How to Shoot an Image You Can't See

We recently took a photo safari tour of Kenya and Tanzania. The most difficult animal to catch on film is the leopard. As opposed to lions, giraffes, hippos and other animals, the leopards are extremely shy and tend hide themselves well from gawking tourists.

I was able to get a good close-up shot of a leopard when I really couldn't see it with the naked eye or even through the 12x optical zoom lens. This instructable will teach you how to do it.

Addendum made on Feb 24: Someone pointed out that the animal in the picture is most likely a cheetah, not a leopard. Nevertheless, the technique used here is still applicable.

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Step 1: Shoot the Image and Crop Later

People in our van spotted a leopard about 200 yards away with their binoculars. No one could really see it with their naked eye (except probably the guide who knows what to look for). I couldn't even find it in the viewfinder of my 12x optical zoom camera.

In the first image on this page you can easily spot the leopard but imagine trying to see the animal when this image is shrunk to a 2-inch screen. The second photo shows what it looks like in the viewfinder. What I did was simply point my camera in the direction they said it was in and zoomed in as much as I could. I took the shot at max resolution (7 MB).

Then I reviewed the image in the viewfinder and digitally zoomed in as much as I could. After panning around a bit, the leopard was as plain as day. Others in van were amazed when they looked at the zoomed in image in my viewfinder. They started using the same trick. It's ironic that the one person with the $5000 camera with a huge zoom lens couldn't do this because her camera didn't have the digital zooming capability.

My camera is a Panasonic FZ8. It has 12x zoom and a capability of 7 MB resolution. It only cost me $300.

I use GIMP on a Linux box to do things like cropping and scaling. At home I was able to view the image in GIMP on a 22 inch monitor and crop just the leopard.

The first image shown here has been scaled to 600x450 pixels for this instructable. You can see the original version (2560x1920) at
The very small image on this page is only 180x135. The final zoomed-in image is 804x500.

If anyone wants to see my full slide show on Kenya and Tanzania, it's online at:

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    8 Discussions

    $300 dollar camera? That's a lot cheaper than my sister's cam. Time to grab myself a cheap camera and start taking pics :D


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I've used this same technique for shooting pictures of people in the middle of a crowd across a stadium at sporting events just by knowing what section they're sitting in. They're always amazed "I could find them" from that far when I email them the pics later. :)


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, I agree it's a cheetah and yes, I know the difference. Never got a good shot of a leopard but I saw one with my own eyes. He was too fast and furtive.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    You have me wondering now. Here are several photos of a cheetah that I took and I'm beginning to agree with you.

    This cheetah was not fazed by all the tourists on the road and was sitting right out in the open about 50 yards away, not attempting to hide itself.

    Thanks for pointing it out. The purpose of the instructable stands. I may edit the instructable.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Smart tutorial. Great job, the place looks like a nice place to visit. I would definitely go, my friend's dad got kind of up close to a lion, and the picture is great.

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    If you looked at the slideshow, you can see that we got within 20-30 feet of lions. They totally ignored us and kept their eyes on the prey (usually a bunch of gazelles or wildebeests. Thanks for the comments.