Guide to Photographing at Jurong Bird Park

Guide to Photographing at Jurong Bird Park

Journey with him into the world of birds as he captures some of the most stunning macaws and parrots at Jurong Bird Park with just simple aperture and ISO techniques!

It has been more than 3 years since my last visit to Singapore Jurong Bird Park, and I can see a couple of new additions (i.e. Penguin Coast, Birdz of Play and Breeding & Research Centre) to the park in my recent visit. Besides being a good location to photograph birds in flight, there are many other subject matters a photographer can look out for.

I’ve put together a guide on photographing in Singapore Jurong Bird Park according to different categories of birds/subjects, so as to help anyone going there to plan what to focus on.

Tuxedoed birds @ Penguin Coast

A number of penguin species are housed indoors in an air-conditioned climate, while the African Penguins which have adapted to our tropical climate, can be found in the outdoor enclosure.

Indoor: The indoor lighting is a little dim but sufficient enough if the ISO of the camera is stretched to 1600 or 3200. Some of these penguins are really huge (especially the King Penguin) and are not  hyper, which makes it easy to shoot them under low light conditions.

Outdoor: On the other hand, these African Penguins are extremely hyper and always jumping in and out of the pond. Luckily, the outdoors have sufficient lighting that will give you enough speed to freeze their actions. For more interesting photographs, try catching them playing about in the pond or during feeding hours.

Birdz of play

This is a small water theme park for kids and is  great if you like taking pictures of kids having fun in the water. There are also rows of souvenir shops and restaurants for food/beverages.


Breeding and research centre

This is an interesting place to visit where you will get to see how eggs are incubated and hatched locally at the Singapore Jurong Bird Park. You can also see several nurseries for different ages of hatch-lings (from a few days to months). Photographing them might be a little challenging as these hatch-lings are kept in cages behind a glass window.

Colourful birds at close proximity

If you like photographing colourful birds at close proximity, there are plenty to photograph…

1. Macaw

Macaws are large colourful long-tailed parrots located at “Macaw Island”. They typically stay still on the branches, which makes it easy to photograph and a 200mm focal length can easily get a good close-up of them.

2. Parrots at Lory Loft

Another type of parrot that is a lot smaller in size can be found at “Lory Loft”. They fly and move a lot and you will need fast-focusing lens and a high shutter speed to get sharp pictures of them. You can buy bird food at $3 to feed them. This will allow you to get as close as an arm’s length to them.

3. Mandarin ducks

These mandarin ducks are kept in small ponds that are partially shaded by surrounding trees. If you stay within the location long enough, you may catch some of them dunking their heads into the pond or doing some “stretching” just as shown in the photograph below.

4. Scarlet Ibis

I love the Scarlet Ibis for their bright, beautiful red colour feathers. They are always moving about and the lighting condition inside the cage is not particularly great, which means that a higher ISO and a wider aperture has to be used to get sufficient shutter speed to freeze their movement. While photographing them, you may also have to avoid the glare from the glass windows.

5. Royal Ramble

These pigeons have really beautiful crowns. They can get pretty close within 2-3m without any barriers in-between. However, the lighting condition inside the big cage enclosure is not good, and a higher ISO is needed while photographing them.

Flock of Birds

If you enjoy photographing a big flock of birds using wide-angle lenses, then head down to the Flamingo Pool/Lake, Pelican Cove and the Swan Lake.

Challenging Areas/ Birds for Photography

In my opinion, these are the areas, which I felt would be challenging photographing the birds.

1. World of Darkness

As the location name suggest, this is a dark indoor enclosure which houses owls. You will be photographing in darkness. Even at ISO 25600, it is difficult to get a decent shutter and a tripod many be required to photograph them.

EXIF: ISO 25600, F/2.8 and 1/25s (0 EV)

2. Waterfall Aviary

This is a very scenic “adventure land” that is full of small flying birds and a man-made waterfall. Small flying birds and relatively bad lighting is definitely a challenge to get a good sharp picture of them. I suggest going during the feeding time (10.30am and 2.30pm) for photography.

Birds of Prey, Hornbills and Toucans, Window on Paradise

Birds in these areas are kept in big wired cages, with rather poor lighting conditions. Sometimes the birds are resting way up high in the cage which makes it impossible to photograph them as well.

In order to “shoot through” the wired cages (i.e. without the square wire appearing in your photos), a long telephoto lens is required using manual focusing. Stand as near to the wired cage as possible as this will cause the wired cage to “disappear” from the photograph taken.

This was taken through the wired cages with my lens almost touching the wired cages and manual focusing on the bird in the cage.

Try your luck at Dinosaur Descendants (cassowary, emu and ostrich)

These big flightless birds are said to be descendants of dinosaurs. In particular, the Cassowary has a beautiful coloured head but is very difficult to photograph. The cassowary hides in the bushes often – so try your luck 🙂

This picture was taken more than 3 years ago during my last visit.

Equipment, settings and techniques


  • Digital camera – A DSLR is preferable as it is capable of controlling the ISO, aperture and shutter speed.
  • Fast-focusing telephoto lenses – Unlike photographing birds in the wild, the enclosures in Jurong Bird Park are approachable and you can get a good close-up using a focal length of 200mm. Fast-focusing lenses would help to focus in on some of the moving birds.
  • Tripod – This is good to have as I had taken all my photographs hand-held. If you are not using lenses longer than 200 mm, the weight should be manageable for hand-held. However, using a tripod is also more troublesome as you will not be “camping” at one spot but will be moving from place to place.


Depending on the scenario, the settings (especially ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed) would need to be adjusted accordingly. I’ll just explain the key settings and principles behind:
  • Aperture Priority (AV) Mode – Switch to AV mode with a aperture of F/5.6 or F8 for sufficient Depth of Field (DOF) in the image. However if lighting condition requires you to use a wider aperture (e.g. F/2.8) for a faster shutter speed, it would still give sufficient DOF given that most of the birds are relatively small in size and the distance from the subject is far enough (i.e. say 5m or more).
  • ISO – ISO controls the sensitivity of capturing images on the sensor. Higher ISO makes the sensor more sensitive to light, and thus a faster shutter speed can be used but introduce more noise (i.e. grainy spots) in the picture. As a guide: ISO 100-200 for bright and sunny scenes, ISO 400-800 for cloudy scenes, ISO 1600-3200 for indoor scenes without flash. If the scene is really too dark, the ISO may have to be bumped up even higher than 3200 into expanded range.
  • Shutter Speed – Depending on whether the subject is stationary or moving, you will need to watch whether the shutter speed metered by the camera is sufficient for your scene (i.e. there is no one fixed setting). As a guide: birds in flight would required a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 secs and birds that are stationary or moving will require at least a shutter speed that is inverse to the focal length used.
  • In the event where I have to compensate either aperture or ISO for the right shutter speed, I prefer to sacrifice ISO as image noise can be “improved” during post-processing while DOF is unable to. However I would start using wider aperture settings once I’ve reached ISO 1600 as a higher ISO is more prone to details loss.
  • Use AI Servo Auto-Focusing Mode if your subject is moving. This allows the camera to continuously change the focus when you track your subject by pressing the shutter button halfway.
  • Use Continuous Shooting/Drive Mode if you feel that the shutter speed may still be insufficient for your subject despite stretching the ISO and wide aperture used. This allows the camera to continuously take several pictures when the shutter button is pressed, which may help to increase the chance of getting a sharp picture in one of the frames taken.
  • Use center focusing point when tracking and focusing on the bird.


I would not go into how the camera should be held or how to pan the camera with moving subjects or how to stabilize the camera on hand-held as they are more related to personal style that a photographer will accomplish with more pictures taken. However, there is one particular technique worth-mentioning when it comes to photographing birds: always focus onto the eyes of the bird. Believe it or not, once the eyes of the bird is captured tact-sharp, the rest of the bird’s body will look equally sharp from a visible perspective.


Contributed by Jefz Lim’s Photography.

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Jefz Lim