So now let’s talk about what makes a great aquarium photo!
Yes, that’s right, putting people in the scene adds something quite special to the photo. Usually a silhouette. Here are some awesome photos as example:
Aquarium photography has a lot more problems to deal with than the Zoo. Let’s explore these and I will share with you my top tips.
1. Glass & rounded glass
Aquarium “glass” nowadays is acrylic and very thick. The thickness of the acrylic can cause all kinds of problems. Also, it will usually have scratches and a green tinge. To get around this I use a lens with the shallow depth of field (f1.8 / f2.8) this helps the glass “disappear” as well as letting in the most available light. Also you can fix the chromatic aberration in LR with a click of a button.
People are everywhere and usually wearing white or bright colours. Also, many modern aquariums have LED lights now causing more problems, especially white balance. To get around reflections, use a rubber lens hood. This sort of sucks up to the glass and blocks most reflections. I say most because they do creep on you! Plastic lens hood has gaps in them and let all kinds of problems into the scene. Also waiting for people to move / changing your place / using people’s reflection if they are wearing black (I do this very often actually.)
3. Low light
Low light is your enemy and your best friend at the aquarium. You of course you have the benefit of being able to get great low key shots easily, but at the same time you have the huge problem of a very slow shutter speed. Usually I will try and take a photo of the fish when it is sideways to me. It seems to bounce off the light and with spot metering you can usually get away with a shutter speed of 1/125 or more! (more on settings below)
The easiest way to avoid this, is to be totally perpendicular to the glass. Also, you can easily fix this in LR.
5. White balance
White balance is a big problem in aquariums. You can simply use auto (I KNOW) and then fix it in your post work or you can take a photo of something grey in similar light and set it as your white balance. If you are not sure how to do that, check your camera manual or take a trip to YouTube. I find auto works well or daylight. It really depends on the subject and situation.
6. Tripod / monopod
Can you use a tripod at your local aquarium? Well some do let you use your tripod / monopod but if it gets busy, they will ask you to stop using it. I think that is rather fair. If you are asked to stop using it, please do respect their wishes. In that case I will then hold my camera against the glass / acrylic with a little more weight behind it as well as really positioning myself in a sturdy position. I can usually get away with 1/50 or more without shake.
So, we get to settings. Before I start on settings, these are what I usually use. They may not work for you. All aquariums are different, so it is quite impossible to give settings that will work in every situation. I am giving you the ball park settings, so please adjust as you see fit.
– as open as possible. F1.8 50mm is a great lens for aquarium. 16-35mm f2.8 is my go-to lens.
– Now some people will use auto for this, but I tend not to as auto thinks “yeeha party time and goes to its max” so play around with it until you can get away with 1/125 or more. My camera seems to be happy at around ISO 4000. While I appreciate that is a high ISO, there are many noise reduction software companies around. I suggest you find one with taking aquarium photography. I won’t promote any companies here (unless they pay me) if you would like to share your favourite software for noise reduction, please do leave it in the comments section. - I try for around 1/125 or more if I can
The forgotten hero! On light or shiny fish, I will use spot metering, this will give you the highest shutter speed as it only measures 3 – 5% of the scene. If the scene is evenly lit, I will switch to evaluative or centre weighted.–
Some more wonderful aquarium shots...
So, these are my top tips. I really do hope you enjoyed this article, it means a lot to me that you can take something away from it. These are things I have learnt over time and I am more than happy to pass them along. I find tips on the internet are all well and good but actual tried and tested are better!
I'm looking forward to see your aquarium photography!
Thank you David to include my photograph
My pleasure, Ganjar :)
I feel a beautiful quiet world. In aquariums we can have a silent conversation with the fish. The pictures make me feel about a silent world. Teaching his techniques are very nice as most people don’t want to tell other people. Thank you so much David
Thank you Sachi :) your words are appreciated.
Raul Alberdi PRO
Thanks a lot David. After reading your article I had the idea of going to the aquarium of my city to take photographs. The article is fun, and full of beautiful photos. I'll spend a few fun hours thanks to you. I am new in 1X and I will continue more time if I read more articles as that Thanks a lot
Raul, I cannot express how happy I am to hear that. This is why I write these articles. Inspiring people to try something new, to bring joy to people that capture stunning shots. I really look forward to seeing your aquarium work!!! Enjoy!
Andi Halil PRO
Thanks so much. I have 3 Photos here...its amazing
Andi, our pleasure. Amazing work and well deserved. Best regards, David
Miro Susta CREW
Excellent article David; beautiful photo selection. I appreciate your tips. Must try it at the next opportunity. Thank you and Yvette for publishing this jewel of photography; and congratulations to all contributing authors.
Thank you very much, Miro! I appreciate it very much :)
Thanks dear Miro! Have a great Sunday, my friend!
Mike Kreiten CREW
Like you, I like motivating people trying something new. I was in Valencia last year and had the plan to do some great shots in the L’Oceanogràfic. They have these tunnels where you are surrounded by sharks, turtles and other spectacular animals. So what I read in your article are all the obstacles I faced, indeed.
You mentioned aberration, that in fact killed so many shots I had. It's not like a regular wide angle aberration, it's far more extreme. What I ended up with is jellyfish-shots, very nice ones, which you can take at a right angle to the glass, the only usable shots. Indirectly you mentioned it with your rubber lens cap, you can only g straight through the glass, a fine idea btw.!
Thank you for encouraging members, 1x is an inspiring source for so many new things.
Mike, thank you very much for your kind words. This is excatly why I write this. It is very difficult to get around all the obstacles. When I first went to take photos at an aquarium I was cocky. I thought “yep camera, lens, tripod, timer, lens hood and good to go........ nope. I was missing experience and knowledge. Literally standing there fumbling around with settings and coming out with blurry, terrible shots. So yes, encouraging other 1X members to try aquarium photography is my goal. From that I hope some people discover it’s for them and fall in love with sea life, even work towards actual underwater photography. Thanks again :)
Dear David! Your fears are in vain. A year ago, at the pet store, I tried to shoot an aquarium and I must admit that the results were not very pleasant for me. After reading your beautiful article, and selected beautifully photos I will try again. Not tomorrow, but I will not forget, will try :-). Thank you very much and one more special thanks to Yvette for the variety of topics in the magazine. I do not know why I have not read it before :-) All the best. Vlad.
Vladimir thank you so much for reading this article and we are happy you are reading the 1X magazine. Yvette does a great job putting it all together. Please do try aquarium photography again. It’s not easy but with my tips, you should be able to come away with some stunning shots. Thanks again!
Thanks for your appreciation, dear David ;-)
Thanks for sharing your best tips, David! Wonderful selection of aquarium shots... Congratulations to all the authors. I wish you all a wonderful weekend ahead! Cheers, Yvette
Thank you very much, Yvette :) I hope people can take something away from it :)!