AQUARIUM PHOTOGRAPHY – HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH YOUR FISH AND TANK PART 2

THIS IS the second part of A COMPREHENSIVE TUTORIAL TO HELP YOU GET BEAUTIFUL, PROFESSIONAL LOOKING PHOTOGRAPHS OF YOUR FISH AND YOUR AQUARIUM.  

It would be utterly wonderful if I could now present you with the ultimate recipe for fish and aquarium photography. Unfortunately no such recipe exists. How could it? Tanks differ as much as people do, and so do the equipment they have. But there are guidelines! And those guidelines come to us via other successful aquarium and fish photographers.

In PART 1  of How To Photograph Your Fish and Aquarium, we concentrated on the technical aspects of attaining successful photography. Now in PART 2, we finally venture into the creative aspect.

So are you ready for a photo shoot? Have you done your homework?

Then let us first look at what you will need to do, or consider before you set up  an actual shoot.

PREPARING FOR A SHOOT

The week before: Preparing your aquarium

If you have an ugly tank, all you will end up with is a good photograph of an ugly tank. If you have never aquascaped before, now may be the time to start! We have excellent articles on creating a variety of beautiful tanks right here, on this site, under the Aquascaping drop-down menu. If you already have a scaped tank, give it a critical once-over. Take the time to freshen up the interior of you aquarium. Add some fresh greens to your tank. Live plants are best! Move rocks into a photogenic arrangement. Freshen up your substrate if necessary. Clean the algae line on your substrate at the front of the tank. Also tend to the background of your tank. It is one of the most important aesthetic elements of your tank and your photography! Find a way to hide any dangling equipment behind your tank —even if it is just with a sheet of black paper.

If you have a planted tank, prune and clean up. Use a toothbrush to remove algae from your feature rocks. After all, you do keep an aquarium for your own enjoyment, don’t you? And is this not what you want to reflect?

The day before: Preparing your aquarium

Clean your aquarium from top to bottom, inside and out, including the top glass if you have it in your tank. Even if your aquarium looks 100% clean to your eyes, the camera sees much more accurately than your eyes and will pick up every single smear, scratch and fingerprint. Remember, you are going to add a lot of light, which will emphasize any dust or dirt. You don’t want to spend all the time and effort photographing and then find out that there is patch of dirt you have to retouch in your photograph.

For reef tanks in particular, coralline algae on the front glass can create a huge disadvantage. When you handhold your camera and chase that extremely hard to get into the frame wrasse, many of you will in all probability want to switch your lens/camera to autofocus. But those algae spots on the glass forces your camera’s focusing system to “hunt” for a focus point because it has that visual distraction of coralline algae closest to the lens. So be especially diligent in cleaning your glass.

To remove as much dirt as possible from the aquarium, do a partial water change. Murky water is not pretty and you camera will pick up every speck floating in the water. Trust me, there will still be plenty to retouch afterward, you’ll see. The plus is that water changes also tend to bring out the colours in many fish species, but do not overdo it, because too large a change may do exactly the opposite for finicky species that dislike sudden changes. Changing water a day in advance will give your fish plenty of time to enjoy the positive  effect of clean water and to start flaunting their colours. Some species will even go into spawning mode the day after a major water change — and what more could you want than spawning behaviour as a subject!

Vacuum your gravel or substrate and where necessary re-level, re-arrange or top up the substrate. Then remove as much loose or floating debris as possible. This will improve the water clarity and minimize the possibility of floating debris in your photographs. Now let your tank filter and settle overnight. If you have access to a diatom or micron filter, run it as well to remove the fine particulate within the aquarium. These filters give aquarium water a bright, polished look.

Lastly, an obvious, but often forgotten task: Get your photo gear together. Charge your camera batteries! And if you shoot digital, empty your memory cards!

Preparing the Room

Preparing your aquarium room may not be something you would have thought of, or even considered important, but remember, glass is highly reflective. If the room where your aquarium is housed receives a lot of natural light, you may want to shoot only after dark. In fact, I usually recommend this. Bright natural light can cause plenty of unwanted reflections on aquarium glass. For the same reason, also turn off any lights, televisions, or monitors in the room while you shoot. Generally, making the room as dark as possible will give you the best results.

Get your fish acquainted with the camera. Set up your tripod and mounted camera in front of your aquarium. Now leave it. For as long as possible — several days would be ideal, but may not always be practical. Nevertheless, fish are intelligent. The purpose of this exercise is to get the fish used to seeing this ‘thing’ you are constantly moving around and pointing at them. When they realise that it represents no danger to them, they will soon relax and possibly even come to the front of the tank to inspect what is going on, because fish are also curious

Finally, just before you start the session, clean the outside of the aquarium glass once more. I like to use vinegar on a cloth, because it is non-toxic. If you choose to use a window cleaning product, spray it onto your towel, rather than directly onto the glass, as it is deadly to fish and the spray may waft into the tank. (Saltwater tanks with protein skimmers are especially vulnerable, as the skimmer will literally inject the spray fumes into the water.)

 On the day of the shoot

Feed your fish in the morning, and only as much as they can gobble up quickly. You do not want to have stray food to show up later on your pictures. Also, as all fish keepers know, feeding inevitably goes hand in hand with pooping. If you feed early in the morning any poop will have settled by the time you begin your shoot. Then only feed again after the shoot.  Your fish will not die if they have to wait for a feeding.

If you feed your fish regularly, they will be conditioned to appear at the front of the tank at the usual time. If you have not fed them and they are hungry, it is more likely than not that they will come to inspect you and the front of the tank  to scout out whether you have any food on offer. What an opportunity! Use it! Be ready and set up!

Is there a best time of day for aquarium photography? You bet! As we have seen, any ambient light in the room is a problem, since it can interact with the glass of the tank and create unwanted reflections in your picture. So the best time to shoot is in the evening, a little before your fish begin to eye their usual night-time hides. If you can, also turn off the room lights so that the only illumination is coming from inside the tank itself — and from the lights you will be setting up.

A darkened room has an added benefit. The lights in your aquarium are sufficiently bright to let you focus on your subject, but the darkness of the room helps minimise the visual contact of the fish with you, resulting in a much more natural looking shot.

Before you begin taking photographs, remove all distracting and unsightly hardware like filter pipes and heaters from your tank, so that you know the backgrounds of your aquarium photos will be clean and simple. These are usually easy to remove and later re-install.

Also turn off the pumps, wave-makers and aerators in your tank! You absolutely do not want turbulence or fine bubbles in the water for your shoot. Still water will help prevent unplanned movement (for example waving plant fronds) which can result in blurring, and it also allows any floating debris to settle. Just make sure to turn the pumps on again at the end of your shoot!

Photographing Fish vs. Photographing a Whole Aquarium

At this point we reach divergent paths. The techniques for photographing fish or aquariums do not differ vastly, except for the choice of lenses and the amount of light required. But even if your prime interest is to photograph you tank, you may well want to photograph subjects like plants or corals in your tank closer up, so you can still benefit from from understanding close-up photography and following the tips below.

FISH AS SUBJECT MATTER

In my experience, most fish lovers want to capture close-ups of their favourite fish. Reef enthusiasts want to show off their fish and corals, while planted tank aficionados want to show how their plants grow and flourish. Whichever one you are, hopefully you have ensured that the background for your images will not distract from the main subject of your photo — your fish, coral or plants. Simple clean backgrounds should complement your subject and allow it to stand out in the photograph. If the background looks too busy, you could choose to blur it in camera by using a wide aperture and a narrow depth of field.

Catching YOUR Fish IN YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

The best single piece of advice remains this: to mount your camera on a tripod. Despite the seemingly bright lights in a tank, it’s actually pretty dark in there, a mere fraction of the brightness outdoors in daylight. Putting the camera on a tripod helps stabilize it and reduces the jitters, particularly when you want to use  shutter speeds slower than 1/200, or for cameras that do not offer you the fast shutter speeds that are ideal. Provided you do not clamp your camera down, you can still move it sideways.

If you are absolutely uncomfortable with a tripod, at least switch on your image stabiliser or vibration control.

Tempting though it may be, do not feed your fish while photographing them. Yes they will come out and pose, but it fouls the water you have so carefully cleaned and on photography it looks horrible.

THE PRIMARY RULE: Know the Behaviour of your Fish

Instead of feeding to entice your fish into view, know the behaviour of your fish. You’ll find that you’ll take more successful photos of your fish if you study their habits before you pick up your camera and start clicking away. Many fish have favourite spots in the aquarium where they most often hang out, others are territorial and stay put around their ‘homes’. Also, at night they tend to hang around close to where they usually go to sleep. Many fish also have regular swimming patterns, or some other predictable habit that allows you to be ready with your camera in the right place, at the right time. Bubble nest builders and labyrinth fish often go to the surface. Hristo Hristoph, my absolute favourite fish photographer,  made use of this habit and ended with this stunning shot below!

Please note that to help you we are using the brilliant work of Hristo with his kind permission – but that all his photographs are copyrighted. Therefore kindly refrain from copying these photographs from our site!

 

This rule is true of most photographic activity. You have to study your subject in its environment, even if you shoot inanimate subjects. Study the actions and interactions of your fish. Then carefully move your tripod into position, once you have a composition in mind. Move slowly and deliberately with your camera set-up. Remember, your fish can see you. Any sudden motion could startle them and ruin your opportunity. Some photographers like to use a square of black board with a cut out hole through which the camera lens can fit, in the effort to reduce reflection of the camera in the glass – but also to ‘hide’ behind, so that their fish cannot see them during the shoot. Personally, I find this cumbersome, but others have found this helpful.

Set your camera and tripod up fairly close to the tank. For fish portraits, you will be working in macro mode.  If you have a more sophisticated camera, you will probably be shooting with a macro lens, or alternatively with extension tubes, and magnifying diopters. For simpler cameras you need to turn on the macro mode, which is usually identified by a little picture of a tulip. Macro mode allows your camera to focus on subjects that are very close to the lens, usually 20—25 cm.  (Experiment beforehand, to see how close to the glass you need to get for the camera’s focusing system to lock onto the fish.) Depending on your camera, you might have to get within a just few centimetres of the glass, or set up as much as 25—30cm. away.

With you camera on a tripod you are then left with two choices:

Choice 1:  Don’t clamp the tripod down. Leave the head of the tripod loose, so you can ‘pan’ around the tank freely. When a fish swims by, pan the camera to track the fish and when in focus, click the shutter release. With a little practice, you can get a sharp image of the fish with a motion-blurred background. Once you have found the find the right zone to position your tripod, get comfortable and, with the camera set to a moderate zoom level, start tracking fish. As one passes in front of your camera, or perhaps against a nice, contrasting set of colours, gently press the shutter release — and continue moving the camera on the tripod to try to track the fish through the short exposure. Sometimes the fish will pause and allow you to take a shot in a relatively low-lit area that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to get, except when using this method. Do not forget to try out the focus lock method, or servo focus for multiple images.

Choice 2: If you have studied the behaviour of your fish, you may well know exactly where they are likely to be repeatedly. In that case you may want set up your tripod and camera in such a way that you can pre-focus on that specific spot, and then wait patiently for the fish to enter the ‘shot’. In that case no panning is needed. (I use this method often, and have added a cable release to my camera so that I can release the shutter without moving much or disturbing the fish. Note that a brand name remote release cable can be expensive; you can find much cheaper options, called ‘chinese triggers’. ) The plus of this method is that if you have sophisticated DSLR camera, you can use its autofocus (AF) points. By selecting a suitable AF point, you can shoot with autofocus while framing the subject. If you then choose the servo locked focus for multiple images, you can rely on all pictures being in focus without having to fuss about, as the camera will maintain your focal length at the desired distance from your subject until you choose to disengage it. This prevents you from having to move the camera constantly and makes for a more restful shoot. Species like Gouramies are usually more sedate and make wonderful subjects for the ‘out-wait them’ technique.

Of course you will not remain in one static mode for the entire shoot. So keep these following tips in mind.

When photographing a fish always sharp focus on the eye of the subject.

Try to frame your fish so that you are either at eye level, or shooting ever so slightly down or up toward it, in which case the fish should be ever so slightly lower or higher than the camera lens. In the latter way, the overhead aquarium lights will reflect off the fish and toward the camera. That makes the best use of light and will give you the fastest shutter speed, as well as the best overall colour.

Wait, wait, and wait…  until your fish moves against a contrasting background for the best shot. This will make its colors pop and its shape show up much better.

If your fish has elaborate fins, try to take a picture with its fins flared, rather than folded fins. A famous trick that works best in smaller aquariums and with male fish  is to position a small mirror so that your fish can see itself. The fish interprets its reflection as an interloper, and will in all probability immediately engage in a territorial or dominance display! Also, if you have a very wide aquarium, you’ll want to wait for the fish to swim as close to the front as possible. The more water between you and your subject, the more distorted your photo will be.

Always shoot towards the centre bottom part of the tank.  There are two reasons for this. The first is that you will not get a false reading from the light, nor will you get a reflection from the surface of the water. The second is that by shooting towards the centre you don’t get a reflection from the tank’s sides. This ensures that the photos of your fish will have a certain depth and look natural.

Try to photograph only one species at a time — or at least to have only one species in the frame at a time. Because a photograph is static, a mix somehow never really looks natural in a shot. But also take more than one photograph of any particular subject. Shoot from different positions and distances from the tank. This will give you more than one photo to choose from.

Always be aware of what is going on outside of the frame. You may be lined up for a perfect shot, only to have it ruined by another fish swimming into view just as you release the shutter. Or you may have a partner fish about to swim into the same focal point  and depth of view ‘slice’, allowing you that rarest of all photographs, namely two of the same species perfectly in focus in one shot!

Never shoot a fish that is swimming away or fleeing from the camera lens. What is the point of the backside of the fish? Such photos are never engaging or interesting. Don’t even bother wasting your time and energy on subjects that obviously cannot possibly be a photographic success. Rather re-position and wait for the next opportunity to come along.

Always try to avoid photographing the substrate against the glass, unless you specifically want to show a species that naturally lives in or on it. Plants, leaves, driftwood and  rocks are usually good, but try to avoid the most common background, namely your gravel. This sin is committed often, because it is usually a lot easier to shoot fish against gravel, but having a gravel background in every shot gets rather monotonous, and is a sure sign of amateur photography. The other drawback is that fish tend to dampen down their colours when they are on gravel, usually to appear less conspicuous. The urge to camouflage themselves is hard-wired into their brains. Look at the difference between the two shots below. Both are of Killifish, except that Hristo Hristov took the first shot of the fish on gravel at a species show, under less than ideal circumstances, while the second is taken in his aquarium, swimming freely.  The first shot is good enough for identification, but the second shot depicts the vivacity and intricacy of this tiny species’ colours. What a difference!

Nevertheless, gravel can be useful if you happen to have a SLR camera, for if you make a light reading in your tank, it is best done either off the gravel, or off some dense vegetation, pointing the camera slightly downward to avoid getting a false reading from the overhead lights.

Ensure that you never have the aquarium overhead light(s) in view. Not only will this give you a false light reading, but the resultant photograph will be horribly underexposed.

Try to stay as still as possible. Using a tri-pod is always a good idea for both macro and full tank shots, but bracing yourself on a stool, chair or table will greatly help you to remain relaxed when you are hand-holding your camera.

Additional tips for full tank shots

To photograph the entire tank at once, use most of the preceding advice. Put the camera on a tripod, and turn off the flash. Leave the room lights off, close shutters and curtains, and make sure that no lights, windows, or otherwise unnoticed polished surfaces are reflecting off your tank. Wearing dark clothing will also ensure that YOU yourself do not create a reflection.

Frame the tank in the viewfinder, making very sure that the image is straight and that the bottom of the tank is perfectly parallel with the bottom of the viewfinder. To avoid shaking the camera during the exposure, use either a cable release or the camera’s self-timer mode. After you activate it, back away from the camera so you don’t jostle it accidentally while the picture is taken.

And guys, if you have planted tanks, do not only take shots of the whole tank. Look for the incredible beauty within! All big scenes are made up of many tiny scenes, as well as some beautiful details we seldom spend time looking for. Hristo Hristov’s beautiful shots below of CO2 pearling and a flowering Madagascar Lace plant aptly demonstrate just what incredible artworks can be attained! And consider this: none of the subjects were moving – so we are talking about easy to focus on subjects!

 

Composing your shots

The ultimate, and easiest to remember composition principal is the Rule of Thirds. Some cameras even come with a built-in Rule of Thirds grid you can activate if you so wish.

The Rule of Thirds helps lead the way for the human eye to see and process the scene — but specifically helps us to direct the viewer’s eye where we as photographers want it to go. When we look at a photograph, we instinctively focus on certain parts first and only “read” the rest of the picture later. But the Rule of Thirds actually directs where the human eye goes first and next, and next.

The Rule of Thirds is an imaginary grid that divides the scene to into three identical parts both vertically and horizontally, so creating nine equal rectangles. At the points where the vertical lines cross with horizontal lines,  we find the ideal focus points, or as they are generally known in photo jargon,  ‘the sweet spots’. The idea is to frame the scene so that the objects you want your viewer to focus attention on are positioned on the crossings of the lines. That in some magical way makes the picture more interesting to a viewer. In general, a photo framed following the rule of thirds stands out of the crowd and is much easier for an observer to remember.

Just so, the lines are also of importance, although this is less so for our particular purposes. In everyday photography, the lines generally help depict the strongest points at which to place horizontal or vertical elements of a composition. It is also useful to use ‘line of sight’ positioning, meaning the line along which a subject’s eye travels … until it rests on what it looks at, or leaves the frame.

For fish photography it does, however, matter on which point you place your subject, or its most important part. While any of the points/lines will add emphasis to your subject, some points/lines are stronger than others. When an object is alone in an image, the strongest position is the left hand line and the upper left hand sweet spot. There is a quite interesting exception in the case of cultures where information is read right to left, because in those those cases the right hand line is considered the strongest.

The rule also changes when you are dealing with more than one subject in the same frame, because in that case a hierarchy of image strength comes into being. The subject in the foreground will naturally have more strength than the subject in the background. However, skilfully used, the rule of thirds placement can either emphasize,  or reduce this strength. In the case of multiple subjects, the bottom right point is the strongest, while the upper left point becomes the weakest.

Another general rule within the Rule of Thirds is that your subject should be placed on the opposite line of the direction it is looking towards. But this rule can be broken in certain circumstances, and certainly is often broken with fish photography,  where both eyes at the same is a rarity, except for the occasional full frontal face shots.

Always remember that the Rule of Thirds is just a guide. You do not have to place your focal points exactly according to the grid lines sweet spots. More or less does it too!

 In the image below, Hristo placed the eye of the fish on the upper left ‘sweet spot’ of the Rule of Thirds. Try as you may to see the fish in its entirety, your eyes always begin reading from the eye of the fish! From an aesthetic point of view one could ask the question: Does the blurry fish in the background help or hinder the photograph? My instinct would be to remove it in post production. Others disagree and says it adds to the ‘authenticity of the shot. What do you think?

 

Now compare the dynamics of the composition with the eye of the tetra on the lower left hand sweet spot. For me, this shot has a more intimate feel, as if the fish is trying to communicate with the viewer.  Nevertheless, the rule of thirds makes both of the exposures successful.

However, all rules are made to be broken and rule of thirds is no exception. Frequently a centrally placed shot is just great,  and really needs no further changes. Other times it really is better to place the focus point somewhere else in the frame, simply to tell a different story. The more you shoot and analyse your shots, the more your own eye for composition will develop

There is however one principal rule that needs to be obeyed in all live animal subject photography : Always sharp focus on the subject’s eyes! This rule should never be broken. So, always make absolutely sure to focus on the eye when shooting fish, or on the mouth/center of a coral polyp when shooting corals. It is not always easy to achieve, especially in fish sessions, but a properly focused picture, and especially a properly focused fish picture with a sharply focused eye makes an enormous difference in the final image, as so skilfully demonstrated by Hristo in the shot below.

Generally speaking, fish and coral photography benefits from narrower apertures where most of the scene is relatively sharp and in focus, because reef creatures are so fantastically shaped and colourful, that it becomes almost mandatory to show all of it in your photographs. Unfortunately lighting conditions in tanks are often less than perfect and using a combination of small apertures and fast shutter speeds frequently makes it impossible without sacrificing something in image quality. That is why it is so very important to focus on the eye. With a sharply focused eye, our brains tend to fill in the rest of the story. And if your subject has no eyes, then look for the next thing that your own eyes  eye lock on when looking at an organism you are photographing.

Tell a story! The reason why I am so passionate about Hristo Hristov’s photographs are three-fold. First, he is a self-taught photographer who was so determined to understand his camera and shooting techniques, that he went to all lengths to practice and learn how to produce shots of the calibre that he does. I admire that. Secondly, he is humble and is prepared to share his work and his techniques; even more admirable! Thirdly, Hristo loves his fish and always tries to tell a story! He makes a point to look for dominance displays and spawning behaviour (You can see his incredible Betta Spawning shots on our Betta pages) and his passion for his fish beams out of every single shot!

Here are some of those shots:

The first two shots document a jewel cichlid with her offspring – in close up and in a wider shot. Do you have any preference? And why?

Analysing great shots can teach you more that mere words, because they teach you about the emotions that photographs evoke — and therefore teach you how to best impress your audience.

The next shot depicts a male dominance display, while the two shots following displays playful behaviour. All three have the feel of a ‘story’ we want to know.

The next shot is of two Tuxedo fantail Guppy males displaying. A shot like this does not just happen. It requires patience, and a certain amount of luck to have two such tiny subjects inside the same depth of field ‘slice’, but the result is spectacular!

In the shot below, two male Killifish are combat displaying. Unusual in that it contains two subjects in focus, the shot shows clearly why the story always takes precedence over compositional ‘rules’.

Tell the story of your fish! Make use of opportunities offered when they have sex, or territorial combat on their minds! Just as with humans, those are times where nothing outside of their immediate tiny world matters to them. That is the time to get your shots!

The last rule is to isolate your subject. This is perhaps the hardest thing to do when photographing aquarium inhabitants. Basically the idea is to shoot your subject (fish, invert etc.) on a uniform background or a blurred one, so that it stands out as the lone ‘star’ of the shot. However interesting plants, rocks and live rock may be — they always distract from your subject. To minimize this, try to look for a cave or darker spot in your aquascape, or broader, more expansive leaves and aim your lens there. Another option is to get much closer to your subject so that it really fills the frame.

 Finally,  I want to return to a rule mentioned earlier in this article: Don’t feed your fish while you are shooting! Of course I expect that at one or other time, out of sheer frustration, you will break this rule. If you do, at least do it wisely.

Tip one: Release only the smallest amount of preferably live food, such as brine shrimp, through a straw  directly in front of your subject. because the food is live, chances are that you may end up with a natural looking shot.

Tip two: use a tweezer to hand just a mouthful of worms to your subject – no more than will keep it still for a sharp focus shot.

Tip three: Just before you end your session, try to adhere a bottom feeder pellet to the front inside of the aquarium glass, just below the lens view. Fish are likely to be attracted to the released aroma, while the pellet prevents fouling the entire scene.

If you are lucky, you may just end up with shots like these produced by Hristo Hristov:

“If Your Pictures Aren’t Good Enough, You’re Not Close Enough”

This quote stems from the famous photographer, Robert Capa and is common lore in the photographic world. It seems a weird piece of advice in view of the fact that Capa was a war photographer, and actually got killed by a landmine in Vietnam because he was trying to get a little closer to his subject.

Nevertheless, his philosophy holds true, even today. So before picking up your camera, consider what the subject of your photo actually is going to be. Is it a fish in your tank? Or, do you want to capture a tight personality portrait of that fish? Is your aim to show its habitat, or do you want to show off your entire tank? Whatever you have decided, get close and fill your camera’s viewfinder with your subject. If you can’t, at least try to fill around 80% of your viewfinder. Your photographs will be much more effective if you do. To do this with a tiny subject, you will, however, need a proper macro lens.

Here are some stunning marine shots of Hristo, to demonstrate how spectacular shots are when you truly fill the frame!

 To end with, here is how Hristo Hristov gets his images:

His camera camera is:

  • a CANON 350D

His favourite lenses are:

  • an EF 50 mm/f2.5 Compact-Macro – which is a great lens but not really as fast focusing as he wants, and
  • an EF 50 mm. f/1.8  II

His usual settings are:

  • Shutter Speed: 1/200 seconds
  • Aperture Value: f/14-22 – dependent on the specific fish and its position.
  • ISO Speed Ratings: 100-400 – again dependent on the specific fish he is photographing.

His lighting used to be:

  • a Speedlite 430EX situated above the tank in slave mode.
  •  a  Canon Speedlite 580EX ,  connected via a sync-cord to his camera and set to “master” mode.

He has , however no switched his light around , using

  • the Canon Speedlite 580EX above the tank, set to master mode and connected via a sync-cord
  • the Speedlite 430EX  as his ‘slave flash.

He holds this flash in his left hand so that he can move it in front of the tank as needed, always as a a straight “fill” flash, but may move it closer or further away, depending on the specific fish and its position. Both flash light have diffusers.

His advice is:

  • There is no “universal recipe” for making good pictures! You have to learn how your camera works and experiment until you get what you want.
  • Every situation is different, and each depends on a variety of factors. Think things through before you shoot.
  • There is unfortunately a certain equipment level minimum, from where you start to make really good pictures. This means a DSLR camera, special lenses, external flashes.
  •  Never underrate the good lightning – as bright as your light is, as detailed are your pictures.

He would love to have infra-red triggered flashes, but is loath to spend the money it costs.

His lighting system for his discus photography is overhead aquarium lights as per the images below, plus a handheld fill flash:

 

Let the Buyer Beware!

If you are looking to purchase camera equipment, tread carefully! Remember that the salesman behind the counter of your camera shop is one of two species. The first one is an adept salesman; he is extremely knowledgeable, but primarily he is there to sell, and in particular, to up-sell! His commission depends on it! The second kind of sales person knows no more than the basics and is essentially useless as an avenue for knowledge. Be especially wary of the ones who must rip out the user manual and read up on the model they are trying to sell you! Avoid these guys, they are bad, bad news!

So before you venture on a camera shopping spree, spend some time on the internet researching – not only to find what equipment  is really necessary, but also to find ‘work-arounds’  for budget conscious buyers. Watch Youtube videos on technique and diy gizmos – and follow the links of the people who posted their tips! It is an investment you will not regret. A good site for do-it- yourselfers  is  http://www.diyphotography.net/

 It is amazing how much knowledge you can pick up in this way.  You will also learn to use your camera in ways you never thought of before!

As you know, I am a Nikon fan. I usually stay true to the brand. Nevertheless, I recently ‘saved’ over R6000.00 on macro photography accessories, simply by chatting to a very knowledgeable photographer friend.  A Nikon remote shutter release is very expensive. I found a generic for a fraction of the price.  I was about to buy a viewfinder magnifier for extreme macro (my eyes are not what they used to be!), as I found it difficult to precisely see the depth of field in my subject ­– until my photographer friend pointed out that I could see the entire picture on my LCD panel by using the live-view feature of my camera! I had completely forgotten about it. This proves that one should know one’s camera inside and out! That piece of advice alone saved me R4000-00!

Know that a camera body does not necessarily have to be expensive. It must just be reliable and have the features you need. Spend your money on good lenses – there are many good generic lenses! Remember that you can also reverse a prime lens with a lens reverse adaptor ring, to turn it into a quite acceptable macro lens – just also remember that a reverse lens no longer ‘reads’ the camera, so you must work manually. Likewise, you can even do close-up  work with an telephoto lens, but only if you can close-focus with it!

Ask, look around on photography forums, join them and pose questions. You could put together a very successful rig for much less than you think! 

With that information, we have come to the end of this article. I thank you for your patience and wish you stunning photographs. All that is left for fish photography is setting up a dedicated Photo Tank; but that is a story for another day!

Above all, make your photography  FUN! And send us some of the results! Who knows, I may just have created an army of photographers out there, who would like to become as famous as photographers like Hristo, beginning with their images displayed on our pages. Let us know!

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