Lighting for Fish In An Aquarium
Does anyone have experience in this field. My research so far is quite in conclusive, some saying no flash, others saying use flash, yet others saying off camera flash. Also camera up to the glass at a 45 degree angle seems to be mentioned a lot, but I believe this is to stop reflection of flash from glass. Obviously off camera flash means this may not be needed
Any help, or points in the right direction would be very much appreciated.
I have only photographed fish in an aquarium a couple of time with a Canon EOS 1 camera and it worked well. I put the lens right up on the glass. Make sure the glass is clean of fingerprints, etc. I tried to put the flash right on the glass as well with the off-camera adapter. You can experiment with the angle. I never tried a ring light. Also, for typical smaller tanks, I found that a wide angle lens (24mm) worked well. Manual focus is probably best as well.
Darryl, when I was working hard at photographing fish in aquaria I was tied for third best in the world with a couple of dozen other people. I've compared notes with my peers, deconstructed photos taken by the two who were clearly better than the rest of us.
There's only one lighting setup. Camera straight ahead, i.e., lens' axis at 90 degrees to the tank front. One or two flashes off camera, flash(es) axis at 45 degrees to the tank front. End of discussion, that's how its done by people who sell fish pictures.
Shooting through glass with a ringlight doesn't work. If you don't understand why, try it.
There's some disagreement about focal length, but we all use fixed-focal length macro lenses. Back when longer macro lenses were scarce, most used 50-60 mm. I did too, now much prefer my 105 to my 55. Better working distance. A 24 is too short, makes getting sufficient magnification very hard.
Autofocus closeup is a bad joke.
Good luck, have fun,
p.s. Please don't think that I'm an arbitrary barstid laying down the law as I see it. I surveyed my peers and I'm reporting best practice.
Last edited by Dan Fromm; 01-15-2006 at 08:40 AM. Click to view previous post history.
Here is a very nice article:
Maybe a bit basic, but Fredrik is a very good aqua-photographer.
I agree with Dan, he's got it right on. TTL flash is a godsend, I used to do it with a Pentax Spotmatic, a manual flash and Kodachrome 25. I had an assistant hold the flash at the right distance according to the guide number and then guesstimate the compensation needed for the water.
Probably 85% turned out exposure wise, and another 15% were trash due to reflection. If you have it, a big rubber lens hood that you press right up to the glass helps quite a bit toward eliminating reflections.
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Craig, if you ever go back to it you might want to steal a couple of my tricks.
I learned the first one from my first flash unit, a Metz Mecablitz 100. Potato masher type, attached to a bracket that bolted to the camera's tripod socket. I swung the bracket around to get the right geometry. Big idea? Use a bracket to enforce the right camera-flash geometry. I now do the same with Vivitar 283s on a bracket that I made.
The Metz taught me the second one too. I had no idea what its ASA (that's what we used back then) 25 GN was. So instead of testing to find its GN and then doing GN arithmetic on the fly when shooting, I fired a set of calibration shots at a cooperative subject and that was that. Pre-calibration saves thinking, eliminates the need for TTL-autoflash. And since its equivalent to metering incident, its less likely to go wrong that TTL-autoflash. All of the brackets/flashes I use for closeup work are precalibrated. Laziness is good.
I lose aquarium shots to poor composition, cruddy tank front, uncooperative subject/impatient photographer, and sometimes even to focus problems, but not to exposure problems or uncontrolled reflections.
I have done no aquarium work. I am assuming that one will be photographing in a fairly small aquarium, as opposed, to say, the Shedd Aquarium. If you have mono lights or flash head and pack that have modeling lights, you could darken the room and I think that you would be able to judge reflection problems and get a feel for the modeling quality of your lights. I imagine that you should be able to employ top light, also, if desired. If you have an incident flash meter that can be used w/o a cord You could seal it in a plastic lunch bag put it into the wate to take an exposure reading. You could also set your lighting ratios. Of course these same techniques could be used with tungsten lighting. If you wish to confine a fish to a small area you could use insert a piece of glass behind the fish.
Here is a good application for a digicam: Use it in the same position as your film camera, I am assuming a tripod here, as an electronic polaroid.
If you can stand the expense, a polarizer on the camera and polarizing filters on the lights will allow very flexible control of reflections. It will also allow much increased saturation with color film. The polarization will also cause a light loss of approximately 4 stops.
Claire (Ms Anne Thrope is in the darkroom)
In regard to reflective surfaces and lighting, light always reflects (given a uniform surface) at the exact opposite angle it arrives. If the lens is in this zone it will "see" the light source. One thing that is done is to make the reflection bigger than the object being photographed, and is accomplished with larger light sources like soft boxes etc. This would not be appropriate for your intention, and would in fact exacerbate the reflection problems. The other solution is to position the lighting to send the reflections else where than the lens. The point of the 45 is to send the reflected light off at the opposite 45 and therefore miss the lens. This is a good starting point. If you position your head where the lens will be you will be able to see what will be reflected in the field of view for the focal length you choose. If you can make the room dark, do so, and you will be dealing with a smaller set of light sources. Pushing the lens up against the glass will in effect flag the light from the lens. A Pola as stated before will help as well but can only phase half the light from a point source, and as such will be most useful for reducing ambient reflection. The proper exposure compensation for a pola is 1 1/2 stops or less depending on how far it is rotated in. Schneider makes a Pola called a Tru Pol that requires a 2 stop compensation at its strongest.
(addendum- in re-reading the previous post I see that the 4 stop figure was
given in regard to polarizing the lights as well. I do not believe polarizing both the lights and lens would serve any purpose except to make it very dark, as far as the camera was concerned
Brunner, I do not dispute that an exposure factor of 2.5 is advertised for a polarising filters. If, however, you put an polariser on a densitometer it will show 2 stops (.57-.63) of density. A polariser's density is not changed by its rotation. So, as far as I am concerned, if one is using a polariser over the lens and a polariser over the light one has lost 4 stops of light compared to using no polarisers. I believe that the 2.5 exposure factor got started because people liked the look of the increased saturation from underexposure.
If you own a polarizer, load your camera with a roll b&W film. Put it on a tripod under conditions where the light will not change for a few minutes. Determine your exposure for use without a polariser and manually set it on your camera. Take a shot w/o the polariser. Take a shot(s) with the polariser both rotatated for maximum and least effect after compensating by applying a 2.5 exposure factor. Take a shot at either rotation after setting a 4 times as long (2stops) shutter speed compared to the starting shutter setting. Develop your film and make contacts.
So, is the first and fourth frame nearly identical, other than reflection dofferences and sky darkening? Are frames 2 and 3 different from one another other than sky darkening and reflection differences? Is either frame 2 or 3 more like frame 1 than is number 4?
Well, are they?
Claire (Ms Anne Thrope is in the darkroom)
Actually I would stipulate that the density (or transmission if you will) of a polarizer is directly related to axis of the light it is filtering, and as such there is no really hard and fast rule, other than the maximum possible effect, and the photographer must arrive a a stop by determining the overall effect of the pola and any other considerations such as a desire to over or underexpose. If I'm not sure I simply spot meter different zones through the pola in the orientation I intend to use it, and compare it to the non pola reading. I have never needed a four stop compensation. The most I have seen is the full two stops of the Tru Pol.
If I made a two stop error, in my line of work, I would hear about it.
I have never seen a polarizer for a light, and have no idea why one would want to cancel light from two exact opposite angles (lens and light source) if the light was going to be of any use. Sort of like how your cellphone or PDA goes black if your wearing good polarized sunglasses.
When I get time, I will, never the less, try your experiment.