Aquarium Tips

AquariumAugust 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?

T. Gordon
Via the Internet

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.

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.


    I live in the Atlanta area and have photographed the aquarium. If you are using a DSLR camera, I highly recommend a F2.8 or better lens. Shoot wide open. If you don?۪t have an f2.8 lens, try renting one. It is dark and the only available light is in the tanks. Take your time shooting. Place your camera lens against the glass and move with the fish whenever possible. If you plan on using a flash, do not shoot directly at the glass. Shoot from a 45 degree to avoid the flash reflection. I do not recommend taking a tripod and I don’t think they will allow it. Too many people to spread open a tripod. Go early or later just before closing. Give yourself enough time. You can see some of my pictures on my website at in the animal?۪s album. All pictures were taken without a flash. Good luck!

    I live in California and always take my friends and family to The Monterey Bay Aquarium. Like you I love taking pictures of sea creatures and the rare opportunity to pictures in their natural “habitat” Like Mike said, I always bring f2.8 lens and I would add a sturdy mono pod. This allows you to freely move around within the crowd without having to trip over you and your equipment. I also suggest you bring a remote sync cable so you can have your assitant hold the flash away from the camera and angle it so pictures are not affected and you reduce the possibility of reflections.

    Have fun!

    Amado Royola

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