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17 Nov 2013

Continuation from my post yesterday ...
"I've put together a guide on photographing in Singapore Jurong Bird Park according to different categories of birds/subjects, so as to help anyone going there to plan what to focus on..." 

Flock of Birds

If you like photographing a big flock of birds using wide-angle lenses, then head down to the Flamingo Pool/Lake, Pelican Cove and the Swan Lake.

Challenging Areas/Birds for Photography

In my opinion, these are the areas where I felt that it would be challenge trying to photographs the birds.

World of Darkness

As the location name suggest, this is a dark indoor enclosure for housing the owls and you will be photographing in the dark. Even on ISO 25600, it is also difficult to get a decent shutter and a tripod many be required to photograph them.

If you really want to photograph them, I would suggest reading my previous article on "Challenging Photography at Night Safari" and "De-noise Using DxO Optics Pro 9" for post-processing.
EXIF: ISO 25600, F/2.8 and 1/25s (0 EV)

Waterfall Aviary

A very scenic "adventure land" that is full of small flying birds and a man-made waterfall. Small flying birds with relatively bad lighting is definitely a challenge to getting a good sharp pictures of them. Suggest going during the feeding time (10.30am and 2.30pm) for photography.

Birds of Prey, Hornbills & Toucans, Window on Paradise

Birds in these areas are kept in big wired cages, with rather poor lighting condition. Sometimes the birds are resting way up high in the cage which makes it impossible to photograph them as well.

In order to "shoot through" the wired cages (i.e. without the square wire appearing in your photos), a long telephoto lens is required using manual focusing and standing as near to the wired cage as possible - this will cause the wired cage to "disappear" from the photograph taken.
This was taken through the wired cages with my lens almost touching the wired cages and manual focusing on the bird in the cage.

Try Your Luck at Dinosaur Descendants (Cassowary, Emu & Ostrich)

These are big flightless birds that are said to be descendants of dinosaurs. In particular, the Cassowary has a nice beautiful colored head which I had ran out of luck trying to photograph it. The cassowary has gone hiding in the bushes despite waiting - so try your luck :)

This picture is taken more than 3 years ago during my last visit.

Equipment, Settings & Techniques


  • Digital camera - Preferably DSLR that is capable of controlling the ISO, aperture and shutter speed.
  • Fast-focusing telephoto lenses - Unlike photographing birds in the wild, the enclosure in Jurong Bird Park are reachable with a fairly good close-up using a focal length of 200mm. Fast-focusing lenses would help to focus in on some of the moving birds.
  • Tripod - I see this as a good to have as I had taken all my photographs on hand-held. If you are not using any lenses longer than 200 mm, the weight should be manageable for hand-held. Using tripod is also more troublesome since you will not be "camping" at one spot and will be moving from places to places.


Depending on the scenario, the settings (especially ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed) would need to be adjusted accordingly. I'll just explain the key settings and principles behind:
  • Aperture Priority (AV) Mode - Switch to AV mode with a aperture of F/5.6 or F8 for a sufficient Depth of Field (DOF) in the image. However if lighting condition requires you to use a wider aperture (e.g. F/2.8) for a faster shutter speed, it would still give sufficient DOF given that most of the birds are relatively small in size and the distance from the subject is far enough (i.e. say 5m or more). (Note: Please read "Understanding How Depth of Field Affects Your Photos")
  • ISO - ISO controls the sensitivity of capturing images on the sensor. Higher ISO makes the sensor more sensitive to light, and thus a faster shutter speed can be used but introduce more noise (i.e. grainy spots) in the picture. As a guide: ISO 100-200 for bright and sunny scenes, ISO 400-800 for cloudy scenes, ISO 1600-3200 for indoor scenes without flashes. If the scene is really too dark, the ISO may have to be bumped up even higher than 3200 into expanded range.
  • Shutter Speed - Depending on whether the subject is stationary or moving, you will need to watch whether the shutter speed metered by the camera is sufficient for your scene (i.e. there is no one fixed setting). As a guide: birds in flight would required a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 secs and birds that are stationary or moving will require at least a shutter speed that is inverse to the focal length used.
  • In the event where I have to compensate either aperture or ISO for the right shutter speed, I would sacrifice ISO first as image noise can be "improved" during post-processing while DOF is unable to. However I would start using a wider aperture setting once I've reached ISO 1600 as higher ISO are more prone to details loss.
  • Use AI Servo Auto-Focusing Mode if your subject is moving. This allows the camera to continuously change the focusing when you track your subject by pressing the shutter button halfway.
  • Use Continuous Shooting/Drive Mode if you felt that the shutter speed may still be insufficient for your subject despite stretching the ISO and wide aperture used. This allows the camera to continuously take several pictures when the shutter button is pressed, which may help to increase the chance of getting a sharp picture in one of the frames taken.
  • Use center focusing point when tracking and focusing on the bird.


I would not go into how the camera should be held or how to pan the camera with moving subjects or how to stabilize the camera on hand-held as they are more related to personal style that a photographer will accomplish with more pictures taken. However, there is one particular worth-mentioning technique when it comes to photographing birds, that is always focus at the eyes of the bird. Believe it or not, once the eyes of the bird is captured tact-sharp, the rest of the bird's body will look equally sharp from a visible perspective.

Please also read Part 1 of the guide, as well as the article on "Photograph Birds in Flight at Jurong Bird Park".

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