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Photographing Fish
by Marc Elieson

For me, photographing my cichlids is just as enjoyable as watching them. Let me begin this article by stating that I am not an expert. At the time of writing this, I use a simple digital camera: Kodak DC280 ZOOM. Someone recently asked me for some advice on how to take quality pictures of their fish. I have reproduced that advice here, for others to read.

One of the more common problems people seem to have with taking pictures of their fish is either not getting a clear shot because of insufficient light, or the flash bounces off the glass and ruins the picture (see right).

To keep the flash from bouncing off the glass, there are two alternatives: shoot the picture at an angle so that the flash does not come directly back at the camera, or . . . don't use a flash. If you opt to snap a shot without the use of a flash, you'll need to ensure sufficient lighting, otherwise, your photo will come out too dark. One way to do this is to 1) turn on the hood lights, and 2) add some extra light with lamps that can conveniently be placed on top of or over the tank. It is important that these lamps shine directly into the tank and not anywhere else. If you don't watch this, the picture below demonstrates what will happen. The first few times you try this, your fish will probably panic and do odd things like pale in color, hide, or huddle together. But they soon grow accustomed to it.

Use color correction bulbs when possible as these will help to show off your fish's true color. Regular (incandescent) bulbs emit white light, and aquarium lamps emit purple light. So you see, by using just these two lights you miss a lot of the color spectrum. Color correction bulbs will make sure the fish's true color comes out. Also, you may consider adjusting your camera setting for the ambient lighting to fluorescent. Experiment with this setting and find what you like best. Note, this is not necessary when using a flash.

Another problem people tend to get is that other objects besides a flash will appear on the glass, as in this picture below of an Aulonocara stuartgranti and Pseudotropheus elongatus.

This can usually be prevented by turning off all the lights in the room, and closing any windows that might be letting light into the room. Because these reflections are a real problem, I've found that my best pictures are at night, where the only light in the room is the light IN the tank.

If you have a tripod, you might want to think about using one. I use one for larger shots, but find it hard to manuever quickly when photographing individual fish. Tripods are nice because you can eliminate any blurring due to an unsteady hand and you will produce a level shot.

The last piece of advice that I'll give is that it takes many, many shots to get a one good one. National Geographic photographers take hundreds of shots, hoping for just one. This is due to many reasons, the foremost being the unpredictability of the fish's movements, which can blur your picture if you are not expecting it. If you use a 35mm camera, you may only get 2 or 3 good shots per roll of film. This is just too expensive, in my opinion. For this reason, a digital camera is really the best option if you plan to take many shots, and conversely, get more than a couple of good ones.

By using a digital camera, you can take hundreds of pictures and edit the good ones, cropping, cutting, and pasting them so that they are arranged the way you like them. I have taken just over 8,000 photographs with my Kodak over the past two years. Now, 1/3 of those shots were deleted almost instantaneously. And of those remaining, another third get dropped after preivewing them on the computer. Of the remaining 1/3, only half are really worth sharing. So, you can begin to see the cost-savings of a digital camera. I've found great improvement in my photography skills as I have taken more photos and become more comfortable with my camera, the subject, and its environment. □

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