Photographing Fish and Aquariums

I wrote this article a about two years ago to assist the tropical aquarium community with photography. The article was a joint effort, however I never received the rest from the other contributors, so I will be finishing this article over the course of a few weeks.

For the basics of photography, read these articles:
Photography Basics
Photography Basics


White Balance

White balance determines the colour temperate of your photo. Setting this correctly will produce a photo displaying the correct colours of the fish/plants etc. At times this can be difficult if you have a variety of coloured lights over your tank, however you can find a balance between the warmer and cooler colour temperatures to produce a photo with the most accurate colours.

Below are examples taken with a few of the white balance settings found on your camera


White balance set to AUTO


White balance set to incandescent


White balance set to shade


White balance set to a specific kelvin rating


Focal Length

Focal length relates to the length of your lens from the lens’ optical center (where the light converges to create an image) to the image sensor (where the image is captured).    A long focal length allows you to get a closer crop of your subject (more of your subject will fill the frame and also produces a shallower depth of field), compared to a smaller focal length which will allow you to get more of a scene into the frame (which also produces a deeper depth of field).


Smaller focal length – better for full tank shots.

Longer focal length – better for close ups of your fish and plants.


Short focal length (35mm)


Longer focal length (macro lens – 90mm)



While a flash may help if you’re able to use it off camera, using an on camera flash is usually detrimental to your photo.  As seen in the examples below, the flash reflects light off shiny objects, can distort colour and tends to show up all the water marks on glass.

Using a flash might also cause unsightly shadows behind your subject depending on how close your subject is to the object behind it.

If you’re in need of more light to take a photo, use an off camera flash to the side or above the tank, or introduce extra lights for the photo.  A white box built around the tank will also reflect more of the light into the tank.


With flash


With flash


Without flash


Without flash



In short, composition basically refers to the placement of your subject in your photo.

The basic “rules” (I prefer to think of them as guides since you might want to change the composition to suit your subject) are known as the rule of thirds and the golden ratio (there are others which I have not mention here).    Below is what the rule of thirds guide looks like.  By placing your subject on one of the lines, instead of dead center, you will create a more pleasing image.

You can use these guides in aquascaping as well to create a beautiful tank.


Subject in the center


Subject placed to the left on the line (rule of thirds guide used)



Refraction makes aquarium photography difficult.  It is the distortion you see when photographing your subject from an angle other than directly in front of the glass.  To avoid refraction, shoot perpendicular to your tank at 90degrees.


Photo taken at an angle (image is out of focus and distorted)


Photo taken at 90 degrees (no distortion)



Each person has his/her own likes/dislikes when it comes to editing.  There are no hard and fast rules to abide by.  Whatever appeals to you is what matters, so it is difficult to tell you what you should do when editing.

The process I like to follow is thus:

  1. Open photo in camera raw and change the camera profile to match my camera (camera standard is the option I use).
  2. Switch lens correction on (this corrects the wide angle effect to an extent as well as chromatic aberration – chromatic aberration are those purple lines you’ll see around bright area’s)
  3. I then go to the basic editing settings (exposure, white balance, contrast etc.) and I hit AUTO. Yes I am lazy, but 9 times out of 10 this works for me.  If I’m not happy with the result, I set it back to default then adjust the sliders for each setting until I am happy.
  4. From there I increase the clarity by 10 or 15 depending on my mood and the photo.
  5. Now comes the sharpness… I set this to max (150), and I also increase the amount of detail it affects to 70 and change the mask to 50. This is so that the sharpness does not affect the entire image, but only the important areas.
  6. If need be, I’ll reduce the noise by 15 to 20%. Any more and the images blurs.
  7. Once I’m happy with all of this, I open the image then adjust the straightness of the picture if this is needed, crop if necessary an resize the image to 1024px on its longest side and save to upload to the web.



Tips & Tricks

  • Use a tripod if possible (otherwise make use of a bean/sand bag to steady your camera lens).
  • Keep your arms as close to your body as possible to prevent camera shake.
  • See Stalker’s guide on how to use a string/rope to steady your hand while taking photos.
  • When photographing fish, use a fast shutter speed to freeze them in place.
  • Take photos the day after a water change and scrub down the glass. Wash the glass on the outside too. This will give you the best picture with the least amount of debris.
  • Be patient and take LOTS of photos. Don’t take one and assume it is right… believe me, something will be off which you cannot fix in post.
  • For cellular users, to rotate your image, open the photo with Windows picture viewer (or similar) and click on the rotate arrows.

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