Photography Instructor Don Toothaker Discusses Tanzanian Safaris and Photo Travel

Written by Thomson Safaris

Don Toothaker photography instructor

Seeing photographers flourish on safari ignites a spark of pride in Don Toothaker. He’s a professional photography instructor with over a decade of instructional experience, and he recently led Hunt’s third photo safari into the Serengeti. So how’d it go?

“This safari was by far the most prolific wildlife photography experience I’ve ever had,” Don said. “It was such a thrill.”

We spoke with Don about his group’s experience in Tanzania and what it’s like to serve as a photography leader.


What’s your case for photography travel? What makes it special?

Being on location with a group of photographers, anywhere, is a nonstop smorgasbord of activity, and exchanging ideas, and excitement. All guests, regardless of skill level, have this common bond of contagious enthusiasm. It inspires me.

photography guest in thomson safaris land rover

If you’re a photographer, an African safari is perhaps the pinnacle of your quest. Being in the Serengeti, creating images of the raw beauty and wildlife, is incredible. Everyone cares deeply about their craft, and they care just as deeply about learning from each other and being open to new ideas.

family of elephants at waterhole in tarangire tanzania

At the end of every day on safari, there was no better feeling than falling asleep in my Nyumba, knowing everyone felt proud of their shots.


How does educational travel fit into the broader visions of Hunt’s Photo and Video?

Travel is just one component of the education program at Hunt’s Photo and Video. The huge success of our in-the-field photography classes encouraged us to add multi-day photography workshops at local, national and international levels. That’s when we met Thomson Safaris.

To watch our education department thrive, and to partner with Thomson for safari, is something I’m immensely proud of. Today, the Hunt’s Education Department is one of largest, if not the largest, educational program of any retail camera chain in the country. And we’re still growing.


This was your third photography safari with Thomson Safaris. What keeps you coming back?

serengeti landscape with rocky outcrop and big sky

When I first met Thomson, it was clear to me how efficient they were, how professional they were and how completely committed they were to doing the best job they could not only for their clients, but for me, an intermediary. They set up everything the way I wanted, which is based on what I believe my clients want. After the immense success our first safari, I quickly realized that I never wanted to go to Tanzania with anyone but Thomson.

Next year’s photography safari is already sold out, and I’m working with Thomson on the one after that. It’s just so good!


How does Thomson Safaris provide a standout experience?

Angela and Andrew at Thomson orchestrate the choreography, the cadence and the logistics you need for a successful safari. The thoroughness and obvious care given to each client is second to none. By the time the trip comes, everyone’s documents are filed and everyone is informed and prepared. Thomson Safaris makes the logistics and pre-departure organization seem easy when I know they’re not!

pro photographers top 3 photos from serengeti


How did your most recent safari compare to past safaris?

This safari was by far the most prolific wildlife photography experience I’ve ever had. We wanted to see the famous wildebeest river crossings, particularly along the Mara River, so we built the trip around that. It did not disappoint.

great migration jumping off river banks into mara river

Like all safaris, everyone felt this exciting sense of adventure and ruggedness. We traveled during the dry season, at the end of August and into September. The grass was golden and water wasn’t abundant. Wildlife concentrated around watering holes, making it much more visible. It was such a thrill.


Can you tell me a little about your safari group?

Everyone in our group had so much enthusiasm for getting great shots. There were eight guests and myself. Most of us were seasoned travelers and experienced photographers–but not everyone.

taking photos of elephants in serengeti

I want to stress this. You don’t have to be an advanced photographer to go on a photography safari. You don’t even have to be an intermediate photographer. You can be a complete beginner and still take jaw-dropping shots. As a photo leader, I strive to be as encouraging and supportive as possible for everyone. I’m genuinely interested in ensuring you find success, however you define it.

woman photographing wildlife in serengeti


Did Thomson Safaris do anything to elevate the experience?

Thomson went above and beyond for everything. First, the guides. Time and again they were fantastic, patient, knowledgeable, cooperative and kind. They could spot a speck of a shadow half a mile away and know what animal it was. They worked very hard to make sure we were successful.

photography safari guests in thomson landrover

Second, the Land Rovers. Each photographer had their own row of the vehicle; not just a seat. This meant every one of us had more room for ourselves and our gear. This is a huge component that benefits photographers so much and ultimately leads to better shots.

northern serengeti nyumba camp

Third, the camps. Being able to charge batteries and laptops each night is a huge help, removing many of the concerns of remote travel. Between the cozy beds and gourmet meals, many of the comforts of home are with us in the bush.


What does safari mean to your travelers and you?

My job is to design photography workshops that provide great learning experiences and great life experiences. When those things happen on safari, there aren’t enough words to describe how rewarded I feel.

leopard surveys landscape from kopje in serengeti

I’m proud to partner with Thomson Safaris, to be the guy in the middle that coordinates with the people at Thomson, Angela and Andrew. They’re friends now. I love working with them and asking, “How can we make this better?” I can’t imagine going to Tanzania with any other company. I just won’t do it. Thomson is a win-win for everybody, particularly the clients. They win everything.

Learn more about setting up a safari that caters to your organization’s needs, dreams and budget!