National Geographic via TODAY

TODAY   |  August 02, 2013

Photographer offers stunning look at lions

The latest issue of National Geographic magazine features an extraordinary collection of photos showing a pride of lions in their natural habitat. Photographer Michael Nichols shares stories of the work that went into making the images.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> now let's turn to a project years in the making that's giving the world a stunning and unique up close look at the magnificent african lion .

>>> in the southwest corner of serengeti park in tan santa, a lion greets another lion and shares a nuzzle. just one of the special moments captured by wildlife photographer michael nichols who spent a year living in the african wilderness and documents the maest j jefjestic creatures. and a device known as the microcopter used here for an early morning aerial view.

>> we're going over the valley that we are living in.

>> nighttime is the prime hunting hours for big cats because in the dark they can see better than their prey so nichols used infrared light to capture moments when members of the prime feast on a wilder wilderbeest. nichols work illuminate as lion's pattern. cubs born in close proximity to each other and the job protecting them is shared by female lions . here they keep the cubs in the den to protect them from predators. impressive, imposing, fear some. lions have always captured our imagination. with these images nichols hopes to inspire others and preserve this species for future generations.

>> stunning images. michael nichols is with us. what's the purpose of this project to show lions in the way people haven't seen them before, you had to be embedded with them. how long did it take for the lions to get used to?

>> literally the first moment that we arrived we were introduced by a scientist, the car they were in they see. they never raised their heads. after that they missed it. they became the team. lions are the enemy of everybody else. so we were part of their team. all the other animals were afraid of us too.

>> what was the technology you used to help shape the assignment?

>> one thing, you don't hug lions .

>> yeah. never an awkward when you a lion.

>> the robot was important to get close to them to get down to their level.

>> this we haven't seen before.

>> that was critical to be on their level, to be really close. the whole idea --

>> did the lions ever attack it?

>> they touched it lightly. they were cautious with it. they weren't aggressive. they weren't sure what it was.

>> did you or your crew ever feel threatened, any moment?

>> we had moments but the whole thing was a leap of faith where you decide that you're not on the menu, you don't have a barrier, there's openness between you and you just really stay tuned in. you don't do anything fast. i focused like crazy, intense focus all the time so you can get there. but they are cats. they are unpredictable. got huge claws. you can't think not dangerous but you have to pretend it's not.

>> what did you learn about quickly about the female role of the lion.

>> the female for me became the lion. the male plays kind of a loose role but the female ties everything together, very cooperative. they do everything together.

>> thank you very much. stunning imagery. appreciate that. go to nbc.com for more. the band perry is here. they are live on the plaza after this. but first your local news.