Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Aquarium Photography

I love aquariums (okay, I love most places). Whenever I find myself heading towards an aquarium, one of the first things I think is, "yay! Aquarium photography!" And then I get there, and I get reminded just how damn hard it is to take good pictures at the aquarium. First there are all the other people. Then there's the extra-reflective glass. There's the low light. And there's that pesky, frustrating way that the damn fish never stop moving. When you add it all together, I usually end up pretty irritated, and I get home with a bunch of pictures that either didn't turn out at all, or that I thought turned out but are actually a little blurry. Still, on the occasions that it works out, and I get a good shot, it's usually better than good - it's usually spectacular (if I do say so myself). I think it's that fish and other undersea types are so colorful and beautiful, and the lighting at aquariums is so saturated, that if you can get a nice clear shot, it's going to look good.

I decided I wanted to do an aquarium post after I went to the Aquarium By the Bay while I was in San Francisco last month, so here goes! These pics are from four different aquariums (the New York/Coney Island Aquarium; the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago; and the Aquarium By the Bay in San Francisco - I've got pics I took at Ocean Park in Hong Kong, too, but none of them made the cut). I've taken them on various trips between 2007 and now - three different cameras and a lot of different levels of experience! I'm going to keep commentary to a minimum - just some headers. :)

Shells and Shellfish



What can I say? Anemone photograph real pretty...

I think this is one of the best shots I've ever taken of anything, any where.

Sea Horses:

For at least a year after I took the above image, I would have cited it as the best photograph I'd ever taken. Now, it feels like a symbol of how far I've come since 2007. It's still a good shot, but not something I feel is out of reach.



Some tips?
1. Turn off your flash. It won't help.

2. Hold your camera against the glass. It's the only way to get around the reflection problem, and to hold your hands still enough to not have the low light result in all your photos being really blurry.

3. Be patient. Wait for your moment. Wait til the other people go away. Keep still, so you don't startle the fish, and if you just wait, often the one you're trying to get will wander by.

4. Pick a display that doesn't seem too challenging - say, one where there's an anemone or an urchin just sitting there, not going to move much, not going to swim away - and sit there and take the picture over and over again with different camera settings until you find a set that you like and where the colors read true. Take notes!

5. If at first you don't succeed...well, here is the first set I ever took in an aquarium, at the Shedd in May of 2007. You'll notice that aside from two lucky shots and a few shots that aren't of the fish, they all suck. Just keep trying. And it's not a coincidence that almost none of the above images that I shared were of things that were moving!

6. If it's not moving, get close.

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