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Question of the Month

April 2017

How Easy is Aquarium Photography


This Question is an abridged excerpt from my upcoming ebook on Electronic Flash and Camera Triggering Devices for Wildlife Photography.

At the 2017 NANPA Summit I gave a 3 hour lecture on flash and triggers, and one of the topics I covered generated a lot of subsequent feedback. Photographers are intimidated by flash and glass -- so aquarium shooting can be difficult. It doesn't have to be.

For aquarium photography you need flash, to provide enough light and to freeze subjects. Fish can swim quickly, and most aquariums are indoors, anyway, where light levels are low. Any light can cause reflections, but actually, if you use your camera's fastest flash synch speed (generally 1/200 - 1/300 sec), a lower ISO (like 200 or so), and a small aperture (f16 or so), reflections from ambient light will probably not be recorded as that ambient light will be underexposed.

Now, all you have to worry about is flash reflections. The easiest way to handle this is to remember this rule:

The Angle of Incidence equals the Angle of Reflection.

All this means is that the light hitting the glass (incident light) reflects away from the glass at the same angle, as the above illustration shows. Provided your camera is positioned to be out of the path of the reflected light, you won't get a reflection. If the incident angle is too steep -- like aimed closer to 90 degrees to the glass, the flash will reflect straight back, and the lens may record that reflection.
For the lighting I used two Rogue Softboxes with two of the three flashes. Please note that this illustration shows THE WRONG way to position the flash on the right. I'm using the Rogue Softboxes more and more for my macro and plant photography -- the lighting is diffused and looks beautiful.

I had a Rogue Softbox positioned right over the top of the tank for these Spotted Salamanders, giving the obvious overhead lighting look. Another softbox was positioned to the right, facing the front of the aquarium. In spring, this species of salamander visits our ponds to mate and lay eggs. After doing so, they return to the forest where, because of their burrowing habits, they virtually disappear. Appropriately, they belong to a group called the Mole Salamanders.

Here's the Rogue Softboxes. I'm showing a front and back view. The blue stripes on the box on the left are actually hidden metal bands that allow you to bend and shape the box into whatever position you wish. In this image the box on the left looks like it is broken -- it is not, it's just shaped for the flash light to strike the top and be bounced forward, for soft light.

In nature, light illuminates from above, so it's a bit unnatural to have lights positioned only from the sides. Place a flash on top of the tank, too, to provide overhead light, and that should be your 'key' light, with the flashes aimed at the glass front acting as 'fill.' The difference between the two can be subtle.


Here's the view of the tank from the camera's position. Note that the top flash can be aimed at a 90 degree, since the reflection just bounces straight up.

Here's both views.

I'll be teaching this technique, and you'll have an opportunity to shoot images and practice this technique, during our Advanced (Flash) Nature Photo Course.

The ebook should be available this summer -- if you'd like a discount,
contact our office now! Anyone mentioning this Question in your email will get 20% off the ebook.

Previous Questions of the Month

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How Easy is NIK's HDR Program to use?

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Why did we drop our NANPA membership?

What is the best $69 you can spend in photography?

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What do I think of the Canon 1D Mark IV?

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What is the Keboko backpack? Is it the New Best Pack?
Is there a correct position for the upright on a Wimberley actionhead?

Archived Questions of the Month

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Read an Interesting Interview with Joe

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