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August 11, 2008
Q) This fall my wife and I are planning to travel to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. We would like to photograph the animals in the aquariums as well as the aquariums themselves. Can you help with any equipment recommendations or techniques?
Via the Internet
A) The two biggest problems you’ll encounter in photographing animals in an aquarium are reflections and insufficient light. To solve the first problem, you need to work as close to the glass as possible—right up against it is best, taking care not to allow your equipment to damage the surface. Take along a wide to normal zoom lens that can be held against the glass; changing the zoom will change the viewing area that the lens sees while staying close to the glass. I also use a marker to black out any light-colored lettering on the inside of the front of the lens because it will show up in the picture.
Flash is the solution to the second problem, but it can exacerbate the trouble with reflections. The best approach is to use a cable or a wireless flash to get the flash away from the camera and lens. A second wireless flash being held by an assistant can be very helpful to shoot light into the water or illuminate a particular subject; test until you find a position that doesn’t reflect off the glass. Here’s another situation where a digital camera will help: You can check the results on the LCD as you’re fine-tuning the positioning of the flash. Be aware that flash photography isn’t allowed in some areas of the Georgia Aquarium, and watch for posted signs.
You’ll need to take along a lightweight tripod if you’re serious about photographing the aquaria themselves. The issues will be dim lighting, requiring long exposures and lighting that’s highly varied, with lighter and darker areas in the same frame. Long exposures and HDR (high dynamic range) are the answer, but both require a tripod, which may be a hazard in crowded, dark spaces.
The first photograph shows an example of the flash reflecting off the glass. The second capture shows the reflection gone due to placing the camera against the glass and the flash off-camera.