Aquarium Photography

My goal with this website is to help fellow aquarists and photographers improve their skills at aquarium photography. And, hopefully avoid or minimize some of the mistakes and challenges that I had to work through when I first started pointing my camera at my fish and trying to capture nice photos of them. What I found is that it isn’t exactly as easy as I had imagined. I was happy if I just got a photo that was in focus, let alone using color, composition and technique to capture photographs that I liked as creative images unto themselves.

About

Hi there! Welcome to Aquarium Photography Directory on Pet upon. My name is Chris and I am an avid aquarist and photographer, which I suppose, makes me an aquarium photographer. I have actually been quite fortunate to earn a living in both the aquarium industry and as a commercial/architectural photographer at different times in my life. I quite enjoy the melding of two of my passions in the creation of stunning images of aquatic livestock and the environments that they live in.

My goal with this website is to help fellow aquarists and photographers improve their skills in aquarium photography. And, hopefully, avoid or minimize some of the mistakes and challenges that I had to work through when I first started pointing my camera at my fish and trying to capture nice photos of them. What I found is that it isn’t exactly as easy as I had imagined. I was happy if I just got a photo that was in focus, let alone using color, composition, and technique to capture photographs that I liked as creative images unto themselves.

As time permits, I will be updating this website with, instructions, photography tips, explanations of photographic techniques, digital imaging tutorials, and camera equipment discussions, all related to aquarium photography.

 

Cameras for Aquarium Photography

One good thing about cameras suitable for aquarium photography is that you really don’t need anything special or overly elaborate as far as cameras go. Any half-decent digital camera produced today will do the job quite well. The one exception could be some of the really cheap point-and-shoot cameras.

As with anything digital, digital camera technology is continually changing and new camera models are being introduced to the market frequently which makes giving specific advice on camera models and features impossible. What I’ll do is just cover the basic camera functions and features and let you research as to which current camera models have the functions you want.

 

 

Types of Cameras for Aquarium Photography

There are essentially two major categories of cameras that are suitable for photographing aquariums, fish, and other aquatic subjects, point-and-shoot cameras and digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera bodies.

Point-and-Shoot Cameras

Point-and-shoot cameras (sometimes called Compact Automatic Cameras) have come a long way since the advent of digital photography. Before digital photography, point-and-shoot cameras were generally unsuitable for aquarium photography because the scene the photographer saw through the camera’s viewfinder was created by a separate lens and wasn’t necessarily showing the image that was being focused and exposed to the film. Today separate viewfinders are pretty much a thing of the past and with most digital point-and-shoot cameras you compose your image on an LCD screen on the back of the camera. The image on this LCD screen is being created by the same lens which is responsible for creating the image that will be captured in your final photograph.

Digital point-and-shoot cameras are available in a really wide range of quality, performance, and capabilities. For casual aquarium photographers, almost any mid to high-range point-and-shoot camera will be adequate for general aquarium photography.

Point-and-shoot cameras have built-in lenses. Although this is convenient, the optic quality of these lenses varies along with the quality of the overall camera. Generally, the better quality of the camera, the sharper the lens will be.

Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera Bodies (DSLR)

Digital single-lens reflex camera bodies (DSLR) are the best choice for anybody seriously interested in creating high-quality photographs of their aquarium. Separate lenses are attached to the DSLR camera body via a bayonet mount and there are a vast array of lenses available which leads the DSLR camera system to be extraordinarily versatile. For DSLR cameras there is a lens available for pretty-much any conceivable photographic situation. We’ll be taking a more in-depth look at lenses later.

Important Camera Features For Photographing Aquariums

No matter what style of camera you are using, here is a list of some of the features that I find useful for photographing aquariums and fish are…

  • Full control over camera modes. Aperture & shutter priority modes, fully automatic and full manual. (more on these using these modes later)
  • Control over the camera’s ISO (the sensor’s sensitivity to light) setting (100 to at least 1600 ISO).
  • Off-camera electronic flash sync (if you have a flash unit [highly recommended]). Either…
    • A hot-shoe or flash sync socket for the use of off-camera electronic flash.
    • or, The ability to use an external electronic, off-camera flash either wirelessly.
  • The ability to turn the camera’s built-in flash off. And, still be able to use an external flash, if desired.
  • The ability to focus manually.
  • Control over color and white balance.
  • No or very little shutter lag. Your camera should capture the photo the instant you press the shutter.
  • The ability to capture images in raw file formats (Almost all cameras do nowadays).
  • High ISO & slow shutter Noise Reduction.
  • Macro function/mode/capability. (if using a DSLR camera system this functionality will most likely be integrated into the lens instead of the camera itself.
  • A remote control, cable release, or some means of firing the camera’s shutter without having to touch the camera.

Digital Imaging Software For Processing Aquarium Photographs


 

I’ve gotten several questions about the best software to use to manage and process digital images. Although I can’t necessarily tell you what the ‘best’ software is for your particular needs, I can tell you that I have used all of these software packages that I’ve listed below and can say you can’t go wrong with any of them.

This is not (by any means) a complete list of digital imaging software. It is simply my thoughts on several programs that I have utilized and can recommend from personal experience.

I will eventually have several tutorials here explaining the workflow, techniques, and steps that you can use for post-producing your aquarium photographs.

Photoshop

 Photoshop is hands-down, the undisputed king of the digital imaging world. If there is anything that you want/need to do to an image Photoshop will most likely be able to do it. I used Photoshop for many years, many years ago (What am I using now? Read on…). It is an awesome program that makes complex digital image work possible (although not necessarily always simple). There is nothing else on the market that comes even remotely close to the image editing & processing power of Photoshop and its family of integrated software applications (Illustrator, InDesign, Flash, Premiere, AfterEffects, the list goes on…). But, and this’s a big BUT for most people. The standard, no frills, bells, or whistles, the full version of Photoshop CS5 will run you about $700. With some bells and whistles, into the thousands. That’s a lot of money for the normally pretty simple image editing that you’d be doing on your fish photos. Photoshop is really geared to imaging professionals who are doing very involved image manipulations, graphic design work, and / mating their images with computer animations or 3d renderings.

Photoshop Elements

Although Photoshop Elements is a stripped-down version of Photoshop, it will still do absolutely everything an average photographer will need to do with their photos. I currently use Photoshop Elements almost exclusively for photo editing and image manipulation. I used Photoshop exclusively up until version CS2 when I got a demo of Elements with a camera I bought. I gave it a try and found that it actually did pretty much everything I was using Photoshop for (I was running a photo studio at the time) for and its interface and functions were close enough to the same that there was almost no learning curve. Elements are significantly easier to use than it’s big brother, Photoshop. Therefore I think you’ll find that learning the software is a much simpler task. I cannot recommend Photoshop Elements highly enough for any photographer from beginner to advanced hobbyists and even some professionals.

ACDSee

ACDSee is a photo management system. It will do basic image manipulation/corrections but its main purpose is to organize your digital photo files and manage your workflow.

I use ACDSee extensively when I’m editing, sorting, and searching for images. It’s really intuitive to use, has way more databasing options than I’ve had the opportunity to use. Photoshop Elements now includes (what looks like) a photo organizer which does some of the basic editing functions which ACDSee would do.

Picasa

Google, the leader in functional, free software applications is the developer of Picasa. I have Picasa installed on my computer but have to admit I have only used it a few times. So, to be fair, it probably has more functions than I’ve explored. Picassa works really well for basic image corrections and has decent digital photo file management capabilities, organization, and databasing. Picasa integrates seamlessly with Picasa Web Albums which makes sharing photos online a breeze. I know a couple of people that use Picasa strictly for its online photo-sharing capabilities. And, did I mention… it’s free.

Gimp

Another free photo imaging program that I have on my computer which I haven’t had much of an opportunity to explore is GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). I have heard really good things about GIMP. GIMP is a community-developed application that does many of the standard functions that you’d find in the full version of Adobe’s Photoshop. I do find GIMP more clunky to use though. I have tried to use GIMP several times for photo processing projects but have to admit as soon as I run into a task that isn’t immediately clear how to do it, I revert to using the simpler and more intuitive, Photoshop Elements. I’m not saying that I’m running into things that GIMP can’t do, I’m saying that it it’s always clear how to do things. I think GIMP is a very capable program but its user interface is lacking and I think it’s a more frustrating program to use than any of the Adobe products. But, the price is right!!
There are a ton of video tutorials on YouTube on how to use GIMP and the GIMP.org website has some good community-generated documentation and tutorials available.

Cameras for Aquarium Photography

One good thing about cameras suitable for aquarium photography is that you really don’t need anything special or overly elaborate as far as cameras go. Any half-decent digital camera produced today will do the job quite well. The one exception could be some of the really cheap point-and-shoot cameras.

As with anything digital, digital camera technology is continually changing and new camera models are being introduced to the market frequently which makes giving specific advice on camera models and features impossible. What I’ll do is just cover the basic camera functions and features and let you research as to which current camera models have the functions you want.

 

 

Types of Cameras for Aquarium Photography

There are essentially two major categories of cameras that are suitable for photographing aquariums, fish, and other aquatic subjects, point-and-shoot cameras and digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera bodies.

Point-and-Shoot Cameras

Point-and-shoot cameras (sometimes called Compact Automatic Cameras) have come a long way since the advent of digital photography. Before digital photography, point-and-shoot cameras were generally unsuitable for aquarium photography because the scene the photographer saw through the camera’s viewfinder was created by a separate lens and wasn’t necessarily showing the image that was being focused and exposed to the film. Today separate viewfinders are pretty much a thing of the past and with most digital point-and-shoot cameras you compose your image on an LCD screen on the back of the camera. The image on this LCD screen is being created by the same lens which is responsible for creating the image that will be captured in your final photograph.

Digital point-and-shoot cameras are available in a really wide range of quality, performance, and capabilities. For casual aquarium photographers, almost any mid to high-range point-and-shoot camera will be adequate for general aquarium photography.

Point-and-shoot cameras have built-in lenses. Although this is convenient, the optic quality of these lenses varies along with the quality of the overall camera. Generally, the better quality of the camera, the sharper the lens will be.

Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera Bodies (DSLR)

Digital single-lens reflex camera bodies (DSLR) are the best choice for anybody seriously interested in creating high-quality photographs of their aquarium. Separate lenses are attached to the DSLR camera body via a bayonet mount and there are a vast array of lenses available which leads the DSLR camera system to be extraordinarily versatile. For DSLR cameras there is a lens available for pretty much any conceivable photographic situation. We’ll be taking a more in-depth look at lenses later.

Important Camera Features For Photographing Aquariums

No matter what style of camera you are using, here is a list of some of the features that I find useful for photographing aquariums and fish are…

  • Full control over camera modes. Aperture & shutter priority modes, fully automatic and full manual. (more on these using these modes later)
  • Control over the camera’s ISO (the sensor’s sensitivity to light) setting (100 to at least 1600 ISO).
  • Off-camera electronic flash sync (if you have a flash unit [highly recommended]). Either…
    • A hot-shoe or flash sync socket for the use of off-camera electronic flash.
    • or, The ability to use an external electronic, off-camera flash either wirelessly.
  • The ability to turn the camera’s built-in flash off. And, still be able to use an external flash, if desired.
  • The ability to focus manually.
  • Control over color and white balance.
  • No or very little shutter lag. Your camera should capture the photo the instant you press the shutter.
  • The ability to capture images in raw file formats (Almost all cameras do nowadays).
  • High ISO & slow shutter Noise Reduction.
  • Macro function/mode/capability. (if using a DSLR camera system this functionality will most likely be integrated into the lens instead of the camera itself.
  • A remote control, cable release, or some means of firing the camera’s shutter without having to touch the camera.

12 Quick & Easy Aquarium Photography Tips

 

 

Aquarium Photography Tip #1 – Have Patience

Photographing fish in an aquarium is all about patience. Don’t be afraid to shoot lots & lots of images. If you are using a digital camera, the only direct cost of shooting lots is the time it’ll take you to sort through all your images after the shoot, editing to find the best ones. It is not uncommon for me to shoot close to 500 individual frames during a single aquarium photography session which lasts 2 to 4 hours.

Aquarium Photography Tip #2 – Know Your Fish’ Behavior

You’ll find that you’ll take more successful photos of your fish if you study your fish’ behaviors before you pick up your camera and start clicking away. Many fish will have favorite spots in the aquarium that they’ll hang out. They may have a regular swimming pattern or another habit that you might be able to predict and be ready with your camera in the right place at the right time.

Aquarium Photography Tip #3 – Avoid Reflections in the Glass

Reflections in the tank’s glass appear in aquarium photos when there are light illuminating objects on the outside of the aquarium. To reduce or eliminate reflections in your aquarium photographs, turn off all the room lights and either shoot at night or close the curtains & blinds in the area which the aquarium is in. The light illuminating the aquarium should be the only lights on.

Aquarium Photography Tip #4 – Minimize Distortions

Photographing through glass introduces distortions. Holding your camera perpendicular to the aquarium glass while shooting (straight through) will minimize distortion in your aquarium photographs. Shooting through the aquarium’s glass at an angle will force the rays of light (which ultimately comprise your image) to travel through more glass which will obscure the image. The greater the angle, the greater the distortion will be.

Aquarium Photography Tip #5 – Use a Flash Correctly

Do not use an on-camera flash. They will cause bright reflections in the glass if you are photographing straight through the glass.

Do use an off-camera flash with a sync cord or wirelessly. The single best (technical) thing you can do to improve your aquarium photography is to use a flash unit that is positioned above the aquarium. This will g a long way to eliminate reflections in the glass and gives a better quality to the look of the light illuminating the fish you’re photographing.

Aquarium Photography Tip #6 – Thoroughly Clean Your Aquarium

To remove as much dirt as possible from the aquarium by performing a large partial water change before your planned photoshoot. Vacuum the gravel during the water change procedure. These will improve the water’s clarity and minimize floating debris ending up in your photographs. Do this a day or so ahead of time to give the water a chance to clear up.

Aquarium Photography Tip #7 – Clean the Glass

Make sure that the glass/acrylic is spotlessly clean before you start your photoshoot. Cleaning the algae off the inside of the tank should be done at least a couple of hours before you plan on starting your aquarium photoshoot as the process usually makes the water cloudy. Waiting for a while gives it a chance to settle & clear up.

Aquarium Photography Tip #8 – Backgrounds Should be Complementary

Ensure your image’s background doesn’t distract from the main subject of your photo. Simple clean backgrounds should complement your subject and make it stand out in the photo. You can blur the background by using a wide aperture / narrow depth of field.

Aquarium Photography Tip #9 – Remove Distracting Hardware

To aid with keeping your aquarium photo’s background clean and simple, remove any unsightly equipment from your aquarium before you start taking photographs. Heaters and filter pipes are the most usual hardware in your tank and they are usually pretty easy to remove.

Aquarium Photography Tip #10 – Turn Off Pumps

Having the water still will help prevent movement in the aquarium which can lead to blurs in your photographs. This will also allow floating debris to settle and not pollute your aquarium photographs. Make sure not to forget to turn the pumps on at the end of your shoot or if your fish start showing any signs of gasping or stress.

Aquarium Photography Tip #11 – A Tripod can be Beneficial

If you are using slow shutter speeds to photograph your aquarium, a tripod can be helpful to reduce blurs due to camera (hand) shake. However, they are slow and cumbersome to use so if you’re able to have a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the movement in your images, you’ll find your images easier to compose without a tripod.

Aquarium Photography Tip #12 – “If Your Pictures Aren’t Good Enough, You’re Not Close Enough”

Lastly, a quote from a famous photographer, Robert Capa. Strange wisdom; being as Capa was a war photographer. His philosophy, however, holds equally true whether you’re shooting soldiers on the battlefield or fish in your aquarium. Before picking up your camera, figure out what the subject of your photo actually is… Is it a fish in your tank? Or, do you want to capture a tight portrait of that fish to convey some of its personality? Or, do you want to take a photo of the environment your fish lives in and shoot its whole aquarium? Whatever it is, your photos will be more effective if you fill your camera’s viewfinder with your subject. A good guideline is, is that your subject should fill about 80% of your photograph. You may need a macro lens if your subject is small.
Robert Capa was killed by a landmine in 1954 in Thai Binh, Vietnam; trying to get that little bit closer.

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