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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A few people have asked about the fish photos that I shoot so I thought that I'd post a little tutorial and some diagrams that might be of interest. This is the process & set-up that I use to capture close-up fish portraits like these...





One of the really great things about shooting with this set-up is that there is virtually NO PhotoShop work needed after the fact. Pretty much everything here is done in-camera. I also have full flexibility to light the tank & fish in any number of ways.

Everything is spotlessly clean before I start. I siphon fish tank water into the photo tank through a coffee filter to prevent any particles from getting into the photos.

The lights illuminating the aquarium are the ONLY lights in the room. This prevents reflections.

There is a sheet of clear Plexiglas a couple of inches back from the front of the tank, which prevents the fish from swimming too far front to back (and out of focus).



Actually, if you have enough DOF to cover that couple of inches, you won't have to focus at all; except when you move closer of further away.

I place the tank on white Styrofoam. This helps support / cushion the tank and stops it from rocking. Also reflects light back up into the bottom of the fish to fill in some of the dark shadows.

I have the main light (flash/strobe) a long way up above the tank. This helps prevent light fall-off and keeps even exposures from the top to bottom of the tank.



My tank is 12" high and I only have 1/2 ev difference from the top to bottom. Having the lights positioned several feet above the aquarium, using smaller apertures & low iso, I do need a powerful flash. (Shutter sync 1/250s)

If you want more information on light/exposure fall-off try Googling "law of inverse squares" (how light intensity diminishes over distance) and "Beer-Lambert-Bouguer law" (how light travels through water or other mediums).

I like the strobes as they are powerful and recycle instantly. They are a bit pricey though.

You can use regular flash units in place of the strobes. If you can diffuse the light from the flash, you'll end up with softer shadows and highlights (and usually better photos).

You can add / build an aquascape behind the Plexiglas if you want more detail in your backgrounds.

I don't use a tripod for this type of shooting. I get in close with the camera & fast macro lens, follow the fish, and shoot anytime it poses.

It's important to mask the area between the lights and the top of the tank to control where the light goes (and doesn't). You don't want to have light spilling into the room or your camera's lens, as this leads to reflections in the tank's glass and lens flare. Both of which will ruin a photo. The masks I use are just black paper or thin sheets of black plastic held in place with tape or spring clips. The masks placed or hung wherever needed to keep the light contained above the tank.

Although this is not the same tank set-up, it shows the lights above the tank, and...


how the masks are utilized to keep the light from spilling where I don't want it. Especially out, in-front of the aquarium.


For black / dark backgrounds, the key is to light the subject well. Then shade the background. In this case I just used black cardboard placed across the top of the tank. With the camera's exposure set for your subject, the 'shaded' background will more than likely be rendered completely black or at least very dark.




For the white backgrounds; I place a sheet of white, translucent Plexiglas (not shown in diagram) immediately behind the tank and position another strobe (further diffused with a soft-box) a few feet behind that, and pointed at the Plexiglas and the back of the tank. The goal is to evenly illuminate the Plexiglas and have it slightly brighter (over-exposed) than the exposure settings of your camera. These backgrounds are created in camera, not in PhotoShop!




Achieving a good light ratio between the two light sources, related to your camera's exposure are crucial. If the BG light is 1.5 to 3 stops brighter than the main (subject) light, it'll be rendered overexposed and clean white (depending on your camera and set-up) which is perfect. If it's overdone the lens will flare and the image will be hazy. If the background flash isn't bright enough, your image's background will be gray.

The 'glowing' blue background is created in the same way as the white background, the only difference is that there is a translucent blue gel material in-between the white plexi-glass and the back of the aquarium and the flash illuminating the background is not as bright as when trying to make it white.



Hope the gives all of you some ideas for future fish photography projects.
 

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Thank you for posting this tutorial. I find it very useful and simple enough to follow :)
 

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I was in a talk where Chris was showing us the How-To. I learnt so much from it. He is an excellent photographer and as well as teacher. If you have a chance, attempt his talk and you will come out a better photographer and more ideas...
 

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Great info . I will have to try that . As it is I get 1 out of about 200 that are even worth keeping of my fish :(. Getting the fish to cooperate is the toughest part :D.
 

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I was in a talk where Chris was showing us the How-To. I learnt so much from it. He is an excellent photographer and as well as teacher. If you have a chance, attempt his talk and you will come out a better photographer and more ideas...
This thread is awesome. Where do you teach Chris? I'd like to attend one of your talks if you do it again.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
Any chance you can draw up a diagram of your lighting setup?
Yup, I did. The diagrams above are the lighting setups that I use quite often. I do however change it up a bit depending on the situation.

The biggest thing that I do that I don't see many other folks doing when setting up lights is that I get them up a distance from the top of the tank (I see a lot of other set-ups where the lights are pretty-much right on top of the tank). That'd work, however...

Having the lights further up means that there will be less light fall-off from the top to bottom of the tank. Meaning, the exposure issues caused by the "Law of Inverse Squares" (how light intensity diminishes over distance) and "Beer-Lambert-Bouguer law" (how light travels through water or other mediums) are minimized. But, you might need more powerful flash units (or just more flash units) in order to get enough light for a good exposure.

Having basically the same light levels at the top of the tank as the bottom makes exposures easy as they are even.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
Any chance you can draw up a diagram of your lighting setup?
Here's a picture of another set-up I used to shoot a small reef tank with direct flash. Don't put too much emphasis on the rigging, just take note of the location, direction and distance of the flash units.


The lighting is more contrasty shooting with a set-up like this. Dark shadows and bright highlights with a quick transition between the two.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
This thread is awesome. Where do you teach Chris? I'd like to attend one of your talks if you do it again.
Thanks 2wheelsx2! I have taught distance learning (online) courses on aquarium photography. It was one class per week (plus homework and assignments) for 6 weeks. I don't have anything like that planned in the foreseeable future.

I have also done a few slideshows and aquarium photography lectures around town. Again, nothing planned but if there is enough interest, I suppose I can put a fun little workshop or something together.
 

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I have also done a few slideshows and aquarium photography lectures around town. Again, nothing planned but if there is enough interest, I suppose I can put a fun little workshop or something together.
Maybe a BCA get-together/photo-workshop. That would be great.
 
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