There are many options for aquarium photography.
Getting good quality photos of individual fish
is not easy for a lot of people. Usually it's not too hard to shoot nice
photos of an entire aquarium, but keeping the fish from being blurry can
be a challenge.
The best camera setup is one where you can
choose the settings and it helps if you know a thing or two about cameras
and how to use them.
There are generaly two objectives in aquarium
photography, getting enough light on the subject to allow a fast enough
shutter speed to freeze the motion without blur and sharp focus on your
subject and not the nearby plant or ornament.
If you are using a film camera you can either
use a flash or high speed film to get your high enough shutter speed.
Flash tends to wash out the colors of the fish
or reflect brightly on the scales of some species not to mention the
bounce-back effect you get if you try to shoot the tank straight on.
The best results, in my opinion, are obtained
with bright tank lighting, fast film and no flash. A very high quality
lens helps as they admit more light to the film allowing a higher shutter
speed. Slow fish are obviously easier to shoot than fast fish. I find
that you want a shutter speed of at least 1/100th of a second to prevent
too much motion blur with active fish. 1/500th of a second or faster is
best, but can be hard to achieve without professional film or high end
DSLR cameras that have high ISO settings. Many fully automatic point-n-shoot cameras
won't allow you to specify shutter speeds, you get what you get sometimes.
A 35MM SLR which can used in full manual or
shutter priority mode is the best film camera for aquarium photography. If you
want to use color print film get some with a 400 or 800 ISO speed. A digital
SLR (DSLR) camera capable of ISO 6400 and above with low "noise" should allow
pretty good general aquarium photography. Modern high end digital cameras
are far superior to film for aquarium photography due to their superior
light gathering abilities.
If you don't have a lot of light on the tank you may be able to supplement it
with regular lamps from above if you have glass tops. You could even
make sidelights out of cardboard boxes and lamps. Extend the cardboard off
the sides of the tank at a forward angle to block the view of the lamps
from the front so the camera can't see the lights, but the lights
illuminate the inside of the tank from a distance of 6 to 12" (150 to
300mm) and closer to the front than the back so the fish aren't backlit.
Make sure the cardboard is at least 2" (50mm) from any bare bulbs
and only light them when needed to avoid a fire hazard. A 100 watt bulb on
either side can help a lot. The object is to avoid using a flash unit if
you don't have to.
If you have to use a flash then you'll want to
shoot from an angle and not directly in front of the tank so the flash
doesn't bounce off the glass and just make the picture one big lens flare.
From a distance of 3 feet (1M) move 6 or more inches (150mm) to one side
or the other to avoid a flash reflection. You can move up or down as well,
just so you aren't pointing the lens perpendicular to the glass of the
tank. With a flash you'll get a better photo if the fish isn't broadside
to you so you don't get a lot of reflection from the scales which can be
greatly exascerbated by irridescent species. Even on non-irridescent fish
it will tend to wash out their colors, especially lighter colored species.
If you have a zoom function or a telephoto it sometimes helps to
move away from the tank and zoom in to get closer.
If you have a macro lens for close in focusing
then that is best for closeups. In some cases you can shoot straight on with a flash
and macro lens by putting the lens right up against the glass which keeps
the flash from bouncing off the glass and back into the lens unless there is
nothing to block it from bouncing off the rear glass such as plants or
Focus can be a problem if your camera won't
let you manually focus on your subject. Many auto-focus jobies will try to
focus on the glass itself or on a plant rather than the fish. Some of them
will allow you to "lock" the focus by depressing and holding the shutter
release halfway and it will hold those settings until you press the rest
of the way down to fully trip the shutter. You can "fool" the camera that
way by focusing on something else which is the same distance away as the
fish you want to shoot. It takes some practice to be able to do it quick
enough so that the fish hasn't moved elsewhere than for where you wanted
the focus. I am a settings fiddler fanatic and many of the point and
shoot cameras drive me nuts so I have to find ways to force them to shoot
the way *I* want to. Trial and error can sometimes be the only way to get
decent shots. When I shoot with a digital "pocket snapper" I throw out
90% of the shots because they weren't what I wanted, that can get
expensive with film. Expect to get a lot of junk photos until you nail
down a system which works for you.
We have a lot of tanks and I shoot a lot of
pix of our fish with a few different cameras. A lot of the photos can be seen
We have (had in the early 2000's) a little Canon Powershot S100 digital
which works great for aquarium photos. It has a closeup/macro feature
which generally makes it my choice for shooting closeups of fry. I can put
the lens right against the glass and use the flash to get a clear photo of
the little guys.
There are so many digital cameras out there
these days that trying to cover all the possible methods for using all of
them to shoot aquariums is waaay beyond the scope of this post and my best
advice for getting decent pics out of them is to read the manual cover to
cover more than once and just start shooting pictures with different
camera settings until you find the ones which work for you. A good tip is
to keep track of what settings you use on what photos and only change one
setting at a time. That way you won't get "lost" and not know which
settings were the ones which worked. Now go back and read the manual cover
to cover again, you'll understand what's in the manual much better this
My personal favorite camera (back in 2002) for most pictures
is my Canon EOS D30 SLR digital. It's essentially a high-tech digital
camera which thinks it is a 35MM film camera and acts and feels like it. I
use a 28 to 300MM zoom lens on it which is very flexible. We have
glass tops on most of our tanks which lets me cover the tops with
striplights for photography. Typically I can shoot at an ISO equivalent of
400 from 4 to 6 feet away at a 300mm lens length (film camera equivalent
of 480mm) at 1/150th of a second with no flash and the tiniest fry are
visible or I can fill a 2160x1440 pixel frame with a neon tetra. Pull back
and I can shoot the whole tank with a depth of field which keeps
the fish in back in focus as well as the fish in front. - Update: I
now have a Canon 7D with a macro lens that makes the D30 seem like
Avoid having any lamps or brightly colored
walls or furnishings visible when shooting aquariums, especicaly if you
are using auto-exposure cameras as those will affect the camera's light
readings and throw off the lens aperature and shutter speed settings.
You want a good picture of the aquarium and not the wall.
It can take a lot of trial and error to get
good photos. If you have a digital camera then just shoot tons of pics
until you like what you get. If you have a film camera you should write
down what settings you use (unless you've got a REALLY good remembery and
REALLY know what you are doing for the different photos so that when you
get your photos back from the processor you have an idea of what worked
and what didn't.
Photography knowledge helps a lot. I had a
head start for this type of photography because I used to shoot my HO train models when I was 13 back in the 70's
and found out how to do half decent closeups then. I shoot a lot of
railroad photos now (http://www.Railfan.net) so I am used to stopping
fast moving objects on film. I understand all the basics of using
different camera techniques very well and I know what all the different
camera settings on different cameras do. It helps to get good
aquarium pics if you know how to eek the most out of your camera.
Aquarium photography is very challenging and
can be very rewarding when you get that great shot of your labidochromis
caerelus or even a lowly brachydanio rerio!
Our tank lights are standard All-Glass flourescent striplights. When I want to get good photos of the fish in the tanks I'll "borrow" extra striplights from other tanks.
On the 75's with glass tops we can get two
single and one double tube 48" striplights on top of it. That easily
provides enough light to get the shutter speed up to 1/100th or so as long
as you can shoot with f2.8 or lower lens. The higher quality the lens is
the more light it can gather.
Something else I didn't mention is that you
can usually get better results at night with the room lights off. That
prevents any reflection of the room off the tank glass from appearing in
the shot and the camera's light meter or exposure calculator will
use the tank illumination and not ambient light for exposure values.
Dirty glass under the striplight will also
reduce the amount of available light for photography. Make sure the glass
is clean and scrape off any mineral deposits with a razor blade. If your
striplight is wide enough you can place it across the top of the
tank without the hood in place for maximum illumination. Make sure it
doesn't fall in or the pictures of those fish could be your last! It's always
best to have the lighting as far toward the front of the tank as possible
so the front of the fish are lit.
Bobar also mentioned something to me which I
hadn't said in the earlier post. If you use a macro lens and a flash you
may get some funky shadows on close objects unless you use a "ringlight"
flash which fits around the outside of the lens to evenly
Another trick could be to tape a striplight to
the top front of the glass and shoot from below it to frontlight the fish.
Many digital cameras allow you to set the
white balance to compensate for different types of lighting. Most of those
have at least daylight, cloudy and indoor light settings which alter the
appearance of the final photo. With the wrong settings photos can appear
too blue or too yellow. The auto-white balance (AWB) setting on some
cameras might get it wrong or you might prefer the photo to look "cooler"
or "warmer" than the camera's default settings.
I don't want to discourage people from trying
fish photography by making it sound overly complicated. I just want to
offer tips for those who would like to maximize the potential for great
photos. There are people who have just whipped out their point and shoot
camera and snapped off a beautiful shot of their fish, but I think those
are in the minority. If you look at all the blurry or poorly colored
photos of fish on the web (including some of mine!) that shows that it is
not always easy to get nice aquarium fish photos. That's actually one of
the reasons I started taking pictures of ours!