Interview with Francis Yap

27 May 2011 No Comment

NPX: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m pretty bad at describing myself. That about covers the ‘a bit’ part. Next question!

NPX: How long have you been interested nature photography? And also how you started.

When my daughter was a baby, I bought a DSLR to capture interesting moments in her life. So I became more interested in photography in general. Browsing through the local photographic forums, I saw many breathtaking pictures of birds taken by enthusiasts with accompanying interesting stories about the birds’ behaviour, as well as their own adventure in getting the shots. This was maybe 7 years ago (and some of those people like Philip Tang, Jonathan Cheah, SK Foo are still around these days!). I told myself then that if ever I have less commitments, I will find the means to pursue this. It took some time, but I finally started in April 2010.

NPX: What do you like about it in particular?

I take nature photography as an excuse to explore outside. Looking at interesting subjects and their surroundings and hopefully understanding them a bit more. If I get nice pictures along the way, that’s a bonus, and it does help to jog the memory of the overall experience later.

NPX: What’s your photography techniques and how you learn them?

I don’t have any noteworthy techniques. If there is anything that is a bit unusual, it is that I tend to regularly lug my heavy gear over longer distances than most people and I don’t linger at any one spot for very long. I started with a shorter lens (300mm) and as I progressed into super-telephoto territory, I reminded myself that I should continue walking as much as I did previously. It makes for painful shoulders afterwards!

NPX: Were there any photographer(s) that you like and influences your style?

My dad. Many years ago in my teenage years, on a once in a lifetime family holiday in Paris, my dad asked me to take a picture of him and my mum with the Arc de Triomphe in the background. I spend many minutes asking them both to go forward/backward, turn left, turn right and I was likewise doing the same, just to get the perfect shot. My thoughts were “This is a very rare event, so I must get it right”. Exasperated after many minutes of posing, my dad curtly told me “If I wanted a perfect picture of the Arc de Triomphe, I’ll buy a postcard!”. I understood years later that my task then was to document the event, so that in the future, he could re-live the experience of being there. My quest for perfection happened to have spoilt his moment. As a photographer, I always try to balance the savouring of the moment part and the taking nice picture part.

NPX: What are the stuff in your dry cabinet? What are the items in your bag during birding?

I keep my 24-105mm, 35mm, 50mm and 300mm in my dry cabinet since my daughter is now averse to me taking pictures of her! I bring my camera and my 400mm and 800mm to the field.

NPX: Which is your favourite bird species and why?

I like Litte Grebes. I cannnot fully explain why. Perhaps it’s their funny courtship rituals, their funny look or their feisty litle selves.

NPX: Which other genres of nature photography you’d like to pursue in the future? Why is it so?

I like to do more mammal photography, and understand their behaviour. Singapore is not the right place to do this, so it will have to wait until I retire and have more time to travel.

NPX: While pursuing your hobby, what is your most memorable moment to date?

In an old pond in Lorong Halus, all covered with tall grasses, there purportedly lived a pair of Little Grebes. Unseen for some time and presumably moved elsewhere. One day, I was strolling pass the pond and I heard their call. Excitedly I trudge through the grasses and looked around, and to my surprise, there was a recently fledged Little Grebe and it’s parents. At once, I felt elated, like having found some great treasure. It soon turned to regret, as I felt that I should have gone looking for them earlier. The mood then changed to one of steely determination to get the shots of this family. Then the feeling changed to big concern for the birds, as I could see through my viewfinder a Malayan Water Monitor and a water snake lurking around the pond. And that turned to concern for my own safety knowing my phobia of snakes, as I was squatting on tall grasses. So a whole gamut of emotions going through in a short period of time.

NPX: What are the challenges you’ve faced?

I have a degenerative eye disorder call keratoconus, which basically makes my eyesight all bad, and especially pronounced when the light is low. I can compensate somewhat in good light by being more aware of movements and triangulating sounds. Not much luck with stationary, silent cuckoos so far! In lowlight, I’m dependent on fellow photographers and birders to point out the birds to me.

NPX: Please share with us a couple of your favorite images accumulated over the years. Please describe to us why you like these images.

1. A Milky Stork and a Grey Heron at the Japanese Garden. The Stork had an almost serene looking face and the Grey Heron had an aggressive stance. But in truth the bully is the Stork, as it wanted the Heron’s perch and it did succeed in the end.

2. A Smooth-coated Otter at Sungei Buloh enjoying it’s sushi lunch, looking straight on at the camera. It was my first time seeing an otter in the wild and I had to do bodily contortions to get a clear angle for this shot. I like the cute yet wild aspect of this photo.

3. Comical looking Little Grebes at Singapore Quarry with their peculiar courting rituals. Technically there is a lot to improve, but hopefully next season!

NPX: Thanks for your time!

Thank you for the interview.

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