Putting nature back in nature photography

Photo contest gets photographers to capture more than just a pretty picture
Audrey Tan Straits Times 12 Aug 16;

A few black sheep may have earned nature photography in Singapore a bad name, but legitimate photographers here are on a mission to change that.

The Nature Photographic Society (Singapore) (NPSS) wants to show that photographs of wildlife can help with conservation, by nurturing in viewers and photographers themselves an appreciation of the surrounding nature.

In January next year, it will launch a unique photo competition that requires participants to submit a short write-up on the subject in the photograph.

It is the first time such a criterion is being introduced in a local photography competition, according to its president, Dr Fong Chee Wai.

The move aims to put the "nature back in the nature photographer", he explained.

"Instead of just trying to get a good shot, photographers are prompted to consider other aspects of (the subject's) ecology," added Dr Fong, a nutrition scientist.

Dr Wee Yeow Chin, the former president of the Nature Society (Singapore) who now heads the Bird Ecology Study Group, said the inclusion of the write-up in the competition is an excellent idea.

"Having a holistic knowledge of their subjects will make photographers more aware of the web of life - like pollination, seed dispersal, organic decomposition, the food web...," he said.

"This in turn will make people appreciate nature more. After all, to know is to love, to love is to protect, and to protect is to conserve."

To entice photographers to take part in the competition, the society is offering prizes worth $20,000, including cash prizes and Canon gear.

The latest initiative comes after a number of photographers in Singapore have been called out for controversial practices to get that perfect shot, such as the use of bait.

In June, orthopaedic surgeon Lee Soon Tai, 62, was charged with littering and feeding endangered birds with live fish injected with air. This was after a video showing three photographers allegedly baiting grey-headed fish eagles by using live fish injected with air made its rounds on social media in October last year.

And in December 2014, another photographer who tethered a tern chick's legs to a bush for a photograph was found guilty of animal cruelty and fined $500.

Dr Lena Chan, group director of the National Parks Board's (NParks) National Biodiversity Centre, said the board will be supporting the NPSS Nature Photographer of the Year 2017 competition and that the winning entries will be exhibited in one of its parks.

She said: "NParks hopes the exhibited photographs will foster a greater appreciation of Singapore's natural heritage, biodiversity and beauty in our City in a Garden through the lens of Singapore residents."

She added that proper documentation of biodiversity through photography by photographers and citizen scientists can contribute to a better understanding of our flora and fauna and aid in conservation management.

Dr Wee cited the example of photographer Wong Weng Fai, who had in May 2014 provided the first proof of cooperative breeding in the grey-rumped treeswift. His video showed how the parents received help from other birds in the incubation of the egg and the feeding of the chick, said Dr Wee.

"This was a major discovery by a citizen scientist and not an ornithologist (bird expert), as it provided the first proof of cooperative breeding in this species," he said.

As part of a series of events leading up to the launch of the competition in January, NPSS is organising a nature photography course starting on Sept 3. For more information, visit www.npss.org.sg.

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