Wildlife Encounters in New Zealand (Part III)

All wildlife photographs were taken with the Canon EOS 7D mark ii and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. All rights reserved.

Sometimes, you may find subjects at the most unexpected places and unexpected moments. We visited the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland to see the Lady Knox Geyser and to learn about the geothermal activities that was going on in Rotorua. Look at the shot below, find anything?

Let me help you out!

<Pied Stilt>

These little guys were so far away and well camouflaged that I only realised there were chicks when I zoomed in to check my shot. Aren’t they cute! Once again, you have to stay on the boardwalk (to prevent yourself from getting thoroughly steamed) and there was no way to get any lower…

<New Zealand Fantail>

This was hands down the most challenging species I encountered. These fantails move so quick and hardly stay put for more than a second. Couple that with the fact that they were always too far away, darting in and out of bushes in low light. To my knowledge, there are different morphs of Fantails in NZ, mainly the pied and dark morph. But one things for sure, once you see that signature tail, you’ll know you’ve spotted one!


Weather was pretty unpredictable during our trip and there was once we were just relaxing in the campervan at Tauranga Tourist Park before our Glowworm Kayak Tour that same evening. We were parked right next to a wetland and check out what I spotted!

<Sacred Kingfisher>

Two hungry Sacred Kingfishers taking turns to hunt small crabs in the mud. They always returned to the same perch and i’m so glad to have braved the rain to document this hunting behaviour. Flight shots turned out pretty decent as well! Light was terrible though…

My first encounter with the Sacred Kingfisher was at a random pit stop near Milford Sound

<White-faced Heron>

Even further away from the kingfishers, I didn’t have much luck on getting any nicer images than this one.

<Black Swans>

Largest bevy of Black Swans I’ve ever seen. Photographed near Pukeni Holiday Park at a place we stopped to have some fresh oysters.


If you’re a bird lover and visiting the North Island, you MUST visit the Muriwai Gannet Colony, just about an hours drive from Auckland. Thousands of Australasian Gannets breed there from August to March each year and you can get up real close to the colony. During my time there, I decided to document their behaviour in a series of photos.

<Muriwai Gannet Colony>

The main colony area is just a short walk from the carpark and theres another vertical sided island just out at sea that hosts more breeding pairs (2nd image). These large birds (~2m wingspan) nest extremely closely to one another!

First few Australasian Gannets that greeted us during the short walk to the colony. Perfect place to practice some flight shots! Light was really harsh and those shadows really killed many of my shots.

These birds perform elaborate greeting rituals by stretching their bills and necks skywards and gently tapping bills together. The males however, are highly territorial during nesting and mutual bill fencing was often seen. Really love the second shot cause they look so goofy!

Couples usually stick together for a couple of mating seasons!

From the onset of breeding, the male brings nesting material such as brown algae Carpophyllum, which he retrieves from the shallows. Both members of the pair form and maintain the nest mound, particularly when the surrounding ground is soft from rain.

The Gannet then lays a single egg and can only successfully incubate one egg over a period of approximately 45 days. Both sexes share the incubation duty, and later brood the chick on the top of their webbed feet.

Chicks would fledge, leave the colony and cross the Tasman Sea to Australia when they are about 100 days old. They only come back after 3 years to secure a nesting site~

These birds are plunge divers and spectacular fishers. They then feed their young by regurgitation. Didn’t manage to see any of that due to the time constraint but definitely worth the trip there to witness a massive colony of Gannets with my own eyes and through my lens. Only wished that I had more time and better light to work with.

Besides the Gannets, breeding White-fronted Terns share the location as well.

These terns are built for speed and superior manoeuvrability. Small fish have no chance against this dive-bomber.

After fishing, they fly back to their nests to feed their young. The terns were situated much further than the Gannet colony and all the photos are heavily cropped.

Size comparison between the two species.


Lastly, a gorgeous endemic bird that I have a love-hate relationship with, the famous Tui (honeyeater)

These honeyeaters are found in both the North and South islands and look absolutely exceptional. They have nice glossy feathers and that unique tuft of white feathers on their chest. I only saw 3 of them in total and the conditions were never right for a good shot. The second image was shot at the Auckland Zoo and even then, the harsh light was unforgiving.

So that mostly sums it all up, 3 weeks touring the North and South Islands. We saw many other species along the long drives but I’m happy with whatever I managed to see and capture. Didn’t have much expectations to get many shots but it seems like I had a really productive trip!

Do share this article if you like what you see! More to come!

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#newzealand #birding #wildlifephotography #wildlife #discovery #kea #penguins

Macrophotography Equipment

Having the right gear and being prepared for multiple scenarios can significantly increase your chances of getting that winning/record shot. As a follow up from my previous article “Introduction to Macrophotography”, this article serves to help photographers of all levels in deciding on what kind of equipment they would need for macro photography.

<Western Rough Wolf Spider (Venator immansueta)>

Let’s start off with the type of camera body, namely DSLR, Mirrorless and Micro 4/3 systems. Ergonomics aside. These cameras have sensors of different sizes which affects the amount of light the camera takes in, the crop factor, low light performance and many more. There are several factors to consider when deciding your type of camera body, do note however, that all types are capable of taking fantastic photos. To ease the discussion, I will group mirrorless and m4/3 systems together under ‘mirrorless systems’ due to their vast similarities. My recommendations and opinions are also skewed towards the macro photographer that shoots out in the field, rather than studio work.

DSLR vs Mirrorless / Micro Four-thirds (m4/3)

The cameras I own are all DSLRs. Having tried all the systems, I noticed a large difference in terms of the user experience in the field. Lets look at some factors to consider when deciding on your body type.

Ergonomics, Size & Weight

Undoubtedly, DSLR cameras are heavier and bulkier, so if you are looking to carry as little weight as possible, especially while travelling, or having a set up that is easier on your wrists, DSLRs may not suit you. Lugging around a set up that weighs approximately 3kg could potentially reduce your stamina and could tire you out extensively during long (~4hr) shoots. In most occasions, you will be required to shoot with one hand, while the other is holding a leaf / stick that your subject is on (just like the photo I took of Andrew above). Note however, that the sheer weight of a DSLR, large lens, a flash and a diffuser could make shooting one-handed a pain and that is probably the biggest advantage of using a mirrorless system. If you have larger hands, the grip of DSLR cameras would benefit you. Getting used to the button placements on your camera is helpful, you wouldn’t want to fumble around with your camera out in the field. DSLRs have generally more buttons than Mirrorless systems and I find it easier for quick changes but not for one-handed operations.

Functionality

Most mirrorless systems and the newer DSLR cameras come with the latest technology and fancy features like touch screens, wifi and what not. These features are hardly used in macro photography and it should not be a concern, good to have but not a necessity.

A major difference between the systems are the viewfinders. DSLRs have a mirror that reflects light coming through the lens into another mirror or prism which then reflects the light into the optical viewfinder (OVF) that allows the user to preview the photo. This is also the main reason for the bulk of DSLR cameras. A mirrorless system, as the name suggests, lacks the mirror and prism which then allows it to be so compact. They then make use of an electronic viewfinder (EVF) to simulate the optical viewfinder to preview the shot.

If you shoot with a DSLR, turn your camera to live view and adjust your exposure, the preview of your shot would change as well, just like an electronic viewfinder. There are many considerations here. The colours when shooting in live view may not be an accurate representation of your image and in some mirrorless systems, there is a terrible lag present during the preview, especially in low light. When shooting at high magnification, you simply cannot afford any lag. Focusing is generally done manually by moving the camera forward and backwards until you get the subject in focus so with all the magnified movements, coupled with lag, it only results in missed shots and tons of frustration.

The batteries from DSLR cameras are of higher capacity and can last for hours. If you go for a mirrorless system, you definitely need more than 2 batteries since the EVF takes up battery as well.

All this being said, look out for the newer full frame mirrorless systems from Sony and Nikon, they seem really promising!

Choosing your lens

Regardless of your system, there are a vast variety of dedicated, true macro lenses for you to choose from. Do your due diligence before making your purchase as it may affect numerous factors down the road.

Focal length & focusing distance

DSLR macro lenses have a much larger range of focal lengths compared to Mirrorless macro lenses. Standard focal lengths to look out for is 60mm to 100mm primes although Canon even has a 180mm macro lens. The focal length of your lens would affect your minimal focusing distance. This is extremely important. Having the ability to shoot further and still fill your frame would greatly increase your hit rate especially when shooting skittish subjects such as jumping spiders. Not to mention it is definitely safer and preferred to keep those fingers away from dangerous vertebrates such as scorpions or venomous arachnids. Personally, I usually shoot with the highly popular Canon EF 100mm f2.8 L Macro lens on an EOS 80D (APSC) body and shooting macro is simple even at an effective 160mm (1.6x crop factor).

I had the opportunity to take the newly introduced EOS M50 and EF-M 28mm f/3.5 STM Macro Lens with Built-In Ring Light out for a review. I coupled the setup with a diffuser I borrowed from Andrew.

The results from this combination was fantastic and I was getting tact sharp images handheld even with the super macro mode that goes 2:1, however, the largest issue was in fact the short focusing distance to get to just 1:1 (almost just a cm). It resulted in many missed shots especially when attempting to shoot orb weavers or insects deep in bushes. Cropping power was not great either. The combo is more suited for studio work and the built-in focus light is definitely not bright enough to help you in focus in the dark. I’ll attempt to build a separate diffuser for this set up and try again. That being said, having a decent minimal focusing distance to get to 1:1 would greatly increase your hit rate.

Depending on your shooting style and what you would like to achieve you can explore other options such as wide macro lenses such as the Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Wide Angle Macro Lens for more interesting compositions, the MP-E65mm f2.8 1-5x Extreme Macro Lens to get even closer, or the newly introduced Laowa 24mm f/14 2x Macro Probe which can help you pull of some interesting shots not possible with normal macro lenses. Some of these lenses may not allow you to focus to infinity so just to reiterate, do your research before purchase!

My recommendation however is to get the basics right with a regular macro lens before venturing out into these specialised macro lenses as they can be extremely difficult to handle and beginners will have a hard time getting good results with them.

Alternatives

For those who are unsure or unwilling to invest fully in a macro set-up yet can turn to simple alternatives that are available in the market such as extension tubes, close up filters, diopters, reversal rings etc. The popular ones are extension tubes from Canon/Kenko that can be stacked for you to focus even closer (note, not really useful in the field). The more expensive extension tubes come with contact points that still allow autofocus and full aperture control, others are fully manual. Users can also explore into getting diopters such as the Raynox DCR 250, an inexpensive method to get up to 2.5:1 but depth of field (DOF) would be severely reduced (more on this will be touched on in an article about settings and mastering DOF).

Supplementary

Full-Frame vs Crop-Sensor

Is it worth the investment in an expensive full frame camera for macro? Not necessarily. In order to achieve the highest detail and magnification possible, what matters is pixel density. Trying not to get too technical here, the most pixels per square millimetre of your camera’s sensor would give you more detail. To illustrate, even if you have a 50 megapixel full frame camera, you would probably get more detail using a 24 megapixel APSC Crop sensor camera as the smaller sensor has more pixels per square millimetre as compared to the full frame sensor. Furthermore, in most wildlife/macro photography, the unspoken truth is that most of the photos are cropped. With the larger field of view on a full frame camera, you will still have to crop in to match the same magnification of a photo from a cropped sensor.

Nonetheless, full frame cameras are really useful due to their superior low light performance and image quality. You do not always have to shoot at 1:1 in macro, sometimes you just can’t! It would not be possible to project a large tarantula or large mantis at life size on a full frame 35mm sensor. This is where cropped sensors lose out as you will have to take steps back and there will be the issue of getting more ambient diffused light on a huge subject.

In conclusion, the advantages that come with full frame cameras are not as essential in macro photography and you can get away with awesome images with just a cropped camera.

Flash

Flashes are essential for macro and don’t bother leaving home for a macro shoot without it unless you tons of natural light. Pop-up flashes don’t work because of the output and how low it is located. You would not want your pop-up flash to cast a shadow over your subject because of your lens! To compensate for the relatively higher shutter speed (for magnified shakes or longer focal lengths), the large DOF (F8-16) and during low light situations (night shoots), get yourself a flash unit.

For basic macro photography, you do not need to be a master of flash photography, a simple speedlight, whether fully manual or with TTL functions will get the job done. Flashes can be expensive especially if you go for the big brands but cheaper alternatives are available (Yongnuo, Godox etc). Do note however, that if you go for the 3rd party flashes, there may not be after service support available in your country. After my YN 568EXii died on me, I opted for a cheap SGD$30 Neewer TT560 manual flash and it has been working fine ever since. (FYI, cheaper flashes may not come with full hotshoe contact points and may only have a single contact point to trigger your flash, this means that you may not be able to trigger your flash in live view, rendering your articulating screen useless).

Once you get used to your flash, you can explore other techniques like slaving another flash for additional lighting/backlighting, 2nd curtain sync etc.

Canon EOS 6Dii + EF 100mm f2.8 L + MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite Flash

Canon EOS 5DSR + EF 100mm f2.8 L + YN-14EX Ring Flash

Besides standard speed lights, there are other options such as ring lights, twin strobes, twin flashes, or even small slave flashes that you can trigger wirelessly. It is really up your creativity on how you want your set up to work. Choosing a flash unit is important as it determines how you will build your DIY diffuser which is probably the most important aspect of macro photography. Stay tuned for tutorials on how to diffuse light for macro.

Other Considerations

Look out for build quality in the gear you are purchasing. Other features such as optic/image stabilisation are really especially useful if you intend to shoot handheld and not with a tripod/monopod. If all your gear is weather-sealed, you wouldn’t have to worry much about rain, it happens sometimes!

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if you would like to contribute some pointers to this discussion!

Do share this article if you like what you see!

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#macrophotography #tutorial #singapore #biodiversity #wildlife #discovery #insects #arthropods #photography #gear #canon #mirrorless #DSLR

The Curious Case of the Albino King

The last week of June was a pretty interesting one for the birding community when a member from the local Otterwatch group spotted an unusual white Kingfisher in a canal at East Coast Park.

Through the initial photographs, the bird was quickly identified as our resident Collared Kingfisher species which can be seen and definitely heard almost anywhere in Singapore. Does this species look familiar to you?

Naturally, many got excited about the sighting and flocked down to get their winning shot of Singapore’s first Albino Kingfisher. Pictures flooded online and kick-started a discussion to determine whether the bird is a victim of leucism or albinism.

Albinism vs Leucism

Both conditions may look similar but are vastly different. Melanin, a group of pigments present in most organisms, is responsible for giving colour to feathers, eyes, skin as well as hair. It is absent in vertebrates with albinism. These vertebrates would have pale eyes that are usually red or pink, and their bodies would be totally white. In contrast, leucism is the partial loss of pigmentation, resulting in the vertebrate being ‘patchy-coloured’ (but sometimes are completely white). The eyes however, are not affected by the condition. By looking at the eyes of this kingfisher, it is more probable that it is albino than leucistic.

We headed down on Saturday with hopes to see this unique bird (named ‘Fluffy’ by the birding community) and it was one of those rare occasions that we did not have to wait for him to show up! Photographers were already firing away as Fluffy perched on a low lying branch just across the canal. Unfortunately, due to the overcast sky, lighting conditions weren’t ideal and we ended up shooting in a light drizzle.

It was clear that Fluffy could not take flight and was struggling just to balance on the branch. The feathers on Fluffy’s tail are not fully developed which resulted in the inability to stabilise himself. The slideshow below shows Fluffy showing off those truly angel-like wings while preening! Simply gorgeous!

Upon hearing the calls of his parents nearby, and with great difficulty, Fluffy tumbled around and made his way to a fallen tree on the railings. Birders then got into position to capture the feeding. One of his parents came by with a freshly caught Cicada, one of the loudest insects on Earth.

Soon after, Fluffy coughed out pellet. In ornithology, pellets are formed by the undigested food of the bird’s diet and can include the exoskeletons of insects, plant matter, fish bones and fur. It was a pretty large one too!

Within the next 15-20 min, keen eyes spotted one of Fluffy’s parents hunt down a large Praying Mantis. The kingfisher then swung the prey repeatedly into the branch to disorient and keep the mantis from escaping. This was done to facilitate a smooth feeding and is a common practice with most parent birds feeding their young. Check out the feeding sequence below!

With more photos of Fluffy flooding online, we know he has been fed an array of vertebrates ranging from butterflies, mantids, beetles, bees, crickets, katydids, cicadas, small crabs, lizards and the list goes on and on!

It was apparent that Fluffy has an issue with his eyesight and difficulty flying. After we left the location, we heard that Fluffy had flew onto the cycling tracks a couple times and almost drowned in the water from the canal after falling in! Birders, Acres and other park-goers had to constantly watch over Fluffy to prevent him from getting rolled over by cyclist and to reduce the stress on the poor bird. Acres had also brought him to Jurong Bird Park for the vets to nurse him back to health. Further updates from avid birders were that Fluffy has since been reunited with his parents, feeding well and is looking healthy!

Impact of Albinism

The effects of albinism can be really severe in the animal kingdom. The lack of melanin results in the constant breaking and deterioration of the birds feathers and offers little camouflage against predators. Without the ability to retain heat, albino birds can sometimes freeze in lower temperatures as well. More often than not, albino birds also suffer from poor eyesight like in Fluffy’s case. They rarely survive past fledging but with the help from the community, Fluffy seems to be doing pretty well for now!

We can only hope for the best for this unique Kingfisher! Fluffy has also been featured on the StraitsTimes! check out the coverage here:

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/albino-kingfisher-chick-draws-birding-community-to-east-coast-park

Do share this article if you like what you see! More to come!

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#birding #wildlifephotography #collaredkingfisher #albinokingfisher #kingfisher #feeding #hunting

Introduction to Macrophotography

<Broad-headed Bark Spider (Caerostris sp.)>

Here we explore this niche genre of photography and how one can get started to take good macro photos!

In my conversations with many about my work, this question occasionally pops up, “Why is it called macro photography instead of micro photography? Doesn’t macro mean big and micro mean really really small?” Well, Canon and Nikon often use these terms interchangeably in regards to their lenses but just to put it out there, macro photography is the art of making small subjects, look big (visible to the naked eye).

Why Macrophotography?

There are endless possibilities when it comes to the micro world~ with all that is going on in our lives, we don’t pause and take the time to appreciate the little things in life* pun intended. My interest in the micro world started even before I owned my first DSLR. I was using an Olloclip 3 in 1 mobile lens for the iPhone 4 and was amazed at the intricate details I could capture, whether it was the objects around me, or the little jumping spiders found in my garden. This gave me the opportunity to explore this strange, beautiful yet rarely seen world.

Whether you are shooting in the studio or out in the field, macro photography poses various challenges to the shooter, many of which are unique to this genre (although you will definitely utilise some common techniques in photography). Some of these challenges would include control of depth of field, light, focus, composition and diffusion, all of which I will be talking about in a separate article. There is something new to discover and learn at every single shoot and sharing these discoveries with others are always a joy!

<Jumping Spider (Bavia sp)>

What is magnification?

Essentially, macro photography is shooting at 1:1 magnification or more. Dedicated macro lenses are able to achieve 1:1 magnification. In a nutshell, it means that your subject is projected at life size onto the camera’s sensor. To illustrate, imagine a subject that is 3cm in length, it would be projected at 3cm on a 35mm full frame sensor, resulting in A LOT of details. If the equipment you are using enables you to shoot at higher magnifications, say 3x life size, the ratio would be 3:1. In contrast, the subject (2cm) being projected at 1cm on the sensor, it is regarded as 1:2.

Is this considered close-up photography? Nope. Close-up photography refers to you being able to fill your frame with your subject. Just because the lens you are using or your camera coming with a “macro mode”, does not mean you are shooting true macro. Simply put, macro lenses enable you to capture the finest details and produce razor sharp images. If i’m using a telephoto lens to zoom in close to a subject, it would be considered pseudo-macro (close up photography) and you will be able to see the difference in image quality. The Macro mode you see on DSLRs and Point & Shoot cameras only assist you in taking close-ups by reducing the minimal focus distance between you and your subject. The shot below is an example of close-up photography, shot under natural light with the Canon EF 100-400mm mkii.

The concept of magnification isn’t as simple as it seems. There are many factors and concepts that come to play when shooting at different magnifications. In many cases, it would also determine the equipment that you need. Do note that sensor size does not affect the degree of magnification ~

In a nutshell, when shooting at higher magnifications, any sort of movement is also magnified. Kinda like looking through binoculars and noticing the difficulty in keeping a steady image. Increasing your shutter speed would then be inevitable. As your magnification increases, your depth of field also decreases, so be prepared to bump up that f-value of yours. Couple all this together with the fact that most macro shoots happen at night, the time when the forest comes alive.

Now, those with experience in photography would probably be wondering so how do you compensate for so much loss of light? Well that’s when flash and diffusion come in. I’ll touch on that as well as settings and techniques in upcoming articles.

How do I get started?

Lets talk a bit about the basic gear needed for Macro photography. Definitely there will be photographers out there who will tell you that “its not about the gear, its about the photographer.” Thats true only to a certain extent. Having the right gear to suit your needs can open up many doors and provide a better platform to further explore your craft. That being said, you do not need expensive gear to take good macro photos.

Needless to say, you would need a camera body and a lens (assuming you invest in a macro lens and not in any alternatives like extension tubes/diopters etc, more on that next time).

However, regardless of which system you use, or camera body type for that matter, you definitely need a macro lens. Besides the ability to go at least 1:1, macro lenses also reduce optical distortions and you won’t have much problem with colour fringing. The fine details and razor sharp images you get in macro lenses cannot be replicated even with the sharpest lenses out there. Furthermore, macro lenses are also suited for portraiture and are fantastic to add to your arsenal. You would also need a flash to help with your depth-of-field, the pop up flash on your camera wouldn’t really help much. A standard speedlight would suffice although you can explore with ring flashes and twin/strobe flashes. I recommend starting with a regular speedlight before looking at alternatives until you understand how diffusion works and how to properly design one.

I hope that you now have a better understanding on this genre of photography and the fundamental concepts that drive this art form. I’m just scratching the surface here, do watch this space if you are keen to learn more (or you can contact me if you have any questions). With just your camera, your macro lens and a flash, you should be able to take pretty interesting macro photos and begin to explore the micro world!

Do share this article if you like what you see!

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#macrophotography #singapore #biodiversity #wildlife #discovery #insects #arthropods #photography #introduction

Rediscovered after a decade?

It started off as a casual shoot at a location we do not frequent. The night was filled with relentless mosquitos and the wet, muddy terrain made it even worse. It was also my first time seeing such large numbers of Golden-spotted Tiger Beetles, yellow Lynx Spiders, Swamp Eels and Crickets, all within a straight ~150-200m walk. Regardless of the sheer number of common subjects that night, it was a wonderful opportunity to practice and get improvement shots….until we spotted something amazing, something that kept us busy for a good hour or so. Well, before that and as always, here is a quick summary of the shots that night.

Disclaimer: Locations for macro shoots would not be disclosed to protect the arthropods from poaching.

Tiger beetles are these cool metallic beetles with crazy huge jaws. If you stroll along any of our nature parks, chances are high that you will see tiger beetles on the ground, however, they are so skittish in the day that its near impossible to get close. Thankfully for us, we can safely admire and photograph them at night when they are more cooperative. Usually we would spot one or two individuals, but in this particular location, the numbers were crazy, easily 50 or more. Check out some of the shots below!

This particular species is the Golden-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela aurulenta) and its the most common Tiger Beetle we have in Singapore. Whats interesting about their mating behaviour is something called ‘Mate-guarding’ (the bottom two photos). The males use their large mandibles to grab onto the thorax of the female to prevent any other males from mating with his partner. This behaviour can last for a really long time until the male is satisfied that the other suitors are discouraged. First time seeing this!

Here’s the more uncommon Neocollyris celebensis. Only one individual was spotted that night and it flew away before I could get a nicer background…

Two species of Shield Bugs dropped by, namely the Giant Shield Bug (Pycanum rubens) (top) and Shield Bug (Cantao ocellatus) (bottom).

Hoppers

Spiders

This Garden Spider (Parawixia dehaani) we found had a much redder colouration than previous Garden Spiders I’ve photographed before. I actually checked my white balance multiple times just to make sure I captured accurate colours. I noticed that it has yellow hairs on the sides of its carapace too, something I have never noticed before. Gorgeous arachnid!

The World’s smartest spider, capable of designing tactics and assessing situations to hunt. This particular species is Portia Labiata and it was spotted hiding on the underside of some leaves. Interested in learning about why its named the smartest hunter? Check out this short documentary clip by BBC Earth to find out more 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDtlvZGmHYk

Lynx Spiders (Oxyopes birmanicus) were everywhere that night. Something interesting about Lynx Spiders are the long hairs on its legs that act as a basket to trap prey when it hunts!

Juvenile Crab Spiders waiting in ambush on a single blade of long grass.

Huntsman Spider and Twig Spider with egg sac

Here we go……if you are following me at @thru_de_lenz on Instagram, you may have seen all the hype where my friends and I chanced upon one rare and unusual critter. In my many years of venturing down the roads less travelled, I have witnessed a fair share of weird, strange looking creepy crawlies that never cease to amaze me. This one was no exception. To be honest, I was slightly creeped out by this critter that looked like it came straight out of some sci-fi movie, kinda like the first time you see a house centipede up close. Thankfully the sole specimen was feeding on a leaves that was within our reach and was cooperative in allowing us to properly document the sighting.

Wait. What is that?? Why does that caterpillar have 4 long legs?? It looked like mix between a stick insect, a centipede and a caterpillar. Excitement filled the air, we weren’t even sure if this species was even recorded in Singapore before! The second the caterpillar noticed our presence, it curled up into this defence/general resting posture and thats when we started shooting away! Soon after it got comfortable with us, it started feeding again, showing off those long thoracic legs.

Doesn’t it look freaky?! We managed to identify the species as a Lobster Moth Caterpillar (Neostauropus Alternus) and soon after I contacted my friend Sean, who specialises in entomology, he referred me to this publication by Dr T.M. Leong (https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/app/uploads/2017/06/2008nis159-164.pdf) written in 2006 on the sighting of this species in Singapore. Prior to the publication, the only data collected on the occurrence of this species was from 88 years ago. This truly is one rare caterpillar. Do read the publication to learn more about this species!! Dr Leong has since been notified about the recent sighting.

So what do you think? Is this the best find of 2018 so far?

Do share this article if you like what you see!

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#macrophotography #singapore #biodiversity #wildlife #discovery #insects #arthropods #photography

Macro Adventure 020618

Finally back with the MAC team for a macro shoot after a long hiatus due to school and work. It was a crazy and exciting night filled with intriguing and rare subjects! Furthermore, I managed to do some thorough testing with the new diffuser that I made and I’m more than impressed! The light is so soft and bright that it really brings out the textures in the subject. Look at the photos and let me know what you think! Do let me know if I got any of the IDs wrong and any help with the unidentified species would be greatly appreciated 🙂

Disclaimer: Locations for macro shoots would not be disclosed to protect the arthropods from poaching.

Assassin Bugs

We came across several species of Assassin Bugs and I will compile a species list of all the Assassin Bugs I have came across in a separate post in the future once I have more content. Assassin bugs are predatory insects that have a long beak that they use to pierce and suck those juices out from their prey. They are known to bite humans as well and in other countries, some spread the lethal Chagas disease (thankfully there aren’t any cases in Singapore). We were fortunate enough to document these fascinating predators feeding and you can clearly see that prominent long beak in action! Some species are also capable of incredible camouflage, do scroll down to learn more!

 <Inara flavopictara>

Assassin Bug (Acanthaspis cf. quadriannulata) sucking body fluids from prey

One of the highlights of the night! Finally coming across an Acanthaspis petax when I’m fully equipped with my gear. This Assassin Bug wears the carcasses of its prey by secreting a sticky substance and placing the exoskeletons on top of it. The prey masks the smell of the Assassin bug and enables this predator to live amongst its prey undetected! Absolutely an amazing bug and I had a hard time trying to get the ants in focus as well~ This species has been documented and featured so many times and heres a link to Micro Monsters where you can learn more in a short video (hosted by DavidAttenborough).

Similar to the Acanthaspis petax, the Masked Hunter excretes a sticky substance where dust and lint from the surroundings settle on its back to provide full camouflage! It probably serves as a deterrent cause I doubt any predator would want a mouth full of dust anyway. Look closely and see if you can spot its eyes! The 2nd shot is the same species shot in Malaysia~ Here are 3 other species we saw that night!

Valentia hoffmanni, Reduviidae / Unidentified, Reduviidae / Acanthaspis sp in respective order.

Spiders

Although there weren’t many Huntsman Spiders or Jumping Spiders around, we still managed to find some pretty cool Arachnids!

Here’s a comparison of the Female (top) and Male (bottom) <Ornamental Tree Trunk Spider (Herennia multipuncta)> showcasing sexual dimorphism at its best. You can usually find these spiders on the trunks of trees!

Gorgeous juvenile <Heteropoda Lunula> found hiding in between two leaves!

Unusual looking Orb weaver (Araneidae sp)

Two Harvestmen Spiders, one eating a mushroom and another with two yellow stripes at the sides.

Worms

We also came across the usual Hammerhead flatworm, one with an unusual grey and white colouration and an unidentified worm~

Other notable finds

The only cockroach that I’m willing to shoot (to date), the cute Pill Cockroach (Perishpaerus sp) that has just moulted which results in the red colour. They are usually just black. Doesn’t it look like its wearing shades?

Fly infected with Cordyceps. Should have spent more time with this subject but I was too tired after close to 6 hours of shooting. Tried to get to eye level but the stick was too short and was curved upwards 😦

Flatid Bug Nymph (Flatidae)! Really an unusual looking critter! It has four flipper-like feelers in front of its face!

These shots really show off how soft and spread the light is, you can “see” the texture on the subjects! The Asian Camel Cricket was so large that each time it hopped we could hear the cricket landing with a thud on those dead leaves! The only amphibians we saw were Asian Toads, Four-lined Tree Frogs and this Black Spotted Sticky Frog, laying in ambush to slurp up insects that cross its path.

From top to bottom:

  1. Possible Flatid Planthopper
  2. Wasps nest
  3. Snail with emerging shell
  4. Leaf Katydid
  5. Mantis (Leptomantella sp.)
  6. St Andrews Cross Spider
  7. Bark Scorpion (Lychas sp)

TOP find of the night

The rarest find of the night was a pregnant, female Boxer Mantis! I have personally only come across the nymph of this species and they both look spectacular! Heres a comparison, nymph was shot some time back

Don’t they look amazing! But WAIT there’s more!!!

Look at all those spikes! While shooting this mantis, we noticed that only at a certain angle, a beautiful iridescent blue can be seen on the inner-side of her front legs. Took a long time getting the shot especially after my focus light died on me~ Check out the results below!

Nature is simply mind-boggling and each shoot brings about new discoveries and lessons learnt! If you ever want to learn more about our biodiversity or macro photography in general, feel free to contact me!

Do share this article if you like what you see! More to come!

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#macrophotography #singapore #biodiversity #wildlife #discovery #insects #arthropods #photography

Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x Macro Lens Review

In macro photography, the question on the minds of many often revolve around “how close can you get?”. This is where the concept of magnification comes to play and I was fortunate enough to be able to take this extreme macro lens out for a spin, so here’s my quick review about the lens to address the concerns of many users on whether this lens is more suitable for studio work or field work. I would not be touching on the technical specs but rather more of what really matters when you shoot outdoors. I’ll be making comparisons with the Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS Macro EF L IS USM, which is the primary lens I use for my macro work.

Housefly – ISO125 f6.3 1/125sec, 29 images stacked, 5x magnification

Jumping Spider (Plexippus Paykuli) – ISO100 f9 1/200sec, Unstacked (handheld), 3x magnification

If you have ever considered macro photography as a genre to explore, you would have probably heard about the concept of 1:1 magnification. In a nutshell, dedicated macro lenses (generally 1:1) are capable of projecting the subject at life size on the camera sensor. 2:1 means twice of life size and so on.

The Canon EF MP-E65 f2.8 1-5x macro lens is one exceptional macro lens that allows users to achieve 1 to 5x life size magnification, enabling users to really get up close. .

The lens has a fantastic built and is very well constructed. Its is slightly heavier than the 100mm and when extended to 5x, its approximately 4 inches longer than the 100mm prime. It also has a 58mm thread and an unusual looking front element. The lens is not weather sealed, has no image stabilisation as well as tripod sensing as compared to the 100mm f2.8L. It does however, come with a removable tripod collar for better balance. You can separately purchase the Canon tripod mount ring D for the 100mm f2.8L if you find the need for one.

Focus

As you probably would have noticed by now, it’s a full manual lens with no aperture ring and focus ring. Just like how most macro photographers focus on their subjects, you set the magnification you desire and move the camera forwards and backwards to focus. A good point to bring up here is that the lens doesn’t function like a regular 65mm lens and doesn’t support infinity focus, unlike the 100mm f2.8L which many also use as a portrait lens. Focusing distance of this lens is extremely short, at 5x, expect your subject to be approximately 1.6 inches away from your lens, which means that finding your subject and skittish subjects would also be a huge challenge. I recommend setting the lens at 1:1, frame your shot, before adjusting the desired magnification.

Sharpness & Depth of Field (DOF)

The first thing I wanted to test was ‘exactly how sharp is this lens?’ I mounted the lens on my 80D together with my diffuser and headed out to the garden for some test shots. Using various fstop values, I found that the sweet spot of the lens was around f8-f10. Even at 1:1, images were softer even when focus was on point at small apertures (f11-16). This was also after experimenting with higher shutter speeds/using a tripod (which I don’t really use much for macro) to minimize any shake. The lens also has a minimum aperture of f16.

Comparing this to the 100mm f2.8L at 1:1, I could easily get away with sharp images at f16 before diffraction kicked in. This was when I realised that my usual way of shooting will not work with this lens.

Shooting at a larger apertures would mean that you will be working with a shallower DOF which is not ideal for macro photography if you want to achieve the most detail at high magnification. As a general rule, aperture and magnification both have an inverse relationship with DOF.

I started photographing subjects at f9 from 1-5x magnification. The DOF does indeed get drastically shallow (possibly a millimetre or less at 5x) and you need A LOT of light to illuminate your subject if you are using a DSLR system (optical viewfinder). It’s important to note here that shooting at high magnification would mean that any shake, regardless of how minor, would be magnified and this will affect the shutter speed you will set as well as making it extremely difficult to get your shot in focus of you are shooting handheld. With the razor thin DOF at magnifications higher than 3, focus stacking is inevitable to achieve a compelling image, getting more of your subject in focus.

Getting equipped for field work

It was definitely more difficult finding the subject and getting the stack right when moving in and out due to the magnified movements. There’s a reason why most people who do extreme macro have multiple light sources, a sturdy tripod, use macro focusing rails and dead subjects.I’ve never owned a macro focusing rail cause I never saw the need for one. However, when using this lens, getting precise with your focus planes are of utmost importance and a rail would save you much time and it’ll definitely be less frustrating.

So is this lens suitable for work in the field? Simply put, this lens is not for the beginner just starting out in macro photography and it’ll only bring about more frustrations. I wouldn’t call this a go-to lens and I’ll pick my 100mm f2.8L and Raynox DCR250 (2.5x diopter) for field work in a heartbeat. You probably realised that the lens extends quite a fair bit when adjusting the magnification levels, this will affect how you diffuse your light. It will not be easy designing a diffuser for this lens for field work if you are using standard on-camera speedlights. The length of the lens will affect how your light travels down to the subject (usually just a few cm away from your front element) and the lens also blocks off a fair bit of light. Placement of your focus light would also be an issue to think about.

This is also why most people who use this flash tend to go for the expensive ring/twin flash units that are attached to the front element or in the cases of strobe flashes, it gives more flexibility for light placement. The lens has a mounting ring in the front that allows compatibility to Canon’s twin flashes. Diffusing light in the studio should not be a problem, you have all the time in the world to get your lights set up.

Getting out on the field would require a stable and reliable set up as you never know what you will come across and hardly any wild subject will stay put for you to stack 20 or more photos of it. Consider that you will be doing this handheld as well. Some who have had much practice with this lens are able to stack handheld at 3x should the subject allow. Having powerful flash units that can keep up with high shutter speeds and frame rates make it easier to stack due to the high recycling speed.

As you can see from the images above, when shooting at high magnification (2.5x & 3x respectively), any sort of sensor dust would also be picked up! Remember to do some spot healing for your final product!

Some alternatives to this lens should you still desire more magnification is the Laowa 25mm f2.8 2.5-5x, released in January 2018. An in-depth comparison has been done by Nicky Bay on Petapixel, check it out here:

The $399 Laowa 25mm Macro Lens vs the $1,050 Canon MP-E 65mm

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#review #canonsg #mpe65 #macro #macrophotography #extrememacro