Ninety percent of all guests embarking on a game drive at Thanda Safari, the Big Five game reserve located in the heart of Zululand, KwaZulu Natal, do so with a camera.

However only 30 percent of those are armed with a traditional camera or SLR leaving 70 percent of guests capturing their safari experience on just a compact, lightweight and easy to travel with smartphone or tablet device.

Recognising that the ‘smartphone crowd’ makes up the lion share of safari enthusiasts today Christian Sperka, Resident Wildlife Photographer and Field Guide, has tailored his complimentary photography sessions accordingly. Offered to all guests staying two nights or more Sperka’s 30-90 minute introduction to the basic rules of wildlife photography and the art of motion photography help guests develop their wildlife photography skills whilst providing specific advice on advanced functionality and apps so that those with just a smartphone can improve their images too. Below he shares his top 5 tips for capturing striking imagery to those traveling ‘light’ on safari:

  • Private Game Reserve vs. National Park? Stay on a private game reserve. Destinations such as Thanda Safari are great for smartphone photography, as travelers can usually get much closer to wildlife than in a national park. Professional and experienced guides knows exactly how close they can get to animals – safely – for guests to snap a good picture. Get as close to eye-level with your picture subject, and you will create some great shots.
  • Don’t Forget the Small Things – Smartphones are excellent for macro-shots. Everyone wants to bag an image of a lion, but some of the best shots will come from something smaller scale. Anything from plants to small creatures can be captured very well with a smartphone. Do ensure with your guide first that it’s safe to get close up before doing so.
  • Aim Far – Clip-on tele-focus lenses are available for very little cost. Having a tele-focus lens for your smartphone will make it possible to get good shots of faraway game. Binoculars can also serve the same purpose, just be sure there is a small distance between the camera lens and the binoculars’ ocular, and focus first with the binoculars before using your smartphone camera.
  • Shoot Wide – Smartphones are very good for wide-angle pictures. Focus on beautiful scenery with wildlife and you will capture great images. Zooming in on pictures (a.k.a, ‘pinching’) should be avoided as most smartphones only provide digital zoom. Better to take the picture ‘un-zoomed’ and crop it later. Some very advanced smartphones – including iPhone 7+, 8+ and X – have a second tele-focus lens, which provides optical zoom capability.
  • Don’t Worry About the Weather– Smartphones are great in difficult light situations. Sunsets, sunrises and interesting cloud formations over beautiful scenery are often easier to capture with a smartphone than with a regular camera. Combined with a good ‘enhancement app’ – such as the excellent Camera+ for iPhones – can yield amazing pictures.


“90 percent of the people in a safari vehicle have a camera, and for 70 percent that camera is a smartphone. The smartphone-crowd is a very important part of safari today.”
—Christian Sperka, Resident Wildlife Photographer & Teacher


Guided by his motto ‘keep it simple’, Sperka also offers a wide range of instructional sessions. For a fee, guests can also book private game drives in Sperka’s Green Mamba — custom designed 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 for those who would prefer to leave it to the professional and enjoy the game drives, 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. 

A three night stay at Thanda Safari Lodge including full board accommodation, a variety of daily safari activities and a 90 minute session with the resident photographer (subject to availability) starts from Rand 25,185 per person (approx. GB£1500, €1700, US$2100, AU$2750*).


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