Sunday, 7 January 2018

Overnight Macro on Ubin Island 2017

While the rest of the World was busy preparing to usher in the New Year, a couple of us decided to spend one night in Pulau Ubin, an island situated 1.4 kilometers from Mainland Singapore. Just 3 weeks prior, we embarked on a mini-expedition to our northern neighbour, Malaysia, where we spent 3 nights documenting the wildlife in Bukit Tinggi. I could not join them due to conflicting schedules but if you would like to know more about that trip, feel free to read Calvin's post here.

If you have read some of my previous posts, you would know that the group have been shooting together on a weekly-basis for almost 3 years now with 'membership' growing steadily each year. There are about 10 of us in the group now, all with very diverse backgrounds but united by our passion for photography and bugs. The group is all about inclusivity and the sharing of experiences, and over the years we have grown to become really good friends so it is no surprise that our conversations go beyond our common interests, but we will get more to that later.

Thanks to Lenz Lim (a sponsored photographer/influencer with Canon Singapore) and his contacts, I am proud to announce that the group have managed to secure a partnership with Kreta Ayer Community Centre for 2018! It is truly humbling that they are willing to come onboard to support the work that we do, considering just how niche macro photography actually is. With this newfound partnership, we look forward to contribute back to the community by engaging the residents, especially the youths, through photography workshops, exhibitions, and nature-immersion programmes. More on that, soon!

So anyway, back to our little getaway trip sponsored by our friends from Kreta Ayer Community Centre. We had our mandatory lunch stop at Changi Food Village, before making our way to Ubin in a bumboat. We were carrying a questionable amount of baggage stuffed with items like eggs (2 trays of them?), 4 tents, 3 big bags of food, bags of coal, etc., just for one night. We carried so much stuff that we had no choice but to book the entire boat for ourselves because no one wanted to share the ride with us. You would probably have to excuse our overzealousness in packing given the fact that we would be doing all the camping stuff that campers normally do like, err, outdoor-cooking and sleeping in tents? Besides practising our camp craft, we would also be doing a tonne of other stuff like macro photography, and what do photographers do? We carry ALL of our gear with us!

Okay...on hindsight, we should probably have carried lesser stuff! 

Manoj giving the thumbs-up because nothing says we are an absolutely lit squad.. like a thumbs up.

Amber and Roger trying to negotiate the price with the van driver who ended up being distracted by the photographer, while the rest of us were wondering why they were selling durians at the taxi stand. Must be the durian season in Ubin. After agreeing on the price, the van brought us straight to the camp site. The drive was 15 minutes long, although we could probably have reached there faster if not for the driver having to avoid hitting share the road with cyclists who were just as eager to explore the island.

 Lenz looking seriously comfortable. Well, at least the air-conditioning works.

2PM; 30 December 2017

First order of the day - Determining the location of our Base Camp. Manoj and I pretended like we knew exactly what we were doing and somehow managed to convince the rest on where to set-up the tents.The rest of us started pitching the tents while Amber helped to guard over our bags.

In no time at all (one hour lol), we got the tents up and ready. We queitly stood by the tents and spend the next half-hour admiring our architectural creations and posting photos on instagram. Jokes aside, the substrate of our camping ground was a weird mixture of clay, pebbles, and cement (??) so it wasn't exactly the best place to secure tent pegs but of course, it was neither Manoj's or my fault for choosing that site in the first place so let's move along, shall we? 


We spent the next few hours doing our own stuff like photographing birds and flying our drones. And of course preparing ourselves for the macro session at night by talking about world politics and The Illuminati. James (The one dressed up like a Street fighter character) probably thinking to himself why in the world are we talking about world politics and The Illuminati.

Calvin, Amber, and Roger, testing out the selfie-stick. It is unlike any other selfie-stick that i have come across before - this one has a mirror so you would always know when you are in frame.

Calvin testing the selfie-stick again but this time with Lenz and James. 

Okay, we get it. Calvin loves his selfie stick! 

Juxtaposed against Lenz with his Canon 1DX mark 2 and his birding Canon Lens. 


We realised that our camping site was at risk of being flooded by the rising tide. To be honest, we did nothing about it and instead prayed for the best. We did, however, decide to reorganise our tents by placing all food-items into one of the tents with better zippers after noticing that the macaques were eye-balling them. We obviously had our prioritise right.

Chef Manoj taking a break after helping to dig the hole in the ground.

Our plan was to cook our dinner with mess-tins and solid fuels, but then we realised that we had brought a tonne of charcoal. So like any other hard-core survival experts, we decided to build a barbecue pit from scratch. Bear Grylles would be so proud!


Lenz boiling water to make coffee for the rest of us. If you are wondering where Amber is, she prefers to be behind the camera capturing the action as they unfold! 

By this time, we were having a mini-feast consisting of, err, Cup-noodles, marshmallows, and Hot Milo. But hold on, we are about to take it to the next-level....

...with the introduction of Eggs into the Menu. Lots of them. Mostly scrambled. Made with love by Chef Manoj.


At this point, we were having so much fun that we almost forgot why we came to the island in the first place. I reminded the team that we should probably start packing up soon, store all loose items into the tents, and start preparing for the night macro. Everyone nodded pretending to agree, and went back to cook more eggs. Watch this video in HD at your own risk.


Cheng San (with the scarf) finally arrives to join the party. We made him a cup of coffee, and a fresh plate of scrambled eggs and sausages. 


We started clearing our cooking area and ensured that the place was cleaner than when we first arrived. I think we did a pretty good job. No one would have guessed that 40 eggs and 20 sausages were cooked there. 


*Cue dramatic music* As bodies started to emerge from the depth of the tents armed with camera bags and shooting gear, we moved around the campsite looking for our own private spot to set-up. It was like a scene from a war movie where the good guys quietly inspect their weapons, and paint their faces before carrying out a dangerous mission...but of course, with much less drama and danger. One interesting fact about the group is that 70% of us are using a micro 4/3 mirrorless system for macro photography. When we first started shooting together 3 years, I was the only one rocking it!


After making sure that we have safely secured our base-camp, we started making our way into the trail. Unfortunately, we had to wait for an extra 15 minutes because someone decided to use the toilet at the very last minute. As we entered the trail, we felt a sense of peace that all nature-lovers experience. Nothing beats the feeling of being surrounded by trees and hearing the calls of nocturnal creatures echoing in the background. The air was humid and there were plenty of frogs, and when there are frogs around, it could only mean that the place must be filled with snakes and other good stuff. It was going to be a good night for macro.

12.01AM; 31 December 2017

Exactly at midnight, things started to go south. Fast. The skies opened up and it started raining cats and dogs. And buffalos too!

This happened not once, but 3 times throughout the night. Despite the challenges, we persevered on.  There were plenty of subjects and there was no way we were going to give in to the rain. Each time it poured, we would find the nearest shelter, sometimes taking refuge at the makeshift shack made by the villagers. When there weren't any shelter available, a few of us would all huddle under one umbrella.

Us taking turns to secure our cameras.

Thank you guys for working together to help me with my packing.

The group convened to discuss Plan B.

It started to rain again. Now to our non-existant Plan C.

 Taking emergency shelter at a villager's patio. We wanted to thank the owner but they were not around so we left a letter to thank them.

Manoj found an owl so we ended up taking turns trying out Lenz's birding set-up to kill time. Normal macro resumes each time the rain stopped.


After much contemplating, we felt that we had no choice but to make our way back to the campsite to check on the tents, and dry ourselves. To our horror, our tents were completely flooded from the rainwater flowing down from the mudbanks behind our campsite! Fortunately for us, we were able to keep things under control after the rain started to subside, allowing us dry the inside of the tents. So as you can tell, things didn't really go as planned. We had initially wanted to shoot till sunrise, and return to base camp only at 7am. Despite all the disruptions and shorter shooting duration, we were thankful that we were able to capture some incredible shots of the wildlife here in Ubin. Here are some of the shots taken by the group members. For those who couldn't join us, I inserted photos of the subjects that they took on our previous trip to the island. Enjoy!

Faiz Bustamente
Body: Olympus EM1 Mark 1
Lens: Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f.2.8
Flash: Meike MK 320 with Custom Diffuser
To read about my equipment, click here
For my diffuser tutorial, click here
To know why proper diffusion is so damn important, click here

 My goal on this trip is simple - to document a local population of Lichen Hunstman that comes in 2 distinct colour forms. As far as i am concerned, I have yet to observe any "red form" specimens in mainland Singapore. Here is the more common "green form" that can be found in nature reserves around the mainland.

After walking for nearly an hour, we finally found it! Here is the stunning "red form" in all its glory. FYI, the green and red specimens photographed here are roughly the same size. Could the difference in coloration a case of sexual dimorphism? Do let me know if you have a clue!

Body: Olympus OMD EM5
Lens: Olympus 60mm f2.8
Flash: Meike MK 320 with Custom Diffuser 

Eight-spotted crab spider (Platythomisus cf. octomaculatus)

Hammerhead worm (Bipalium)

A Leaf-Insect Nymph (Phyllium sp.)

Black-Eyed Litter Frog (Leptobrachium cf. nigrops)

Probably Pristobaeus sp. Look at the size of the fangs!!

An artistic shot of a ballooning crab spider.

A tiny jumping spider, probably Cytea sp.

I am not too sure of the species of this caterpillar but it sure does look awesome!!

An adult female Katydid (Lipotactes cf. maculates)

Another Eight-Spotted that we found further down the trail.

Amber Khim
Body: Olympus EM5 mark 2
Lens: Olympus 60mm f2.8
Flash: Meike MK 320 with custom diffuser

A juvenile Araneidae

A female Viciria cf. praemandibularis protecting her precious eggs.

A tiny ladybird (Rodolia sp.)

Probably a Libelt's Lace-web spider (Psechrus cf. libelti)

Lycosidae (?) found inside our tent

Body: Panasonic DM-C G85
Lens: Olympus 60mm f2.8
Flash: Meike MK320 with custom diffuser

Close-up shot of an unidentified jumping spider.

Can you see it? Pandercetes sp. in perfect camouflage 

A very handsome Huntsman spider (Heteropoda cf. venatoria)

Whatchu lookin' at? Another close-up shot of a mantis.

Oriental Whip Snake (Ahaetulla cf. prasina)

Ant-like crab spider (Amyciaea cf. lineatipes) feeding on a weaver ant.

Velvet Ant (Mutillidae). You would not want to be stung by this beauty!

Body: Canon 1DX mark 2
Birding Lens: Canon 100-400 mm IS 2
Macro Lens: Canon 100mm f2.8 L Lens

Blue-Winged Leaf Bird

Brown Hawk Owl that we found while taking shelter from the rain.

A Common Sandpiper spotted near teh campsite

A Crested Goshawk feeding on a freshly caught pigeon! What a shot!

A gorgeous Oriental Honey Buzzard circling our tents

Ever wondered how the Canon 1DX mark 2 performs at Macro? Now you know! And what a shot!

Another "token" macro shot by Lenz! (Tetragnathidae)

Roger New
Body: Nikon D750
Lens: Carl Zeiss 100mm Macro f2.0
Flash: Meike MK 320 with Custom diffuser V.2.86

Roger's take on Mommy Viciria cf. praemandibularis

Weevil (Curculionidae)

Rarely-seen Jade Huntsman (Gnathopalystes sp.)

Close-up of shot of the "red-form" Lichen Huntsman (Pandercetes sp.)

Body: Canon 80D
Lens: Canon 100mm f2.8
Flash: Canon 270ex X 2 (Dual flash system) with dual round flash diffusers

Anyone has an ID?  We spotted this frog in a well at the start of the trail.

A cryptic-looking moth that i spotted resting under a leaf. I am not a huge fan of moths but we all know who is!

Close up of an unknown Katydid 

Dorsal shot of the red-form Lichen Huntsman (Pandercetes sp.)

Close-up of the same Huntsman, with Raynox on.

Anyone knows what this is?

 Andrew Seah 
Body: Olympus EM5 Mark 2
Lens: Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f2.8
Flash: Godox tt350 Speedlite with DIY Diffuser

Fantastic portraiture of a weevil.

A striking Corinnidae (??) hiding in a dried-up leaf

Our National "unofficial" bird, The Crimson Sunbird

Another stunning shot of a jumper, probably from the genus Carrhotus

Cheng San
Body: Pentax K3
Lens: Canon 50mm f2.8 
Flash: Meike flash with DIY diffuser

2-tailed spider (Hersilia sp.)

A juvenile Stick Insect, not too sure the species. Anyone has any idea?

A tiny yet attractive moth that we spotted near the mangroves.

A gorgeous Stolikzka's crab spider in a defensive posture (Thomisus cf. stolikzka)

My favourite shot of Cheng San on this trip! A regal-looking male Mymarachne cf. maxillosa defending his nest.

Chen San's take on the Heteropoda cf. venatoria. I was in the queue to take a shot of this but then it started to pour!

Chen San's take on mommy Viciria cf. praemandibularis protecting her eggs

A commonly-seen sac spider (Clubionidae) that no one wanted to shoot but Cheng San.

A springtail measuring probably 3mm in size? Chasing around something this tiny must be pretty exhilarating...

His take on the same frog/toad that Manoj photographed. Is this a Field frog (Fejervarya limnocharis)?

We found an Epeus, most likely a male Epeus cf. alboguttatus, hiding behind a leaf. Many confuse the male of this species with a female Epeus flavobilineatus

A young Viciria sp.

A parasitized caterpillar??

I am guessing this is a Pholcidae, possibly Calapnita cf. deelemanae.  What do you think?

Everyone's favorite subject - The Cross-Eyed Planthopper! (Dictyopharidae)

One of the many Pandercetes we spotted that night.

Another one, possibly gravid

James Xenarius
Body: Olympus EM10 Mark 1
Lens: Laowa 60mm f2.8 macro (EF to MTF adapted)
Flash: YongNuo YN660 Speedlite with Custom Diffuser

A Green Crested Lizard helping himself to a fresh meal! (Bronchocela cf. cristatella)

Apparently, Cheng San wasn't the only one who photographed this sac spider!

James's take on the Jade Huntsman (Gnathopalystes sp.)

Close-up of a caterpillar. Absolutely Stunning!

Very rarely seen in both the mainland Singapore and its surrounding islands. The elusive Spotted Tree Frog (Nyctixalus cf. rictus)

I would probably be adding more photos and videos in the future, so please continue to watch this space. Once again, a BIG THANK YOU to Kreta Ayer Community Centre for sponsoring this short, albeit memorable trip!


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