My photography journey started with the Lumix GF7 using the kit lens to take photos of random things. It was a starting point into the world of exposure: learning about focal length, shutter speed, aperture, ISO and depth of file. Dealing with RAW and post-processing the photos was another set of skill.
My second lens was a Panasonic 100-300mm. I wanted to take close-up photos of birds and creatures at Pasir Ris Park. My first experience was frustrating and challenging. I had to deal with insect bites and all I got was dark or blur photos. At the longest focal length of 300mm, it was difficult to get steady shot. It required practise to keep a steady hand, using a faster shutter speed along with image stabiliser in the lens.
I bought a second-hand Olympus EM-5 Mark 1 for the electronic viewfinder feature. Bracing the viewfinder against the eyebrow, one can stabilise the camera even more. It is also locate the birds in the trees on the camera. If you gaze squarely in the direction of the bird, you will get what you want in the picture frame when you lift the camera to your face. At point, I was getting a one good shots among the ten.
The next upgrade had to be a DSLR. I started looking around for a used Canon 70D and bought it relatively new at a low price. Many of the great deals I found was because previous owners were anxious to off-load their gears as they jumped over to Sony. For a period of time, I had the 70D body without any lens. I wanted patiently for a second-hand 400mm F5.6 and finally got it from a professional studio photographer. With this setup, the experience of photographing birds became more enjoyable. I was getting a faster focus, a better grip, a longer battery life and a more responsive optical viewfinder (well, it's real-time now). The only downside is the heft of the camera and lens coming in at 2 Kg. Still, it is more portable than the many photographer I have seen carrying about 500mm and 600mm lens.
I have been using the 70D + 400mm setup for three years now and got many beautiful shots. I still keep my first 100-300mm because of its portability. It has great uses at the zoo and overseas. Most of my gears are second-hands and I recommend it for anyone looking for great value. It has a secondary impact of keeping a low carbon footprint.
Recently, I added a binocular with a shoulder harness to my birding gear. The Vortex Diamondback 8x42 gives a wide and bright view of field. It let you quickly scan trees and their canopies.
Getting the shots
When you are looking at the beautiful photos here, I hope you are enjoying them visually and immersing yourself in the details. But you can't help wondering how the shots are set up, I spend some time talking about it here.
Getting to the location is easy enough in Singapore with public transport reaching most places. However, there are still some surprisingly remote location. To reach Coney Island, I used my trusted road bike. It involves waking up before the sun is up and biking from Pasir Ris through Lorong Halus to reach the island. If you timed it well, you will reach it just as the sun's gentle ray hits the length of the island at a slight gradient. This golden bath of light will give you fantastic exposure.
You generally want to get the shots before the sun reaches the highest point. The afternoon sun is too glaring and creates a harsh shadow on the subjects. My favourite time for photography is from 7 to 9.30 a.m. You can do this at any parks in Singapore. With your back facing the rising sun, look for interesting creatures to photograph.
I seldom use a tripod as I prefer a more reactive style of photography. I cover more distance on foot and move a lot to frame the composition to get the bird. With a tripod, I tend to plant it down and wait for the birds to come to me.
Understanding the behaviours of the different species of birds is an important factor. If you can predict the next action the bird is going to take, you can prepare and frame the shot in advance.