I started to take wildlife photography seriously in 2011.
At the time, I knew nothing about bird and wildlife photography. I couldn't nail the focus nor correct exposure most of the time.
But I still remember my first time using a 500mm f/4 rental lens vividly.
I got off work and drove an hour there on a Friday evening.
I was setting up the tripod and the Wimbeley head, trying to put the lens onto it, right next to the Los Angeles River near the intersection of 405 and 101 Freeway.
Across from the river was a colony of great egrets and cormorants.
A kid about 7 years old walked to me from afar, with his parents watching.
"Can I take a look?" He asked.
He obviously was impressed by this gigantic telescope-like lens and wanted to take a glance of how far he could see.
"Sure, okay, just hold on a second."
Well it took me 30 minutes to balance the heavy lens onto the tripod and eventually I failed to locate a stationary great egret just 50 feet away from me onto the camera viewfinder.
I kept aiming the lens all over the place towards the bird colony across the river to no avail.
The kid looked really annoyed and impatient.
He walked away eventually, looking really disappointed.
"You suck!" He didn't say that. I said that to myself.
I was sweating all over and was ready to throw the lens onto the ground. It was an expensive rental over the weekend too.
That's my first experience with a super-tele photo lens.
With a full time corporate job at a cubicle and limited time to travel, how dare I even dream of taking good photos, ever?
At the time, I was constantly being blown away by the works of 3 of the most accomplished photographers in the world.
1. Federico Veronesi. He just won the Grand Prize of Nature's Best Photography in 2011. His photos were super powerful and emotional. Seeing him holding the award in front of the elephant at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, my favorite museum of all time, my jaw dropped. I didn't know photographers could have their photos displayed there. And his courage and dedication to move all the way from Italy to Kenya and became a full time guide and photographer there, learning the local language and all, deeply moved me.
2. Andy Parkinson. Seeing how many photos of his made magazine covers blew my mind. He also won numerous prestigious awards including the grand prize of Bird Photographer Of The Year. His minimalist backlit approach is so zen and stunning. And he was able to win international awards with photos of some of the most common species such as a coot. This opened my eyes. It's not about the species. It's about creativity and skills.
3. Marsel van Oosten. He won Wildlife Photographer Of The Year and I couldn't believe my eyes every time I saw his perfect, artistic and creative photos. I remember it was during the days when 500PX was really popular, and I would see his photos there and every time I was blown away.
Then, one day, I got super lucky and found myself standing next to my own print at the Smithsonian's, and then in a few years I was taking photos next to Federico in Kenya.
And I got an opportunity to talk to Federico about photography for two hours at an interview.
We had so much joy talking about our passion, the techniques, the emotion, it was like we had unlimited topics.
I couldn't help but think about the Nature's Best Photography magazine that I still had on my coffee-table of that issue where he won the Grand Prize. And here I was, talking to one of my idols.
As for Andy, he is so humble, and generous in sharing a lot of useful photography tips in his Instagram posts together with his outstanding photos, so I follow him closely and read his posts in detail every time.
Then one day I saw that he posted a photo of a bear. (I covered the photo due to copyright at first, but just got a kind message from Andy that he gave me the permission to post his photo here. Click on the image to go to his IG. ) But guess what he wrote in the post? I couldn't believe it.
He said, "It's fair to say that this attempt at a fishing bear image is not even in the same league as those of @tinmanlee (check him out and give him a follow - a top photographer and a lovely fella).
I can understand the "lovely" part but... top photographer?
I couldn't believe that he has seen my work and gave me such a kind comment.
Then few years back, I was invited to the WPOTY award ceremony in London.
I was only a finalist of the People's Choice Award. But one of my clients, Tom, knew Marsel for many years and introduced us, and so we took a photo together. He just won the top prize of WPOTY.
I was star-struck. These were legends. They were the photographers who deeply inspired me over the years.
Then few weeks ago, I got invited to a photography festival called NatureTalks as one of the speakers.
I almost missed the invitation because I didn't see the message.
It was Federico who reminded me.
And when I clicked on the speaker list...
I saw my name among Andy, Federico and Marsel, together with other outstanding photographers!
I just want to share with you how crazy it is, when I look back to 2011, to that newbie called Tin Man who was frantically trying to find the egret in his camera viewfinder at Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge in Los Angeles.
If someone like me, who never had any outdoor and photography experience, with an engineering and IT background, could do it, then anything is possible.
Of course I can say it's all easy smooth-sailing with flowers and rainbow along this journey. But in truth it's lots and lots of failures and painful mistakes. And it's a lot of learning from great photographers like them.
Ultimately, it all comes down to the love and obsession of birds and wildlife, and the pure joy of creating art, and not giving up.
It's like a dream. And I am forever grateful.
The two-day event is only GBP 50, which is around US$67.24! That's a no-brainer.
There are some other additional events too.
For example, Andy is doing a backlit tutorial. Marsel is doing a portfolio review. And there are many other interesting topics.
Thank you for your support!
By the way, sorry that I digress. If you want to learn more about bird and wildlife photography, I am doing a one hour LIVE free training next Tuesday, Dec 8, at 10am Pacific Time. Space is limited so sign up now.