I have photographed different type of fish in different tanks, with or without flash, through the surface of the water or through glass.

However, I think I am missing something. There may be tips or hints that can make working with fish easier.

I photographed small fishes, inch-long fishes, and also Betta, which is a one to two inch long. I do have a macro lens with USM. (Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM) and flash.

However it is still very hard to focus on the fish. f/2.8 is not an option since almost NOTHING will be in focus. Even with USM and all cross-type focusing points, the fact that the fish is swimming almost constantly can proved to be tricky.

I have observed that certain fish at certain time of day will be more calm. However I can easily shoot 200 photos with only 3-5 satisfactory shots.

I also use flash, this so far seemed okay, the fish were never too disturbed by the flash. I do not think it would harm them either (vs cat with super light sensitive eyes)

So I would try to use f/5.6 or f/8.0 to get more DOF, flash, and use ONE fixed focus point (auto AF point selection will often mess things up as experience shows)

Shooting through glass is okay as long as the glass is flat and smooth (bowl-shaped tank is a definite NO due to uneven surface). Shooting top-down also gives high quality images as long as the water is still.

Still, success rate is pretty darn low.

Any advice from experienced pet photographer that has dealt with small fish, or just aquarium in general?

I like this shot because of how elegant they look, and how happy and free they seem, and the lines their slender bodies form: elegant fish
(source: gapton.com)

My beloved Betta named Bubu who died to a disease after 1.5 years of keeping. [Lightened a little as suggested, didn't have time to clone out the dust yet]
(source: gapton.com)

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Also, the fish don't look like they're exposed correctly. After fixing shutter speed, I'd work on getting the correct exposure for the fish. You could also try using a polarizer but it might hurt (lower your shutter speeds) more than it helps (cut reflections). \$\endgroup\$
    – user2910
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 7:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ The images are too large and why is EXIF stripped is beyond me (I uploaded them to this site perhaps thats why). I will edit them so they are of proper size and with EXIF untouched. So you can look at my camera settings. For the second shot, the Betta is actually black around his head, and deep blue for his body, red purple and blue on various parts of his fins. I would say the detail of his face is still visible, and Betta's fins are what made them unique and beautiful, I am unsure if I would want to blow out the fins for a greyish face. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gapton
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 1:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK I just updated the photos so they don't cause a huge lag on the browsers lol \$\endgroup\$
    – Gapton
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 7:03

3 Answers 3

  • Don't use a flashgun. When shooting animals you want to keep them calm and a flash is a great way to ruin that, especially things used to a fairly constant light like fish. Use one or two lamps by the side of the tank but obviously be careful about it. You don't want to fry yourself or the fish.

  • Whatever the lightsource is, make sure it's not reflecting directly back at the camera. The water will do most of the work but you might need additional materials to diffuse the light.

  • Use a long focal length with a fast aperture. You want as short a DOF as you can get away with or you'll catch tank dust and grime. A short extension tube will help you get a standard lens' DOF even shorter.

  • Unless you're going for that effect, don't shoot through the top water surface. The distortion is not predictable.

  • Ditch AF in favour of patience. AF against mucky glass will drive you round the bend. Fish aren't that fast so you will get a few shots if you persist.

  • I personally don't agree with the white=professional comment. I think for fish, the creamy, dark you'll get shooting through the tank is nicer. It will make lighting harder but that's life. Experiment and make your own mind.

  • You can correct distortion from curved bowls to an extent in Photoshop just abusing the lens correction tools.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the input, Oli, here are my thoughts (1) I think it depends on which type of fish, I have had certain fish that almost will not react to any sudden light at all. (2) Reflection actually isn't that big of a problem, I get reflection in my shot perhaps one in a hundred that I shoot. (3) Actually, the DOF is often too shallow for fishes this small, over half of the photos will have their eyes in focus and tails blurry, and they are only 1 inch long fishes. (4) Any particular reason not too? (5) Fishes actually are super fast if you have tried shooting small ones \$\endgroup\$
    – Gapton
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 2:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ (6) white is not = pro , I agree, and I always find shots of fishes with a dark background having a more natural feel to it. (7) Actually its hard to find a high quality curved bowl and the true problem is that the BOWL itself is either hand-made or poorly-machine-made and has a very UNEVEN surface creating distortion that cannot be remedied in Photoshop. It will just almost ruin the shot. So if I want to shoot fishes living in a curved bowl, I would transfer them to a rectangle tank with flat and smooth glass (which is cheap and has VERY smooth glass creating almost no distortion) \$\endgroup\$
    – Gapton
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 2:15

I would surround 3 sides of the tank with a white material like paper or card, and set up a strong but reasonably soft light from either above or at about a 45 degree vertical angle over your shoulder; whatever doesn't cause reflection issues. If you're using a light from directly above, set the tank on the card as well, to help eliminate shadows.

The white background will not only make your shots look more professional and reduce background clutter, but should also reflect some of the light into the tank, giving you more shutter speed to work with.

I would also make sure the side of the tank I was shooting through was absolutely spotless.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I would think fishes, in their natural habitat, would have pretty dim surroundings with light only coming from the top. The second photo is one that I will print and hang on my wall because the fish is no longer with me due to disease, a lot of effort has been put in to try to save his life, he fought hard too but he didn't survive. After a while, I realized that this is the best photo of him that I have ever created and from such realization I now wipe the glass clean every time before I shoot. Thanks for the tips, its just a shame that I don't get to redo this photo no more. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gapton
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 1:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, I guess it depends on whether you want a natural shot or a good shot, i.e. one where you can actually see the fish. He does look like a superb specimen. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 9:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @drew: It is ok mate. Most Bettas live only for two years. Considering that he was with you for 1.5 years is good. It was a real nice fish. \$\endgroup\$
    – Geek
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 12:51

Try these :

  1. Keep the glass of the aquarium very clean. Both from inside and outside.
  2. Use a fast FPS or sports mode. Atleast one pic you will get.
  3. Dont use Flash.
  4. Lightning up the Aquarium from inside also helps.
  5. Certain Fish like Angels and Discus become more calm after a few Clicks. They seem to get agitated in the beginning.
  6. To get the best colors the water should be clean.
  7. Certain fish like Flower Horns who get easily excited can best be clicked in the continous mode only.

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