Aquariums are wondrous places to visit and even more incredible to photograph. Unfortunately, capturing stunning photographs at an aquarium can be very difficult, especially if you are new to photography. The good news is that you can get those beautiful aquarium pictures with the right tips. So here are 7 tips to help you capture great aquarium photos.
Don’t use a flash
First of all, don’t ever use a flash in aquariums. Not only can this distress the fish and spoil other people’s enjoyment, but a flash in this setting is completely useless. The only thing that you will achieve by using a flash is the light bouncing off the display glass and back into your camera. So you will end up with a washed-out image and a big white blob on the glass. So turn your flash off and keep reading for the way to photograph in aquariums.
Dealing with reflections
Easily, the biggest challenge that you will face when photographing aquariums is dealing with the reflections. The lights in the aquarium can easily reflect off the glass. Then there is also the reflection of people walking past. So there are plenty of things that can reflect as you take photos, which is why it’s essential that you do what you can to block these reflections.
The first thing you can do is to use a lens hood. The only problem is that you need to put the lens and hood right up against the glass on the tank to get the most use of them. If you use a hard-plastic lens hood, this cannot be pressed up against the tank. It will slip around and more importantly, it will scratch or damage the glass. Instead, use a rubber lens hood which is inexpensive to buy. Just be sure that you get the right lens hood for your lens.
A polarizer can help
Sometimes you may want to take a photo of a display from further back to get a bigger view. A lens hood won’t really help in this scenario. Instead, use a polarizing filter which might help cut out some of the reflections in the glass. You may have to bide your time and wait for a moment when there are no people in your way or walking behind you (to avoid reflections).
Aquariums are low light conditions and often they won’t allow tripods inside so your settings will be very limited. You also have an extreme of contrasts to deal with as well. In that, the displays are often bright and the surrounding areas are dark. One way to combat this is in the way you compose your shot (more on that later).
As for your settings, some things are unavoidable. You will most likely have to raise your ISO to be able to have a shutter speed fast enough for handheld photography. But you don’t need a deep depth of field so can afford to select a fairly wide aperture. This should help keep your ISO low enough for acceptable amounts of noise. You should also set your focus mode to continuous so that you can track and focus the fish that is your point of interest.
Dealing with low depth of field
As previously mentioned you’ll be using a shallow depth of field which can impact your focus. You will generally use an aperture of between f/2.8 and f/5.6 in an aquarium, which will give you a shallower depth of field. As a photographer, you have to be creative with how you deal with that. Otherwise, you may find that the parts of your photo that you wanted to be sharp are not. The orientation of the fish to the lens can also impact the sharpness. For instance, if you take a picture of the fish from the side, the entire fish will be in focus. However, if you take a picture of the fish front on, then just the face might be sharp if you are using f/2.8 or a wider aperture. So make sure you are focusing on the correct part of the image if you are using wide apertures.
By their nature, aquariums are limiting in terms of composition options. The obvious answer is to get your camera as close to the tank as possible and take photos. The issue with this is that if the tank is large you only get a small portion of it in your shot. Another option is to stand back so that you fill the entire frame with the display. This can look very impressive on large tanks where you have those bigger fish. It also combats the issue that you will have in avoiding the areas outside the tank being too dark.
The problem you have in trying to capture the display and the surrounding areas is that the displays are bright and so exposing for them will mean everything else being underexposed. By filling the frame you don’t have to worry about the surrounding areas.
There are also times where you may want to include some of the foreground because a person is standing there and it gives your photo a sense of scale. In this scenario, the best option is to expose for the tank and allow the person to appear as a silhouette. If you want to capture some detail in the person then my suggestion would be that you take multiple photos at different exposure and stack them (known as HDR). As mentioned earlier, just don’t use your flash!
Practice at home
Like all photography, the more you practice your aquarium photography the better you will become. This is something you can also practice at home just not of the same scale as an aquarium. If you have an aquarium at home or even just a goldfish, you can wait until nighttime, dim the lights and practice taking shots. Even if you don’t have fish you can just fill up a glass bowl or container, tie something heavy to an object that floats and drop it in the water. Ideally, you want the object you are going to be photographing to submerged. You can also use your finger to swirl the water so that the object is moving around a little.
By following these tips and practising, you can get those stunning aquarium pictures when you are there. You will face some unique challenges when working in an aquarium, but these tips can help you overcome some of these challenges to get wonderful aquarium photographs.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.