Aquarium & Tropical Fish Site

Photographing Tanks and Fish
How I obtained my images on this site

 Age of Aquariums > Aquarium Articles

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My interest in photography started only a short while ago (1997), and it was mostly stimulated by my desire to photograph my tanks and fish. Several aquarium books and net articles describe excellent procedures to take great shots of fish, but I've found them to be quite troublesome for a casual photographer like me. Here's how I do it (I have a Canon EOX RebelX camera with a 35-80 mm lens, plus a common flash and a tripod):

Photographing tanks
When photographing the entire tank, you don't want to use the flash or any "external" lighting, because they'll usually reflect on the front glass. Do it at night, with the entire room in the dark and only the aquarium lights on. This means it will be a low-light shot, and therefore the following details are very important:

  • Use ISO 400 film, better suited for low lighting.
  • Put the camera on a tripod, or on top of any steady surface which can make it point directly to the middle of the tank (both vertical and horizontally). Adjust the zoom or the distance so that the tank fills up as much as possible of the viewscreen.
  • The shot will usually have a long exposure time, so you have to be patient and wait until you find a moment where the fish are almost still. If they move too fast they'll appear as a blur in the photo.

Photographing fish
Now things get a little trickier. Professional photographers have really convenient setups, such as a thin tank just big enough to hold the fish, and placed in front of a nice background (real or picture). A casual photographer like me doesn't want to go through the trouble of removing the fish from the tank just to make the shot, so it has to be done in loco. For that you will need a flash, a steady hand and a lot of patience:

  • An ISO 100 film would be best, but if you still have the ISO 400 loaded from the tank shots, it will do. Adjust your camera to its shortest exposure, since the flash will give you all the light you need, and since it's a close-up shot any fish movement can cause a blur on long exposures.
  • Get yourself a stool and sit in front of the tank with your camera in hands. Your head should be leveled with the water surface. Choose a fish and start following him around through the viewscreen. If your camera has autofocus it really helps because you can keep adjusting it while you wait for the right moment.
  • Shots should be made at an angle with the front glass, otherwise the flash will be reflected on it and into the film.
  • The best shots usually occur when the fish is in the upper front, but still low enough that you can do it with the camera pointing down. This causes the aquarium lights to reflect strongly on the fish and come in your direction. You can define an ideal angle previously, (without holding the camera), by observing the fish from your position and seeing exactly when the aquarium lights make it the most colorful. Then try to wait until it's near that position again for the shot.

Digitalizing Photos
Even when the photos come out looking great, the digitalizing part may not maintain the quality if you don't do it right. There are vast examples around the net of really poor looking images. But if you're careful editing the image it can look as good as the photo or even better, since minor problems in the photos can be corrected. On the other hand, if your tank/fish didn't come out looking nice in the photo, chances are that nothing you do on the image will really get them to look how you want. Here are a few tips:

  • Scan them at the best resolution you have available, with as many colors as possible and a no-compression format (BMP or TIFF). I use an HP Desk Scanner, at 300 DPI and 16.7 million colors. Don't worry about the initial size of the file, you're going to reduce it by a hundredfold in the final JPG format. I save them initially in BMP format, and the typical file size is about 3 Mb.
  • Load the file in an image processing software to do the necessary adjustments. I use Aldus Photostyler and Paint Shop Pro (the latter is shareware and available on the net).
  • Select the part of the image you want to save. If it's a tank, you only want the actual glass frame, showing the inside. If it's a fish, select a frame around it so it will come out centered. You can often make individual images of fish out of a photo containing several together. Copy the selected part into a new window and then "Resample" it to the size you want. For best results in homepages, images should be between 300 and 600 pixels wide.
  • One thing I've noticed is that the scanning process tends to reduce brightness and contrast of the original photo, so the next thing to do is correct this. For best results I usually increase brightness by 10-30% and contrast by 0-10%. Aldus Photostyler also allows you to make minor corrections to focus. Don't be afraid to experiment with the software's resources...you can always undo it!
  • When you're happy with the result, choose "Save As". In the dialog box, select the JPG format. This is the most appropriate file type for photo images. Now look for an "Option" button or similar. This will allow you to choose the compression parameters for the JPG. Low compression (~20) results in high fidelity but huge files, while high compression (60+) gives small files but low quality images. A good compromise is around 40, which is what I normally use.

That's it. Now all you have to do is load them into your website and tell everyone about it!

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