Photography at an Aquarium is not an easy feat. However, with a few simple tips, even the beginner can hook the perfect shot!
Aquariums are beautiful, mesmerizing places, full of colour and unique animals. How can you not want to photograph it all?
Whether you have a DSLR or a smart phone, aquariums also present many obstacles to photographers, including low light, reflections, fast moving subjects, crowds of people and restrictions on the use of flash and tripod.
But have no fear, there are ways around all of these challenges! Today, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s Photo Port staff member, Andrew, helps navigate the challenges to hooking the perfect shot at the Aquarium.
Challenge: Low light
Solution: The biggest issue when shooting underwater is lighting, as light does not travel well in water. In addition, the water acts like a blue filter and absorbs the reds and greens.
If you are shooting in automatic, on most occasions, the camera can accurately decide what is best for the given situation. However, it will sometimes struggle in low light situations. If this is the case, manual mode may be best.
When shooting in manual mode on your DSLR, remember the higher the ISO, the more sensitive to light your camera is, and the grainier your photo is. You want to keep as low an ISO as your lens will allow for. Aim for an ISO of 100 to 400.
If you use an editing software, colour, brightness and contrast can also be adjusted post-visit.
Andrew’s tip: If shooting in manual mode on your DSLR, set your white balance to the “shade” setting. This will warm up your photos slightly and get rid of the bluish tinge associated with shooting underwater.
Challenge: Reflections and distortion
Solution: One of the biggest challenges to aquarium photography is dealing with the external reflections. The aquarium is lit so that you can view the fish and find your way around, which can cause issues because the light reflects off of everything, including walls, signs, yourself and other visitors. First step would be to block the reflection by wearing darker clothing the day of and position yourself (or timing a visitor) in front of the reflection.
If that does not work, try using a rubber lens hood and keep the front of it in direct contact with the glass. (Make sure the lens hood is made of rubber, so it does not scratch the tank.)
Due to the sizes and shapes of the exhibits, distortion is also an issue. Don’t aim your camera in a downward direction. For best results try to take the photograph at an angle that is perpendicular to the glass and the subject.
Andrew’s tip: Try a different perspective by taking up close, macro photos of the fish! For example, if you want to take a nice macro photo of a clown fish, use the AP (aperture priority) setting on your DSLR camera to give yourself a wide aperture so that only the fish is in focus while everything else is out of focus.
Challenge: Fast moving subjects
Solution: Despite how much you try, there is no telling a fish what to do. So instead, use their movements to your advantage.
First off, don’t chase the fish. To achieve your desired shot, first, stand back and observe the fish’s behavior patterns in order to predict where they may move throughout the tank. Set up and be ready for them when they swim into the frame. Be patient, you will have to spend some time and take many shots to insure success, but it can be done.
When shooting a fast moving subject, a fast lens comes in handy. The speed is indicated by the f stop number. Andrew recommends a simple f/1.8 50mm lens. This lens is good for getting those highly detailed close ups of all of your favorite sea creatures, and can take some exciting family photos too! A 50mm lens does not allow for zoom. Instead, allow your feet to be the zoom.
Andrew’s tip: When photographing a fast moving subject, such as the stingrays in Ray Bay, switch your camera to the TV (shutter priority) setting on your DSLR camera to give yourself a high enough setting so you can capture the moment without blurring it!
Challenge: Crowds of people
Solution: Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada posts peak visit times on the website. To avoid crowds and capture the best shot, visit outside of these times.
Challenge: Restrictions on the use of flash and tripod
Solution: Policies such as these restrictions are put in place for a reason. A lot of animals are sensitive to light. At Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, specific tanks are marked with a “no flash photography” sign. For example, the giant pacific octopus. When touring the Aquarium, be sure you are aware of this signage.
As a general rule of thumb, turn off your flash for all photos. If taking a photo in front of a tank with flash, the light will typically bounce off the tank and create a reflecting in the photo.
Tripods are not allowed for the safety of Aquarium guests.
Please note, for the safety of the animals, the Aquarium does not allow underwater cameras.
One of the great things about digital photography is that there is much room for error. You can take as many photos as you would like, or as your storage card allows. And if you don’t like a photo, you simply delete.
And don’t forget to photograph more than just fish! All those people that are in the way blocking your view of the tank, can make for excellent subjects themselves. Don’t overlook the architecture of the aquarium itself, most of these are works of art in themselves.
Interested in learning more about photographing the fish at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada? Check out our Photography Classes here.