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How to: Photograph through Glass – 7 tips for aquarium photography.

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Photographing through glass can be tricky. When you add in low light,  and a fast subject,  you have all the elements for a volatile concoction of blurred photos and frustrations. We’ve all been there -fumbling around with our camera in the aquarium- watching those colorful, graceful little creatures zip from side to side, up and down, stopping only for a split second before disappearing back into the abyss.

I’m sure I’ve said this before…  your camera gear really isn’t as important as your photographic eye and artistic visual storytelling ability.. and this is still true. However, sometimes your gear can give you an extreme advantage for particular situations, such as this one. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but your point and shoot camera or cellphone might be your worst enemy and hinder your ability to get the quality shots you desire. Why? You are working under extreme conditions: low light, fast moving subject, and a reflective barrier.

Here are some tips to overcome this photgrapher’s nightmare.

1. Kill your Flash! Seriously, your camera’s flash is your worst enemy in this situation. It is highly unlikely that the flash is going to penetrate the glass without a huge reflection on the glass tank. It’s super unattractive and will ruin your pictures. If you don’t have an option to turn your flash off, put some electrical tape over it.

2. Glass to Glass. Get as close as humanly possible to the glass. When I am shooting through the aquarium glass I press my lens against the glass. No matter what camera you have your glass will be set back a few centimeters from the outer plastic so you don’t have to worry about it actually touching the glass. This also helps to steady your camera to avoid camera shake. Fish are generally moving pretty fast and hardly stay still for more than a few seconds.

3. Raise your ISO. This is very important – in conjunction with the next step- because you need as much sensitivity to light as possible to hit your camera’s sensor. You should already know the threashold for your camera’s grain factor, so go as high as you can without the possibility of the grain taking hostage of your light. If you aren’t sure how high you can turn your ISO before it ruins your pictures, practice before you go. To do this, go outside at night, or in a dark room where there is minimal light. Point towards the light from a few feet away and snap a picture with each ISO setting from lowest to highest. Make note of which setting shows too much grain for your liking and avoid using anything higher unless it’s a once in a lifetime shot and quality doesn’t matter.  A lower-end camera will start to show dramatic grain around 800-1600 ISO, whereas a higher end camera may yield little to no grain at 3200 ISO.

4. Get Low. Use a lens with the  largest aperature you have (lowest number  ex. f/1.8). This is going to allow the most amount of light into your lens and on to your sensor. So, a large aperture + high ISO = the most light and the highest sensitivity to it. A point to remember is that the larger your aperture the lower your depth of field will be – it’s a balance. Practice makes perfect.

5. Just a little Patience. Any wildlife photographer will assure you that patience is your best friend when you are dealing with animals. You cannot tell them how to pose, where to stand, or what faces to make. Your only choice is candid shots. Getting a great shot will depend on your skills to anticipate the animal’s next move, have your camera ready, and know the correct settings for the shot. This can lead to a lot of waiting. I can’t tell you how many hours I have wasted spent waiting for the perfect moment. Catching any animal with a huge grin on it’s face or playfully doing it’s thing is super rewarding though. Never, ever, EVER just point and shoot.

6. Shoot Rapid Fire. The best thing about digital photography is we no longer have to worry about the expense of film or  the amount of frames left on the roll (to an extent). There is a downfall though.. I feel the art form and dependance on skill may have slipped a bit. We can now snap 100 frames in 2 minutes and not have to worry about concentrating on 3 or 4 frames that *must* work…This can both be good and bad depending on who you ask.  Back to the tip, Take a lot of pictures.

7. SERVO MODE. If you are shooting with a dSLR you will have different focusing modes. If you are shooting with a Canon, select AI Servo. Nikon users, choose Continuous Servo AF-C. The purpose of this setting is let your camera automatically “track” your subject when it is moving such as fish -or humans-. This is a setting often used in sports, auto racing, and other activities where subjects are moving at high speeds.

Happy shooting!

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Always happy to hear your feedback and see your results!


About PixelGrin

Photography. Punk Rock. Art. Travel.


5 thoughts on “How to: Photograph through Glass – 7 tips for aquarium photography.

  1. Thanks for the tips, fantastic! your pictures are beautiful.

    Posted by Simply Snapped | 31 October, 2011, 3:15 am
  2. Fantastic tips. Now I need to get to an aquarium to try them all out.

    Posted by hena tayeb | 10 November, 2011, 10:05 pm
  3. nice information, thanks. hope you make some more posts soon.

    Posted by Thad Krum | 23 November, 2011, 3:35 pm

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Hi Hello I'm Jennifer Jackson. ...and the world is my oyster...



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