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Taking Photos of Fish and Aquariums
Published by Hazzy on 22/11/2004 (27070 reads)
Taking photos of fish in a normal fish tank is one of the hardest subjects to get good results from. After all if you wanted to take a photo of say a family in the lounge you would not go outside and take a photo through the window, with one light on and the little ones running around. Well that’s what you are doing with fish so we hope to give some pointers and tips towards fish photography that you can enjoy and perhaps share with others.

There are a few problems, which seem quite common with taking photos of fish
in tanks. This article deals with these common ones. The very first thing you
should do before taking photos is to clean the glass. This has NOT been done on most of the following photos so you can see how the camera picks
up the marks etc.

Covered in this article:

  1. Flash residue

  2. Out of focus

  3. Reflections

  4. Can’t get the fish to come out or keep still

  5. How to get a close up

  6. Which camera is best


It’s personal preference whether to use flash - I nearly always do but
I am aware of many that don’t. The biggest problem is the flash being
evident as in the photo as below.

To prevent this there are several techniques to try. The most common fix is
to stand at 45 degrees to the tank and not straight on. Try and point the camera
up or down slightly or even increase the light into the tank from another light
source say through the top of the tank. Below is same subject taken at 45 degrees
with flash. The same principle applies whether it’s a fish or whole tank.


Here the most common fault is the camera focusing on the glass rather than
in the tank. Cameras with auto and manual focus facilities should go on to MANUAL
focus, which will solve this problem. The use of a tripod for those stationary
photos also helps and stops any camera shake. The photo below shows what happens
when the camera focuses on the glass. The contents of the tank are all out of

For cameras without manual focus, like many digital cameras, there are several
ways to help solve the problem. Firstly always stand at an angle to the tank;
this helps as light is reflected off the glass –away from the lens of
your camera.

If your camera has the facility to half press and hold the shutter button
down try the following. Focus in the normal way on the subject in the tank,
press the shutter button down half way and hold it there. This keeps the focus
distance from the camera to the focus point as a fixed distance. Then take say
half a step forward or move the camera forward. This will move the focus distance
forward and into your tank. Fully press the shutter button all the way down
(which you have been holding half way down) and take photo.

TIP: The use of macro settings on most digital cameras is a great help in getting
past the glass.

Another common problem with focusing is getting shots of a fast moving fish
– the autofocus of most cameras just can’t keep up. To help try
the following: Find a subject within the tank say a rock or plant, which is
relatively easy to focus on. When you are happy with the object being in focus
then all just in front of it and just behind it will be in focus. When your
required fish passes in front of the rock take your photo. What you are doing
is taking photo of the rock the fish just happened to be passing.

If the fish is a fast mover then move the camera in the same direction as
the fish is going at the same time you take the photo, this takes a bit of practice
but is worth it. Below is photo of Dwarf Red where I had focused on the base
of a rock aware that he liked to rest there. The camera was set on a tripod,
just waiting for him and the photo.


Below is a photo of female neon moving left to right and top to bottom at the
same time. I focused on a tree root and moved the camera in the same direction
that the fish was moving. Not a perfect photo but it shows it can be done with
a bit of practice. This was taken with the flash on, standing at roughly 30degrees
to the tank and just hand holding the camera.


These mainly happen with the camera picking up reflections from other objects
in the room. In the next photo you can see a pair of steps, which were to the
right of the tank.

Removing the steps and turning the camera a bit more to the right to get more
of the tank in and now picking up the reflection of a radiator cover (bottom
right in the next photo.)

Removing the object or changing the angle of shot or even covering the object
with a dark cover can prevent reflections from external sources. If you’re still
getting reflections from external objects try taking the picture at night with
the room lights off.

Internal reflections (from objects in the tank) can be prevented by removing
the object or putting something between the object and the glass. In the next
photo the only way to get rid of the reflection is to remove the heater or put
say a piece of black plastic between the heater and the glass.

Bow fronted tanks and hexagon tanks bring further problems because of the shape/sides
of the tank. You’ll need to try different angles to get the required results.


Your fish are never there when you want to take a photo or the shy one just
wont stay still when he does. This is easy to solve but takes a bit of time.
Put yourself in the fish’s place for a moment. There you are going around
the tank minding your own business when this blinding flash appears so your
natural instinct is to get to safety as fast as you can. One way around this
is what I call bang/food/flash. Each time you feed the fish bang
the lid down (not to hard) enough to make a knocking noise. Have the camera
ready with flash on, when the fish come out to feed just point the camera generally
towards the tank and take photo so the flash works. Your fish will most probably
hide away, that’s ok they will come out again to feed. After a couple
of weeks doing this each time you feed them you will find the fish will associate
the bang of tank lid with the flash from the camera gives them food. They quickly
realise that the flash doesn’t harm them and if they want to eat they
must put up with the flash. It soon becomes evident that the not so shy fish
hear the lid bang and don’t even bother about the flash and just come
out to feed. Leaving you to take photos as you wish,

With the more shy fish there’s another tactic that can be used (which
is also useful if you have problems with reflections. Take the photos in the
evening, close any curtains/blinds, close any doors, turn all lights off except
those in the fish tank (any other tanks in the same room turn there lights off
as well.) Your room should now be in total darkness except for the light in
the tank you want to photograph. Stand in front of the tank; you should see
a light patch on the floor where the light coming out of the tank hits the floor.
Stand on the edge of that patch and just watch your fish. After a short time
you should notice the fish acting quite normally as if you are not there. This
is because you are outside their field of vision (you can see them but they
can’t see you) as they can only see as far as the light coming out of
the tank goes. To further help in this dress in black or dark clothing from
head to foot even to the point of wearing black gloves and using a black camera.
All these points help greatly in making the fish feel safe. Which in turn will
give them the confidence to come out more giving you more photo opportunities.

A lot of specialist photographs are taken with the fish put into show type
tanks, which have a small amount of water in with no obstacles or hiding places
for the fish.


With the macro features on most digital cameras this has made close up photos
a lot more common as although you are a distance away from the subject the photo
automatically gives a zoom in effect to the photo as shown in following photo
of a Clown Loach.

If you don’t have ‘macro’ facilities on your camera you
can always crop your image. With a reasonable photo-editing program you can
crop and enlarge. The two photos below illustrate this; the first photo below
is a general view. The second image is of a fish selected from the first photo,
cropped and enlarged using software.


This is a matter of personal preference and money available. In practice the
more you spend the better the camera. Having said that a small digital camera
with macro facility will get you some great photos. All the photos in this article
were taken with an inexpensive hand held point and shoot digital camera with
macro facility. This article is a help topic for those trying to get those first
decent photos. Don’t be disappointed when you only get four out of twenty
photos that you’re happy with - that’s normal. Just practice - practice
- practice!

Take care Brian  

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  • Not too shy to talk

 1 2 3 smile!

Great artical, really helpful. Will go give your tips a try and see if i can get some good results.

  • Home away from home

 Re: 1 2 3 smile!

Thank you so much. Ive been struggling to get better pictures and this article is just what I need. Ive printed it for future reference.

  • Quite a regular

 Re: Taking Photos of Fish and Aquariums

haha just tried that today trying to get to lovable pair of blackmoors to stay still . haha. it looked good when i took the pic put when reveiwing the pic's they where blury and smudged in some places all is good as they did smile for the cammera

  • Just popping in

 Re: Taking Photos of Fish and Aquariums

What a well thought-out article. Reading it makes me believe I might be able to take a half-way decent pic of my nano cube reef tank - and its inhabitants - after all.

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