Aquatic Photography - A Personal Experience

Slug

Aquatic Photography FAQ

-Let me start out by saying I am not a professional, have taken no classes on photography, and my equipment is all stock, I don't claI'm to be an expert and am just writing this out of personal experience. I am writing this because I have gotten so much great feedback on my work over the years, even when I have been less than satisfied with it. My aims at this article is to possibly encourage more people to just sit down and take pictures of your tank. You will be amazed at all the things you will discover if you just take the time to look. Not that many of us don't spend hours infront our tanks already. Also I would like to show and share with people, some tips about aquatic photography that I have learned over the past few years. I have always been asked many questions that ultimately lead to one main question, "How do you do it?". Well hopefully I can show you how I do it.

Equipment
-First off let me tell you all about the equipment I use, and though it sounds like I have a lot of it, I really don't. Most of my pictures are taken using a Canon 300D camera (Digital Rebel) with a stock 18-55mm lens and onboard flash. Yep that's it, cool huh. The camera may be fancier than most, but the whole equipment list is not and i'm sure you can make it work with any camera (aside from cell phones and small cameras that are just made to get the broad point and not the details in a picture.). I also use a tripod for the longer sessions when I don't want to hold the camera and keep it steady. Something to note is I started with a point and shoot camera, if you see me in person at a fish show or convention, you will probably see me using the point and shoot. Its quick, easy, and these days....the point and shoots are really good cameras. Its not always about how fancy of camera you have. Its not the size of the camera, its how you use it!

Tank Setup and Prep
-Tank setup and prep is a major point in my photography. Though some don't or won't arrange their tanks around taking pictures I tend to do just that...in a minor way. It doesn't take much, move a rock here or a plant there for a background, or so that you have an open area for a clean shot. Strategically placed rocks can mean a great flash picture because you get no feedback from the flash, that's what I do in my tanks. Of course if you just take a minute and look around your tank i'm sure you can find a suitable area where a background is present. There is more to getting a good picture than sitting down infront of your tank and snapping away. First you must do Tank Prep. All I involve in tank prep is cleaning both the inside and outside of the glass, no one wants to see dirty glass! (Take a tissue/paper towel with the cleaning agent TO the tank, I would not recommend spraying the glass first (Vinegar or Water work just fine as cleaning agents). A simple wipedown of the inside will do fine.) I also do a water change if needed to remove any solid, eye catching wastes on the bottem of the tank (Sand shows everything). If you do a water change be sure to give your fish time to color back up and cool off before you start flashing away at your tank. Give them time to come out of the stress.

Timing is Everything
-Timing is everything. Be sure to plan your photography sessions carefully. I personally will only shoot in the evenings or at night. That way it is easier to darken the room and I get no unwanted glare in the tank or the glass. Depending on where your tank sits in your house or room, you may be alright shooting in the daylight.

The Session
-Pull up a chair, this is a full blown photography session. I use a chair or stool that is both comfortable and is the correct height at which I can take pictures. Fish are sometimes spooked by you moving all around trying to get that perfect shot. Don't chase the fish around the tank, they will get curious of you in one place and move into your selected area. You might also look for the fish's favorite hang out area and set your shooting area near that. There is no set time you have to sit there, its on your time, however I usually spend at least 30 minutes at a time with the camera taking pictures. Be sure to have your batteries charged and your memory stick empty.

-I usually shoot towards the bottom portion of the tank where the rocks can serve as a background and I might get that perfect shot of a cichlid spitting sand. I have been known to shoot above to rocks but I will talk about that a bit later. I ALWAYS shoot at a slight downward angle when using the onboard flash. Having just enough of a downward angle minimizes glare from the flash but does not distort the . Another thing about shooting, you do not need to be right up on the glass, although sometimes it works the best for me on a macro shot. Sit back a little an get the whole fish into view. Here is a picture that shows my Camera, tripod, and the downward angle at about which I shoot. You can also see about how far back I am, though that gets adjusted depending on where the fish is and such.

-Your tank can be broken up in several ranges and shooting ranges. Think of those little stick on thermometers on the aquarium. It goes from black to blue to green to blue to black (usually in the center). Your green and blue is the shooting range. To close to the bottom or top is usually bad, the middle of the tank is the best zone, the green zone. While the two zones flanking the green zone on either side (top and bottom) are yellow zones where you might get a good picture, and might not.

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-I use auto focus and manual focus. Auto focus is fast and easy. My camera lets me auto focus by barely pressing the shutter button. So when a subject swims into my viewing area, I auto focus and wait for a good pose. I consider a good pose anything from fins flared, to yawning, or to capturing the fish in mid turn. The good thing about manual focus is once its set it doesn't move. Auto focus could quickly focus on another object nearby if the camera moves a little bit. If you only have auto focus, of course you have to use it. If you have the option to manual focus, I suggest you try it. Remeber this plays into not chasing the fish let them come to you. You should be able to, for the most part, set it and forget it and wait for the fish to swim into the view, snap and you have your picture. If you are chasing the fish you are constantly trying to re-focus on it and it usually ends in frustration.

-One other thing you might want to try before you start is just take some pictures in the shooting range you will be in for the fish session and see how they come out. Mostly, if you are using flash, to see if you get any feedback from that position/angle. If you are, try some different angles.
-Be wary of other fish swimming into the picture. It can become unsightly, especially if you are focusing on one certain fish in the tank.

Pre-Download Check
-Everyone hates to wait, especially on a slow computer. So to speed up your wait time during the download process go ahead and get rid of the pictures that are already obviously trashers before you plug the camera up to the computer by viewing them on the camera's LCD display.

Aspects of Good and Bad Pictures.
-I've compiled some pictures of my past sessions that I have dubbed as "bad" or "trashers", I will explain why for each. In a session of 90+ pictures consider yourself lucky to come out with 5 good shots, at least that's my thinking. Most of these were considered keepers on the camera's LCD screen and were downloaded then dubbed trashers.

You are the biggest critic of your own work, I assure you. But in my mind that only makes you better. I am very self critical of my photography. I split my pictures into 3 groups when I download and resize them. Trashers, Others, and Posters. The posters are those 5 that are worthy of showing off, the Others are the ones that can be used if people want to see more, and the Trashers are the bad ones I don't keep.

Out of focus. The whole picture is out of focus.
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Over exposed. See the bright white areas? That's over exposure. Also dirty glass and distracting shadows. Taken at the top of the tank and not near the bottom.
209.jpg

Flash feedback, causing over exposure on the fish. Though a fairly good picture otherwise. Shadows and edge of rock are a little distracting.
210.jpg

Good pose, decent focus but dirty/scratched glass and you can see where the sand is up against the glass. Scratches that small could possibly be taken care of with editing. Picture is a little dark, again could take care of in editing.
211.jpg

Great pic, but dirty glass and the silicone corner is kind of distracting.
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Taken to close to the top of the tank. Very bad shadows. A bit to over exposed on the face.
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To dark, under exposed.
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-That was all the bad. Don't get me wrong, I personally enjoy seeing the sparkles and shine of the fish and like some over exposure to show that, but there can be to much in certain places. Lets take a look at some pictures that I consider to be good.

Good focus, good flash control and just enough shine on the fish. Not enough shadow to be to distracting.
215.jpg

One of my personal favorites, no glare, great color on the fish, sharpness and focus is just right, and the fish is in a good pose. No other fish in the background to disrupt the picture.
216.jpg

Conclusion
-Lastly I would like to say practice makes perfect. You won't get good over night, you won't get good in a week, you must keep trying and trying. Heck i've had the camera for a year and I still don't consider myself good, lucky to get some good shots every now and then, but not all around good. Sure the type of camera will make a difference, but once you get to know your own camera you can push its limits and get great shots, I assure you. A small Sony Cybershot point and shoot propelled me to where I am today with my Canon 300D. And while you are sitting infront of your tank taking pics, just enjoy yourself. Don't get frustrated if the fish won't do it right, just enjoy your fish and keep trying. Photography is another hobby, and you will find yourself taking pictures of anything and everything.

-If I have missed anything or you have a question feel free to ask! I did not go into the manual settings on the camera in this because I felt like it would make the whole thing overall to complicated.

-Matt - Cichlid-Man
 

Narcicius

good quality, you seem to be really into this. In saying that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you're gonna do anything do it right.
 

Lucy

Great article, Matt. Thanks for the tips.
 

Shawnie

someone should sticky this!! as many posts asking "how do you take pics of your fish" this would help...great article...and even tho you pointed out the wrongs in some pics, id have never found it if you didnt point it out LOL practice practice thas me!
 

Martinismommy

Excellent information! I agree with Shawnie, it needs to be stickied!
 

Slug

Thanks, just wanted to share some tips i've picked up over the years.
 

Cuthahotha

Matt,

Great work. I asked about photo tips and Lucy pointed me this way. Excellent work.

Do you shoot in RAW mode? Any work in Photoshop after the fact for color correction, etc?

Pretty low light, even with flash. Are you shooting in the 800 - 1600 range? Any noise correction?

Are you using the onboad flash, or do you use one of the aftermarket flash units? Does the flash tend to stress the fish?
 

pinkfloydpuffer

Thanks for the tips! Excellent info
 

Jess

HI Matt,
Great article, thanks for taking the time explaining the set up. I also prep the tank before a photo shoot. I'm always a little surprised when someone posts a picture with water spots on the glass.
Just to note, some of your s you would cull, I would keep. Just a little touch up in Photoshop and you have a great picture. (I get to photo edit quite a bit in my business : ) designing children's books) This was worthy of the little button, add to slugs reputation : ) Thanks for the information.
 

Cuthahotha

As long as were on the touch up in Photoshop subject, let me open Pandora's box. Normally, I'm pretty set against actual touch up work on photos. Nothing beyond color correction, white balance, and curves, etc.


So a photography philosophical question. Considering how hard it is to pull the glorious colors the eye sees, is it fair/OK/acceptable to use Photoshop to punch up the colors a bit. Under what circumstances would you see this as acceptable? Just for showing in gallery? For hanging on your walls? Photo contest? Under no circumstances?

Thoughts?
 

Allie

As long as were on the touch up in Photoshop subject, let me open Pandora's box. Normally, I'm pretty set against actual touch up work on photos. Nothing beyond color correction, white balance, and curves, etc.


So a photography philosophical question. Considering how hard it is to pull the glorious colors the eye sees, is it fair/OK/acceptable to use Photoshop to punch up the colors a bit. Under what circumstances would you see this as acceptable? Just for showing in gallery? For hanging on your walls? Photo contest? Under no circumstances?

Thoughts?
I don't know...I ususally just ake the shots until they look right. For your own personal use you can do whatever you want to your photo. Except a enter contest...that is cheating. I myself use photoshop for resizing and croping...the odd time I have to use contrast and sharpen.
 

Cuthahotha

how about removal of water spots, debris, extranious fish. Thinking along the line of the kind of things you might remove when composing a shot under normal circumstances?

I stopped doing photo contests a long time ago. Too political for my blood. But when dealing with just show photos, as long as I'm not changing a fish, and just presenting it the best that I can, I think it's acceptable on a limited basis.
 

Lucy

I'm always a little surprised when someone posts a picture with water spots on the glass.

My pics must surprise you a lot. lol
 

pinkfloydpuffer

I'm always a little surprised when someone posts a picture with water spots on the glass.

My pics must surprise you a lot. lol

Haha, I'm just happy when you can tell that it was a fish I was photographing.
 

Slug

I open my email today and it said like 14 new messages from this blog section I was like what on earth...! Haha, Thanks everyone for the kind comments.

Do you shoot in RAW mode? Any work in Photoshop after the fact for color correction, etc?

Yes to RAW, and very very minimal work in IRFanview (just resize, sharpening, and maybe a little color adjustment. Nothing major at all).

Pretty low light, even with flash. Are you shooting in the 800 - 1600 range? Any noise correction?

Its actually quite lower, near the 100-200 range, when I shoot manual. I'm not 100% sure on that, i'd have to check later.

Are you using the onboad flash, or do you use one of the aftermarket flash units? Does the flash tend to stress the fish?

I wish I had an aftermarket flash. Ideally using a flash overhead, like pointing into the tank would be the best. But I am using the onboard. Its like the fish hardly notice it. Over time, if you sit there long enough, flash after flash after flash you can tell the fish will darken and go hide. But a quick session doesn't seem to do anything to mine.

HI Matt,
Great article, thanks for taking the time explaining the set up. I also prep the tank before a photo shoot. I'm always a little surprised when someone posts a picture with water spots on the glass.
Just to note, some of your s you would cull, I would keep. Just a little touch up in Photoshop and you have a great picture. (I get to photo edit quite a bit in my business : ) designing children's books) This was worthy of the little button, add to slugs reputation : ) Thanks for the information.

Thanks! Hey, water spots are ok if you are just showing the fish generally and not really like spotlighting it in a photo lol. I've always gone under the saying that Water spots mean a good fish keeper, as that fish keeper would rather take care of the fish in his tank then worry about the tank itself. It also shows you do WCs.

As long as were on the touch up in Photoshop subject, let me open Pandora's box. Normally, I'm pretty set against actual touch up work on photos. Nothing beyond color correction, white balance, and curves, etc.


So a photography philosophical question. Considering how hard it is to pull the glorious colors the eye sees, is it fair/OK/acceptable to use Photoshop to punch up the colors a bit. Under what circumstances would you see this as acceptable? Just for showing in gallery? For hanging on your walls? Photo contest? Under no circumstances?

Thoughts?

Oh of course. I fully support minor touch ups. Now those that try to show the fish for what it is not shouldn't. But if you have a spectacular looking fish, yet the right colors are not coming out through raw pics, then touch up to show everyone what you see would be acceptable...to me. Its hard to capture true colors sometimes. Sometimes messing with contrast/colors can block out some of the "nasty" in the picture. Water spots, floating debris, etc. If adjustments are made to the extreme then no, but minor....by all means, I personally want to see what you see if I am looking at your pictures. It might also be noted that the s will look different on different monitors depending on the screen settings.
 

Cuthahotha

I open my email today and it said like 14 new messages from this blog section I was like what on earth...! Haha, Thanks everyone for the kind comments.

This post deserves a lot more attention. Just wish your photo host wasn't blocked by my corporate firewalls. I looked for a bit from home, but can't get back in until later tonight.

Aw well, will take more of a look tonight.
 

Jess

My take on Photoshop use. . . I think its fine to correct scratches in the glass, water marks that you didn't at first see, that kind of thing. I agree its cheating to color correct the fish. You're not kidding about that being Pandora's Box. Whew!

Lucy, : ) you're ok in my book. Please don't feel sensitive to my opinions. That's all they are.
 

Slug

Usually when I color correct I only knock some glare off the fish itself, darken it up a little to show its colors. It kinda gets rid of some of the overexposure.
 

Lucy

Lucy, : ) you're ok in my book. Please don't feel sensitive to my opinions. That's all they are.

No offense was taken.
 

Jess

When I'm talking about color correcting I mean actually painting color into the fish enhancing (like women who ahhhmm have enhancements done : ) I just don't think its fair those Cosmo girls. I had a good friend who used to work with the sytex (sp) machines and the work that was done to the cover girl s to make the models look good. Shaving inches off their thighs, breast enhancements, shadows added to create curves where previously there was none. NOT FAIR! : )
 

v369

I know this is an old post but thanks its extremly helpful.
 

LyndaB

I'm glad this got bumped. Photography is something we all have to dabble in if we have fish. Sometimes you're forced to take a picture to diagnose disease and this steps are very helpful towards that.

Great info!
 
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