One thing we all seem to share, in this hobby, is being able to sit and appreciate the wonders of the ocean from our homes. It is no surprise, then, to see that there are a whole lot of us who also take a lot of pride in taking great photos of their saltwater fish, coral frags and other invertebrates. Here is a collection of aquarium photography tips and some of the essential gear that will help you take great fish tank photos.
Aquarium photography tip # 1: Clean tanks photograph better
Did you ever notice that the most amazing aquarium photographs always showcase immaculate aquariums? There is a reason for that–clean fish tanks take better photos. If the pictures you are taking don’t ‘pop’ like those tank of the month masterpieces, take a look at your aquarium with a critical eye. Is there unnecessary equipment or wires in the picture? Is your sand clean? Is your aquarium glass clean? Make sure the glass or acrylic is clean and free of salt, streaks, and smudges. I like to use microfiber cloths to make chemical-free, smudge-free aquarium glass.
If you don’t have microfiber cloths at home, you can pick them up on Amazon.com (affiliate link) for just a few dollars. Disclosure: if you end up making a purchase on Amazon after clicking any of the affiliate links on this page, I will earn a small commission at no additional direct cost to you. I like shopping at Amazon because it is convenient and fun to get their packages in the mail, but feel free to support whatever retailer you want.
Tip # 2: Shoot the spot where the fish will be, not where they have been
Wayne Gretzky, one of the greatest hockey players of all time, is credited with the quote, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Keep this in mind when you are taking your own aquarium photographs. It is very difficult to get an outstanding aquarium photo if you are chasing after the fish. Instead, what you should do is figure out where the fish is going to be, or where it likes to spend its time and focus your efforts (pun intended) on taking fantastic pictures in that spot. If you can do this, you can minimize all of those other factors that will negatively impact your photos and then snap the photo when the fish swims into view.
Tip # 3: Be patient
You can’t rush a great photo, great photo opportunities just happen, so you have to have a little patience and wait for the moment to happen.
Tip # 4: Be a straight-shooter
One of the common problems when shooting aquarium pictures is something called ghosting. Ghosting is caused by refraction through the glass or acrylic of the camera and is a result of taking the picture from an angle. For best results, be a straight-shooter. Hold the camera perpendicular to the part of the aquarium you are shooting. If you shoot at an odd angle, your images will be blurry or show ghosting.
Tip #5: Minimize reflections…like this
Probably THE BIGGEST challenge when photographing an aquarium is dealing with reflections in the glass. If you are able to, turn off other lights and the television in the room. That may sound like blasphemy, but don’t worry, the TV is a forgiving deity. Don’t wear bright, reflective colors, if you can help it (unless you WANT to see your reflection in the aquarium glass). Position the camera as close to the aquarium glass as you can.
Tip # 6: Use a rubber lens hood
One inexpensive camera gizmo that can help you take better aquarium pictures is a rubber lens hood. You want the flexible rubber style hood, rather than the hard-plastic tulip flower lens hoods because you actually want to place the hood directly onto the aquarium glass. This will essentially eliminate glare, and the soft, flexible rubber material won’t scratch the glass or acrylic on your tank.
Here is an image and an affiliate link to a popular lens hood for your DSLR camera. These gizmos are sized to fit specific lenses–for example, if you have a Nikon D3200 DLSR with a 52mm lens, you need the 52mm sized lens hood. If you are a Canon camera owner (like me), you want the 58mm size. You can browse the appropriate sizes and model numbers from the link provided.
The lens hood will only help you, however, if you are photographing something far enough away from the glass to allow your lens to focus.
Tip #7: Focus close up
The deeper into the tank you are trying to photograph, the harder it is for your camera to take a good picture. For your best shots, you want to get close up. To get those up-close shots, you want to have a macro lens. A macro lens will help you focus the lens when fish swim up very close to your aquarium. But macro lenses can be fairly pricey and are not for the casual photographer.
One way to help improve your close-up shots without buying a separate macro lens is to use a Macro Extension Tube (affiliate link). At the time of this post, you can pick up a highly rated extension tube for under $15 (compare that to a macro lens costing several hundred dollars).
If you combine the rubber hood ($7) with the extension tube ($15), you should be able to focus on subjects pretty close to your lens without reflections and glare from the glass.
Tip #8: Turn off your pumps
When taking pictures of aquarium corals, turn off the pumps. With the pumps off, the polyps of your corals will be moving much less, which will allow you to get a sharper, more focused image. You will also eliminate microbubbles, like in the image below:
Aquarium photography tip #9: If at first you don’t succeed…try, try again
Don’t bank on getting the perfect picture all in shot. In this digital age, photographs are free. Waste away. You want to try and make every shot a keeper, but what you will find is that the more photographs you take, the more keepers you get. It really is a game of numbers. Increase the numbers and you will increase your success.
Tip #10: Eliminate the shake from your hands with these tools
Believe it or not, tiny vibrations from your hands will actually shake the lens and cause blurriness in your pictures. The key to taking tack-sharp photographs is to use a tripod and remote shutter release. It takes a little longer to set up for a photograph using a tripod, but it is worth it. Consider purchasing a model with one or more levels. The pros recommend getting a tripod with a ball-head, but they are significantly more expensive. You may want to ease your way in with an entry-level purchase. There are several models in the $15-$30 range that have a lot of positive reviews.
Here is a link to view several popular tripods (affiliate link) for you to do some more research.
Remote shutter release
A tripod is almost useless without combining it with a remote shutter release because your camera will shake each and every time you depress the shutter with your finger. The remote shutter release allows you to snap the photo without ever touching your camera, completely eliminating the vibrations from your hands in the process.
There are a few common designs for shutter releases, but like most things in the camera-world, there are no universal shutter releases. I recommend you shop around to find the remote shutter release model (affiliate link) that works best with your camera. You will find a bunch of options in the $10-$20 range. This may sound like a silly confession, but of all the camera widgets, the remote shutter release is the product that makes me feel like a professional photographer. I know that’s cheesy and vain, but you’ll feel like a big deal pressing the remote while your camera grants your wish.
For more information
If you want to continue your aquarium photography tip research online, check out these other articles for more information: