How To Photograph Fish

A guide to taking pictures of fish.

Fish can be beautiful creatures, swimming gracefully in a tank or aquarium... unfortunately, they can also be quite difficult to capture on film. Most attempts to photograph fish end in frustration at the fish turning or swimming away at the last moment, always avoiding that one perfect shot... and on the rare occasion that the fish doesn't move, a glare or reflection on the tank itself makes the fish almost impossible to see. It may seem like a fool's errand at first to try to get that photo that you want, but keep trying; after all, the job can be made a lot easier if you know a few tricks.

The first thing that you need to do is make sure that your fish is swimming in a clean tank before trying to take the picture. Change the water or make sure that the filter is working properly, and clean the outside of the tank with glass cleaner. Remove any algae or scum from the inside of the tank, and make sure that any food or waste isn't floating around in the water. You want everything to be as clean as possible before trying to take a picture; anything that you miss will most likely show up on film and ruin your shot.

Next, try to get rid of any excess light that could cause a glare or reflection. Turn off the flash on your camera, and turn off or cover any lights that point directly at the tank. If your tank has an internal light, keep it on... it will help to illuminate the water and everything inside, reducing the need for external lighting at all. Look at the glass and see if there is any glare present; if you see anything that looks like a light source's reflection, cover it up and just let the room be lit with natural light and light from sources that aren't directly in line with your tank. If you have an anti-glare filter for your camera, you can also put it on to further reduce any glare problems.

Once you've done your best to reduce glare, get a piece of glass or clear Plexiglass that will fit into the tank. Put the sheet of glass into the tank, keeping the fish between it and the side of the tank where you're going to be taking the picture; this will reduce the room that the fish has to swim in without blocking the view of the rest of the tank behind it. Move it as close to the fish and the edge of the tank as you can without actually touching the fish... after all, you don't want to crush it, just take it's picture. If the fish seems to be having trouble swimming, move the glass back a bit. Be careful not to stir up sediment from the bottom of the tank when moving the glass, and watch out for any other fish or animals that you may have in the tank with the fish you're trying to photograph.

After you've put in the glass and the fish has had a little bit of time to get used to his smaller swimming area, you're ready to take the picture. Focus on the fish straight on through the side of the tank, and take several exposures at a time when he's not swimming. The glass will keep him from turning or swimming away at an angle, and you'll be able to get several shots to choose from.

As soon as you've finished taking your pictures, remove the glass so that your fish can get back to swimming around its tank... it'll be happy to be able to swim freely again, and you'll have the pictures that you want.

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