How Do I Photograph Tropical Fish?

Photographing tropical fish can be tricky, but is surprisingly rewarding! I took the opportunity to take my kids to the local aquarium and here are the results. How do you photograph tropical fish in their tanks? Read on for a few tips…

1. Use a medium ISO level.

Okay, okay…. so a lot of you are thinking, “What the actual eff is an ISO?!” Well if you have a DSLR camera, there will be an ISO setting that you can change. This is simply the sensitivity of the sensor to light. If you are shooting outside in full sunshine, you’ll want that puppy on about 100. If you are shooting indoors on a sunny day, you’ll probably get away with about 400. However, if you are shooting in a dimly lit aquarium with lots of glowing neon lights, you’re looking at a minimum of 1600.

Now, this is where things get a little tricky. If your camera isn’t advanced enough, an ISO setting this high will cause your images to look grainy, but if you lower the number, the images come out too dark. Also not ideal. Your best bet is to make sure that you place your focus points on the fish in the brightest looking tanks, lower your ISO number and focus on the fish inside the tank.

Sound like I’m talking in a different language? Grab your camera and practice it at home. Turn the lights off and take a photo of the TV. Notice that the picture will be perfectly exposed if you focus on the screen? Now do the same thing but focus on the frame of the TV, or on the darkness outside of the screen. Notice how suddenly the screen is super bright with no detail in it? That’s what I mean. Same principal applies to the tropical fish tank. (Top Tip: The TV needs to be switched ON for this experiment).

2. Avoid flash.

It may be tempting to switch on your auto flash during this visit, but I implore you not to. Due to the reflective nature of the scales you’ll be photographing, the flash will just light them up like a road safety vest. It will bleach out the natural, bright and beautiful colours of the fish that you are trying to photograph. Which kind of defeats the object. Always use the available (ambient) light that you have available to you in the aquarium. You will get much better results.

3. Use your lens hood.

If you have a DSLR, the lens it comes with will most likely have a lens hood. It is beneficial to use your hood, right up against the glass of the tank to block out any reflections. One of the biggest issues I had was tackling the new, swanky (I can think of another word), CURVED tanks and its crazy reflection problem. You’ll see that I didn’t quite manage to get rid of the streaks of light on some of the images. It’s no huge deal when shooting for myself, but if I was shooting commercially, this would need to be rectified.

You can actually buy rubber lens hoods for most of your lenses (if you have a DSLR) which will help you to close the gaps around the glass and will not scratch or damage the tank surface in any way. If you are using a regular point and shoot camera, this will be much more tricky. You could try getting as close as you can to the glass before taking your picture, and maybe shielding the worst of the reflections with your hand.

4. Respect your subjects.

This goes without saying, but please make sure you respect your subjects. Avoid hitting/tapping the glass both with your lens hood (remember the rubber ones), or indeed with your finger. This can alarm the fish and cause them great stress. As mentioned before, please also avoid using flash as this will have the same effect.

neon green jellyfish circle

5. Check your shutter speed.

As well as adjusting your ISO settings to let in the available light, you will also want to check your shutter speed. I found that I really couldn’t drop below 1/250 of a second without risking motion blur. The brighter tanks will be easier to shoot and will allow you to increase you shutter speed to one which will freeze the fish in motion (if that is what you wish to do).

So, how do you photograph tropical fish? It all sounds a little complicated, but in reality shooting in an aquarium is pretty straight-forward and can be incredibly rewarding. The colours and textures combined make for a potentially incredible image.

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