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Fish Tank Forum • View topic - Some tips on taking photos of fish
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Some tips on taking photos of fish

Articles on general fish keeping

Some tips on taking photos of fish

Postby Big Den » Tue Feb 22, 2011 10:05 pm

If you are like me instruction booklets are for wimps, I never use them. When I first bought a digital camera all I wanted to do was to take pictures with it. But as you get into taking more and more pictures you start to think, what are all these other buttons and dials for?
I take a half decent picture but I've found out that I can do better. I have always used the 'auto' setting, nice and easy, no fiddling with controls, point and shoot. The trouble with this setting is you have no control, the camera does what it thinks is best, which with photographing fish behind a piece of glass is not always the case.

Lets take a look at some of the settings:


The Settings Dial
Somewhere on the top of your DSLR there is a settings dial. They differ depending on which camera you have. All cameras have an automatic mode. Most cameras will have a group of modes illustrated by pictures. Each manufacturer calls these different things but essentially they are all fully automatic modes made for a specific purpose. For example, there may be a macro mode, night photography, portrait and landscape mode etc. These all function much the same as automatic, but change some things to settings the camera feels are more appropriate. For instance, selecting the landscape setting, the camera will make the aperture small to ensure more depth of field.
There are a few modes that all DSLR's have in common so that's what we will look at.

Program
Program mode is shown as a 'P' on the mode dial. This is very similar to the fully automatic mode in that the camera will automatically set the aperture and shutter speed according to the light available. The difference to the automatic mode is, in program mode you can set some of the other things, which will be explained below. This is where you should always start. This mode allows you to set your camera and then to shoot your pictures without worrying about specific settings while doing so.

Shutter Priority
Shutter priority will be shown as an 'S' or something similar on the mode dial. With shutter priority, you can set the shutter speed, the camera will automatically choose the aperture. Shutter priority can be useful when you are snapping fish in motion without a flash. If there is ample light you can set a high shutter speed to ensure that even a fast moving fish will be in focus.

Aperture Priority
Aperture priority will be shown as an 'A' or 'Av' on the mode dial. With Aperture priority you can set the aperture and the camera will set the correct shutter speed. This is quite handy as it allows you to control the depth of field as you are shooting. With aquarium photography this is the method I would recommend using, once you are more comfortable with your camera you can try different settings.

Manual
This is shown as an "M" on the mode dial. Manual mode is just what it says, completely manual. You have to set the shutter speed and the aperture yourself. This is great if you know what you are doing and have a lot of experience. Or if you have overall good light over the whole of the tank whereby the setting will be the same throughout.

ISO
When we all used film cameras we bought film with different ratings. ISO 100 film gave us good quality pictures when there was loads of light.With ISO 1000 film we could get good pictures in low light but the picture would have a grainy effect. With digital cameras it works roughly the same, except that we don't buy different film we just adjust the ISO setting on the camera. The effects are the same though, increasing the ISO setting increases the grain in the image. In the digital world it's called 'noise' as opposed to grain. You need to set the ISO value as low as you can but still get a good picture. When using a flash it will usually be best to set the ISO to 100, this will give you the best quality picture. The best way with ISO settings is to experiment and see which comes out the best, see where the 'noise' gets too much and lower it accordingly. This will roughly be above 400 ISO for DSLR's but they are getting better all the time.

Autofocus
The autofocus on DLSR's work by sampling a number of points and setting the focus accordingly. Some low to mid range cameras have 7+ different points. More expensive cameras have as many as 45 points. Sometimes these focus points get in the way, for instance when trying to focus on a fish you half press the shutter, the camera bleeps to indicate that it has focused, and the outcome is a nice plant or piece of decor is in focus and the fish is blurred. Or the camera has focused on a spot of algae on the glass. You can deal with this by not using all the focus points and use just one of them, the one in the centre being the best.

Image Quality
JPEG is a standard file format that is readable on any computer. JPEGs are processed by the camera's internal processor and have effects such as sharpening and other post processing applied. With JPEG output the camera does all the work needed to process the image and to make it look as good as possible. I would recommend using the highest quality JPEG your camera has available. There are other settings such as RAW, but you get a picture that has to be worked on manually on your computer with a good photo processing programme.

I hope this has been of interest and informative for you and if you have anything to add, feel free. These are just some of the points I have read about and used. Its always worth experimenting.
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Re: Some tips on taking photos of fish

Postby malakye » Wed Feb 23, 2011 12:12 am

Fantastic read Den, thanks for sharing that. I must admit I am guilty of leaving my camera on the auto setting, I really must play with the settings more.
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Re: Some tips on taking photos of fish

Postby Mick » Wed Feb 23, 2011 4:59 am

Good post Den, I too am an auto-guilty person. :-):
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Re: Some tips on taking photos of fish

Postby superdart » Wed Feb 23, 2011 5:55 pm

If it has fin's and swim's I'm interested in it....
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Re: Some tips on taking photos of fish

Postby davyboy » Wed Feb 23, 2011 11:04 pm

Gee I should have read this before posting my own one asking for help, well once that was up, I finally decided to play with the settings. Though the camera isn't mine, the wifey is the same way, instruction booklet goes in box, box goes into safe keeping aka box will be found five years from now, might as well be a time capsule. Well yeah, good write up, the only other thing people could do, is write down a list of all the settings in say excel, take two pictures with each (non moving, such as empty tank) and put them in excel and decide what worked best etc, and take the ones they liked the most, and start to play with those settings lol thats what I did, but most people probably don't wanna waste that much time :P
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Re: Some tips on taking photos of fish

Postby gobbie1 » Wed Mar 02, 2011 3:14 pm

Good Den - when i've got a bit time more time - been hectic last few weeks I'll add to your post

Best manual setting for all tanks colour balance & focus depth field plus lighting type all what most people do not know/understand

been meaning to start major thread /forum section on Photography (my lifetime work/hobby)

even with all the tech people still cannot take pics - cameras are same FILM/DGITAL so are the people make same mistakes assuming that because digi will be perfect

The last few years I've loathed what ive seen online - people's expectations & quality went downhill cos of mobbie phones etc

Looking thru proper DLSR will result in you seeing more detail & composing properly

ie no lights / windows / reflections / cables etc.. in shots

Also the finishing of shots what industry call post development in a suitable software as no pic is finished from camera

black point /white point colour balance & contrast output levels & histogram to name a few

Basically doing what a lab used to do with your old negs when put thru a machine same goes for the digi now in Boots etc
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