Bird photography in Singapore is taking flight, with more shutterbugs willing to venture into areas like mangroves and cemeteries to snap pictures of colourful plumes and webbed feet.
"When we explore outdoors, we see birds in their natural setting," said 44-year-old Francis Yap, who runs a biotech business. "By photographing them, we can keep the image as a memory."
Armed with a $22,000 camera kit and a lens as long as his arm, the enthusiast ventured into the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve on Saturday, one of the pioneer participants in the photography category at this year's Big Bird Race - a contest to spot the most species of birds in 24 hours.
The annual event saw 12 teams of two to three competing in three categories - novice, advanced and photography.
Photography teams had to submit pictures of the species, while other teams only had to jot down details of where and when the bird was sighted.
At the prize-giving ceremony at Quality Hotel Marlow yesterday afternoon, Mr Yap and his team clinched first prize with 76 photographed species.
Winners from the novice and advanced categories were also awarded trophies for spotting 64 and 110 species respectively.
It was the first time in 30 years of the event, organised by the Nature Society (Singapore), that it has hosted a photography category.
"This is to cater to the growing number of bird photographers in Singapore, which has exploded over the past five years due to the advent of the digital camera," said head of its organising committee Alan OwYong, 67. "While bird watchers pay more attention to the records of birds, such as their rarity, photographers enjoy capturing colourful birds and birds in motion."
But nominated MP and environmentalist Faizah Jamal, who was guest of honour at the event, said photographers could eventually be roped into conservation.
"There are photographers who are into nature photography, but not necessarily into conservation," she said. "This category could bridge the gap so nature photographers could understand the conservation element."
For birdwatchers at the event, conservation was indeed the buzzword, as many attributed rapid habitat loss to Singapore's development.
Maintenance manager Alfred Chua, 53, a birdwatcher of 22 years, said: "The density of resident birds like swamp hens and ducks has dropped as they lose their freshwater homes."
Teacher Ann Ang, 29, who has three years of birding experience, said she did so as it was fun and she enjoyed nature.
Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee took part for the first time, finishing a creditable second place in the advanced category with 106 sightings.