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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

If you want to find nature in Singapore, there's no place better than Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (other than perhaps the outlying islands such as Pulau Ubin). Before I display the photographs, I'll go through what I think should be on your packing list for a nature photography trip like this.

  1. Good shoes. Needless to say, you're going to walk a lot (for this trip it was at least 6 km), and the paths aren't going to be very nice. And if your shoes fall apart, there's no one to save you other than perhaps some nice little creatures, and you wouldn't welcome that.
  2. Protection from insects. That would mean long pants, possibly long sleeves if you can bear the heat, and insect repellent. You wouldn't want your itch from mosquito bites to affect your stability when taking handheld shots.
  3. A proper camera bag. This is something I didn't bring along, and the trouble is that you will end up spending loads of time digging for gear in a backpack that can't help in sorting out your gear, and of course the horrible weight distribution really hurts your back.
  4. Raincoat or umbrella. I was lucky not to encounter any bad weather, but always be prepared. It'll get nasty if you can't get yourself under some shelter in time.
And the gear you may need. Overpacking is not a good idea as the load will kill you; neither is underpacking as you will want to have the gear to catch what you want.
  1. A body with a decent megapixel count, FPS, and noise performance. Megapixel count is important because for things that you can't reach or are too small, you will have to resort to cropping in post processing, and you would want your cropped image not to be pixelated. A good FPS is necessary if you're hoping to catch action, especially in birds. And sometimes the dense canopy can shield quite a bit of light so good noise performance will give you clean photos hand-held. You can of course use a flash but really, you shouldn't be firing flashes at wildlife.
  2. A telephoto lens. Things are always out of reach, and you won't want to move off the trails (sometimes you can't anyway). A telephoto lens will really help you get that extra reach. It's good to have one with a wide aperture, best to be f/2.8, so your shutter speed will be fast enough for action. But a warning: often even a 400 mm isn't enough, so be prepared for some cropping.
  3. A macro lens. When things are close, they are usually small. A macro lens will really help you with such things. Pretty self-explanatory here.
  4. A wide angle lens. There are some good sceneries you would want to capture and play around with. But this may otherwise be the lens that you least need.
  5. A good tripod. Sometimes it helps with your humongous bird-shooting lens, or when you need to take a long exposure of water. Or maybe, it can just be to rest your gear when you camp at a spot.
  6. Weather proofing. If it rains, there are few places to hide. Make sure your gear has decent weather sealing, and your bag has a rain cover of some sort.
Now on to the photos!

The weather wasn't great that day, a blessing because there was less sun, but also a curse because a lot of animals refused to show themselves because there was no sun. The photograph below is of course exaggerated in post, but you get how the weather was like.

Overcast. 11 mm DX, 1/1250, f/2.8, ISO 100.

As mentioned, this place isn't really much of a park. The paths are gravel, and the only things constructed are perhaps the wooden boardwalks and the observation hides. Of course, it has a pretty nice visitor's center which you might want to check out before entering the reserve, and you might catch some interesting animals there too, like the hornbill we saw hopping around the outdoor exhibition. There wasn't really anything else as interesting as this bird inside the reserve; we were probably unlucky.

Hornbill. 35 mm DX, 1/250, f/1.8, ISO 100.

Gravel path. 35 mm DX, 1/250, f/1.8, ISO 100.

Boardwalk. 35 mm DX, 1/800, f/1.8, ISO 100.

We had pretty good gear with us actually, but only one of us had a telephoto. So we tried something interesting: to use a binoculars as a telephoto extender. It's tough, because you need both hands to align your lens and the binoculars so stabilization is hell, and there has to be perfect alignment or the image will be badly cut off. And my camera refused to focus so I had to manually focus it while my friend helped me hold the binoculars. Furthermore the camera probably detects that some of the lens is dark (because it is blocked) so I had to boost the ISO to get a decent shutter speed. The end result is a badly vignetted image (which I feel actually looks kind of nice), and some disgusting color fringing, though that isn't very visible unless you try to pixel peep. Overall pretty good effect, I thought. By the way, the binoculars has a 10x magnification, and the image was not cropped in any way.

Through a binoculars. 35 mm DX, 1/400, f/1.8, ISO 1000.

From here I shall showcase all the random creatures we met on this trip. Sadly there were no crocodiles, even when we tried hunting for them (and the park ranger did not understand me when I asked about crocodiles and thought I was worried about danger). Nevertheless, we met some pretty interesting animals and scenes, like the lizards making love, or the beetle (I think it's a beetle) with a pretty shiny shell that we chased after for quite some while, or the spider with a baby spider at its side and a string of caught insects wound in web. Some things were unidentified as well (like the photo labelled "bug"), because my knowledge of insects and animals is quite pathetic. We saw crabs, mudskippers, and jumping fish in the river as well.

Monitor lizard. 35 mm DX, 1/500, f/1.8, ISO 100.

Monitor lizards mating. 35 mm DX, 1/60, f/1.8, ISO 100.

Lizard on a tree. 35 mm DX, 1/160, f/1.8, ISO 100.

Bug. 35 mm DX (cropped), 1/400, f/1.8, ISO 100.

Spider. 105 mm DX (cropped), 1/200, f/5.6, ISO 250.

Shiny beetle. 105 mm DX (cropped), 1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 800.

Butterfly. 105 mm DX (cropped), 1/100, f/5.6, ISO 250.

It's essentially my first time capturing so much wildlife, and while good lens and good autofocus are extremely important (I couldn't catch some flying creatures in the air because my lens couldn't reach them and my autofocus couldn't catch up with their chaotic movements), the one crucial thing you must have is patience. Really. You must be able to settle yourself down and wait for the right moment, keeping yourself cool so that you are prepared and alert to trigger the shutter whenever necessary. If not, you will just miss shot after shot and in the end you may even scare the subject away. Easier said than done; go try it out and you'll get what I mean.

Nature photography was a whole new experience for me. It's super tiring and definitely not easy, but walking an extra kilometer will bring you to more things, and waiting an extra minute will give you the chance to capture the right moment. Worth it!