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*Ultimate Fish Guru*
Panda Funster
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Registered: 10-Feb-2003
male uk

Having seen some wonderful photos in the Photo Booth lately, I thought I'd don my article writing cap again, and compile a feature on fish photography. Hopefully, this will go a long way toward giving everyone the chance to take some truly stunning pictures!

First of all, camera choice. Whether you're picking digital or traditional film, the key points to remember here are:

[1] The camera should have some kind of macro facility. 'Macro' is the term used by photographers for any equipment or techniques that apply to close-up photographic work. If your camera choice is capable of photographing objects in focus at close distances (less than 6 inches), then this is a good start. Macro facilities vary from the 'built-in' macro capabilities of many digital cameras (and some budget models are surprisingly good in this regard) all the way up to the dedicated interchangeable macro lens that can be bought for use with SLR cameras. However, dedicated macro lenses are - and this is no exaggeration - hideously expensive. A top quality macro lens for a Nikon SLR can cost as much as a deecent second hand car!

[2] The camera should have the ability to select a wide range of shutter speeds. The reason for this is simple. Slow shutter speeds result in blurred images when the subject is photographed in motion. With large objects such as cars, it's possible to 'pan' the camera to match the motion of the car, and produce the 'movement' illusion as the background is blurred by the panning motion of the photographer. With fish, however, this is extremely difficult! The minimum shutter speed that will 'freeze' motion is 1/60th second: if your camera allows faster shutter speeds, so much the better!

[3] The camera should have the ability to attach a flashgun via a 'hot shoe' or other connector on the top. Yes, many cameras have built-in flashguns. But these are far from ideal for fish work. The reason? The flash is mounted close to the lens. This combination makes it very difficult to avoid the 'nuclear bomb flare' effect when the light from the flash bounces off aquarium glass. With a hot shoe or other attachment, it's possible to attach a flashgun that is mounted some distance from the lens. This helps avoid flash bounce. If the flashgun can be tilted and swivelled, so much the better. The ideal flash combination is a flashgun connected to the camera via a length of so-called 'telephone cable' (coiled wire) that allows the flash to be positioned above the aquarium water (fixed in place using some kind of clamp). With this combination, flash bounce is a thing of the past.

[4] The camera should have the ability to select different aperture settings. Aperture not only controls the amount of light reaching the film or CCD chip, but also controls 'depth of field'. This term is used to describe the region within which photographed objects appear in focus. A narrow aperture increases depth of field, so that the photographer does not have to critically focus upon the fish, making it a LOT easier to capture fish in focus. But, narrowing the aperture reduces the amount of light reaching the film or CCD chip, which means that without a flashgun to compensate for the lower light levels, shutter speeds will plummet. Combine flash mounted some distance from the lens, narrow apertures and a shutter speed of 1/60 second or greater, and at least 90% of the battle is won.

Now, if the camera chosen has the ability to use interchangeable lenses (i.e., all SLR cameras), then this gives the photographer extra weapons in the arsenal. For close up work, a good combination is a 70-210mm zoom lens, and a set of what are known as 'extension tubes'. Extension tubes for SLRs are a LOT cheaper than a dedicated macro lens, and can be picked up in excellent condition second hand, saving even more money. These have the effect of converting a normal lens into a quasi-macro lens. They usually come in sets of three: the ones I have are 12mm, 20mm and 36mm. For truly super macro work, all three can be used together, although this is only needed when photographing eggs and fry!

Even if the camera has a fixed lens system, there are gadgets available to allow close-up work to be performed even without a macro setting. A filter holder (such as that made by Cokin) and a dioptre slot-in lens can provide a cheap macro solution in these circumstances, until the photographer has the funds to move up to something more sophisticated. These filter holders are even available for compacts: it's worth tracking down the Cokin accessories catalogue for the requisite parts.

Now, if the camera is a traditional film camera, a film ISO rating of ISO 200 is eminently suitable for most fish work. Lower ratings (ISO 100) need more light, while higher ones (ISO 400 and above) tend to be used for action photography outdoors, and are somewhat more 'grainy'. This will become apparent when scanning prints! For digital work, if the camera allows ISO ratings to be dialled in by the user, again, select ISO 200 as a good average. It IS possible to work with lower (and therefore better quality) ISO ratings in both film and digital work, but the sophistication required increases significantly as the ISO rating falls. However, if the camera and photographer are capable of working with ISO 50, for example, then the image quality will be superb, because in the case of film, this equates to a very fine grain. However, only top-grade CCD chips will go down to ISO 50.

Next, something that has already been mentioned several times by other Board members, and a trick I use myself where possible. In daytime, drawing the curtains, or at night, switching off room lights, so that the most prominent light source is the aquarium, helps in two respects. One, it avoids too many bad reflections from the glass, and two, it makes it harder for jittery fish to see you poking a camera at them, making them more amenable to having their portraits taken!

Now, you're lined up with your camera, and you're ready to take pictures of your fish. At this point, you will notice something that quickly becomes a source of exasperation for the novice. Fish move. And, when using anything akin to a decent macro setting, that movement is amplified enormously as seen by the human eye, especially through a reflex system viewfinder. Reflex system viewfinders use complex sets of mirrors and prisms to produce an image of what the lens itself sees, so that what you see in the viewfinder is exactly what the lens sees. Most film compacts don't have reflex viewfinders, while film SLRs and most digital cameras have reflex viewfinders by default. Trouble is, when looking at the fish through a reflex viewfinder, the smallest movement is amplified to the point where following the fish becomes an exercise in radar tracking! The only solution here is lots of practice. Take time following your fish without actually shooting any frames, and do this repeatedly, so that the movement mannerisms of your fish become something you adjust to, and thus compensate for when you actually fire the shutter. That way, if you're using film, as I do, you waste a LOT less film!

Now, it's time to look at some equipment choices in depth.

Film Compacts: it is possible, with patience and a lot of perseverance, to take good fish photos with a compact. However, the experience will prove frustrating in the short term, and you'll quickly grow out of it. Better to save up and spend a bit more money on something longer lasting and easier to use.

Manual SLRs (film): older manual SLRs can be found second-hand at reasonable prices, unless they're collectors' models, and the accessories are usually available within a limited budget in second hand shops if you know what you're looking for. Cultivate a good dealer when doing this: this will save you money, and a good dealer will give you sound advice as to what to pick up for your needs, because you'll come back and spend more money with him if he leads you wisely! The only disadvantage of manual SLRs is that you have to set every parameter yourself. The trial and error here, however, will make you a better photographer in the long run, so that when you can afford a top-class autofocus SLR with all the bells and whistles, you'll know how to override the built-in programs and select better parameters when the camera's computer isn't up to the job. Your brain, once properly educated, can outsmart even the most expensive SLR computer!

Autofocus SLRs (film): these tend to be considerably more expensive than their manual counterparts (although there are exceptions), and the accessories are woefully expensive. I'd advise a novice to steer clear of these until experience with other cameras is gained. Not least because a proper macro lens for autofocus SLRs is astronomically expensive, to the point of needing a remortgage on the house!

Digital Compacts: it's amazing how much sophistication is packed into some of these. And some will have excellent features. But it pays to browse around, read the specs, and check out if the model of your dreams is going to cut the mustard as a fish cam. No point blowing a large sum of money on one of these cameras if it won't let you get close to the aquarium! And, if you can get one that connects directly via USB to a PC or Mac, so much the better. Also, watch out with respect to software quality with some of these: some come with software bundled that is woefully inadequate. A friend of mine blew £500 on a camera only to find that the software was a pile of junk, and made transferring his pics to his PC a complete pain. Worse still, it didn't connect directly via USB. Tut, tut, Fuji, must do better next time.

Digital SLRs: Here we're into the territory of 'wish lists'. At the moment, digital SLRs are expensive, and in some cases, the cost is so colossal that only pro photographers can justify the outlay. However, the 'big five' (i.e., Canon, Minolta, Olympus, Pentax and Nikon) make digital SLRs that can take lenses from film SLRs, reducing the cost. Canon are particularly good in this regard with EOS models. But, some of these are the stuff of dreams price wise. It's possible to blow £10,000 on just the camera body with ease. And most people here would probably prefer to spend their £10,000 on a lavish reef aquarium! However, if cost is no object, and you are determined to have the very best that money can buy, digital SLRs not only produce truly superb pictures (although even a £10,000 camera won't compensate for an idiot) but usually come bundled with top quality software. Some even throw in PhotoShop as part of the package. But then, for ten grand, I'd expect nothing less!

Hopefully, this latest dissertation will go some way toward helping all of you fish photographers out there


Panda Catfish fan and keeper/breeder since Christmas 2002
Post InfoPosted 26-Jan-2006 11:24Profile Homepage PM Edit Report 
$ilver dollar
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"The Earth is God's Fish Tank"
Post InfoPosted 23-Apr-2007 06:54Profile PM Edit Delete Report 
Tank You Daddy.
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male canada
Well written with some invaluable advice. One aspect of digital photography is that once you have the equipment cost out of the way, then unless you need hard copy prints, your cost per picture is negligable.
I especially liked the tip about turning off the room lights, I used it for the two aquarium shots I just posted! Thanks,

55G -5x Bosemani, 3x Emerald Cory,3x Red Rainbow, 3x Turquoise Rainbow. 20G-Empty. 10G -4x Danio 3x Cory Fry 1 Gold Mystery Snail. 10G- 1x CAE, 2x Tetra 1x ADF
Post InfoPosted 13-Jan-2008 05:50Profile Homepage PM Edit Delete Report 
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