6 Aquarium Photography Tips

Have you tried photographing at your local aquarium? If not, put this activity on your to-do list. Aquariums are full of amazing creatures waiting to become your photo subjects.

Jellyfish in Aquarium

Here are some aquarium photography tips to get you started:

1. Work Around the Crowds

Patience is often required to capture the best underwater creature photos, but it is not OK to dominate a display (at least not a small display) for long periods of time when others are waiting for their turn to view the attraction. Take some photos and let the crowd pass. Repeat. The best option is to go when crowds are not there. The aquarium staff will be happy to tell you when their slow times occur, but early and late on weekdays likely will be the best options.

2. Avoid Reflections

Reflections make the subject look like it's in a tank and that is seldom the goal. You will likely hold the primary reflection potential, so start out by wearing dark clothes to avoid self-reflections. Other visitors and especially lights in the aquarium hold the next-primary reflection potential.

In general, the wider the focal length, the more likely a reflection will be in the frame and getting the lens very close to the glass (most likely acrylic) helps greatly. I said close, not against – don't scratch the surface. Also helpful is to use a rubber lens hood (may cause vignetting at wide angles) or, better still, a LensSkirt, against the acrylic aquarium walls to better avoid reflections.

Note that having a lens positioned near the aquarium can mean a close subject and in that regard, a close-focusing lens (including macro lenses) can be very helpful.

Reflections from the back wall of an aquarium display are another issue if a natural environment does not exist in front of it. These can be difficult to avoid completely.

3. Avoid Refraction

Aquarium walls are generally not constructed for photographic opportunities and light passing through them at an angle will be refracted with all wavelengths of light not likely bending at the same angles. Watch the prismatic separation of colors may be pretty, it is seldom appreciated in images. Curved glass displays look great, but for refraction reasons, they are absolutely terrible for image quality. For these tanks, admire what is behind the glass and move on.

Flat glass/acrylic is photographically the best and shooting straight through it is best with other viewing angles resulting in the splitting of the light wavelengths. Note that the periphery of wide angle focal lengths will looking through the windows at angles even if shooting straight-on.

4. Get a Clear View

Be ready to lightly/safely clean the glass/acrylic with a lens cleaning cloth. People, especially very young ones, like to touch the transparent aquarium walls and that results in smeary fingerprints. While those smears being close to the lens may not have a big impact on image quality, give yourself a clean surface to photograph through.

5. Expect to Photograph Action in Low Light

At an aquarium, plan on shooting in very low light levels and know that many of the subjects are constantly moving – including the jellyfish shared above. Understand that a wider aperture lens is going to stop action better, but the wide aperture shallow depth of field may or may not work for the situation. A tripod will be very difficult to manage (if even permitted), especially with the crowds, but image stabilization is very helpful. Also, leaning against the tank with a non-scratching surface (such as your hand) helps stabilize the image.

6. Attempt to Shoot at the Subject's Level

While looking up or down on a subject can work in some cases, a level perspective often works best. Either get to the subject's level or wait until the subject moves to your preferred level.

As with many other photo subjects, experience will quickly make you a better photographer. So, get out to your aquarium and get experience. It is very likely that you will also get some great shots.

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