Aquarium Fish Photography Tips

Aquarium Fish Photography Tips

We all love our fish and we love showing them off as well. So, we whip out our I-phone or Samsung Galaxy smartphone and begin snapping away - trying to capture the serene beauty of our fish tank. But more often than not, we are disappointed in the quality of the picture.

Don’t fret. It’s not just you. This has happened to me, too - and millions of other fish hobbyists.

The purpose of this article is to help you learn the common causes of failed fish photography and share some tips to help you overcome some of the obstacles.

Clean the Aquarium

Have you ever seen a photograph of a dirty aquarium? Not a pretty sight. You certainly would not like the world to see your fish in those conditions, right?

So, clean your tank. Your photographs will look 100% better.

I like to do a partial water change and clean the gravel substrate the day before the shoot. The reason is I want to give the tank inhabitants time to recover from my intrusion into their space. No matter how careful I am while cleaning the tank, I still disrupt the normal routine of my fish. Probably even stress them a bit. This waiting period also gives any sediment I stirred up enough time to settle out or get filtered away. Leaving pristine crystal-clear water. The fish photographer’s best friend.

Give your tank a final inspection. Look at it with a critical eye. Is the glass clean? Any algae on the glass? Can you see any wires going to the submersible heater or water pump heads?

If everything checks out, you are ready to shoot some pics.

One other thought on water clarity – take your photos before feeding time. The water will be uncluttered with food and the fish will be alert and active – wondering when you are gonna feed them. LOL


When you are shooting those close-ups of your fish, make sure your camera is square with the glass of the aquarium. In other words, don't shoot at an angle through the glass, shoot your subject straight on. The reason for this is refraction.

Refraction is the deflection from a straight path by a light ray when passing at an angle from air into glass, or water. The greater the angle of departure, the greater the refraction effect. Straight on, there is zero refraction.


Wear dark clothing and turn down the lights in the room before you start shooting pics of your fish tank. This will help eliminate reflections of the room furniture, or you, in the glass of the aquarium.

Reflection can be prevented with the use of a soft rubber hood on your camera lens. The soft rubber will not scratch your aquarium glass or acrylic, and the hood prevents reflections. It also ensures that your camera is held perpendicular to the glass surface, preventing refraction as well.

However – if you are taking a shot of your entire tank, you will want to forget what I just said about shooting the shot straight on. Am I contradicting myself? Maybe... But this is an entirely different shot than a close-up shot.

In a close-up shot, your main obstacle is the focus. Holding the camera square with the glass will allow you to get that crisp focus you are looking for.

The problem with shooting your entire tank straight on is reflection. You will typically be positioned a few feet away from the front of your tank and your image will be reflected in the glass of the aquarium. Like a mirror.

To overcome this obstacle – for this particular situation – you can shoot your picture from an angle. Just enough to remove yourself from the shot.

Stabilize the Camera

The best way to stabilize your camera is to use a tripod. This is the easiest way to eliminate camera shake, and if you shoot without a flash, a tripod is even more critical for a good shot. If you don’t have a tripod, you can improve your pictures by setting your camera on a table or bracing it against something solid.

Frame Your Shot

Place your subject a little off-center and fill a substantial portion of the frame with it. Centering your subject doesn’t work as well as positioning a little off-center. Photographers use the Rule of Thirds – splitting the image into nine segments by using three vertical and three horizontal lines (like tic-tac-toe) then they place the main subject at a point where any of the lines intersect.


Adjust the lighting to avoid glare while illuminating your subject. Turn the camera flash off to prevent glare off the glass and avoid over-exposure of your subject with too much light. Fish scales reflect light, so even if your fish is not totally washed out from over-exposure, you can bet the color won’t be correct. You will have to edit your picture in Photoshop to compensate for the flash.

I prefer using spotlights and light strips over the tank. I use a glass cover on the tank, so it is easy to move the lights around to adjust the light intensity where needed.

Obviously, be very careful handling lights over your aquarium. You could get shocked if your light strip or electrical wires somehow came into contact with the water. That's why I use a glass cover... but, even so, I am still very cautious.


Aquarium photography professionals will tell you that patience is the best asset in your gear bag. Wait for your subject fish to swim into the ideal spot for your photo. You pick the location beforehand, adjust the lighting and your camera settings for that spot, and wait. Eventually, your fish will swim into the area you need.

Don't track him around the tank snapping away... this will result in a lot of wasted pics because the exposure won't be ideal, or the image will be blurry, or you didn't frame the subject the way you wanted to.

Final Thoughts

I hope these fish photography tips help you. In this day and age of digital cameras and smartphones, you can take as many shots as you want. So, experiment with the settings on your camera. Try different lenses. Try using spotlights, or even a flash.

Practice. Shoot tons of pics. And enjoy our hobby!


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