Beauty of the Beast

Video of Sprinting Cheetahs a First in Wildlife Photography


Reporting by Roff Smith with Glenn Oeland

The slow-motion video is entrancing, revealing the fluid grace of the world’s fastest land animal. Every part of the sprinting cat’s anatomy—supple limbs, rippling muscles, hyperflexible spine—works together in a symphony of speed.

The extraordinary footage—captured last summer during an intensive three-day shoot at the Cincinnati Zoo—is unprecedented in its clarity and detail. “I’ve watched cheetahs run for 30 years,” said Cathryn Hilker, founder of the zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program. “But I saw things in that super slow-motion video that I’ve never seen before.”

The project was an outgrowth of a feature story about cheetahs published in the November issue of National Geographic. Kim Hubbard, the story’s photo editor, and cinematographer Greg Wilson brought together an A-team that included some of Hollywood’s hottest action and stunt cameramen to attempt a first in wildlife photography.

“Running cheetahs have been photographed using high-speed cameras,” Hubbard said. “But never has one been filmed with a high-speed camera moving alongside it at 50 or 60 miles an hour.”

To pull it off, the crew built a 400-foot-long track with a remote-control sled to keep pace with each cheetah. On the sled were a high-definition digital cinema camera firing off 1,200 frames a second and three cameras shooting 42 frames a second in sequence. A 150,000-watt light illuminated the course.

Keeping the train of high-tech gear in split-second synch with the sprinting cheetahs was daunting. One of the zoo’s cheetahs, a female named Sarah, broke the world record for the standing 100-meter dash, clocking a time of 5.95 seconds. She proved particularly difficult to photograph, often outrunning the camera sled. “We started calling her the ‘ghost cat,’” Hubbard said.

It wasn’t until the last night of the shoot that everything finally clicked and the team got the shot they were hoping for. “I think my heart rate was running higher than the cheetahs,” quipped camera operator Frank Buono, whose credits include action sequences in James Bond movies.  “This was one of the most challenging shoots I’ve ever done, and one of the most rewarding as well.”

Roff Smith wrote “Cheetahs on the Edge” for National Geographic Magazine.


December 9th-15th, Nat Geo WILD presents a week dedicated to nature’s fiercest felines—big cats—creatures of magnificent strength, ferocity and beauty that are rapidly facing extinction. With visually stunning and powerful stories from around the world, get closer than ever before to lions, tigers, cheetahs, panthers and more as you share in their triumphs, defeats, and epic struggles to survive.

Follow NG’s Big Cats Initiative on Twitter

More about Nat Geo WILD’s Big Cat Week

Other posts from Big Cat Week:

Closer Look: Warriors for Conservation

Closer Look: Sleeping with Lions

Closer Look: Making Friends with Technology

Closer Look: Closer Look: Tanzanian Community Rallies to End Illegal Lion Killings

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
  • Mark Frolick

    All I can say is ‘How can I buy this video?’

  • Stephen Lau

    Just amazing, what a beautiful animal

  • Amir

    Hi national geographic manager.
    i wanna appreciate you for best program.
    I love your farsi ( persian) NAT GEO.
    I am from iran.
    thanks and good luck

  • sabri mohamed

    everything is good,give me a chance to send more beautiful photos to you.pls inform me how to send it to you.

  • nadi

    exellente and powerful animal video

  • rupesh masurkar

    the amezing shots for snap-shots camera in runing motion,
    perfecty catch the imotions in hunting animals..

  • Victoria Madsen

    Thank you so much for this video! I have been entranced by cheetahs for years, and I have seen a lot of film of them running, but this video showed me more than I have seen ever before.

    I did not know that they only have one foot on the ground at a time when they are in full run. What a revelation!

    Thanks so much!

  • Trona Garvie

    This makes me cry every time I watch it. The beauty and clarity of the shots is stunning and just what I would like to do with my work. Thank you so much for creating this wonderful piece.

  • Drew Britten

    Amazing!!! What a wonderful collaboration of talented people and organizations. I am telling all my friends.

  • Deanna Gomez

    My son worked as part of the crew during the production of this video. He absolutely loved the experience of working so closely with such magnificent animals.

  • Bruce Badeau

    Bravo to the Cheetah’s, their magnificent running, the photographic following technology manned by wonderful seasoned experts, The Cincinnati Zoo and of course National Geographic. Truly an inspiring production worthy of a cinematic award! And yet I feel sad knowing there are men armed with rifles and scopes who think it is sport to shoot a Cheetah… even though severely outlawed … put away those rifles and pick up a camera if you want to shoot something, albeit a bit difficult with the subject moving at 60 mph…

  • Michael Langham

    I too was humbled by the beauty of this piece. Closest thing to flying on four legs.

    Thanks you again and again for your moments in time.

  • Adrian

    My favourie clip of a running cheetah is in the movie Duma when Xan and his Dad record Duma unning alongside their motorcycle and sidecar outfit. You can see the difference in running style as the speed increases. Its a wonderful movie all through, wel worth seeing

  • Sue L’Hommedieu

    Fabulous film. Thanks for helping me appreciate these amazing animals.

  • Lisa Smith

    Thank you to the Cincinnati Zoo, Nat Geo, and all involved with this amazing project. Truly exceptional and much appreciated. May these creatures remain protected.

  • larry gelber

    Yes to all of the above comments but what really caught my eye was the movement of the rear legs. Amazing and explains the incredible speed.

  • James Bittner


  • Samantha Colbert

    This is the most moving and beautiful film I have ever seen of a Cheetah! I have been fortunate to see them in the wild, but never on the charge as we see here! Stunning! This is an amazing piece! KUDOS to Nat Geo and The Cincinnati Zoo for sharing this with the world!

  • Hafiz Walji

    Was born and raised in Tanzania, Eastern Africa; Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater country. Seen a few of there gorgeous cheetas race for prey. This video was exactly fitting to bring out what really takes place in the chase. Once-in-lifetime treat. Thank you folks!

  • Henri Seriese

    Amazing and so beautiful where can I buy this video

  • Henri Seriese

    Thank you for this beautiful video I like to buy this video

  • Catherine Sweeney

    Wonderful. So beautiful. I had goosebumps running all over me and felt tears in my eyes. Why?! I dont know. Just amazing. The sheer majesty of these animals. LOved the crew setting up and the bit in real time right at the end of the video! Wow. Blink and you’d miss it!

  • John Schmidt

    Just a long NG subscriber and admirer of your action photography…………I am still not sure how these cheetahs were under human control. Can they be that tamed?


  • Lorraine

    What an amazing, beautiful, animal. Nature is perfect!

  • Rita Rohini Joshua

    The magnificence of God’s creation can never be doubted. Amazing shots by an amazing group of individuals who take the pain to bring the greatness of creation to our eyes. Bravo!

  • satish

    It was amezing i luv nat geo from child hood but now after seeing this vid i want to be a part of it any work which is avbl to just tell me its my pleasure to do

  • DM

    Absolutely stunning footage. Mesmerizing. Fabulous at full speed as well. Beautiful cats that us humans should work hard to keep from disappearing from this Earth.

  • Jeffy Jose

    I thought it was weird to cry watching this, the comments made me feel otherwise. I’ve seen nothing as beautiful as this. Thank you to everyone behind the effort.

  • taliea

    Thank you attractive program, do not bother …
    I am from Iran.
    I wish you Health …

  • Maureen Donovan

    I watch this over and over again and never tire of it. What a beautiful, truly awesome feline. You have captured it purrfectly.

  • ghimire aaraksha

    amazaing movement

  • Aaraksha Ghimire

    remarkable vedio !! cool
    really amazing movement .

  • ghimire aaraksha

    made me happy !
    save cats.

  • Aaraksha Ghimire

    beautifil creature , save the cats.

  • albert

    One of the amazing video,one of the beautiful animal in the wild.

  • osahi uwaifo

    fascinating and breathtaking!

  • CTieman

    WOW! Made me cry too! What a perfect compilation of speed, power, grace and agility!!! Thanks to all who participated in bringing these shots to a VERY appreciative audience!

  • Mabel

    Awesome! Beautiful! Amazing to see the beauty in the animal world. It hurts to think how people are so careless that we are killing these and many other animals that we need for our own survival on this Earth. We have to live together to live. Thanks

  • maria elena iwanoczko

    Realmente magnífico el trabajo que realizaron…..!!!! es un mimo para el alma….!!! FELICITACIONES….!!!!

  • Deepak Sen

    Simply superb! When will National Geography present next such video ?

  • califa


  • Cheryl

    ABSOLUTELY AWESOME!!! I love cheetahs and have always been fascinated by their capacity to run so effortlessly. The fluidity of movement this video captures and the detail (paw expansion, muscle movement, body contortion, claw visibility) brought tears to my eyes. So, so, so, thankful you went to the effort to produce such a beautiful video….thanks guys!!!!!!

  • Y Subba Rao

    Amazing. What is more amazing is its concentration and virtually there is no movement of head. Great.

  • Hannah gray

    Yes. A true symphony of speed. Thank you.

  • Karl

    Just GREAT!

  • Paolo

    Amazing….! Thank you.
    My little daughter is fascinated !
    Nature is the best.

  • Manuel Espinoza

    Amazing. Thanks for posting this.

  • Orhan

    Fantastic video. Very humbling.
    A huge “Thank you” to everyone involved in the effort.
    I will make sure to share the video to help raise awareness.

  • Lisa Watt

    My favourite part is the huge femoral artery visible running down the medial hind limb. The circulatory demand for such a sprint must be absolutely enormous. Stunning video!

  • Jim Hewitt

    As a wildlife photographer I can appreciate the GREAT job done here. You all captured what this beautiful cat is known for. Good Job!

  • Verma .N.K..

    Really commendable.Worthy of praise.

  • Ted Morrar

    Thanks to the Creator for taking time to replicate His image in this awesome animal. This is truly the definition of beauty…we now need bounty of this magnificent creature.

  • Richard

    Very graceful and amazing creatures! I love cats like those

  • Tony L

    I have had a casual love affair with Cheetahs since I was quite young. Should I be embarassed to say this video nearly brought me to tears? I was totally abducted, kidnapped from my desk at home and transported to an angel’s perch alongside this stunningly beautiful animal. I sat staring, unblinking at this breathtaking creature in action. Any attempt to express my gratitude to those who struggled to capture this for us to gaze at in awe and wonder would fall woefully short. Instead, simply, Thank You.

  • Juan Pizarro

    Es una sinfonía; hermosa y potente.

  • Allison Larabie

    What an amazing shot! Such incredible beauty in this graceful animal. She always had her eye on the prize the entire time. Such focus for a speed runner! Thank you for the amazing video! (:

  • Dots

    Truly AWESOME!! Thank you

  • Godfrey

    Every sinew created and recreated and created again, to obtain a being whose beauty and power can never be recreated once lost. There will be other beings, much that is beautiful, many who are powerful. But, this being is art. Raw art. Living art. The type of art that only nature can create and sustain, mold and remold. But, the type of art that goes easily unnoticed, art that becomes so easily erased by humanity. Thank-you for your work. It is absolutely beautiful.

  • D. Chi Occhio

    Goal, Focus, Co-ordination and Execution, all required ingredients for perfection and accomplishments as demonstrated in this magnificent recording of a magnificent creature. Just immagine what humanity could be like if humans could harness these same qualities in their social organizations ?

  • Daniel Deschesnes

    Mother Nature’s infinite beauty, grace and agility in impressive vivid details. One of its offspring, Humans, delivering the means and investing the time to bring it to an accessible form for anyone’s enjoyment and enlightenment. An admirable gesture of gratitude to Nature. Thank you.

  • Mohan

    it’s perfection is mirrored in your work,.

  • Teresa Haines

    A beautiful job of filming a beautiful animal. I loved the music and reading the names and places of the viewers was exciting too. . . From all over our world…….all appreciating this beauty. That’s another reason I love national geographic! Thank you all

  • Teresa Haines

    A wonderful job of filming a beautiful animal, also loved the music and the list of names and places of the viewers from all over our world……..all appreciating this beauty. . .another reason I love National Geographic! Thank you all

  • mr. max

    Stunning cat, beautiful in motion! But could we also remember the cat is in such fantastic flight to kill and devour another wonderful creature. Death never looked so good. Kudos to the team who took these wonderful pictures.

  • geetha

    thrilling sight

  • Denise Gibson

    Absolutely stunning. Maybe someone should send photos of our rhinos who are being slaughtered for a horn made of hair. I doubt whether my great grandchildren will see a live rhino. Thank you for all the beautiful photography.

  • Denise Gibson

    Absolutely stunning photography. I would like the word to see some photos of our rhinos who are being slaughtered for a horn made of hair. Will our great grandchildren ever get to see a live rhino? Please save the rhino.

  • bioclimatizacion

    Wonderful work! This is the kind of information that are supposed to be shared around the internet. Disgrace on the search engines for not positioning this put up higher! Come on over and visit my site . Thank you =)

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