For many travelers, a safari is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, the ultimate trip to tick off the bucket list. They dream of returning home with dusty suitcases and brimming with tales of close encounters with lions and cheetahs, of gin-and-tonic breaks in the bush, of ethereal African sunsets, of decadent meals and plush suites. But if, as the adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, what’s one to do if their photography skills aren’t quite up to capturing the true magic of the experience?
Thanda Safari, comprised of a luxury lodge, tented camp, and private villa within a private Big Five reserve in South Africa, ensures its guests leave with vivid memories that last well beyond their return home. Here, Christian Sperka, Thanda’s on-staff resident wildlife photographer and safari guide, is dispatched in his customized safari vehicle—dubbed the Green Mamba—to give guests the ultimate immersive education in wildlife photography. Whether you’re an experienced pro with a snazzy DSLR and a full complement of lenses, or an amateur merely aspiring to take non-blurry Instagram shots on your phone, Sperka will work with you to make the most of your safari photography.
"It doesn’t matter if you come with a big SLR, a bridge camera, or a point and shoot—now I do a lot of teaching, you will laugh, on iPhones," says Sperka, a German expat and former IT executive who fell in love with photography and the African bush. "Today, 90 percent of the people that come onto a safari vehicle have a camera, and for 70 percent that camera is a smart phone or device. Only 30 percent are cameras and SLRs. The iPhone crowd is a very important part of safari today.”
Guests can book private game drives in Sperka’s Green Mamba, outfitted with special photography seats and arms to rest cameras on, plenty of legroom, and even a full martini bar and Nespresso machine.
Sperka offers a complimentary 90-minute photography lesson at the lodge to all guests—he strongly recommends checking availability at time of booking their stay—during which he tailors courses guiding them through camera setup and basic wildlife or motion photography. Smartphone users are advised on advanced functionality and apps to improve their images. "That brings them from zero to 80 percent. For the other 20 percent you need 15 years, but I can’t teach that in two hours," he says.
For a fee, guests can book private game drives in Sperka’s Green Mamba—outfitted with special photography seats and arms to rest cameras on, plenty of legroom, and even a full martini bar and Nespresso machine—to test their newfound skills in the wild under his watchful eye. Or if you’d rather enjoy the game drives and have someone else document them for you, Sperka can shoot the experience on guests' behalf—from capturing stunning shots of each animal encounter to snapping beautiful images of the guests taking it all in.
“I’ve had people who have been doing photography for years and years, and they were very grateful for the experience because this is a different type of photography—motion photography, unlike still photography and human photography,” he says. “The whole way you shoot is completely different. Animal photography is quite close to sports photography. A lot of people tell me I was able to teach them in two hours more than they learned in a two-week course in their hometown.”
Some of the best images are the result of more than just skill; just as important is the ability to stay calm and focused during an exciting viewing, something that’s easier said than done. Sperka has taught guests to keep their nerves in check and keep shooting during a mock rhino charge, and to stay alert to click at the perfect moment when a leopard jumps out of a tree. After all, in the animal kingdom, you can never prepare for what might happen. “In the bush, the exciting shots are not the ones where you have time to set them up,” he says. “If a lion takes down an animal in front of you and you get the shot, there's nothing like it."