On Aquarium Fish Photography

Thunder_o_b

From time to time I am asked about my photography and how I go about it.

Aquarium photography falls in to the closeup and macro classes.

I am posting an article that I was asked to write for a photo form several years ago.

I hope it is helpful.

Macro

The world of macro is all around us, but for the most part goes unnoticed. Macro photography offers an area of photography that most people rarely get a chance to see. In this article I will attempt to give some insight as to the equipment and techniques for successful macro photography.

Macro photography is defined as creating an at 1:1 life size or greater on the film or sensor plain. So if the subject is ¼” life size the area is reproduced in the camera will also be ¼” or greater. This translates somewhere in the vicinity (depending in the sensor size) of a 20:1 magnification at 1:1. So a lens like the Canon MP-E65 set at 5:1 gives a real magnification of around 100:1

The nature of macro photography requires specialized equipment. But this is not to say that one has to spend thousands of dollars on gear to enjoy this obsession.

The quickest and easiest, and cheapest way to get your feet wet in macro is with a macro filter. These simply screw on to your lens like any filter and are not very expensive (price varies as to the size needed for the lens) The down side to these is that quality can be lacking, but is a way for you see if you are interested in macro before spending money on more expensive gear. Another method is to reverse mount a lens to the camera with a reverse mounting ring. There are two ways to do this:

1. Reverse mount a lens directly to the camera body (A good method if the F/stop is adjustable on the lens not only in the body, Canon EOS lens adjusts the F/stop in body only)

2. Reverse mount a lens on a lens that is mounted on the camera (this will retain the F/stop control of the EOS lenses)

These rings are inexpensive and can be found on line and in some camera shops.

The last and most costly of the less expensive methods to start in macro is the use of extension tubes. These are hollow tubes that place the front of the lens farther away from the film/sensor plain which requires you to move closer to the subject to achieve focus, giving you an increase in the size of the on the sensor. Tubes retain the inherent quality of the lens; do not expect a kit lens to give the same quality as a dedicated macro lens. There is also light falloff with these tubes.

This brings us to the best and most expensive way to shoot macro, the dedicated macro lens. In this area you have two choices:

1. The camera manufactures lenses.

2. Third party lenses.

I use both. I have the Sigma non stabilized 150mm f/2.8 and the Canon MP-E65. My wife has the Canon non stabilized 100mm f/2.8. I see no difference in the quality in the lenses, and the third party lenses cost hundreds of dollars less, and have a longer warranty.

Next on the list is a macro flash. There several different ways to do macro flash photography:

1. A hot shoe flash in a bracket.

2. A ring flash

3. A twin flash like the Canon MT-24 or the Nikon R1 C1.

Properly done, you cannot tell that a flash was used. The flash is critical to handheld macro, as it expands the ability to shoot without a tripod, and lowers the percentage of lost shots due to shake and subject movement.

There was a time that I always carried a tripod with me, now I almost never use one. The use of the macro flash coupled with proper breath, and muscle control have eliminated the need.

Breath, and muscle control you may ask, yup, it is the same technique that long range shooters use. You will find the two identical in their need for a steady hand and shooting between heartbeats.

There are three parts to the breath and muscle control:

1. Choose a position that uses the least number of muscles. Each muscle that is in use has a slight tremor; so the more that you use the greater the tremor over all, and in macro that translates into a lot of camera shake.

2. Relax the muscles that hold in breath and let the breath escape the lungs without pushing it out, when the lungs bottom out take the shot.

3. This one takes a bit of practice, shooting between heartbeats. Set everything up, and squeeze the shot off right after a heart beat. The heartbeat causes a tremendous amount of camera shake in macro so you really want to master this.

Lastly in this installment of macro is how to take the shot. You have two choices:

1. Try to focus and then take the shot (forget auto focus, it just plain does not work in true macro and high magnification shooting.

2. Pre focus on the subject, rock the camera past the focal point and take the shot on the return. This takes a bit of time and effort to master, but you will find that it is very successful technique.

Some shots of my gear and the little ones.

1. Canon 50D, MP-E65, 580EXII mounted on a bracket with a diffuser

IMG_70710.jpg

2.Canon 5DMKII, Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro, MT-24 flash using a twin arm flash bracket.
(I use a larger Novaflex now)

_MG_38640.jpg

3. Microscope objective and extension tubes.

_MG_38710.jpg

3A. Microscope objective and tubes mounted on a 5DMKII _MG_38720.jpg

An ant. MP-E65 @ 5:1

_MG_91840.jpg

A hover fly. MP-E @ 5:1

IMG_7890copy0.jpg

A red dragon fly.

IMG_8158copyo.jpg

Heart of a rose.

IMG_8326o1.jpg


I hope I have been helpful. Until next time, happy shooting.


Thunder.
 
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Nanologist

Thank you for sharing this! Brilliant article and very informative.
 

Thunder_o_b

Thank you for sharing this! Brilliant article and very informative.
Thank you greenbonsaI
 

tyguy7760

Love the thread! Thanks for sharing!
 

KarenSoCal

Thank you so much! Great reading..now to breathing and heartbeats!
 

fredhoon

Awesome article and magnificent shots!

May I inquire as to the best way to avoid reflections off the tank glass when trying to photograph fish? Is a fancy flash required, separate lighting or can a technique be used to minimise reflected glare?
 

Geoff

This was an interesting read! I bought a Canon Rebel T6I almost a year ago with the intent of getting into macro photography. I didn't get very far.
 

Thunder_o_b

Love the thread! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you tyguy

Thank you so much! Great reading..now to breathing and heartbeats!
You are welcome

Awesome article and magnificent shots!

May I inquire as to the best way to avoid reflections off the tank glass when trying to photograph fish? Is a fancy flash required, separate lighting or can a technique be used to minimise reflected glare?
Thank you fredhoon

There are three types of reflected glare when shooting through glass and water:

1. Ambient from house lighting and sunlight. I will turn off the lights that send light to the glass I am photographing through, and use lamps positioned to give added fill light from the sides. Sunlight can be a very serious problem. I often will do my fish photography before I head to work (before sunrise) or when I get home (after sunrise).

2. Flash bounce. A flash is a necessary component. A flash allows you to freeze the motion of the fish and have complete control offer the lighting in the shot. To get around flash bounce glare you have to have the lens hood against the glass or you have to use an off body setup. Off body requires a hot shoe flash in a side bracket (I will look for the shot of the one that I used before going twin head) and the cable link from the camera to the flash. Or as in the case of my avatar shot I handheld the flash over the water to the left at an angle. Hot shoe flashes run from not very expensive to over $1,000 US it all depends on your needs. My main flash is pricy because I do a lot of macro/micro photography that requires a massive amount of light. But for aquarium photography a standard flash will work. Brackets and the cable are not overly expensive at the lower end (under $50.00 US) but can clime to well over $300.00 US.

3. The light in the aquarium (regardless of the source). There are times it will reflect back to the lens then bouncing to the glass and then back through the lens to the sensor. This gives a ghostly crescent .

This was an interesting read! I bought a Canon Rebel T6I almost a year ago with the intent of getting into macro photography. I didn't get very far. emoji53.png
Thank you Geoff

I will be happy to help if I can.
 

Thunder_o_b

Update: This it the Novaflex rig I now use.
1.
_MG_40920_zps73ed1564.jpg


2.This is the single flash rig that I used in the past.
IMG_63660.jpg
 

KarenSoCal

Wow! Now I see how you do such spectacular photos! What a setup. Hubby says I spend too much on the fish...can't imagine what he'd say if I walked in with that! LOL!
 

Thunder_o_b

Wow! Now I see how you do such spectacular photos! What a setup. Hubby says I spend too much on the fish...can't imagine what he'd say if I walked in with that! LOL!
The gear helps, but like most things it is all in how you handle it
 

fredhoon

Thanks for the update Thunder, impressive bit of kit your have there! You've given me some good ideas I can play around with on a budget.
 

Thunder_o_b

Thanks for the update Thunder, impressive bit of kit your have there! You've given me some good ideas I can play around with on a budget.
You are wellcome
 

CheshireKat

I'll have to try the breath and muscle control techniques. I wish I had a better macro lens. The one that came in the camera kit works great for still-life or slow-life, but not so great with constantly moving fish, and especially not with little fish fry. I probably get one or two decent photos out of every ten I take. Actually, it might be a macro filter, not a lens.
I end up with a lot of great random closeups of leaves and substrate because the fish move. Yet when I'm actually trying to get photos of plants, the fish get in the way.
 

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