Junior's Aquatic Photography How-To (The Basics)

JuniorMC8704

Super Moderator
View Badges
Joined
Jul 25, 2007
Messages
3,309
Reaction score
31
Location
Michigan (48154)

Over the last year I have become overwhelmed with the amount photographic opportunities that this hobby provides. I have upgraded my hardware 3 times, and spent far too much money than I care to talk about. A lot of this spending was not necessary, and could have been avoided with a little know how, and a bit more experience.

I hope this How-to can help my fellow reefers better understand the ins and outs of photographing their aquariums and its inhabitants.
Over the course of reading over this, if anyone has any specific questions about a particular piece of equipment, I ask that you do so via PM. If it a question that is applicable to everyone please feel free to post it in the thread.

Thanks, and I hope this clears up most questions you may have. If you think of something that you would also like me to cover, please let me know.

This How-to is also available in WORD format for easier reading and printing. Just shoot me a PM.

Camera Settings
As there are multiple ways your camera can be setup for taking pictures of your tank, these are going to be my personal preference, and how I have my cameras set. This is only a guideline, and there is certainly room for change, and improvement.

Image Quality

This is where you need to decide on the format in which you will shoot your picture. Myself, I always shoot in RAW format. This gives you the most control over your shot, and also, makes it a lot easier to adjust WHITE BALANCE. Which you probably already know, is the biggest battle when shooting under light with a strong shade of blue.
JPEG, is also an option, and in many cases your only option (point and shoot cameras).
If you choose to shoot in JPEG, shoot in the highest resolution your camera will allow. This gives you the most flexibility if you decide a photo needs to be cropped.

White Balance

This is completely irrelevant if you are shooting in RAW mode, as the in camera settings is bypassed anyways.
For those shooting in JPEG, this is a very important step. If you decide you wish to use one of the cameras pre-set settings, you will want to select SHADE, whose icon resembles a house with diagonal lines off one side. On most cameras, and on the Nikon D80, you can further adjust it 3 steps + or -. You will want to set this to -3.
The best option for setting your white balance is to buy a GREY white balance card. Yes, grey is better to use than white. Be sure to find one that is plastic, so it will hold up over time. You will then place this in your tank , and oriented so that it is facing the front of your tank.
Now you will select PRESET in the white balance menu of your camera. On the D80, it then gives you the option of MEASURE and USE PHOTO. Although using the MEASURE feature is probably better, you will quickly become irritated that it will likely reject the reading more times than not. The easier option is to take a photograph of your white balance card, filling as much of the viewfinder as you can. It is important to know that the card need not be in focus, which may not be possible when filling the viewfinder. Take the picture. Now select the USE PHOTO option, and select the photo of the white balance card.
Your camera is now set to recognize what white should look like under your exact lighting scheme. However close, it will not be exact, and cameras are not designed to recognize light at such high temps (meaning 14K-20K). This will give you the best starting point for later adjustment in Photoshop or similar programs.

ISO

This is the setting that really makes or breaks your photos. The higher the ISO setting is, the more grain that will be present in your photos. Always use the lowest setting you can while maintaining a workable shutter speed (in any given situation, with all other settings remaining the same other than shutter speed, as you increase you ISO, the required exposure time will decrease).
I personally, when mounted on a tripod, will shoot at 100-200 ISO. This greatly increases the exposure time needed, but keeps the picture grain free.

Camera Priority Settings

For shooting through the glass of your aquarium, I strongly recommend using the aperture priority setting. On the command dial on the top of your camera (DLSR’s Only), select the A (Nikon) or Av (Canon). This will allow you to set the cameras aperture only. The shutter speed will automatically set to its required speed given the selected aperture.
If you find that all you photos are either under of over exposed you can adjust the exposure compensation + or - by 1/3 steps. Read your camera manual to learn how this is done, as each camera is different.
You are now ready to start shooting pictures of all those beautiful subjects.

Equipment

Here is a list of what I feel is necessary to really capture crystal clear photos. Some are optional, and designed to make your life just a little bit easier.

Macro Lens

If you want to really get serious about shooting corals, invest in a macro lens. This How-To is primarily geared toward those with a DSLR and a Macro lens.

Tripod

The best you can afford. Not only does a good tripod make things easier, it also is holding a very expensive piece of equipment. It is also helpful if you can afford it, to buy a free moving pistol grip head for your tripod. Go to a local camera store rather than best buy to look at high quality tripods. They arent cheap, but they allow far better support, and flexibility. There’s nothing worse then fighting your tripod to get the camera right where you want it.

Shutter Release Cable or Remote

This is very important, as the vibration from pressing the shutter release button is more than enough to blur your photo. Some camera will not have the needed port to plug one in. Don’t worry, it’s not a problem, just a little less convenient.

If you don’t have a shutter release cable, simply set your camera to TIMED RELEASE. Read you manual as they are all different. Some cameras even let you select how long after you press the shutter release button that if fires the picture. This will allow the camera to stop moving before the shutter opens.

Micro Fiber Cloth

Another very important tool in good photography….make sure your aquarium is CLEAN!

Never use this on your lens!

Taking Pictures
This section will be amazingly short, as there is nothing difficult about it. Once you understand how your camera works, it’s quite simple. Composition is a whole other story, and will make a simple picture either borring, or very captivating. We don’t need to get into that just yet.
This is the single most important step in taking clear, in focus pictures. This is also where 99% of all mistakes are made. Please read, and re-read this, so that you are very clear on this.

FOCUSING ON YOUR SUBJECT

Once you have selected your subject that is to photographed, it is important to know where to focus on that subject. This is where most pictures are lost. To keep the subject entirely in focus you must understand what you are looking at through the viewfinder. The entire subject will not be in focus! This is important to understand. You must focus on the area of the subject that is closest to you. The area in front, and behind is not important at this point. Once you have this area in focus, you're done. Move on.

DEPTH OF FIELD

This is what your aperture setting adjusts. You can reference the photos below to have a better understanding what effects this has on your shot. Starting at the low end, for example F-2.8 give you a very shallow DOF, meaning that what you see in focus in the viewfinder is about all your going to get in focus in the finished shot. The higher the number goes the deeper into the shot that will be in focus. I apologize for primitive explanation, but using the technical description is what gets most people lost on this. With each step up, more of the subject will be in focus. Misunderstanding this is why you see so many shots where only a very small portion of the picture is in focus, especially in pictures featuring SPS.

Again, please look at the photos below that illustrate the different F-stops.

f-4

1.jpg


f-20
2.jpg


f-45

3.jpg


f-4
4.jpg


f-20

5.jpg


f-45

6.jpg


IMPORTANT TIPS

1. Turn off all flow in your tank before shooting.

2. ALWAYS shoot straight forward. Shooting on an angle will distort the image, and may even keep you from being able to focus.

3. Always focus manually whenever you are able.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice.

5. Have fun! If you’re not having fun, it’s time to put the camera down for the day.

6. No question is a stupid question; never hesitate to ask for advice.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Corals.com

revhtree

Owner Administrator
View Badges
Joined
May 8, 2006
Messages
38,688
Reaction score
39,175
Very nice thanks for the sticky! I'm looking forward to the other articles along with the post processing article. :D
 

Saltysteele

Bret
View Badges
Joined
Jun 13, 2008
Messages
1,153
Reaction score
1
Location
in a van, down by the river in South Haven, MI
Hey Junior-

I've noticed that the larger the f-stop, and the bigger the DOF, the longer the shutter stays open, and the more your picture will be exposed (which could lead to overexposure). is this correct? is there a way to determine what f-stop you would like, other than experience?

thanks!
Bret
 
OP
JuniorMC8704

JuniorMC8704

Super Moderator
View Badges
Joined
Jul 25, 2007
Messages
3,309
Reaction score
31
Location
Michigan (48154)
Both my D80 and D300 had DOF preview buttons...but they dont really help in such low light situations.

That being said, no not really. You eventually will just know...

Or come close anyways...

I take a pic, then preview it...then add or subtract from there.

Hey Junior-

I've noticed that the larger the f-stop, and the bigger the DOF, the longer the shutter stays open, and the more your picture will be exposed (which could lead to overexposure). is this correct? is there a way to determine what f-stop you would like, other than experience?

thanks!
Bret
 

Mr.Firemouth

FIREMOUTH WIZARD
View Badges
Joined
Sep 20, 2006
Messages
477
Reaction score
18
Location
ST. LOUIS AREA
Ok, I have read articles all over the place and each one gave me a better understanding of what was happening, but this article is the one that taught me how to use the info! The best so far! The progression pics of the F-stops are the best done! Others had subtle differences but these show how depth of field is affected in a way that made sense to me!!!

My daughter Kylea and I had a competition tonight and her Mom was the Judge. I lost. Kylea used my Sony DSCH-1 and I used my Sony a200K DSLR with a 18-70mm lens. We both used tripods and she used auto settings because she is only 8. :)

Here is my photographer....


We took pics of some of my die-cast cars.( a previous hobby that has left me with close to 400 cars!) Her pics were in focus and had a good DOF. Mine tended to blur at the edges. Originally I shot them at F5.6 and ISO 400....

You can see that the back tire is not in complete focus. Some of the front clip blurred too.

Now look at it at F8 and ISO 200...

There is still some blurring in the front and the EV was too high.

Here is F10 and EV at 0...

It is getting sharper.

F14...

Looking better. :)

F18...

That one looked the best to me.

But how can I ever do that with my fish? The shutter was open forever. With fish shots the shutter has to be fast!

Here is a pic I took the other night. F5.6, 400ISO, 60mm focal length.

and this one at the same settings...


So how can I get sharper pics shooting fish. I have watched Gary Parr shoot corals and I know he uses Aperture settings because his shutter is open for a while too. But fish...I am unsure what to do.

I have thought about going up in ISO, but don't want a lot of grain.
I did buy a 100mm Minolta AF Macro lens. I have not used it yet. I am waiting for Gary to stop by in a couple of weeks to show me some more stuff.

Thanks for the lessons on the still pics and I wait for comments on the fast moving fish.
 
OP
JuniorMC8704

JuniorMC8704

Super Moderator
View Badges
Joined
Jul 25, 2007
Messages
3,309
Reaction score
31
Location
Michigan (48154)
very nice, im glad to see its helping out.

i cool tip when shooting cars, full size or otherwise. GET LOW.

Get at an angle so you are actually lower than the car body, just enough so there is a little upward angle. and shoot it on a horizontal angle of about halfway between 45 and straight on...makes for a really cool picture.

remember to focus on the area of the subject that is closest to you and use the aperture to get your Depth...assuming you want the entire subject in focus.
 
OP
JuniorMC8704

JuniorMC8704

Super Moderator
View Badges
Joined
Jul 25, 2007
Messages
3,309
Reaction score
31
Location
Michigan (48154)
enter the DSLR

The only REAL success ive had with fish is using a accessory flash mounted on the hot shoe. set to fast sync, at 1/250, so you can use a 1/250 shutter speed, and still have the flash.

it works great, ive still got a lot to learn when it comes to shooting fish.

Poseidon is another great source for info on this. He is a Pro photographer, and is better versed when it comes to flash usage.
 

Mr.Firemouth

FIREMOUTH WIZARD
View Badges
Joined
Sep 20, 2006
Messages
477
Reaction score
18
Location
ST. LOUIS AREA
I have not bought the Flash yet.
I bought the camera, the Macro, 2 UV filters to protect the lenses, the cable remote, and the tripod. The tripod is trash and I can not return it, so I live and learn and will buy a better one. The Mount is everything and mine is small and weak. To much play.

Hopefully Gary and Posiedon chime in. :)
Thanks again Junior for the tips. Now to just get some of your corals! LOL
 

gparr

Waterbox Keeper
View Badges
Joined
Aug 3, 2008
Messages
2,139
Reaction score
13
Location
NW Chicago Suburbs
You cannot get good fish photos without a flash or some other kind of additional lighting. I shoot mine with the flash unit mounted to the hot shoe and the flash head at a 45-deg. angle with a white card attached. This sends the main blast of light to the ceiling, but puts sufficient fringe light into the tank without the flare/glare/reflection off of the glass. Flash is shot in manual mode at either full or half power. You can't use ETTL as it will be fooled most of the time. Camera is in manual mode (I always shoot in manual mode) using the fastest shutter speed you can get. I usually use an f/8 or f/11 aperture. Use the fastest shutter speed you can get--something in the 1/200 sec. range

Fish are difficult because they don't stop. I find something to sit on and identify a place where the fish I want to photograph tends to frequently stop, turn, and/or pause. I then wait for the fish to come to that spot. Chasing them up and down the length of the tank will just make you tired.

An aperture of f/8 or f/11 (ISO is usually 400, but sometimes 800) will give you enough DOF to get most, if not all, of the fish in focus. Try to get shots in which the fish body is parallel to the glass/camera. As with all animals, the most important thing is to get the eyes in focus. The human eye will accept a good deal of the rest of the body being out of focus if the eyes are sharp. If the eyes are not sharp, your mind will reject the photo.

You simply have to be patient and take a lot of photos. As with all things, with practice, you'll get some good ones. Here are a couple of examples:

At f/8


At f/4, approx 50mm, too bad about the scratched glass


At f/11, not quite as sharp as I'd like
 

Mr.Firemouth

FIREMOUTH WIZARD
View Badges
Joined
Sep 20, 2006
Messages
477
Reaction score
18
Location
ST. LOUIS AREA
OK, so in M mode I can adjust the F-stop and the shutter speed?
I will have to look at this in depth when you are in town, but will play around tonight!
I will see what I can get. :)
 

Poseidon

Valuable Member
View Badges
Joined
Apr 7, 2007
Messages
3,257
Reaction score
17
Location
Swartz Creek, MI
Those are excellent Gary! I to find that I get the best results with flash, but I have also cranked the ISO to get acceptable results for web posting. As Gary noted, the EYE has to be in focus, if not then the picture will never be more then OK to most people.

Here are a few that I did recently with flash:






And here are few that I did at high ISO without flash and a very wide aperture:









The difference is clearly visible in the detail of the flash images, you can see scales in those, where the ambient images are not quite as sharp.
 

gparr

Waterbox Keeper
View Badges
Joined
Aug 3, 2008
Messages
2,139
Reaction score
13
Location
NW Chicago Suburbs
Yes, manual mode gives you full control over both shutter speed and aperture. I don't like the automatic modes, especially for aquarium photography, as the camera is easily fooled. I'm also grumpy and old-fashioned and would prefer to tell the camera what I want instead of the reverse.
Gary
 

mpoletti

Just a drunkard
View Badges
Joined
Mar 2, 2008
Messages
3,324
Reaction score
72
Location
Sacramento, CA
Great thread and thank Junior

Gary and Poseidon, your guys' shots are always so clear. When shooting fish, what lens/setup are you guys using.

I have been thinking about upgrading my D40x for the D90. Is it even worth it, or should I wait a few more months until I go D200/300? Thanks
 
Corals.com

Poseidon

Valuable Member
View Badges
Joined
Apr 7, 2007
Messages
3,257
Reaction score
17
Location
Swartz Creek, MI
Great thread and thank Junior

Gary and Poseidon, your guys' shots are always so clear. When shooting fish, what lens/setup are you guys using.

I have been thinking about upgrading my D40x for the D90. Is it even worth it, or should I wait a few more months until I go D200/300? Thanks
Thanks! I use a 24-70 2.8L lens from Canon 90% of the time. As for upgrading your camera body to get better images, NO, upgrade the lens. I would bet you a $100 that I could not tell the difference between an image taken with a D40x or a D3 if BOTH were taken of the same subject with the same lens. Now, if you replace the lens on the D40x and go with a high quality glass, and leave the kit lens on the D3, then the D40x image will look BETTER!

Posiedon,
What F-stops were you using to get such deep DOF. The whole background is in focus!
Well, some of those were at f16. I was using some REALLY big flash heads when I did those pictures. My wife was mad at me.... She was getting blinded.
 

mpoletti

Just a drunkard
View Badges
Joined
Mar 2, 2008
Messages
3,324
Reaction score
72
Location
Sacramento, CA
Thanks! I use a 24-70 2.8L lens
Sweet Lens :D I have had my eye on that for awhile. I still have the standard 18-55, but I love my 105mm /2.8
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Poseidon

Valuable Member
View Badges
Joined
Apr 7, 2007
Messages
3,257
Reaction score
17
Location
Swartz Creek, MI
Yes it is! I have the 24-70, the 24-105, and a 70-200 all L glass, and I won't EVER go back to less then L, well except a few primes, like the 100 2.8 macro, and 85 1.8...
 

Poseidon

Valuable Member
View Badges
Joined
Apr 7, 2007
Messages
3,257
Reaction score
17
Location
Swartz Creek, MI
That is what Gary was talking about, you point MOST of the flash to the ceiling... I have external flash that is not physically attached to my camera, so I flash in from the sides, or down from the top.
 
Top Shelf Aquatics

Is your Build Thread Badge missing? Uh oh!

  • Yes it's gone

    Votes: 87 27.5%
  • Nope, I'm quick

    Votes: 94 29.7%
  • Uh I don't understand. (you better click and read)

    Votes: 61 19.3%
  • Never had one...until now!

    Votes: 74 23.4%

Online statistics

Members online
1,518
Guests online
3,769
Total visitors
5,287
Corals.com
Top