Taking Photographs of Aquatic Subjects

Taking Photographs of Aquatic Subjects

Postby DrHsu » Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:46 am

I first wrote this series of short tips on taking pictures on RCF. Since it is pretty relevant to this sub-forum, I've taken it and reproduced it on this site - with a few edits here and there.

The original thread can be found here : http://www.rareclownfish.com/forums/f25/taking-pictures-338/
Li Chieh

Otherwise known as marinebetta in most marine forums.....

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"It's what you learn after you think you know it all..that matters" - Anon
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Postby DrHsu » Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:47 am

Taking pictures.....
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On RCF, I wrote something about taking pictures of fish and other aquarium critters. This is pretty much based on my experiences and is definitely not, by any measure, an expert article.:D

Firstly, it helps to have some basic photography knowledge. Much of what I know (which is not that much...) is from reading photography books, magazines and articles. With that basic knowledge, I then apply it to practice. I started off getting thrown into the deep end by starting with a manual SLR and that is an excellent way of learning the basics! Nowadays, with digital photography, things are very much easier but it does help to have some background knowledge.

Secondly, aquatic photography is slightly different and there are many tips and tricks that will help you take better picures. Much of what I have learnt about aquatic photography, I learnt from this forum http://www.aquatic-photography.com/forum/

Most of the pictures I have posted are taken with a digital SLR. I use a Nikon D70, usually with a 60mm Micro-Nikkor [I have since upgraded to a D300 but essentially use the same lenses]. Most pictures are also taken with a flash - I use a Nikon SB 800, sometimes on-camera and sometimes off, with a cable.

To make reading a little easier, I will address certain topics individually after this.

Feel free to ask any questions....If I can, I'll try to give an answer....
Last edited by DrHsu on Mon Dec 22, 2008 12:00 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Li Chieh

Otherwise known as marinebetta in most marine forums.....

.....................................................................

"It's what you learn after you think you know it all..that matters" - Anon
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Postby DrHsu » Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:48 am

Type of camera and ancillary equipment
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Camera: In reality, it is not the camera but the photographer that makes the difference between a good picture, and a great picture.

The new digital P&S cams are so good that they can easily take award winning pictures. The thing is to know your camera's strong points and its limitations. Just take a look at some of the pictures at the Aquatic Photography Forum - some are taken with P&S and they look great!

In general, however, it is easier to take a good picture with a digital SLR. Advantages are that you can manipulate you exposure settings, change lenses to suit the situation, and easily use a powerful dedicated external flash.

Flash: To get a good, sharp fish picture, you will need lots of light! Sometimes MH will be sufficient, but often it means you will need a strong external flash to freeze the fish and have it sharp from tip of nose to tail.....

The built-in flashes on P&S cameras and prosumer DSLRs are often not suitable for fish photography as you will tend to just get a bright reflection of the flash off the glass. Shooting at an angle to the tank glass helps, but then you will have to deal with distortion. I find that an off-camera flash works best – better still, have a few synchronized flashes illuminate your subject from different angles. Sometimes, however, all this is too difficult or slow to set up and I will often use an external flash attached to the camera’s hotshoe and just have it angled and bounced off a reflective card. Sometimes works, sometimes not...

Flashes are synched to a fixed shutter speed on the camera. Most cameras synch at 1/60 second, which can be too slow sometimes. SLRs usually synch at about 1/125 which is better. The best SLRs can synch to 1/500 s but that's about it and you often also have to use a dedicated flash to achieve this.

Tripod: Stability is important to get sharp, shake free pictures. This is where a tripod really helps, especially in macro pictures. Having said that I'm too lazy most of the time to lug it out and set it up. Often it is also a bit cumbersome to manipulate quickly. So far all my shots are handheld, usually supported on a table, jar, neighbouring tank, whatever's handy.....
Li Chieh

Otherwise known as marinebetta in most marine forums.....

.....................................................................

"It's what you learn after you think you know it all..that matters" - Anon
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Postby DrHsu » Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:49 am

Camera settings...
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Mainly to do with SLRs but will also apply to P&S that allow you to change exposure settings:

Aperture: In most situations, you will want a small aperture (bigger number). This will allow you to get a wider depth of field. This is especially important if you are taking pictures of small, small things. The higher the magnification the shallower the depth of field thus you will need a small aperture to get that front-to-back sharpness. I generally try to get maximum depth of field so I get sharp pictures all around - anything from F8 upwards.

Sometimes, using a small F number (larger aperture) is preferred – when you want to have the subject (or part of it) in sharp focus with the background blurred out for effect.

Shutter speed: For fish, I have found that you need to go with as high a shutter speed as possible. Fish move fast! And you have to have a high shutter speed to freeze the movement. Otherwise, you will end up with at best, a soft (unsharp) picture...and very often just the tail end of your subject!

ISO: I generally shoot with as low an ISO as possible (200 on my cam, wished it could be lower...). This is kind of a throwback to film days - lower ISO = less grainy pictures. However, I believe this is not longer that true with digital photography - you can get away with possibly up to ISO 400 with some cameras and still have very little noise. With the newer DSLR, the sensors have improved so much that even ISO 800 is very usable. All the same, it’s always better to use as low an ISO value as possible
Li Chieh

Otherwise known as marinebetta in most marine forums.....

.....................................................................

"It's what you learn after you think you know it all..that matters" - Anon
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Postby DrHsu » Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:50 am

Subject....
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Of course, corals and such stuff are much easier to take - they don't move...

I'm sure everyone has experienced the frustration of trying to take pictures of fast moving fish. Thank God for digital photography....think of all the wasted film if not for it!

With some fish, you can stalk them...but for most, it is best to observe the habits of your subject first. Most fish have a set pattern of swimming around the tank. Observe carefully and you will find that they will often freeze for a moment at certain spots. Pre-focus at that spot and wait......the next time it does the same, snap! All this is easier said than done....it is very tempting to follow the fish around, but usually that's the most unfruitful method! Patience and practice, and you should get the hang of it.
Li Chieh

Otherwise known as marinebetta in most marine forums.....

.....................................................................

"It's what you learn after you think you know it all..that matters" - Anon
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Postby DrHsu » Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:54 am

The Tank....
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Often overlooked, the tank itself is very important to taking good aquatic photos....

In FW, you can often set up a dedicated photo tank to take pictures, however in SW you often cannot do that. Thus we are often left with taking pictures of fish in their dirty tanks....if you are like me and mostly need to have done maintenance 2 days ago :mrgreen:

Tank glass: Clean you tank glass before taking pictures!! Any tiny speck, scratch etc on you tank glass will be highly noticeable on a photo! The glass has to be clean outside as well as inside. Do a bit of a scrub and wait a while whilst everyone and everything settles....

Tank water: Old yellow water makes it more difficult to get colors right and it will require much more light to get a good picture. Suspended particles (whether food, feces, pods, whatever) in the water will reflect and scatter light from your flash and make for a picture that's only fit for the trash...If possible, run a filter beforehand.
Li Chieh

Otherwise known as marinebetta in most marine forums.....

.....................................................................

"It's what you learn after you think you know it all..that matters" - Anon
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DrHsu
 
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Postby DrHsu » Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:55 am

The External Environment...
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See your own reflection in you pictures often?

To avoid the above, it is most ideal to take pictures in a darkened room. External light will be reflected off the tank glass and will show up on your pictures. Difficult to do with our tanks since they are often fixed but ideally you will want to take tank pictures at night with no external lights on; just the tank lights. Helps if you wear black.....

Another trick is to take pictures at an angle to the glass. This is especially so if you are using a flash mounted on your camera, or the camera's built in flash. Taking pictures in such a position (straight on with flash) will just give you a bright spot on your picture.

You can also avoid reflections by having the lens right up against the tank glass. Difficult to do sometimes especially with lens that are not internally focussing. I've hit the glass many times and spoilt many a magical moment :)
Li Chieh

Otherwise known as marinebetta in most marine forums.....

.....................................................................

"It's what you learn after you think you know it all..that matters" - Anon
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Postby DrHsu » Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:55 am

Post Processing...
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Just one word - Photoshop :lol:

Now, don’t get me wrong....photoshop or other image manipulation programs will not salvage a poor photo. Neither should it be used to enhance your subject so that it looks much better than it actually is. It should be used as a tool to correct colors, contrast and exposure to what you see in real life (MH often plays havoc to the white balance on cameras), or to clone off some minor distracting elements from your pictures.

As you gain experience in taking aquatic photos, you will find that you will need to do less and less post-processing. That should be the goal of any photographer - to capture an image as true to life as possible the first time!
Li Chieh

Otherwise known as marinebetta in most marine forums.....

.....................................................................

"It's what you learn after you think you know it all..that matters" - Anon
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DrHsu
 
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