How to Shoot in the Worst light ever: A day trip to the Aquarium!

Yesterday my wife and I took the kiddo to the aquarium south of Salt Lake because I’m a sucker for aquariums. They’re like zoos without all the animal abuse. The kiddo had a pretty good time as well especially at the penguin exhibit when she saw one poop. For a five year old, it was like seeing the Moon landing live on TV. Of course, like any other outing I made it a point to take my camera in case I could get some good photos of the Manta Rays (AKA the greatest and coolest fish of all time). When it comes to aquariums, I’m generally worse than the children are, running about and squealing over getting to pet some of the sea life. I promise I can be an adult, just not at the aquarium.

As for the shooting aspect of the trip, if you go a google search on tips for shooting at the aquarium, they’ll all tell you the same thing:

1) Use a Lens hood to prevent reflection/refraction off the glass from the various lighting inside.
2) Be Patient and wait for the fish to come to the glass.
3) Never use a flash. Ever.

Unlike most tip articles I have no complaints with any of these tips. Using a flash with black out the tanks behind the glass and all you’ll see is a circle of white light on glass. Using a lens hood does wonders to reduce the amount of light that seeps into the tanks from the walkways. And clearly if you are trying to get pictures of fish, you’re going to have to wait sometimes. Fish aren’t like other creatures that tend to lie about all day and let you shoot them without concern. Fish, due to their anatomy, require constant movement and as such, you need to have the right gear to shoot them.

This is probably one of the cases in which I really will vouch for a specific style of camera over the other. You really want a camera that has a large ISO range, a high number of focal points, and a fast fps shoot rate. Since I shoot on a Sony a6000, all of these points are covered so I was able to shoot into the glass and catch the fish without too much trouble.

Of course, there are going to be some things you can’t control which you’ll want to be prepared for. Things such as scratches in the glass, or excess scum/water on the inside of the glass can make it not only difficult to focus on the fish (and not the spots on the glass) but even if you get a good shot of the fish, the image could still be trash. Like so:

As you can see, I got a good focus on the little guy and got him in frame, but the damage to glass is extensive thus making the image worse. I could try to process out all the scratches, but that really isn’t worth the time.

So what can you do? Well, here’s a few tips:

1) Remember that aquariums often have open top areas that don’t sit behind glass. Use these to try and get a cool non traditional shot of something. For example, in this shot, the alligator was mostly submerged and you could see that through the glass, but if you looked over the top where there wasn’t any glass I got this view of it:


There were also a few exhibits that had things like ducks in them that didn’t have glass so those made for some great opportunities like this little South American duck breed:


Or this Multi-Colored Macaw:


2) Look for the janitor. One of the most important lessons I have ever learned in life was something my dad taught me years ago: Make friends with the little guy. While the janitor may not have the authority to let you feed a shark or swim in the tank, he/she does happen to know how to get into and out of places that maybe you shouldn’t be. They also are the ones cleaning the glass on the tanks. Which means if you can find the Janitor you can get some shots through clean and clear glass instead of the smudgy filth that comes from 600+ toddlers wiping their boogery fingers on everything. You can see a real difference in clean glass versus not clean glass:

Here the frog cages had just recently been cleaned, unlike the otter cages which hadn’t been. Meaning that everything on the otter side of the cage would be a little softer and less sharp. I.e.,:

3) Know when to crop. As with the photo above of the Macaw, and this photo of a penguin below, there are points in which you’ll want to crop a photo to remove unappealing extras. Be they hands, people, or in the case of the penguin, a giant turd.

When you see the picture above you think: “a picture of a penguin. Neat!” Without cropping you would see the photo and the massive amount of bird droppings next to it on the floaty and say “Why would someone take a picture of bird poop?” Which let me assure you, I’ve taken enough shitty photos that I need not delve into taking pictures of actual shit. In the case of the Macaw, there was random people and other artifacts that you could try to heal out, but in this case you can crop a little off the sides and save yourself a ton of time.

I hope these tips helped you. That’s it for this one, as always: Until next time, Thanks for reading!


2 thoughts on “How to Shoot in the Worst light ever: A day trip to the Aquarium!

  1. Pingback: How to Shoot in the Worst light ever: A day trip to the Aquarium! | Odinwallace's Blog

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