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I was at the Monterey Bay aquarium, and their exhibits are awesome.

However, I found it quite challenging to take pictures with my Olympus EM-10 Mark II.

I happened to rent the 60mm macro, which came in handy. However a couple of things made it real challenging:

  • The thick acrylic seems to do something optically... I had the best luck making sure I shoot perpendicular to the surface. If I shoot off 90 degrees, I had little hope of getting the focus right at all.
  • The 60mm macro was capable of f2.8, but the aquarium is still generally quite dark. I had my ISO up at the 800-1250 range, but that's still around 1/50s shutter, which isn't necessarily fast enough to freeze the subjects.
  • f/2.8 also has a pretty shallow depth of field, so I may have to stop down to get the whole creature in focus, which feeds into the lack of light. Focus stacking is generally not an option because the subject moves, and I'd have very little hope of aligning them.
  • Some of the exhibits explicitly ban flash photography (totally understandable), so using flash, even if I can arrange to avoid reflection, may be a no go.

What else could I do to maximize my chances of taking sharp, reasonably good pictures?

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A few thoughts come to mind:

  • higher ISO (I am not familiar with the Olympus, but my Canon is still perfectly fine at 3200)
  • use a faster lens
  • use a tripod (less/no motion blur)
  • shoot raw so you can fiddle a bit later at home

Other than that: try again. Practice makes perfect ;-)

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    also, either a rubber lens hood that you can put up against the glass or a polarizer, to eliminate reflections... polarizer is probably not the best option though, because of additional light loss... – twalberg Oct 16 '17 at 21:13
  • I find that I didn't like ISO beyond 1250 on the Olympus, but that might be just me going over the images at 100%. There are currently no macro faster than f2.8 for m4/3. Though I probably don't need macro most of the time. I did shoot RAW, so I'll have to see if I could tinker some more when I get home. @twalberg Didn't know there are rubber lens hoods. Only used plastic ones. – Calyth Oct 16 '17 at 21:16
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    When you are pixel peeping it often looks worse than you might like, but you have to look at the desired size you are shooting for. At least try it at the higher ISO rates and don't check it on the camera itself but on a (good) monitor. – Ray Oei Oct 16 '17 at 21:54
  • @Calyth Why do you limit yourself to using a macro? – Gerhardh Oct 18 '17 at 8:31
  • A faster lense will increase the problem with shallow DOF. And as the animals are moving, focussing will not get easier at f/1.4. Following a moving subject while mounted on a tripod isn't that easy as well. – Gerhardh Oct 18 '17 at 8:40
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The thick acrylic seems to do something optically... I had the best luck making sure I shoot perpendicular to the surface. If I shoot off 90 degrees, I had little hope of getting the focus right at all.

Manually focusing might help. Shooting through things tends to be an Achilles' heel of autofocus.

The 60mm macro was capable of f2.8, but the aquarium is still generally quite dark. I had my ISO up at the 800-1250 range, but that's still around 1/50s shutter, which isn't necessarily fast enough to freeze the subjects.

Pushing ISO with proper exposure, RAW, and post-processing could help. For me, µ4/3 at ISO 3200 is still acceptable, but everybody's tastes are different on this.

f/2.8 also has a pretty shallow depth of field, so I may have to stop down to get the whole creature in focus, which feeds into the lack of light.

Again, increasing the ISO may be your only option. Or, decide whether you can use the motion blur in some expressive way.

What else could I do to maximize my chances of taking sharp, reasonably good pictures?

Work on your handholding technique and be sure you're thoroughly acquainted with how stabilization works with your camera/lens combinations. Since the Monterey Bay Aquarium does not permit monopods or tripod, you could consider techniques that let you use a string or a camera strap to add stability.

Using a rubber hood that lets you rest your lens against the "glass" might help. A circular polarizer might help with reflections. Having a way to clean fingerprints off the glass might help, if you don't freak out the staff.

Shooting RAW so you can tweak white balance in post is also a good idea.

Always always take time to shoot the jellies. That will always make you feel better for all the missed shots of the day.

See also:

  • Good link there. It confirmed my suspicion about shooting perpendicular to the tank. I basically gave up trying to shoot against the spherical tanks. The other thing was my shutter speed was far too slow. I was down to 1/60 and either the hand shaking or the subject movement made for lots of blurry photos. Thanks for the tips! – Calyth Oct 17 '17 at 23:05

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