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Aquarium Photos - Tips & Techniques 1

Aquarium Photos - Tips & Techniques 1
Photo Information
Copyright: Loot Eksteen (loot) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 5524 W: 722 N: 4163] (11276)
Genre: Animals
Medium: Color
Date Taken: 2007-04-11
Categories: Fish
Camera: Canon EOS 350D, Sigma 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 HZ DG Macro, Digital ISO 100, UV 62mm Kenko
Exposure: f/11, 1/200 seconds
Details: (Fill) Flash: Yes
More Photo Info: [view]
Photo Version: Original Version
Theme(s): Fishes from around the world, Underwater World #2, Different Fish, A study in Ichthyology (fish) 1, Tips and Techniques, Dedications at Trek Nature, 90-99 Puntos (chapter 1), Underwater Wonder World 1, RARE or SIGNIFICANT contributions to TN 2, Blue Things, My Dedications ;o) [view contributor(s)]
Date Submitted: 2007-07-03 14:08
Viewed: 16856
Favorites: 3 [view]
Points: 96
[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note
Powder-blue surgeonfish - Acanthurus leucosternon

This colourful specimen of a tropical marine fish I'd like to dedicate to ManYee DeSandies (manyee). I discovered her amazing portfolio long before I joined TrekNature. Eventually I became a member and I had the privilege to meet her through this virtual medium of cyberspace. I can still vividly recall how I initially stumbled upon her remarkable portfolio as the result from a Google search for "Seastars". She had me - hook, line, and sinker - from the word "go" and there is no secret in it that she straight away became one of my favourite photographers and ultimately also a very good friend.

Among others, she has some amazing photos from various aquaria in her rather extensive gallery. For example see this Seastar, these Birthday jellies, a Black Sea Nettle, and another Black Sea Nettle, etc.

With my previous posting, a Clown triggerfish, ManYee asked me for some advise on "aquarium photography". This came to me as somewhat of a surprise since I really rate her aquarium shots so highly. However, that gave me an idea to do a mini series with the theme "Tips & Techniques for Aquarium Photography". In the process I will attempt to provide some useful notes that might assist anyone who may be interested in this subject.

Perhaps I should just mention here that I have tremendous respect for those photographers who successfully do underwater photography and who bring us the most awesome shots from below the surface of the world’s oceans. Unfortunately I cannot do this, but since I love tropical fish so much I have to go with the next best option and that is aquarium photography. At least I am happy to say that several of my aquarium photos have received a nod of approval from the quarters of the real underwater photographers.

First just something about this fish...

This surgeonfish is a resident at the uShaka Marine World aquarium, in Durban and it is the first photo of this species on TrekNature. Earlier, this year, I spent a whole day at this facility and thoroughly enjoyed myself shooting away at the many species and specimens on offer. Some of the tanks there are rather large and so the background is way back (as on this photo) therefore it tends to be well out of focus and normally rather darkish. Consequently it's a bit of a challenge to apply a sound technique to obtain a well balanced photo.


This compressed oval shaped fish has a small mouth and pectoral fins. The fins are long. The face is masked black with white bar behind mouth; the body is sky blue, with white zone below and behind head; peduncle and spine yellow; dorsal fin yellow with white or light blue edge and submarginal black line; anal and pelvic fins white, bordered with black or dark blue margins. They can grow up to ±30cm in size.

Indo-Pacific Ocean. East Africa to the Andaman Sea, southwest Indonesia and Christmas Island; with range extended to Bali, and Indonesia.

Inhabits shallow, clear coastal and island coral reefs. Usually found on reef flats and along upper seaward slopes. Depth range 0-25m.

Herbivorous eating mostly benthic algae. Source

With that out of the way let's take a look at those promised tips and techniques. I will deal with this topic over the next 2-3 postings so those of you who might be interested will have to be patient. Perhaps you should see this aspect as the first lesson for you will most definitely need patience and endurance to practice successful aquarium photography.

Tips and Techniques for Aquarium Photography - Part 1


You simply cannot approach an aquarium or fish tank and think you can shoot a number of quick, random shots, then march up to the next tank and repeat the process and imagine you will get all the good action shots. Forget it. You have to study a tank and analyse the different fish, activities, characteristics, and movements. Some display very predictable or repetitive behaviour and will continuously appear from the same spot and follow the same lines while others might only dash past once in a while or display very erratic, unexpected, or inconsistent behaviour or actions.

Although there are certain guidelines and techniques by which one can eliminate or at least reduce the degree of error it still remains a case of trial and error, shoot and check, adjust and re-shoot, wait and wait and even wait some more, because just when you think you have seen all the fish in a specific tank a new species, one which you have not seen before, will suddenly appear from its hiding place. I have sat up to 2 hours in front of a particular tank and still found new species or specimens appearing. This is where patience and practice is a virtue.

Lighting & Exposure
Normally the ambient lighting in an aquarium environment is purposely tuned down to highlight the particular exhibitions or displays. Special fluorescent lights are used inside the tanks to enhance the colours, but these are mostly very soft lights. To overcome the relatively dim lighting conditions, the constant movement associated with aquatic life, and the reflective light involving the glass, aquarium photography requires proper planning, timing, and sometimes even luck.

Sorry folks, we're out of space. To be continued...

Post Processing was done with Adobe Photoshop CS2

nglen, Silke, Matt-Bird, jcoowanitwong, TAZ, sandpiper2, Janice, joey, dew77, pilonm, jmp, manyee, Aaltjie, ellis49, goutham_ramesh, Dyker, jeanpaul, uleko, marhowie, pankajbajpai, Proframe, ramthakur, XOTAELE, angybone, thor68, xramm, c_rapp, otherpete, extramundi, Miss_Piggy, jusninasirun, betsie, sranjan, Rehanna has marked this note useful
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ThreadThread Starter Messages Updated
To marhowie: Tutoring the Tutorloot 1 07-07 22:59
To uleko: All the sevensloot 1 07-07 06:24
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Critiques [Translate]

  • Great 
  • Silke Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 729 W: 98 N: 1707] (5458)
  • [2007-07-03 15:26]

Hi Loot
Thanks for the great notes!
and the image is fabulous: sharp and clean, with fine colours and good eye contact

Hi Loot,
These are a beautiful fish with wonderful colours and you have photographed it well. Nice clean sharp image with all the shades of blue showing up well.
Good photo,

  • Great 
  • trinko Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 587 W: 78 N: 322] (4321)
  • [2007-07-03 18:34]

good focus and color. nice DOF and 3D effect.

Hi Loot,
The image is very sharp and well exposed. Composition is pleasing to view. Colors are vivid and natural. Also enjoy reading your informative note.

  • Great 
  • TAZ Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2241 W: 47 N: 3167] (10926)
  • [2007-07-03 22:16]

Hello my old friend,
Nice to admire this lovely fish, I like his shape. The blue colors are also a pleasure for eyes. The sharpness and DOF are good.
As usual with you, a great note in spirit of TN : instructive information about the subject and also a technical lesson...
Bravo Loot and thanks for sharing,

Great fish and great capture
Good sharpness, well saturated colours

Outstanding note, hopefully in th enext part you'll tell what ISO you used :)


Hi Loot - Weet nie waarop om die meeste kommentaar te lewer nie - die foto of die notas!! Dit is baie leersaam om jou natas op die verskillende fotos te lees - meeste van die tyd iets wat mens nie geweet het nie. Hierdie is weereens 'n uittekende foto met uitstekende notas!

  • Great 
  • Janice Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3277 W: 148 N: 6163] (18832)
  • [2007-07-04 3:44]

Sharp, colourful, excellent clarity - are you sure there's some water in that tank???
Just 100% perfect Loot, and now I'm waiting for the second installment - thanks friend

  • Great 
  • ddg Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 867 W: 24 N: 1008] (5507)
  • [2007-07-04 5:35]

bonjour Loot, une merveille de précision dans le piqué et la saturation des couleurs!! comme dans les livres!! congratulations my freind. didier.

  • Great 
  • joey Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1739 W: 224 N: 6872] (24909)
  • [2007-07-04 7:06]

Hello Loot,
a superb shot.
Amazing and vivid colours.
Well done,

  • Great 
  • dew77 Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 4432 W: 248 N: 4028] (13270)
  • [2007-07-04 8:10]

Hello Loot,
This one is also excellent.Harmonious colors,exposure,lighting,clear details and visual impact are wonderful.Masterpiece!

Hello Loot,

Impressive and colorful picture of this dedicated fish... Yes I'm impressed about the blue body colors of the fish being quite the same of the water color... I'm just questionning myself if you put a little bit too much of sharpening because I see some noise on the fish...

Great POV (do you have to wait a long time before having so great POV?) and excellent light!

Great job, Loot and TFS,


  • Great 
  • nglen Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2883 W: 30 N: 9683] (36145)
  • [2007-07-04 11:44]

Hi Loot. First thank you for the notes and i will wait for the next issue.
Your picture shows us what can be done with some time and a lot of skill.beautiful colours and fine detail you have captured.the eye is amazing. thanks for showing us. very well done .

  • Great 
  • jmp Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1659 W: 95 N: 2273] (8415)
  • [2007-07-04 13:17]

Hi Lot,
Colours are really wonderful in this photo! And the face of the face has so odd!
TFS, José M.

  • Great 
  • manyee Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3089 W: 230 N: 6774] (23770)
  • [2007-07-04 14:35]

Hello Loot.
Well, it is a good thing you cannot see me blush. : P
Thank you for your kind words on my aquarium shots.
I am certainly glad that they "introduced" me to you,
and thus made our friendship possible. : )
I certainly agree with you that aquarium shots are very challenging, what with the low lights, the moving subjects, the glass reflections,
the often busy backgrounds, and the limited maneuverability in front of the tanks.
Your Powder-blue Surgeonfish has stunning colors, thanks to your skillful management of "lighting and exposure"... to be continued. : P
(That was a teaser!!! You'd better come up with the next installment very soon, or you will have a mob after you. : P)
You must have succeeded in putting yourself (or at least your lens) on a parallel plane with the fish in order to produce this excellent sharpness of details throughout the fish, and a shallow DOF at the same time.
I can't wait to find out how you get to use the flash without getting the bothersome reflections on the glass, and the well-lit BG.
That is really a beautiful specimen of a tropical fish,
and I humbly thank you for your dedication.
Thank you, my friend. : )

Ha – Gotha!

Could not miss this one. It’s Blue!!! and is Beautiful!!! And it was definitely a shock to the eyes. Brilliant, bright and vibrant colours! A truly masterpiece by a talented photographer, which is you my friend.
The detail of everything in the photo is just perfect, and I tend to repeat the question of Janice. Is there any water in the tank?
And the notes on the subject! Amazing and very, very educational. You must have been busy for hours to prepare this enlightening information. One can see that you always put a lot of effort in the preparation of your postings, and that is one of the main reasons I appreciate and admire you so much, and return to your portfolio. You treat the reader and the observer with respect.

Warmest regards and may the points on this one roll in.


Ps. I sent you an e-mail

Hi Loot,
This is a beaujtiful picture with amazing colours.
The details and exposure are spot on.
And of course an very good and informative note and usual.
Great work my friend.

I'm back from Värmland, where I rent a house for two weeks
but it was raining almost every day so we went home earlier.
Thanks for asking; still problems with the wrists :-(

Hi loot,
i have tried few shots in the aquariums and have been unsuccessful and your notes are very good as usual and pictures speak for themselves. This is a superb picture.
Waiting eagerly for the next part i would like to know how you setup the flash with all that glass around!

  • Great 
  • Dyker Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 136 W: 0 N: 57] (170)
  • [2007-07-06 4:06]

Hello Loot
Another complete package from you. Great notes to go with a wonderful photo. I appreciate you taking the time to teach us something about aquarium photography. I mentioned to you once before that I would love to go down to Durban's uShaka Marine World with you and maybe learn from you first hand, but until that happens, someday, I suppose I will have to settle for second best so this will have to do. Your photo is obvious evidence that you have the skill required to give us some pointers on techniques and metholody. I will surely be back to view the next and the next delivery. This photo's focus is very sharp, the colours are very soothing on the eyes, and everything else seems to be perfectly spot-on.

Salut loot
Excellente prise avec ce magnifique poisson
Les couleurs sont éclatantes et la netteté est parfaite. Félicitations pour la qualité On jurerais qu'il n'y a pas de vitre sur cette prise..

Merci et a bientôt.....JP

  • Great 
  • uleko Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3396 W: 172 N: 3310] (10940)
  • [2007-07-07 5:36]
  • [+]

Hello Loot,
Wow, this is almost blinding you! Fabulous colours and very sharp details of this beautiful Surgeonfish. Amazing quality considering it is shot through glass. Often the glass is covered by fingerprints from little children but perhaps you had a cloth with you!! Very nice work!
Many thanks and regards, Ulla

The Bold, dramatic, crisp colors of this surgeonfish exemplify/demonstrate the appeal of underwater photography..So we can't get into our scuba gear and enter this unknown-to-most world..As through a glass darkly, we make the most of the aquarium setting. And here you have succeeded famously :)
I've not spent the amount of time you have trying this, so you become my tutor.

Your bottom line "almost" says it all - Patience, practice, planning, timing, luck..You left out the main ingredient..the "passion" part ;)
Very well done!

So nice to see you again Loot, I loved your kind reminder that I've been neglectful of my friends here lately, and as soon as I opened your gallery I realized just how much I've missed! I just haven't had the time to enjoy the company as much as I used to, trying to get healthy and all as I have been lately. I've walked over 200 miles since March.
This lovely photo really jumps off the screen, it looks almost like a painting with the blurred background and the vibrant colors. Your tips on Aquarium photos is very helpful, a very difficult place to catch such a nice clear sharp portrait. Now that you've reminded me, I need to visit ManYee's gallery again to! Thank you for the visit to mine, you made me smile today!

hi loot,
lovely capture, the colours are amazing and the fish looks beautful,nicely composed shot,
tfs & regards

Hi Loot,
Great colorful and wonderful lighted underwater image agian.
Thanks for the perfect note and full of impatience I am waiting for the follow up because I am eager to go for these kind of shots myself and am happy to learn a lot from you.
Thanks for sharing.
Best wishes,

First of all, your picture, Loot.
All I can say is that the picture is awsome in terms of composition, colours, details and other finer points of photography.
I must have said it earlier too that for me, all underwater life is just a fathomless mystery. I have zero experience of marine life, so everything related to it leaves me more mystified than ever. I am a mountain man and all I know about water is that it is something that we need to drink everyday!

I will now turn to your very amusing critique on my picture of the monsoon skies over India. I really loved your 'perception' of cloud nine, ten, eleven and so on in my picture :-).
Thanks a lot for your wishes on my retirement and the beginning of a new phase in my life.
Warm regards.

Fantástico disparo Loot.
Magníficos colores y acertado encuadre.
Saludos, JL.

  • Great 
  • smitha Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 348 W: 73 N: 1165] (4409)
  • [2007-07-11 20:41]

Hello Loot,
Beautiful picture with very informative note.
Regards, Smitha.

Hello Loot,
A Beautiful shot.



  • Great 
  • Ken52 Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 636 W: 93 N: 1243] (4195)
  • [2007-07-23 16:27]

Stunning photo Loot. I know nothing about aquarium photography, but I do know the colors and exposure are amazing in your photo. Outstanding note.

Amazing color! So vivid. Impressive how you've developed a technique for photographing at the aquariums.

  • Great 
  • arfer Gold Star Critiquer [C: 2731 W: 0 N: 0] (0)
  • [2007-07-24 20:24]

Hello Loot

The colours are striking in this shot.The blues and contrasting yellows are well saturated.The fish is in excellent focus,and even though it is through glass you have captured it with out distortions.The clarity is wonderful.The fish is unlike anything we have here,so it appears quite exotic to a farm boy from rural Ontario.Nicely composed with a fantastic POV.An excellent post.TFS


Hi Loot,
This is a very nice image of this species, probably the first of its kind on TN. A wonderful contribution to the ever growing fish gallery o this site. I now can tell you really enjoy tropical fish, but hey! Who can blame you with so many variations of shapes and colors and patterns in the tropical underwater sea world. Very nice capture.

Your Friend (Seriously),
Paul :)

  • Great 
  • xramm (37)
  • [2007-08-09 2:09]

Hi Loot,

This is very good shot, tropical fishes everytime stimulated my interest. Good colors and extraordinate look.


Gorgeous colors and amazing details. This is so beautiful!! TFS

Hi Loot,
Wonderfull shot. Nothing to add, everything's already said .

  • Great 
  • EOSF1 Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1393 W: 119 N: 5267] (23955)
  • [2007-12-02 8:15]

Hello Loot, that aquarium shot is really well done, you managed perfectly well the light and the white balance. Well done !


it is very nice photo and I like it.

I have tried a bit of this myself with only an occasional keeper, so I appreciated the quality of your photo and Manyee's. Thanks for the excellent technical notes, I look forward to reading more.

I think your "Introduction" of tips and techniques could be also used for insects and most animals, and should be very much taken into account by many TN members including myself.
I must admit that Cris is more patient and successful in this basical rule in order to get a decent photo :)
BTW, a beautiful capture, the light and contrast are very strong but work nicely this blue neon atmosphere.
Regards, Felipe.

Howzit Loot,
This is a real life image,I dont know how you manage to portray those colours and life like images.Excellent pic with great contrast and sharp image.The blue on the fish and the blue background almost creates a surrealistic feel of the photo.Excellent shot.

Hello Loot. Useful tips and hints you have here as I normally trash out my aquarium photos because od the disappointing quality. What you have done here is so pristine in sharpness and detail. You have framed a beautiful fish eliminating all the hints of the aquarium habitat. Stunning image with beautiful colors and excellent note about the fish too. I only know about some species in the fish market :-) Thanks for sharing and have a nice day. Regards. Jusni

The image is very sharp and well exposed.

very nivce pic, but perhaps too sharpened, TFS Ori

Hallo Loot
I really like the assortment of colours in this photograph. This is Cool Blue! It displays well and very pleasing to the eye. The overall outcome of this photograph is just magic and if I did not know that you have taken this through very thick glass I would have thought that you are bluffing. Your technical skills where greatly applied here. This is a striking fish, providing evidence once more that nature is full of miracles. Thanks for sharing.


Hello Loot,
Great photograph & excellent notes to sharpen the skills. TFS

Beautifull images and verry well done.Regards.Alin.

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