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Inspirations >> Photos & People

Interview with 14-Year-Old Wildlife Photographer Kayden Ee

What did you do in your free time when you were 14 years old? For 14-year-old Kayden Ee (@shutt_ergalaxy), much of it is spent in the more rugged parts of Singapore, where he braves tough terrain, insects, sun, rain, and overwhelming humidity to capture wildlife in action. We catch up with him to learn about what drives his enthusiasm, how he balances his hobby with school, and of course, his thoughts on his gear.


Hi Kayden! Lovely shots you have there. Could you tell us how you got started with photography?

Thank you! Glad you liked my shots.

I joined the robotics club when I was in primary school, and one of the first things that they taught us was how to shoot with a DSLR camera. I still remember we were using the EOS 1000D. I really liked the tactile feel of having a camera in my hands—the control via the dials and buttons, the shutter sounds, the whirls and the clicks. That’s one of my favourite parts of photography even now, and it’s something that smartphones can’t replace.


Was that also when you started photographing wildlife?

I started wildlife photography only after I got my own camera about 2 years ago. Before that, I was using my school’s camera. I did well in my PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination; a major national examination that all Singaporean students take in their 6th year of primary school), and my parents bought me an EOS 200D kit as a reward. I suppose it was more practical than the other option I requested for—a Lego Death Star, which costs around the same!

After getting the camera, I tested it out in various genres. But it was bird and wildlife photography that resounded with me the most. When I was younger, my parents often took me to farms and animal sanctuaries, and we also had a pet. So I became aware of nature at an early age.

 

On gear and wildlife photography

What are your favourite aspects of bird photography?

I’m always awed by the speed and power of raptors like when they dive down to catch their prey. There’s also that adrenaline rush when you’re trying to catch a moment—whether it’s a bird in flight or food in mouth shot!

Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier)
EOS R6/ RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM + Extender RF1.4x @ 700mm

“This was one of my first shots with the RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM. The bulbul flapped its wings and I felt that it was going to fly, so I raised the lens and pressed the shutter button. I was so surprised to see the pin-sharp results! It really displays the reliability and focusing accuracy of the EOS R system.”


White-bellied Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus Leucogaster) diving
EOS R6/ RF600mm f/4L IS USM @ 600mm

“These are currently my favourite shots. Raptors look so majestic and powerful especially when they swoop down diving for prey.”


What does it take to achieve a good shot?

You need lots of patience to observe the birds and familiarise yourself with their behavior.

In terms of gear, besides a long focal length that gives you the reach you need, it also helps to have:

1. Good low light performance
We often end up shooting in forests and other places with poor lighting. Also, some birds such as owls prefer roosting in dense vegetation. Being able to use a high ISO speed without too much image graininess helps, as does good low light focusing abilities.

After I switched from the EOS 200D to the EOS R6, the huge improvement in low light performance was one of the first things that I noticed!

2. Fast, reliable autofocusing
In birding, things can happen so quickly that you barely have time to think, much more control the focus. I was amazed by how reliable the autofocusing on the EOS R6 and RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM was. The Animal Detection AF being able to nail focus on the bird’s eyes was also a huge plus, especially for capturing small, active birds.

3. Image stabilisation
I usually shoot handheld as I like the flexibility that it allows. In-lens and in-body image stabilisation helps to keep the shots sharp and steady, especially when using a slower shutter speed.


Green Broadbill (Calyptomena Viridis)
EOS R6/ RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM + Extender RF1.4x @ 700mm

“The Green Broadbill was declared extinct in Singapore after its last recorded sighting in 1941. But a couple of months ago, it was sighted once again. It has superb camouflaging skills—besides its green colour that helps it blend into its surroundings, it also stays so silent and motionless that it’s easy to overlook. This was shot handheld at shutter speed 1/20 second, and yet it is sharp thanks to the combined 6 stops’ image stabilisation on the EOS R6 and RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM.


Common Kingfisher (Alcedo Atthis)
EOS R6/ RF600mm f/4L IS USM @ 600mm
 

Stork-billed Kingfisher (Pelargopsis Capensis)
Both images: EOS R6 + RF600mm f/4L IS USM + Extender RF1.4x @ 840mm


Changeable Hawk Eagle (Nisaetus Cirrhatus): black morph
EOS R6 + RF600mm f/4L IS USM + Extender RF1.4x @ 840mm

 

Kayden in action trying out the EOS R6 with the RF600mm f/4L IS USM.

“My usual lens is the RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM. I like it because it is versatile and easy to handhold. In comparison, the RF600mm f/4L IS USM, which I got to try on loan, is heavier—I felt like I was carrying a baby the whole day! But when I reached home and processed the images, it felt all worth it. The images seem sharper, and the extra 100mm reach means less cropping in post.”


How do you improve your bird photography?

I do a lot of research online. I also learn a lot whenever I shoot with my "uncles" in the local bird photography community, who are very friendly and forthcoming with advice (shoutout to them!).  Especially about bird behavior, which in turn helps me time my shots better.

One example is how to get feeding shots. We realised that certain species, when returning to the nest with food, will always land on a nearby branch before they hop over to feed the chicks. So when we see them land, we take that as a cue to get ready to shoot.

Little Tern (Sternula Albifrons): Adult (left) and juvenile (right)
EOS R6/ RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM + Extender RF1.4x @ 700mm

 

Balancing photography with school and life

It sounds like you spend a lot of time shooting. How often do you shoot, and how do you balance it with schoolwork and other activities?

I try to shoot every weekend if I can. Sometimes, I will wake up at 5am or earlier just to chase certain species of birds—that’s even earlier than the time I wake up for school.

However, schoolwork is always my priority. I always make sure I finish my homework before I go out to shoot! It gives better peace of mind. That’s also my advice to other young shooters.


How do your parents feel about your photography hobby?

They are supportive of it as long as I don’t neglect my studies. In fact, they use it to encourage me to study hard. We have a reward system that is linked to my academic performance. If I do well in school, it adds up towards a new piece of gear. I think it’s a win-win situation.

Also, my dad [who does not do photography] drives me to shooting spots, many of which can be quite out of the way, braves the weather and wait with me, and drives me home. Sometimes, my mum comes along too, and it becomes a family outing.

Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga Siparaja)
EOS R6/ RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM + Extender RF1.4x @ 700mm


Little Spiderhunter (Arachnothera Longirostra)
EOS R6/ RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM @ 500mm

 

Doing his part for conservation efforts

You have been posting your wildlife images quite prolifically on social media, complete with scientific names and exciting descriptions. Is there anything you hope to achieve through them?

I hope to create more awareness about the rich biodiversity in Singapore, which many people don’t know we have. I also hope to encourage other young people to pick up photography.

Northern Red Billed Hornbill (Tockus Erythrorhynchus)
EOS R6/ RF100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM + Extender RF1.4x @ 700mm

In fact, I worked with my science teacher to start a small wildlife club in school. It now has about 10 members. A while ago, we did a walk around our school grounds and found some surprising residents, such as olive-backed sunbirds and Brahminy kites. I’d like to play a bigger part in conservation efforts in the future.


The wildlife club sounds like a great initiative. Small steps one at a time will eventually add up! Thank you for your time, Kayden. Keep shooting!

Interested in starting bird photography? Check out our Beginner’s Guide and some camera and lens recommendations.

For more tips and interviews with other bird photographers, see:
Enchanted by Thailand’s Nature
Discover How Photographer Edwin Martinez Shoots Atlantic Puffins with EOS R
Bird Portraits: 4 Simple Tips for Finding a Better Angle

 


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