Aquarium Photography

butterfly Aquarium photography can be truly spectacular. Where else can you take photos of sharks, dolphins, corals, squid, colorful tropical fish, piranha, and even crocodiles without being in any danger and without paying a fortune on airplane tickets and expensive equipment?

There are two main problems with aquarium photography:

  1. The glass between you and the water. The glass can create reflections, like a mirror, which can ruin a photo. Also, if the glass is even slightly dirty the specks of dirt will show in the picture.
  1. Lighting. Aquariums are often quite dark. Your eyes may get used to it very quickly, but your camera could have problems. This can make things a tricky, particularly if you want to take photos of moving fish.

Here are some tips to improving your chances of getting some great shots at the aquarium:

  • If you can, clean the glass. Remember to bring a clean handkerchief or the like. The sleeve of your shirt will do in a pinch.
  • Get up close to the glass - as close as you can. If you are allowed, you actually want the lens to touch the glass. This way you will not get reflections. Also, do not put the lens at an angle to the glass; have it facing straight at it. Shooting at an angle can ruin a photo.
aquarium fish
  • Sometimes the glass can make it difficult for the camera to focus properly. If you camera is not focusing properly through the glass, try use manual focus if your camera has it.
  • For the most part, do not use flash. Unless you know how to set things up correctly, flash will lead to reflections in the glass (of course, there is nothing wrong with a bit of experimentation). If your pictures are coming out too dark, and if your camera allows you to adjust these settings, try setting a slower shutter speed or wider aperture setting (i.e. a lower f-stop number). Slower shutter speeds are good for anything which is NOT moving.
  • Keep the camera steady. This is particularly important if you are using a slower shutter speed. Use a tripod if you have one.
  • For moving fish use a fast shutter speed (e.g. 1/60th of a second) with a wide aperture setting (which you get by setting a lot f-stop number) if your camera allows it.
  • dolphinExperiment with the settings and take lots and lots of pictures. This way you can learn from your mistakes and select the best ones when you get home.
  • Pay attention to the rules! Some aquariums do not allow equipment such as tripods. Others may have rules against flash in some parts of the aquarium. Always follow the rules and ask if you are in doubt.

Aquarium photography is one of the hardest kinds of photography because you have to shoot through both glass and water. These tips will help you get started and with a lot of experimenting and a bit of luck you can get some truly amazing photos!

by Simon James Allanach, edited by Alan Frost
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