazing close-ups of dangerous and elusive animals.​
That's a cheeky place to put one's self © William Burrard-Lucas
By Lukas Pilz and Josh Sampiero

This may be the year (OK, decade) of the selfie, but if you’re sick of looking at duck-faced humans, then let us show you some bare-toothed beasts in the coolest up-close wildlife shots we’ve ever seen.

While photographer William Burrard-Lucas isn’t keen on handing his camera to a monkey, we found out a little more about how he has used some fairly impressive contraptions to get very close to wildlife without risking his own life — well, there was that one time with the hippopotamus ...

Come here, camera... © William Burrard-Lucas How do you get so close to these animals — super-human powers of camouflage?

Most of my shots are [taken] using devices of my own invention, like my "BeetleCam" — essentially a small, wheeled, robotic device with a camera mounted on top — which I can trigger from up to 100 yards away. I actually build these devices myself. It’s become an additional business to my photography stuff — check 'em out here.

William Burrard-Lucas
Can I eat it? © William Burrard-Lucas

So you didn’t actually get close enough to kiss a lion.

I’ve been close enough to reach out of a vehicle's windows to touch a lion. But … not on a regular basis. Other animals though — like the meerkats you see here, for instance — get quite used to humans and will come quite close.

William Burrard-Lucas
Cool cats just hanging out © William Burrard-Lucas

Really close.

Yep. You see, meerkats forage as a team, and then there’s one that will stand "sentry" to watch out for predators. He stands on his hind legs and looks around, and will get on to any rock or tree for a better vantage point. If I’m around long enough, I become that rock.

William Burrard-Lucas
Cool cats just hanging out © William Burrard-Lucas

You've also taken some cool time-lapses.

I was in the Serengeti for the great wildebeest migration. It’s really an impressive thing to see. Time-lapse was the only way to properly show the magnitude. (Watch it in the Instagram clip below.)

What are your favorite places to shoot?

I mainly work in Africa these days. Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia. I’ve also been to the Falkland Islands, Komodo Island ...

William Burrard-Lucas
That's a kiss... almost © William Burrard-Lucas

Do you only photograph animals?

I’m a wildlife photographer with an eye on conservation, so that occasionally means documenting the habitat and people working on conservation. I work closely with organizations helping Ethiopian wolves and African wild dogs — both really hard animals to get a camera on.

William Burrard-Lucas
The only dragon you'd get that close to © William Burrard-Lucas

What animals is the BeetleCam best for?

Predators — they’re inquisitive by nature. They’ll come up and check it out. Other animals that are more skittish — antelope, for instance — they’ll run away as soon as the BeetleCam moves. For animals like that, I use a "CamTrap," basically a camera that’s triggered by movement, often at night.

Oh, good morning... © William Burrard-Lucas

Sounds like dangerous, hard work.

Well, it’s definitely long days. I’m often up before sunrise to scout a location and animals to shoot in the morning light, then I’ll scout more spots when the sun is high and light is harsh, then shoot again in the evening hours or set up the CamTrap for night shoots. Yeah, I can be tired at the end of the day!

Got anything to nibble on? © William Burrard-Lucas

What have been your closest calls with dangerous animals?

Definitely tracking rhinos in Zambia. We happened on a female that was well known to have a temper, and we got close without her noticing us. When she did, she turned and charged. We all fled and climbed up trees — I barely made it a few feet off the ground, but luckily, their eyesight is bad and she couldn’t tell me from a tree, so she just sort of stamped and shuffled and wandered off.

Then there was the time we got charged by a hippo, which are quite dangerous — they kill more people per year in Africa than lions, by far. I’ll let that shot speak for itself.

Watch out when hippos charge © William Burrard-Lucas

Last year, a photographer famously lost the "rights" to his photo because a monkey pressed the shutter button. Do you own your shots?

Ha! Absolutely. I’m always the one taking the shot. I choose everything, even for a camera-trap shot at night. The animal tells me when the photo is taken, but everything else I’ve set up.

See more work from Will on his website or his Facebook page, and check out the Red Bull Adventure Facebook page while you're at it.

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