Interview with a Singapore Bird Photographer – Johnson Chua

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Johnson Chua is an active nature photographer based in Singapore that have been making waves lately. His recent find and posting here of the Red-billed Quelea generated enough interest to appear on three of our local newspapers.

His other work (the kingfisher perching on a lotus leaf pictured below) have generated millions of views worldwide. He took some time off to answer some of our question.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am turning 50 this year. I am married with an understanding wife and 3 wonderful children – 19, 17 and 12.

2. How long have you been interested nature photography, and how did you start?
Started in 2010 with the Canon 100-400mm zoom lens. I was ignorantly happy until my US colleague, Thinh Bui, poisoned me with his 500mm F4 lens. I took a few shots with it of the yellow bittern. When I reviewed and compared later, I got bitten. In 2012, I upgraded to 400mm F2.8 IS II and full frame camera Canon EOS 5DMk3. No regrets!

3. What do you like about it in particular?
Its constant unexpectedness. Its wondrous surprises. The feeling is indescribable when the feather friends look at you!

4. What are your photography techniques and how you learn them?
I shoot mostly in f/8, in manual mode, using back button focus, no flash, on video head and tripod, and with mirror lock up if shuttle speed is low.

Nothing beats learning from the field and from experienced fellow photographers. Watching how they shoot was an opener and listening to how they talk about it was educating and at times entertaining. Each photographer is unique and I try learnt what they do best and to practice it. And if is suit me, I adopt.

5. Were there anybody that influences your style or you aspire to emulate?
Tin Man….for his unique photo and excellent/compassionate writing skill.

He photoblog here where he generously share his knowledge and experience: http://tinmanphotoblog.com/

I am touched by this moving blog post:
http://tinmanphotoblog.com/last-moments-of-a-bison-calf/

6. Which is your favourite bird species and why?
Kingfisher. Colourful. Beautiful. Skittish. Feisty. Large varieties.

7. If not bird photography, what would you have spent time on?
Reading sci-fi/fantasy/classic books to broaden and excite me. Listening to music to calm me.

8. While pursuing your hobby, what is your most memorable moment to date?
Three memorable moments that I will cherish….

Sunrise in my eyes series:

I was shooting Javan Munia in Chinese Garden when I do not know why I turned around to look back. There it was a Common Kingfisher….perching on a stick….glowing under the morning sun. Unforgettable.

I was shooting Javan Munia in Chinese Garden when I do not know why I turned around to look back. There it was a Common Kingfisher….perching on a stick….glowing under the morning sun. Unforgettable.

A King and its toilet seat series:

It was drizzling that day and I was hesitant to take out my camera. But I did. I spotted the Common Kingfisher on the rock besides the white bridge at Japanese Garden. Tried to shoot it but it flew off. Then I found it perching on lotus leaf. Took a few shots and knew that I had to go 180 degree to the other side of the pond for a better angle. I did not hesitate. Keeping my finger closed and walked quickly there. Beauty was still there. It allowed me to go nearer and nearer until it shitted and flew off. Magical.

It was drizzling that day and I was hesitant to take out my camera. But I did. I spotted the Common Kingfisher on the rock besides the white bridge at Japanese Garden. Tried to shoot it but it flew off. Then I found it perching on lotus leaf. Took a few shots and knew that I had to go 180 degree to the other side of the pond for a better angle. I did not hesitate. Keeping my finger closed and walked quickly there. Beauty was still there. It allowed me to go nearer and nearer until it shitted and flew off. Magical.

Eagle and Snake series:

Was shooting it perched on top of a branch when it suddenly looked down and flew to the bushes below the tree. It seems to disappear. Out it came out with a snake onto the grass. Wished that it will perched on that tree roots as I could not see its legs and the snake properly. And it did just that. I smiled. Unexpected surprise.

Was shooting it perched on top of a branch when it suddenly looked down and flew to the bushes below the tree. It seems to disappear. Out it came out with a snake onto the grass. Wished that it will perched on that tree roots as I could not see its legs and the snake properly. And it did just that. I smiled. Unexpected surprise.

9. What do you think of the recent controversy where some said that nature is under stress from photography boom?
This remind me of a recent incident when the juvenile spotted wood owl fell down. There were a lot of photographers that day shooting and surrounding it. But we kept a safe distance. At no time was it under stress or frighten. It naturally figured a way up the tree using its claws, its beak and flapping its wing. Our heart was with the little fellow. Our heart lifted when it flew up.
We should always keep the safety/comfort zone of our feather friends in mind.

10. Is social media good or bad for your hobby?
Social media expands my hobby…….increases my circle of friends, improves on my knowledge of birds, keeps me inform of “hot” birds and places, improves on my composition by studying others’ photo.

At times, I am caught off guard by some photos that show a very unique angle or posed or composition of the same bird that I just shot! Inspirational.

11. Nature photography is expensive. So did you ponder long to make the purchase?
Damn expensive. It took me a long while to consider. In the end I rationalised it by considering it as under health expense……this hobby will take me outdoor, sweat me out and keep me healthy. No point saving all my money for the doctor! I want to be at 70+ still enjoying outdoor and photography like Alan Seah and Johnny Wee.

12. Any tips on how to increase bird count?
Yap….wearing your underwear matching the color of the bird that you are going to shoot. Flash it occasionally to catch birdies attention. LOL! This is a hobby….take it easy!

You got to walk the ground. You got to have friends that walk the ground. Joining birding group helps a lot.

Thanks Jon for answering all the questions. You can find his online photographic portfolio here: http://eaglejon.500px.com/ and here: https://500px.com/EagleJon

Below are some of his images he shared with us with captions and his thoughts on them.

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2 thoughts on “Interview with a Singapore Bird Photographer – Johnson Chua

  1. Mark Swinton

    Happy New Year Jon Chua and like you, I’m most attracted with Kingfishers. I will be coming to Singapore January 12-14, 2017 and was wondering if you (or anyone seeing this blog) could suggest where my best chances might be to see these beautiful birds and what time of the day? I was recommended the Chinese Garden in Jurong but is there a particular location there that is best? Other suggestions are welcome.

    Like

    Reply

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