Way back in 2016 Sacha Specker had a rather too-close encounter with a Great White shark while surfing off Noordhoek on the Cape Peninsula. Last month he dangled his feet off Strand for The Mission to shoot the cover with float tube kob maestro Conrad Botes.
‘Spex’ – as he is affectionately known in the surfing world – is a renowned water photographer and world champion bodyboarder. Indeed, he is a consummate waterman.
During his time competing on the bodyboarding world tour, the Capetonian was documenting his extensive travels, honing his photographic skills and ultimately was appointed the Photographic Media Manager for the International Bodyboarding Association. Having enjoyed an accomplished career as an athlete, he focused his attention to where it all began, on the Natural World and Photography.
Today his formal education in Nature Conservation keeps him outdoors, whether it is leaning out of a helicopter, documenting wildlife or submerged under the waves. We caught up with him for some of his insights into water photography and the cover shoot.
These are his words:
ON WHAT MAKES THE WATER ANGLE SO SPECIAL
Water is just one of those things you can never predict, you will never be able to 100% replicate or copy something. I think that is kind of the essence of creating something original and capturing something unique. For me, what makes the water angle so poignant and special, is the fact that it is not really about capturing the image but rather everything that goes into capturing a particular image – so the prep, the weeks, months, years of error and fruitless efforts that eventually culminate to a point where you understand your equipment well enough and the technical aspects of what could, should and will happen in various scenarios in those uncontrollable elements that you start to understand it like a language. For me that is almost the biggest reward. When you do get a really cool, unique image that seems like it was just a fleeting moment, it was actually a culmination of years of experience and failed attempts.
ON WHAT IT TOOK TO SHOOT THE FLOAT TUBE COVER
While I wasn’t swimming (thanks Tudor for hooking me up with a float tube!) I felt very much in my element. I was bobbing around with someone who is at home in the ocean so it was very easy and enjoyable. Conrad top notch guy who just loves what he does and it’s very easy to be around passionate people like that. We started in the dark and I was home for a late breakfast, I really loved it! I kind of just joined the crew followed suit to whatever Conrad was doing.
In terms of gear I had two waterhousings set up, one with a fisheye (super wide) angle and one with a semi zoom 24-70mm lens. This is a very reliable lens for me. It’s a nice focal length and covers a lot. I ended up getting interesting shots, but I preferred the wide angled kind of split-shot images, where you get a bit of an in-the-water, immersive sort of feel.
My shark experience was quite nerve wracking at the time for sure (read more about it here), but I feel like I’m a lucky person to have experienced that and to have spent time, face-to-face in close proximity with an apex predator. White Sharks have been tarnished as villains that want to eat people and it couldn’t be further from the truth. In hindsight – in the moment – it was very frightening and jolted me back into some form of reality that I was floating away from in life, perhaps. So, looking back, I’m very grateful to have experienced it. I love talking about it and I definitely have a healthy understanding and respect for sharks. A healthy fear I guess you could call it, but I’m not petrified or terrified of sharks in general, but I do understand that they are at the top of the food chain and there needs to be a clear boundary to what is safe and what is not safe.
ON THE BEST PIECE OF PHOTOGRAPHY ADVICE HE’S EVER RECEIVED
Taking a picture is not a difficult thing if you love taking pictures. Haha! A little cliched perhaps and not that profound, but so true… Someone once told me that if you love what you do it will first of all come easily. So, it won’t be a chore, for example you will never have to set two alarmsto get up to go shoot out at sea in the dark. And secondly, if you work at it you will be good at it. The truth is: In commercial photography terms, taking a good picture is not the difficult part, the difficult part is getting the job. You need to sell yourself, that is the side of the business that a lot of people underestimate. For me the joys of having an agent allow me to have fun shooting stuff that I enjoy, such as this cover!
ON WHO (AND WHAT) INSPIRES HIM
There are a lot of watermen out there who inspire me and the images that they take – the natural history content that is captured today is very inspiring. I would love to see myself delving into that realm at some point in my future life.
ON BEING IN THE OCEAN
It allows my mind to not be distracted by the fast-paced, ever-consuming society that we live in, but rather allows me to just be fully present and in that moment. Even if it is just a short time it really allows my thoughts and mind to kind of unravel from that convoluted train of thought that winds up over time. Going for a surf or a swim with a camera doesn’t really allow for distraction.
ON BECOMING A FLY-FISHER
I really enjoyed shooting fly-fishing because of the people and the aesthetic side of fly-fishing. I can see that it would be a very therapeutic way to spend your time and if I had a lot of time it is probably something I would get into, but photographing it I really enjoy and the people doing it I really enjoy hanging around so I’m definitely amped to shoot more of it.