How to take the best picture of your aquarium
Before the age of digital photography, the sheer number of photos that had to be discarded could be quite frustrating. These days we can take a much larger number of photographs, eliminating the ones that are not up to par, without incurring additional expenses.
Still, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind if your goal is to take that perfect shot. Quality photography doesn’t depend on having the latest high-priced camera, but there are many techniques that will help you achieve better results.
Keep your tank in condition
One of the first things to keep in mind is that preparation before the photo shoot is key. It is to be expected that your aquatic pride and joy will always be well maintained, so you should require a minimum of maintenance before you start photographing.
Obviously, a well-maintained tank is not only best for the fish, but also allows for “spontaneous” photography, such as when the fish are displaying unusual behavior or their colors have intensified prior to spawning.
However, if you are sure that you will spend time photographing your fish the next day, the most important thing is to make sure that the glass is completely clean both inside and out. Any imperfection or algae will detract from a good shot and can even cause problems when focusing.
If you normally use a UV sterilizer in the tank and activated carbon in the filter, both would be seen as advantages in aiding exceptional water clarity for photography.
Temporarily shuts off filtration and aeration
When taking pictures in the main aquarium, better results are often obtained if the filtration system and aeration are temporarily turned off during this period. This is because small air bubbles that are pushed through the water from return filters or powerhead venturis can sometimes mar the overall look.
Remember that turning off the filter and aeration is only temporary and should be turned back on as soon as you are done taking pictures, ideally within 30 minutes or so.
Never be tempted to feed the fish before photographing them, to try and encourage them to get outside, as this will cloud the water (including the crucial area between the fish and the front glass) with small particles and will seriously spoil the fish. results.
Configuring the environment
Aquarium photos tend to come out best when the room is fairly dark, and the only lighting is from the tank itself or from additional lighting you are using for photographic purposes, placed at strategic angles, usually above the tank.
Other lights in the room, and even furniture placed too close to the tank, tend to reflect off the glass and have spoiled many good shots.
Some tanks are dimly lit because they are home to shy fish that prefer subtle lighting so you may need to increase the available lighting if your camera flash is not bright enough otherwise focusing can be very hard.
Having said that, timid fish may not appreciate being suddenly lit up, and their colors can fade, so there may be a bit of trial and error to find the most suitable approach.
Get a tight tank
There are some minuscule species of fish that are so active, that it will be almost impossible to photograph them successfully in large volumes of water, and in such cases, you may want to ask your local retailer if they can give you a quote for a narrow custom built photo tank. your reliable aquarium manufacturers.
Cramped photo tanks can be helpful, but they’re largely a temporary measure; The welfare of the fish should always come first and they should not be left in such a small volume of unfiltered water (taken from the main aquarium of course) for more than a few minutes.
One drawback of the smaller photographic tanks is that you won’t be able to achieve as naturalistic looking background of, for example, live plants, but they are very useful for macro work or tiny species.
However, some people find that they enjoy their aquarium photography so much that they set up an aquarium specifically for this purpose: a fully functional tank of a decent length, with a small number of permanent inhabitants to help keep the filter running, and that It is moderately wide (being somewhat narrower than the main aquarium) but still wide enough to grow live plants.
This means that once the fish in question are carefully acclimatized, they can stay there for a while to gain confidence and establish themselves to show their best colors, as the water is mature and filtered.
The background of natural vegetation and the settled nature of the fish make for the most beautiful photographs, but obviously this type of setup will only work for smaller sized fish. It all depends on how serious you are about your photography. Some hobbyists have even been known to go to the trouble of building a little “hide-out” in front of the main aquarium when dealing with nervous fish, such as a black sheet placed in front of the tank with just a hole big enough for the lens to peek through.
Select the right camera
Basic point-and-shoot type cameras can work reasonably well for general overview shots of the aquarium, but when taking closer pictures of the inhabitants the autofocus setting will limit you a bit as they will usually focus on the front glass rather than of in the fish themselves.
DSLRs will give you much more manual control over what you’re focusing on, and for beginners bridge cameras can be a very good compromise.
With a DSLR, you may need to invest in one or two lenses of different focal lengths, i.e. a 35 – 50mm for larger fish or sections of the aquarium, and a dedicated macro lens optimized for close-up work.
Compact cameras offer a good alternative as multiple lenses are not needed, many with normal and macro shooting modes. The focus lock button can be extremely useful as it allows the user to first focus on an object inside the aquarium, holding the focus point, then moving the camera back a few mm and then taking a photo as the fish swims past the object.
By studying the behavior of your fish, you will be able to learn about their preferred areas of the aquarium and their usual swimming patterns. Then, keeping focus but moving slightly away from the object you focused on in the first place should result in a sharp shot of the fish as it passes in front of it. Focus lock is one of the most underused features in digital cameras and is highly advantageous for aquarium photography.
The correct aperture and shutter speed will need to be determined by trial and error. For beginners, it may be best to use an automatic mode to start with, as you can then see the settings the camera has chosen, switch to manual mode, set similar values, and start experimenting with what works best.
To reduce “noise” within the photo, you will need to use a lower ISO setting. ISO controls the sensitivity of the camera’s image sensor to light. Higher settings will introduce noise into the photo, so try to keep the ISO around 50-200 for best results.
With any macro photo of a fish, it is crucial to focus the eye, this literally makes the shot. A greater depth of field will allow for more opportunities to get the maximum number of fish in sharp focus (hopefully including the eye!) and this will require a higher f-stop, but this in turn means a smaller aperture and less light available for photography.
Your shutter speed should also be fast enough to capture the fish without blurring. It’s a case of experimenting to find settings that give you the best results for the fish in your aquarium, usually a kind of happy compromise, each setting being slightly different.
Use a flash to take pictures
As for the on-camera flash, built-in flashes are handy for many situations, but they don’t always give the desired results when photographing fish. Built-in flashes tend to have a much weaker intensity than external flash units, and they are also in a fixed position on top of the camera, limiting the angle at which you can photograph the aquarium and fish without creating a great glare in the image.
However, the flash is necessary if we want to ‘freeze’ the fish in a fixed position in a photograph, but we must take the position into account.
The most pleasantly lit aquarium photographs tend to occur when one or more external flashes are mounted on small tripods, one above the tank (and preferably equipped with a diffuser), and the other at the front of the tank, but at an angle. to allow shooting directly without causing glare in the picture.
Again, you will need to experiment. If an external flash isn’t an option and you rely on the built-in flash, you’ll need to shoot at a slight angle to the front glass to avoid glare. However, too large an angle can cause distortion of the subject(s), so it’s best to try to keep this angle to a minimum.
A camera tripod can be very beneficial for those who are a little shaky and want to avoid camera shake, and a basic one doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
When photographing the aquarium as a whole, you may need to use a slower shutter speed and higher ISO to bring in more available light. This may result in slightly fuzzy fish (unless they are very sedentary species!), but the overall aesthetic of the tank itself will be captured more true to life.
Taking the photo slightly below and to the side of the aquarium will give the photo a sense of depth.
Photo editing software is not strictly necessary, although it can be useful for sharpening images, cropping them to proper proportions, adjusting intensity/contrast, and cloning any debris.
Finally, remember that much of aquarium photography is down to patience and luck.