Howard Yap’s feed on Instagram features some amazing landscape, but what he is now known for are his stunning, detailed shots of regal birds in their natural habitat. We speak to him about his love for birding.
Scrolling through your social feed, it’s clear that you have an affinity for animals, in particular, birds. Could you tell us more on how this came to be?
Birding is not my first love.
I started my journey as a hobbyist photographer in January 2015 with the Canon 6D. I shot landscapes, and would make time to travel within the country to take photos. I got bored before long and the NDP rehearsals were underway, so I purchased a telephoto zoom lens and started to take photos of our jets in aerial displays. After that was over, I turned my focus onto zoo animals and the bird park, which eventually led to birding.
Red Crowned Crane | EOS 1DX Mark II | F/5 | 1/2000s | ISO 160
Your followers must enjoy your astonishing scrutiny of these wildlife. How has the feedback been so far?
I suppose they were fascinated with the extreme closeups and tremendous details in some of my shots.
Crested Goshawk | EOS 5DS R | F/5 | 1/10s | ISO 400
Do you have any favourite types of birds to shoot?
I enjoy taking photos of raptors hunting or diving for fish. I don’t do record shots: I don’t go out to capture all types of birds – just those that interest me. Raptors (including owls) and kingfishers are my favourites.
Barred Eagle Owl EOS 5DS R | F/5.6 | 1/100s | ISO 160
Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher | EOS 5DS R | F/5 | 1/15s | ISO 400
Do you normally plan out your feed or do you do it spontaneously based on your destinations?
I simply post what I just shot, or photos that I have recently processed.
Lake Kussharo Sunset | EOS 5DS R | F/10 | 1/160s | ISO 100
Is there a message or bigger purpose you would like to share with your feed?
I wish there was but it’s just for fun and leisure. I get questions from time to time; asking where to shoot, how to shoot, and I’m happy to share what I know with anyone who wants to improve their photography.
Taiwan Magpie | EOS 1DX Mark II | F/5 | 1/1250s | ISO 800
How do you go about planning your shoots?
It depends on the type of photography and where I’m traveling to. Generally I would source the internet and Facebook groups. If it’s travel photography or birding in another country, I will also seek advice from friends with experience. I’ll check the weather forecast and use google map to familiar myself with the locality before traveling.
White tailed Eagle | EOS 1DX Mark II | F/3.2 | 1/3200s | ISO 1000
When it comes to the actual shoot, do you recce for a stakeout point or do you move about and hunt for the birds during your searches?
I would generally try the known spots and capture some shots before I recce for alternative stakeout points. Although I still own the zoom lens which I started with, I only bird with long lens and tripod these days, which is definitely a restriction to mobility.
Straw Necked Ibis | EOS 5DS R | F/5.6 | 1/2000s | ISO 640
What kind of equipment do you bring?
For birding, my gear includes Canon 5DSR and 1DX Mark II cameras. Lenses will be EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, EF 300mm f/2.8L IS, EF 600mm f/4L IS II, EF 1.4X Extender III and EF 2X Extender III. From that range, I’ll finalise the combo of camera, lens and extenders depending on the type of bird and shoot.
Common Kingfisher | EOS 1DX Mark II | F/8 | 1/4000s | ISO 4000
For landscapes, a Canon 5DSR with either the EF 16-35mm f/4L IS or EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II.
Nelim Northern Lights | EOS 5DS R | F/4 | 15s | ISO 500
Why did you select them and how have they helped you in your shoots?
Almost all my gear are from Canon, as I mentioned above. I would usually read online reviews or rely on feedback from friends who are using them. The 5DSR is widely recognised as a studio camera, but to me, it’s the game changer in wildlife photography. Although it has neither the focusing speed, fps nor ISO capability of the 1DX Mark II, the image that it can produce in good light is simply the best of all the consumer or prosumer cameras that are currently available.
Osprey | EOS 1DX Mark II | F/6.3 | 1/3200s | ISO 500
When capturing these birds, what are some of the key things to note to take a great shot?
- Focus on the eye. If the eye is in focus, the shot is usually a keeper.
- Keep ISO as low as possible while avoiding motion blur and maintaining reasonable DOF (depth of field).
- Use camouflage or a hide when necessary to get reasonably close to the subject without intruding. The early bird catches the worm so be earlier than the bird!
Oriental Honey Buzzard | EOS 1DX Mark II | F/10 | 1/800s | ISO 250
- After getting a few shots, seek for better ones at different spots to get a clutter-free background or clearer unobstructed view.
- If the light is found wanting, come back and shoot again at a different time, when there’s more light or better weather.
What are some of the challenges that come from trying to achieve your shots?
Light, or the lack of it.
The weather and lighting could be perfect but some birds, especially eagles, do not hunt until the light is fading. I camped at Yishun Lake for about three months after work and during weekends, almost everyday, before I landed a decent shot of the White-Bellied Sea Eagle fishing.
Imperial Eagle | EOS 5DS R | F/8 | 1/160s | ISO 400
What do you find most rewarding?
For birding, nailing close-up shots of eagles fishing. Like the White-Tailed Eagles and Steller’s Eagles in Rausu, Hokkaido and Ospreys in Taiwan.
Steller Sea Eagle | EOS 5DS R | F/5 | 1/2000s | ISO 400
For the rest, capturing natural phenomena such as the Milky Way in NZ, Oia sunset, Northern Lights in Finland, Midnight Sun and fjords of Norway.
Oia Sunset | EOS 6D | F/13 | 1/2500s | ISO 100
How do you choose the final pictures to be uploaded?
Quality opposed to quantity. I post only shots that would put a smile on my face. And I feel that one shouldn’t be in a hurry to post.
Blue Tailed Bee Eater | EOS 5DS R | F/10 | 1/100s | ISO 125
Lastly, for budding animal enthusiasts, do you have some tips to share to help them get started?
Find someone experienced who is willing to take you under his wing and teach you everything. This will be a big help to ease the learning curve.
White Tail Eagle | EOS 5DS R | F/5.6 | 1/3200s | ISO 250
I was fortunate to have met Mr Piyong Chen Wah, who brought me around Chinese Garden showing me all the spots to capture the birds and taught me everything he knew about birding without reservation.
I also got to know two of the best local birders, Danny Khoo (who uses identical birding gear as me) and Solomon Anthony (popularly known as Sg Dundee). Lastly, not forgetting Eyvind Ness, my Norwegian friend who was among the first users of 5DSR for wildlife/birding.
‘We hope you enjoyed reading about Nature and Birding! For more of Howards work on Instagram, you can visit @sgroader
First published: Canon EOS World