Photo Shooting at Singapore Night Safari – No Flash, Hand Held, Total Madness

Knowing that I will visit Taman Safari Indonesia next week, I managed to purchase the perpetually sold out Nikon zoom lens and wanted to give it some practice at our Singapore Zoo or Bird Park during the long weekend.  I stared at the sky everyday and willed the rain to go away, without success.  So one evening I took my Nikon D700 with my new lens and headed to Night Safari, alone.

I have totally underestimated the challenges ahead.  Before I left home, I was very pleased to finally leave the flash gun behind since it is morally irresponsible to shoot these lovely animals with flash.  Flash photography has been a steep learning curve for me; shooting moving wildlife hand held with no flash in near pitch dark and less than ideal light source is very hard.  It is hard to describe unless you try it out yourself.

I have seen many visitors gave up after some test shots (all black, grossly under exposed).  Looking at my LCD, they were amazed at what I took; but I was less than thrilled by the results of this trip.  Sorry guys, I promise to do a better job next time.  Perhaps with a monopod and a different setting.  Below are 28 pictures selected out of close to 500 shots I took that one evening (no Photoshop, no cropping).  I have put in some captions to better describe the condition.  If the OVI player moves too fast, feel free to mouse over it, click pause, and manually forward the slide.

After the first few auto shots, I was stunned by the result (in a negative way no fault of Nikon).  Bear in mind that I have just invested don’t know how many years of my future Christmas present budget into this one lens, I stood still trying to figure out what to do next.  Auto focusing option is out because it was too dark for my camera.  The animals kept moving and the shuttle speed could not be too low.  Some animals kept moving towards and away from me and I had to keep changing the composition (i.e. zoom) and the focus.  Basically my left hand was busy with the two rings on my lens.  I have to go for full manual mode anyway because it is not a question of getting the right exposure, it is a question of how low you can possibly tolerate.  I learned as I shot.

Most of the shots I was shooting at a focal length of 200mm (widest aperture of 2.8 for all).  That works out to be an ideal shutter speed of 1/200s for hand held condition (please let me know if I talk rubbish)?  VR – vibration reduction – can slow down the speed for 3 stops for those who have steady hands (I leaned towards stationary objects whenever possible) and I had to go even lower than that.  Most of the shots, I used a speed of 1/15s.  Some I manage to up it to 1/30s.  Still, it is very hard to get a good shot with that speed at 200mm.  I tried to get a better ISO whenever I could but rarely could I go below 3200.

I had no prior experience nor read anything on manual setting prior to this trip. Most definitely, I have committed a lot of laughable mistakes.  My last manual focusing practice session was when I was a very small boy.  I did the best I could and figured the above out through experiments on the spot that one moist evening.  How glad my scientific mind kicks into action when I need to make my art works.  As always, all online and offline feedback is welcome.

27 thoughts on “Photo Shooting at Singapore Night Safari – No Flash, Hand Held, Total Madness”

  1. I think taking photos in low light conditions is a real challenge. Blur images due to movement is really common – and quite exasperating. But the pix you took look wonderful! 😉 The colours were really vibrant and pretty sharp too!

  2. oh wow~! I haven’t thought that there can be photos taken in such a dark environment!!! Excellent! I think I enjoy seeing the animals there from your photos. I could hardly see all the details of the animals in my last visit. haha… 😛

  3. Quite a commendable effort actually. Love the zebra and the mouse deer (I think it is a mouse deer) shot.

    If I were you I wouldn’t worry about the bat shit dropping onto the lens. I will worry about it dropping on me head, or worse, into my mouth!

  4. Suety – You are right. Absolutely challenging. I don’t think I was mentally prepared for that.

    Yes, the color is pretty vibrant for a Nikon camera eh?

    My animal pictures not that wonderful. I love the pictures of your new … dog better 🙂

  5. Lora – We need to visit Night Safari again!

    Wait. Are you like Cynthia … who are not really into this park and that park except East Coast Park? Ha ha ha.

  6. Darkspore – The zebra and the mouse deer shots are the brighter ones eh?

    Man, if I had to choose, I would choose to have bat shit on my face rather than on my beloved Nikon camera and lens.

  7. WOW! U did a fantastic job!
    I tried once to take pics at the Night Safari with of course a normal digital cam with pretty standard functions…and all I get are green pictures. Why am I not surprised? Haha!
    Ur expensive lens are superb! It opened up a world I’ve not seen before or yet to shoot…:)
    Kudos to this great photo shoot!

  8. Wow, f2.5 is no joke! With a higher iso & larger aperture, you can afford a higher shutter speed too! For slow moment like walking probably need about 1/30-1/50s, and jumping, fast walking about 1/120-1/160s. It’s quite a bit of trial & error.

  9. G – Ha ha ha. You like the leopard eh? I thought you were referring to number 18. Only after I returned home did I notice how big those ears are. Funny. I stood there forever just to wait for all three of them to face one direction.

    The leopard shot was quite easy. They don’t move much, do they?!

  10. Ghim Seng – Oh, I used the max aperture of my zoom lens (f/2.8) and almost the highest ISO (6400). I may try the next two (high 1 and high 2) next time.

    Hand holding 1/15s (or in some cases 1/30s) at 200mm is really no joke. The next lens that is better than mine would be 200mm f/2. That lens cost USD 4,000. Lol.

  11. Great work. I can really understand the difficulty. Good for you that you have a camera that can go to ISO 3200.

    Just remember that it is better to have a crisp picture with noise than have a clear but blurred picture.

  12. Eric – Thanks bro. Most are shot at ISO 6400, the maximum my D700 can reach before the High 1 and High 2. I have tried the High 1 (ISO 12,800) and High 2 (25,600) lately at the peak of Bundung. The noise level is just too high even when I cranked up the noise reduction.

  13. Cool !

    A new toy !!! This 70-200mm Nikon Lense is a very beautiful lense, you will have no regrets purchasing it ! Great for sports, events, portraits, travel !!

    It took me a while to master my Canon 70-200mm lense, after that, love it when it is fully utilised for the occasion/moment.

    Happy shooting !


  14. JH – I know! It’s a lovely toy, isn’t it? You are right. It takes time to master it. In fact, I love this zoom lens to take many shots that wouldn’t have been possible when I was in the city.

    Kind of heavy though … ha ha ha. I need to pump some irons!

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