Aquarium Fish Photography Techniques & Guide

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Underwater photography is usually divided into two categories. The first type of underwater photography uses submersible cameras, while the second type of underwater photography refers to underwater pictures that are taken using a non-submersed camera. In the second category will we for instance find all the photographs that aquarists take on their fish from outside the aquarium. At first glance, you might not consider this true underwater photography, but if you wish to take great picture of your aquarium fish you can actually learn a lot from the professional underwater photographers that use submersible cameras. Both types of underwater photography is forced to deal with the fact that light behave differently in water than in air. There are naturally also large differences between the two types of underwater photography. When you photograph your aquarium fish from the outside, you must for instance try to avoid reflections in the glass. This is not a problem when scuba diving photographers use a submersible camera to catch the underwater world.

Photographing fish from outside the aquarium

It is naturally possible to use a submersible camera in an aquarium, but due to practical problems it is not very common. Most pictures of aquarium fish are instead shot from outside the glass, using a normal un-submersible camera.

A high-quality camera is naturally a good thing, but there are several other factors that play vital roles during aquarium photographing as well. A good camera will not automatically produce great photos, and great aquarium pictures can be taken using quite an inexpensive camera if you plan your picture carefully. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that it is harder for light to penetrate water than air. If your aquarium is deep, you might therefore have to use extra lighting if you want the true colours of your fish to show. A 20 inches deep aquarium can need twice as strong lighting as a 10 inches deep aquarium.

A second factor to take into account is the water quality. When you take fish pictures in the sea or in a lake, you can’t do much about the water quality except for trying not to disturb the silt. When you are photographing fish in your own aquarium, the water quality is however completely in your hands. Floating debris in the water can be devastating for an otherwise great picture. A problem with floating debris is that it is often very complicated and time consuming to remove digitally. By making sure that the water in the aquarium is clear before you start taking pictures, you can therefore save your self a lot of time and effort.

One way of lowering the amount of floating debris is to make a larger water change. Do not make this change right before the photo session, since a water change can disturb the substrate and temporarily make the water even more clouded. You can also carefully vacuum the substrate to remove debris. Just like a water change, vacuuming will disturb the debris and you must give the remaining debris time to settle before you start photographing. If you keep fish species that are very sensitive to rapid changes, a large water change can however be harmful. A series of smaller water changes is then recommended, and you should try to make the new water as similar to the aquarium water as possible when it comes to temperature, hardiness etcetera. Most fish species will however appreciate a bigger water change and can even start displaying stronger colours afterwards.

Floating debris might look bad on a picture, but it is seldom dangerous for your fish. Another type of poor water quality is high levels of soluble waste in the aquarium, and this type of poor water quality is much more hazardous to your fish. This type of bad water quality can be really harmful and even lethal. Even if the concentrations of soluble waste in your aquarium are not high enough to kill your fish or make them seriously ill, it can cause them to loose their colours. If you think that your fish look dull and listless, you should therefore check the levels of ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. By constantly keeping these levels as close to zero as possible, you can make your fish develop much more vibrant colours that will look stunning at your fish photographs. Taking great fish photos is really a long term project. A nutritious diet and a well decorated and stress-free aquarium environment that induces breeding can also greatly improve the coloration of your fish.

When you know that you have an aquarium with supreme water quality, the next step is to give the glass a good clean. You can of course remove the lid and take photographs from above, but most aquarists wish to be able to photograph their fish from the sides as well. This means that dirt and algae on the glass might show up on the photograph and a good scrub is therefore necessary. Keep in mind that a camera is very unforgiving and can make tiny spots and stains visible. Algae are hopefully only present on the inside of the glass, but the outside can still be speckled with dirt, dust and fingerprints, so don’t forget to clean the outside of the glass as well.

Photographing fish using a submersible camera

The submersible camera is not frequently used for taking pictures of fish inside aquariums; it is instead popular among snorklers and scuba divers. Many snorklers purchase practical and inexpensive waterproof cameras, but these cameras are usually not strong enough for a scuba diving adventure. The traditional single-use underwater camera that you can buy in most seaside resorts will typically only withstand the water pressure down to 5-10 meters. If you want to go deeper, you will need a sturdier form of camera housing. A camera house is a plastic container that you place a traditional camera in. It is important that you purchase a camera house that has been made to fit your particular camera.

Just like the aquarium photographer, the snorkling or scuba diving photographer must remember that it is harder for light to penetrate water than air. The deeper you go the less sunlight will reach you. It is also common for underwater pictures to become blue, since light that has travelled far down into the deep will bring out different colours than light at the surface. A fish that would look red at the surface can therefore look almost blue further down.

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