Category Archives: Interviews

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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Interview with Raghav, an early bird.

 RaghavThe Singapore Bird Group is pleased to introduce an up and coming young birder to you. Raghav is 13 and have been birding for only three years, but have recorded close to 200 species, many with his camera. We do not get too many keen and committed birders in this age group. So we are very happy to see him progress and help with the study of our birds here. I met him a few times birding with his mom at Bidadari and was very impressed with his knowledge of our avifauna. He is credited for photographing the rare resident Cotton Pygmy Goose at Turuk Ponds this year. Probably the second photo of this water bird taken here. You can see his bird images at Flickr under birdbrains@spg.

Here is the interview we had with him recently.

SBG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Raghav: I’m 13, and started birding almost three years ago. Besides birding I also play field hockey and tennis.

SBG: How did you get started on bird watching? When was that?

Raghav: In the summer of 2013, my family went on a trip to Taman Negara and at the hotel we saw a line of Oriental Pied Hornbills following each other in a straight line across a busy human footpath. The next day we were out in the field for almost six hours!

SBG: What do you get out of bird watching?

Raghav: The satisfaction of seeing a new species is incredible, and there’s always something happening when you’re out in nature.

SBG: Did anyone inspire you to take up birding and photography?

Raghav: My mom was the inspiration who decided to “just walk” at Taman Negara. From then we never looked back.

SBG: How often do you go bird watching and with who?

Raghav: Once or twice a week with my mom.

SBG: What is your list now? What is your best bird so far?

Raghav: My list is touching 200 including escapees in Singapore. Best bird so far… Sri Lankan Frogmouth from Thattekad. The experience: walking around the bird for different angles and watching the bird’s eyes follow us.

SBG: Do you have a favourite birding site in Singapore? Why?

Raghav: Tough one… It’ll have to be Prunus Trail. The joy of listening and seeing a Short-tailed Babbler’s singing and a Siberian Blue Robin’s bathing is pretty awesome.

SBG: Do you have a favourite family or group of birds? Why?

Raghav: It’s got to be the Babblers. Their singing is probably the coolest thing that I have experienced as a birder.

SBG: Any favourite bird or birds that you want to see?

Raghav: I’m happy as long as the list is ticking, so I don’t really have a favorite.

SBG: What do you aspire to be as a birder?

Raghav: My raptor ID skills still have a long way to go, so I would really like to improve on that.

SBG: How long have you been a member of the NSS and what do you like about it?

Raghav: I became a member two years ago and the walks are a great way to begin my weekends.

SBG: Any advice to youngsters like yourself on taking up bird watching?

Raghav: When you start off, it seems like it’s really easy to add to your list, and you’ll think it’ll be like that forever. But after a few years you start to slow down. At this point don’t give up, no matter how hard it is. Keep pushing and once you see one new bird, your count will keep ticking on.

SBG: Where else have you been bird watching outside Singapore?

Raghav: We made one trip to Thattekad in India last fall and another to Panti in Malaysia (and got the Black-thighed Falconet) last spring. During our China trip, we also visited Chanba in Shaanxi.

Some of Raghav’s most meaningful moments in his birding journey with his comments:

Interview with a Singapore Bird Photographer – Zacc HD

In this series of interviews, I’ll like to pay tribute to Naturepixels, a now dormant nature photography website and forum where I first started. One of the interesting feature of the website was as you guessed it, a series of interviews that shed light on the men and women that were involved in nature photography.

ZaccHDThe first person in this interview has his start from a different place, the Nature Photographic Society (Singapore) which is still active, with passionate members that showcase the best in nature photography.

Zacc HD is a very active bird photographer who has been taking very good photographs of our local avifauna and finding very rare ones as well in the process. His sightings and photographs are regularly cited in our monthly bird report as well. So without further ado, below is our interview followed by some of his selected work.

 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m 40 years young , married with 2 kids and enjoy nature photography.

How long have you been interested in nature photography? And also how did you start?
I started from doing Macro photography using my SONY H50 with close-up filters. Slowly, I was introduced to bird photography by a friend back in 2008. So, I decided to stick to this hobby from then on and never looked back. For bird photography, I’ve moved from using P&S cam to Nikon D810 DSLR with 55-200mm, 150-500mm, 300mm f4 and finally the 600mm f4.

What do you like about it in particular?
Besides able to see beautiful feathered friends in Singapore, I can relax my mind at the same time and enjoy the sound of the forest especially. That’s the reasons why I enjoy going to Bidadari.

What’s your photography techniques and how did you learn them?
I guess pretty much the same as the rest of the photographers around me. But when I changed to the new Nikon D810, I struggled a bit to get sharp images. Lucky for me, Wang Bin who is also a Nikon user shared with me a few tips on using the camera.

But of course, I will try to learn more as I move along.

Was there anyone that inspired you, and influenced your photographic style?
The day I started bird photography, I’ve learned a lot from the guys in NPSS forum. All photographers in that forum shared their camera settings on every picture taken. Photographers like scfang, wltpch, bjorn, JRC , confoley and stingrey were always there, with good series of beautiful photos in the AVIAN section. They inspired me to have the “eye contact, thin perch and smooth background” in my photos too. That was the trend and it continues until today for most bird photographers.

What is your favourite bird species and why?
I don’t know why, but I like the cuckoos. My favourite is still the Chestnut-winged Cuckoo. I still remember the feeling when I saw that bird for the very first time in 2011 at Bidadari of course.

If not bird photography, what would you have spent time on?
I think I will go back to Macro photography…?! or maybe not. Maybe spend more time sleeping and wake up late every weekend… Haha.

While pursuing your hobby, what is your most memorable moment to date?
Errmmm…Let me see… Was it my first climb to Bukit Timah Summit for the White-throated Rock Thrush in 2011 or photographing the Chestnut-cheeked Starling last October?? LOL… I guess the sighting of the rare vagrant Chestnut-cheeked Starling, gotta be my most memorable moment to date. I was told that the last unconfirmed record was in 2003. Good to know that.

Your most disappointing moment?
Having photographers arguing around me while shooting birds… (Pssst! please don’t publish this… Oops!- Ed)

Finding more birds species or getting really good pictures of a few?
300 is the number I’m looking for in my Singapore Birds collection, but getting really good pictures is a bonus for me. One click/tick at the time, over many years… I think.

You can visit Zacc HD’s Flickr page for more of his work. Selected photos below.