It was Labour Day, a public holiday that I had the privilege to join Methosphang and Brandon for a trip to the Jong’s Crocodile Farm at 17th Mile, Kuching. The crocodile farm has been long established, but this was my very first visit.
Crocodiles may be an endangered species, but seriously come on; they can be easily spotted in any Sarawak rivers and swamps. I remember how some of my overseas friends went unusually high in awe when they saw crocodiles for the first time in their lives at Perth Zoo, and they even questioned my non-responsiveness to how huge and vicious looking those reptiles can be. The crocodiles on display there were as good as dead, it was motionless, and I did not find that interesting at all. Fortunately, that was not the case for Jong’s Farm, with the highlight of the day being the feeding time when you can witness real crocodiles in action going after food.
The farm had two feeding time, one at 11am and another at 3pm. We went for the earlier one, and by the time we reached the place it was already crowded, but not overly so until we could not secure good spots for getting our shots.
This was my first time seeing the feeding show, and it was one heck of an adrenaline rush for me seeing how the crocodiles get to their food. There was the usual toss of fresh food around and the crocodiles would pounce on the meat, opened widely up and snapping its gigantic jaws creating an explosive-like sound of “pop” which was utterly startling. That unmistakably demonstrated how ungodly powerful the jaws of the crocodiles can be, and I cannot imagine anything surviving such an attack !!
OUT OF THE WATER
TRY HARD ENOUGH AND YOU WILL GET IT
The climax of the show has got to be the part where the meat was hanged over a considerable height above the water, which I estimated approximately 3 meters high. The crocodiles displayed the pattern of assaulting a real prey I believe, as they came closer to the meat with the entire body submerged except for the top part of their head visible, it was obviously a stealth move. Once they were almost ready to make the move, they would shake their tails as if giving it away as a warning sign from a distance. And out of the sudden, the whole crocodile body would lunged straight out of the water up to the hanging meat !! The process of the sudden jumping out of water and snapping the meat with the jaws and back splashing into the waters again took merely only roughly one second. It was a rapid, and merciless attack. If the crocodile can jump out of water that high up, imagine how much more faster and powerful the attack can be on land !! You would not even have time to say hello.
GO GO GO
ALMOST THERE...... !!!!
SPLASHHHHHH YOU GO
Photographing the crocodiles was a tough thing to do. Here are the challenges I faced on this session:
1) Shooting through the grill of the fence.
Obviously there was a fence built from steel wires formed into grill separating the crocodiles from the crowd. The grill can be blurred off using the bokeh effect achieveable from my tele lens, but it was not sufficiently effective to fully eliminate it. The grills were still very visible in most of my crocodile shots, posing much undesirable patches of black, distracting lines. The only way to overcome this problem is to use a lens with more capable blurring effect (wider aperture) or hoping for the crocodiles to be as far away as possible.
2) Harsh afternoon sun condition.
Since the feeding time was 11am, and the sky was not exactly cloudy that particular day, the natural lighting was rather unfavourable to us. Having a direct, harsh sun created deep shadows and highlight burns, resulting the entire picture to look very uncomfortably contrasty and imbalanced. There was not much to be done in this regard, and it was not advisable to shoot out in the open in such condition.
3) Restricted continuous burst rate.
My Olympus E-520 has a continuous burst shooting rate of 3.5 frames per second, meaning I can shoot 7 photos continuously in two seconds. Though 3.5 FPS is the fastest in its class (entry level DSLR) at the moment, it was not fast enough to freeze important action scenes, especially at the part when the crocodiles jumped out of water. From the full one second action, I could only manage to capture a few frames, and lots of hit and miss depended solely on luck. It would have been nice to have 5 FPS or more.
4) Distracting backgrounds
The spot where I was standing was not an ideal position since the background captured was mostly the shore of the water with bright sand and green patches of bushes and grass. I would have preferred something plain and less distracting. Not having a lens that can fully isolate the subject and throw everything in the background off does not help much. In any consolation, at least the pictures come out really sharp, though at almost full telephoto end.
HUGE, LONG, AND BLACK
Methosphang with his Bigma (Sigma 50-500mm)
It was really great seeing another macro shooter around. Methos and I were finding our own eyes swaying away from the crocodiles to the nearby bushes and trees as we walked around the farm. We did that for one purpose, to spot if there were any photo-worthy insects or bugs to be captured. I found some cool caterpillars, and I instantly turned myself into macro mode!! I know the photo of the caterpillar was badly composed, but hey, if I were to slowly take my time on my macro works I think we would be missing out on the main dish, the crocodiles!!
I am no big fan of crocodiles, but the jumping out of water scenes just stopped my heart for a few beats there. Having the chance to freeze that motion was even more exciting. The day was well spent, and at least I have had stories to tell the next time people from other places ask me about Jong’s Crocodile Farm.