Nature macro photography calls for a lot of patience. You need to understand your subjects, find them, and capture the moment without frightening them or interfering with their natural behaviour. Nature macro photography hones your observational skills, patience, and attention to detail. In turn, the photographer is rewarded with privileged insight into a secretive and overlooked world that is likened to a whole new universe within ours.
These images, collected over two years through careful and painstaking observation in Singapore’s parks and forests, illustrate the intimate behaviour of insects and spiders during courtship and mating.
(Left) It was a warm sunny morning as I went out in search of emerging butterflies. The Orange Emigrant, fresh from its chrysalis, wastes no time in attracting a mate while drying its wings, "lifting" the partner up in the air in the process. Interestingly, the “anchor” butterfly can fly around with its mate “attached”.
Location: Ulu Sembawang
Text by Debby Ng. Photographs and Captions by Nicky Bay
Nicky Bay began macro photography in 2008 after receiving a camera as a birthday gift from his fiancee. With a second-hand macro lens, he ventured into Singapore’s parks and quickly made friends with like-minded photographers in the field. Bay says: “I could go to the same park every week and still find something different, that's the beauty in the micro world!”
(Left) Damselflies may mate in the most contorted of shapes, but in doing so they form an inverted heart shape, demonstrating the beauty of nature.
Location: Admiralty Park Pond
Bay says that macro photography has taught him many lessons. He’s developed an acute sense of his surroundings and attention to detail. “Getting the perfect shot takes time. I've spent hours on a single subject, waiting for the right moment, or adjusting the lights to get the best exposure.”
(Left) An adorable pair of Orange Spotted Tiger Moths turn away from each other as soon as they are done mating, as if nothing happened.
Location: Admiralty Park
Coming to terms with and managing disappointment are some of the many lessons Bay has learned through working with his tiny and uncompromising subjects. “Too many a time have I spotted a rare subject only to scare it away with the wrong step. It happens often, and it doesn’t get any easier, but I pick up and move on quickly.”
(Left) Positioned in the light of the early morning rays, this couple takes a moment to heat things up, literally. Insects are cold-blooded and require external heat before resuming their daily, or seasonal, activities.
Macro photography has taught Bay to appreciate nature at a new level. He explains, “Stepping on a web could destroy a home. Breaking a branch could separate a mother from her offspring or expose them to predators.”
(Left) A tiny pair of Fruit Flies gets busy with creating lots more of their own kind! These flies were so tiny that most people would have missed them even if they were right in front of their eyes.
Location: Kranji Nature Trail
Many of Bay’s subjects can be found in Singapore’s parks and forests, yet their existence goes on unnoticed. Bay is unique in his feel for his subjects. He sometimes gets carried away and may even end up anthropomorphising them. But it is perhaps this sensitivity that connects audiences with his subjects, giving them a lease of life and validating their existence.
(Left) In the world of spiders, the female is often much larger than its mate. This pair of St Andrew's Cross Spiders illustrates the difference in size. In some cases, the female devours the male after mating. The male could be fast approaching its fate.
Location: Mandai Track 15
Despite the focus and patience that is necessary in macro photography, Bay manages a light-hearted approach, finding humour both in his subjects and his interactions with them. This makes the complexity of insect life accessible to people from all backgrounds.
(Left) Stilt-Legged Flies are endearingly referred to as the “traffic police” for their constant leg-waving actions. This pair settles down for a silent moment to consummate their union.
Insects such as the Praying mantis and Scarab beetle were worshipped by people of ancient civilisations. Today, however, though most of us are aware of the existence of insects, we have failed to realise their function, purpose, and relationship with us and our environment, and have even sought to annihilate them.
(Left) This pair of Houseflies were high above in some vigorous action, with the darkening sky as a backdrop. Houseflies are also locally called the “rain god”, or “hor sin” in Hokkien. Coincidentally, the sky opened to a thunderstorm shortly after this photo was taken.
Many people find insects and spiders creepy or fearful. Some can indeed be deadly to us. Other have strange habits, such as eating their mates after mating. But some people are bewitched by the beauty of these highly-evolved yet fragile creatures.
(Left) A female Crab Spider caught a bee for lunch, and little flies came to join in the feast. The little red male Crab Spider then joins his mate with a main course of his own.
Location: Dairy Farm Nature Park
(Left) I found these two Fungus Beetles scurrying around a tree trunk, and directed their paths to meet so that I could take a shot of them together. After taking a shot of them standing side by side, they ended up doing more. I then helped myself to a few more shots and chuckles.
(Left) Tiger Beetles have a rough way of courtship. The male mounts the female and grips her thorax in an attempt to mate, while the female tries to get him off her back! These fierce beetles are super skittish, and are known to be the fastest running land animals on earth. With them running around endlessly on the ground, I had to duck-walk in slow-motion the entire morning to shoot them!
Location: Pasir Ris Trail
Despite being on the list of the world’s “Top 10 Worst Invasive Species”, the conspicuous Giant African Snail can be mesmerising to observe. This extremely robust species which has formed colonies throughout the globe remains active at a temperature range of 9°C to 29°C, and survives temperatures of 2°C by hibernation and 30°C by “sleeping”. Infestations have led to severe damage of crops in the United States and India.
(Left) This pair of snails had just finished mating, and took a moment to “cuddle”. Their mating position was really awkward, and I thought they were just a pair of overturned dead snails initially. Luckily, I stepped closer and found them connected!
(Left) The Yellow-Spotted Millipedes have many legs and I wondered whether this would complicate their mating process. The male's sexual organs are located 3 segments behind its head, so some twisting and coiling is required!