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Photographing a mountain lion in Griffith Park

It took National Geographic's Steve Winter more than a year to get one photograph.

Winter took the picture without ever laying eyes on the big cat that lives alone in the hills of Griffith Park.

He used a remote camera with infrared beams. When the animal breaks the beam, the camera is programed to take ten pictures.

That shot of a mountain lion walking by the hazily lit Hollywood Sign will appear in the December 2013 issue of National Geographic.

Listen to the interview with Steve Winter on KPCC's Take Two.

It's where to put the camera that presents the toughest problem. For the picture of mountain lion P-22 walking past the Los Angeles skyline, the cat only passed the camera twice in an entire year.

“Cats are habitual animals," Winter said. He and his team tracked the lion near the Hollywood Sign using its GPS collar. "We found that there was an area on the ridge that he liked walking down, so I placed the camera there.”

When Winter first had the idea almost two years ago to shoot a cougar with the iconic sign, scientist Jeff Sikich thought he was crazy.

But after waiting 14 months and moving his camera three times, he finally got the impossible shot.

Steve Winter started photographing big cats for National Geographic 22 years ago. His first assignment was to document a Brazilian ranch where Teddy Roosevelt hunted jaguars.

He found himself 12 feet away from a jaguar.

"I can’t breathe, my camera’s shaking but I got to have this shot, it’s never been done before," he said. "I got it and it was the opener of the story.”

You might be wondering how someone like Steve Winter gets into the business of photographing lions, tigers and bears in the wild.

“It was totally by accident, I started out my career as a photojournalist," Winter said. "I was more afraid of people and then moved into animals – by accident you could say, but it must be meant to be.”

Though Winter has been charged at many times, he's never suffered physical injury.

“The only reason I do this is because I trust the people who do this, whether they’re local people or park guards," he said. "They’re in dangerous situations everyday and they learn how to be intelligently fearful.”

Winter said he's been in much more dangerous situations: “In 1989 for Time Magazine, a guy was shooting at me with a machine gun," he said. "Luckily he was a bad shot, I didn’t get shot. I’ll take my chances with an animal where instinctually he or she doesn’t want to hurt me.”

Steve Winter explains in this video all the work that went into getting his "money shot" in Griffith Park:

 

RELATED: AudioVision's Maya Sugarman followed researchers as they attempted to catch and examine an elusive mountain lion.

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