Fish Photography: Photographing the fishes in your aquarium

At one time or another, most of us have thought about photographing the fishes in our aquariums. Some of us just let the thought pass while others made the attempt, had horrible results, and vowed never to do it again.

Yet it’s not impossible, as demonstrated by the success of good aquarium photos you’ve seen around.

This article won’t make an expert out of you, but it may perhaps help you to achieve your first small measure of success. Once you get to that point, you may find yourself motivated enough to try more advanced techniques.

The first thing you want to do is to evaluate what kind of photographic capabilities your camera has. Based upon how much or how little your camera can do, you can try one or more methods of capturing images of your finny friends.

Regardless of what kind of camera you own, simple or complex, you should be completely familiar with the way it works before you start. Work with the equipment you already have. You can develop some basic tank photography skills even with simple cameras.

The typical photo opportunity often presents itself in the form of an attractive community tank located in some room of your house or apartment. Let’s assume that this is the case for this article and build from there.

Understand your camera

The first thing you will have to know is how close your camera’s lens will allow you to get to your subject. Some lenses will allow you to get within inches of your fish and others will require you to stay several feet away.

If you can’t get close enough to take pictures of individual fish, then practice taking pictures of the whole tank. This should help reduce the number of fuzzy photos or slides you get. The focus on your camera’s lens may be fixed, manually set, or determined by a built in auto focus capability. Use auto-focus if you must, to start with, but over time learn to use manual settings if applicable to your camera.

Get Enough Lighting

Next, you will have to provide sufficient lighting in the tank so that your fishes will show up on film. There are a couple of ways to do this. You could change the ISO settings on your camera, which means it is very sensitive to light and will capture an acceptable image in very low light, or supplement the existing light on the tank so that it will be bright enough.

Often, the light meters in cameras will tell you that the light level is low and that you need to use flash. There are special flash techniques which are used to photograph fish and they are beyond the scope of this article.

Don’t put your flash unit on your camera or let your flash unit on your camera or let the built-in flash go off into the tank glass in front of the camera. The glare will bounce back into the lens and the shot will have been wasted.

Instead, in the very beginning, try supplementing the light from the top of the tank. Be careful here! Bulbs get very hot, hot enough to melt plastic tank moldings and tank hoods.

Additionally, the heat from the bulbs will heat the water in the tank if they are left on too long. Try using floodlights or spotlights to provide better control of where the light shines. You need to work all of this out before you take the first picture.

The more sophisticated your camera, the easier it will be to adjust its settings for the amount of lighting in your tank.

You will probably find that many of your fish will initially hide when subjected to the increased light level. Give them a little time to adjust before trying to photograph them.

Electronic flash is ultimately the way to go, but first master getting a reasonable amount of in-focus, adequately illuminated photos, before you add more variables to the photographic process. You will have to experiment a bit before you become successful. Be sure to take notes of how you did things so that you can avoid the same mistakes next time and so that you can replicate your successes in future photo sessions.

Consider a photography tank

You may choose to set up a “photography tank” where it will be easier for you to work. No matter what tank you will be photographing, take time to thoroughly clean the glass, both inside and out.

Make sure the water itself is crystal clear. The camera will pick up the smallest speck of suspended material in the tank plus specks of dust on the glass in the field of view.

Setting up equipment and preparing the tank takes time. So does the actual photography. It sometimes takes many hours of waiting to get the spectacular photos you see in the magazines.

Set the shutter speed

Simple cameras usually have a preset shutter speed. It will be fast enough to allow you to hand hold your camera and get sharp images on film, assuming there is enough light present. If you can adjust your shutter speed, make sure it is no slower than 1/30th of a second or you will risk blurry pictures. Your camera should be on a tripod or other steady support if you will be taking pictures at slower speeds.

Set the Aperture

Lastly a few words about f stops. The lens in your camera has an iris in it which is either preset or adjustable. Depending on how it is set, it will allow more or less light to enter the camera when you press the shutter button.

The higher the f stop number you set your lens at, the more in front of and in back of your subject will be in focus.

For example: An f stop setting of f/1.4 will allow a great deal of light to enter the camera but will greatly limit what will be in focus in your pictures. An f stop setting of f/16 will reduce the light entering the camera but will show more objects in front of and in back of what you are actually taking a picture of in focus.

Give fish photography a try, you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

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