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Taking Great Fish Photos (How To)

Discussion in 'Member's Aquarium and Fish Pictures' started by Cian McLiam, Dec 24, 2003.

  1. Cian McLiam

    Cian McLiam Ye Olde Irish Tank Guy
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    Hi all,

    There have been many great threads here with some excellent tips, having scanned most of them, I have learned lots of great things. Hopefully those with 'the knowledge' will post back with their tips to share.

    I am no 'pro' but have taken enough photos of my fish to fill a small truck. One thing you can be sure of, for every great pic you see on here, there are likely to be ten more in the recycle bin.

    From my own experience, I can give the following tips:

    In General
    Turn off the lights in the room when taking photos of fish or whole aquariums. Same goes for televisions and blinds(if it is daytime). They will reflect off the glass and it can be hard to eliminate them because you will be moving around the tank.

    When taking photos of the whole tank, you should definitely switch off the room lights and use a tripod if you have one. If not a tall table to rest the camera on will do just as good. A great tip is to use the '10 second delay' you get with most cameras, this will eliminate camera shake as you press the shutter.

    Feed the fish beforehand, not while taking the pictures. Then the fish will be out and about looking for more food, but wont look as though they are gasping at the surface.

    If your tank is planted like mine, you can turn off the filter with great caution for a few moments allowing the plants to stop swaying or bending in the flow. Do not forget to switch it back on immediately otherwise you will have great pics of dead fish.


    Quality
    Always, always, always use the highest possible quality setting on a digital camera. If you are taking pics at home there is no reason for taking pics with low quality as you can just download them to the pc and start shooting again, the fish aren't going anywhere!

    If you have used a conventional film camera, you may be aware that there are different types of film available, with different ISO numbers. This refers to the sensitivity of the film to light. What this means for the fish photographer is that a film with a high ISO rating can take photos 'faster' than film with a low ISO, especially under aquarium lighting conditions.
    The downside of this is that higher ISO (faster) films appear more grainy than lower (slower) ISO ratings.
    Digital cameras often have the digital equivalent of an ISO rating which can be switched through menus. When shooting fish, an ISO rating of 400 lets you take pictures faster, capturing the fish without movement. Check the camera manual for details. Of course Digital ISO has the same disadvantages as film ie. grainier pics.

    Macro Mode
    Use the cameras 'Macro' mode if available. This allows you to take pics of close objects with sharp focus by using a very large aperture. It appears as a 'flower' symbol on most cameras, the landscape mode is opposite, it uses a small aperture to get huge areas of distant objects or scenery in focus at the same time. This is usually shown up as a 'mountain' symbol.

    Flash
    If you are using flash, angle the camera sideways or down wards so the flash does not reflect straight back into the camera. Its OK if it is visible around the edges as you can trim this out later. Don't angle it up wards as it may reflect off the water surface. The lights in the hood may cause the exposure to be set incorrectly also.

    Zoom
    If your camera has optical zoom, use it very sparingly. It decreases the 'depth of field' which basically means that the fish needs to be pretty much exactly in one spot to be in focus. If you zoom out and use the highest possible quality setting you can then move in closer with the camera to get the fish in focus. You can then trim out all the extra detail leaving a nice web sized photo of a perfectly in focus fish. You wont get the perfect professional look by having the background out of focus, but at least you will be able to see the fish clearly.

    Digital zoom is not worth bothering with. You can get the same result and often much better using the editing software on the PC.

    Focus
    Try to focus on one spot in the tank, say a leaf of a plant or a particular stone. You can then lock the focus on most cams by pressing down the shutter button half way. You can then use this reference distance to shoot a perfectly in focus fish with a little patience. If the fish is 3" in front of the leaf/stone/wood, you simply move the camera back 3" from where you originally locked the focus.
    This takes a little time and practice but will become second nature after a while.

    If your camera has continuous auto focus, you can use this also. This tracks the object in the center of the viewfinder and tries to keep it in focus as it moves.
    It can be slow, especially in aquarium light but is easier to use than the method above.

    Some cameras have a continuous shooting mode. This is perfect for fish photography, it takes continuous pictures one after another so you should get one great shot with a little luck.

    White Balance
    Check the cameras white balance setting. Aquarium fluorescent lights have a limited spectrum of light and cameras sometimes mis-read this, this gives photos a green or sometimes orange cast.
    A lot of modern cameras will change the white balance automatically to give more accurate colours but some may be better than others at calculating the type of light source. The human eye does a much better job of this than any camera which is why 'what you see' is not 'what you get'.
    If your camera allows it, you can set the white balance manually through the menus, some may even have two or three 'fluorescent' settings so you can experiment. The icon for fluorescent lighting is usually a fluorescent tube with 'light beams' coming off it. Check the manual of the camera for details


    If you now feel that you are ready to take the plunge and get serious about taking digital photos or are just looking up the technical terms I have used, you can't do better than this website which has a free full course on all aspects of Digital Photography, you can visit it here at http://www.shortcourses.com/.

    One last thing, before you delete that photo where the fish turned and is now about as visible as a sideways sheet of paper, have a good look all around the rest of the pic. You never know when that elusive catfish or snail has decide to take a closer look at what the commotion is about, some of my best pics of fish are as a result of accidental exposure!

    Thats about it for now, will post more when my hands recover!

    Ken

     
  2. Cian McLiam

    Cian McLiam Ye Olde Irish Tank Guy
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    Here is an example pic where I used the leaf of the plant below the unsuspecting Apisto male to lock the focus. As soon as he came along, snap, I got him!
    In this photo I have used optical zoom and a large-ish aperature to put the plants behind him out of focus.
     

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  3. Cian McLiam

    Cian McLiam Ye Olde Irish Tank Guy
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    Here is a pic where I used flash and zoomed all the way out to get some fish at the back of the tank in focus. As you can see, this results in the area behind the fish to be in sharp focus too. This is another drawback of using flash, it causes more of the pic to be in focus as the aperature is set quite small.

    I took it at the highest quality and with no zoom, all the rest of the pic was trimmed out, you can see this can lead to quality loss.
     

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  4. Cian McLiam

    Cian McLiam Ye Olde Irish Tank Guy
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    With this one, I zoomed in and locked the focus on the driftwood behind the fish, as he moved toward me, I moved the camera back to keep him in focus. I didnt use any flash and the photo was slightly blurred as a result. Sharpening up has made it more clear at the expense of quality.

    One very important thing to note from this pic is that the monitor I used to resize and clean up the pic was set incorrectly, it was too dull and was not very sharp. As you can see the photo looks a bit washed out as a result. You should check your photos on another monitor if at all possible to see how they compare.


    Ken
     

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  5. Cian McLiam

    Cian McLiam Ye Olde Irish Tank Guy
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    The following two posts show the difference in shooting a whole tank with flash and then a few seconds later without. The difference is quite remarkable I think!
    Note how the flash has ruined the first pic by bouncing off the glass. This may also upset the camaras exposure setting, giving you dark pictures with a bright 'starburst'.
     

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  6. Cian McLiam

    Cian McLiam Ye Olde Irish Tank Guy
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    Without the flash. my tank is a bow front, the curved glass isnt a camera problem!! :D
     

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  7. andyt_uk

    andyt_uk Member

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    some excellent tips there Ken, and after viewing your pics several times before now you can tell a great deal of effort has gone into them.
    I also do not profess to be any kind of expert, but can echo everything Ken has said, but for good fish photography, patience, a steady hand (or tripod) and lots of 'poor' shots are needed.
    i know i have an excellent picture of my male triple red apisto somewhere, when i find it i will post it, but that was about 99% good luck in getting the shot.

    as for the in focus backgrounds - tools such as paint shop pro, gimp, photoshop etc can be used - again patience and a steady hand can help you to defocus the background..
    draw around your subject, feather the selection slightly, invert the selection, and use the blur tools

    any way. off to the pub now

    happy christmas
     
  8. Cian McLiam

    Cian McLiam Ye Olde Irish Tank Guy
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    The following two pics show what can happen if the white balance goes awry. In the first pic the whole pic has a red cast over it.
     

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  9. Cian McLiam

    Cian McLiam Ye Olde Irish Tank Guy
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    With some tweaking of the colour balance in Photoshop Elements, the browns show up much better and the pic looks more 'real'.
    The red colour has been reduced dramatically by using the colour sliders, blue has been boosted slightly also to give a better contrast. Then the pic was sharpened slightly to show more detail.

    Ken
     

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  10. elgecko

    elgecko Member

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    Ken,
    Excellent.

    Thought I would just mention that myself I almost always use a flash and always use manual focus. Auto focus takes to long to focus and the fish usually move by then.... Never thought about locking the lens.
    Here are some pictures I've taken this way. I use a Sony 707.



    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  11. Cian McLiam

    Cian McLiam Ye Olde Irish Tank Guy
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    Thanks Elgecko & Andy,
    Unfortunately I found few DigiCams in the sub-ProSumer category have a manual focus. I use a Fuji S5000z which has manual focus, but only if you select it in the menus and use two tiny buttons on top of the camera. There is no distance indicator and I find it very frustrating to use :sly:
    Your pics are fantastic, I love the hatchet fish in particular! Is the flash on the 707 on-board or do you have a seperate?

    Ken
     
  12. elgecko

    elgecko Member

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    The flash is an onboard. I can attach an offboard flash, but have to get a special flash. The 707 does not have a hot shoe. The 717 does.
    I might have to start saving for the new Sony DSC-F828. Great looking camera. And has a hot shoe.

    http://www.steves-digicams.com/2003_reviews/f828.html
     
  13. Jo

    Jo Member

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    Thats great ken...!! :D

    I wish that I had known this before i started taking piccys..!

    I have managed to find most of that out by trial and error, but a million bad photos! ;)

    I'm off to try again now I thinK! ;)
     
  14. NeilP

    NeilP Member

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    Ken,

    Excellent advise. Having bought myself a camera for Christmas i have been surfing the web for some basic lessons in how to use it as is has all the manual adjustments (i'm use to a point and shoot which didn't do too well).

    Should have looked here first! :lol:

    Excellent topic. :wub:
     
  15. Cian McLiam

    Cian McLiam Ye Olde Irish Tank Guy
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    Thanks NeilP,

    I hope its of help! Post back with your experiences as you find your way around the camera, advice from experts can be a little hard to take in so we can all help each other out with practical techniques.

    Ken
     

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