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Help me fishfam :Best camera settings for phone photos?

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I'm working on getting better photos for the puffer breeding documentation. I'm certainly a novice on photos and have watched all the Jimmy gimbal videos I can on the subject.... Because it's Jimmy.

My current understanding and photo abilities can get me this level of clarity. Is there something I can improve on to get my phone quality of photos to the level of printing in high quality article worth definition ? Do I just need to get a better camera ?


Thanks all. That's the male palustris guy is very friendly

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@mountaintoppufferkeeper, I've always felt that a lot of the challenges in photographing fish are more difficult to address within the limitations of phone cameras, but it can still be overcome for the most part.

As fish make such uncooperative models, blurring of their movement is probably the primary issue. To avoid blurring you need a faster shutter speed to freeze them in action. Many phone cameras will not have this directly adjustable, but you can fool the camera into doing so regardless.

I believe that on your phone, you can switch to “Pro” mode? I think on your phone you can raise the ISO in that mode.

The ISO is the ‘film speed’. Back when “film” was a noun and a verb!

But what happens is that the higher ISO numbers are more sensitive to light such that the image would be overexposed if not compensated for. This is then compensated to correct exposure by shortening the shutter speed and shorter shutter speeds will blur less and capture movement better.

I may be mistaken but if your camera does have actual, adjustable shutter speeds, then so much the better as you may simply raise it to say, 1/250th of a second or higher and you’ll see no blurring.

I prefer to shoot at night because of reflections and to remove the surroundings from the imagery. I never use a flash as its a glaring, clinical light and often ruins the aquarium’s ambiance. By raising the ISO, you’ll be able to shoot the tanks with only their lighting and prevent blurring.

(Some phone cameras will more or less automatically set these parameters in place in “Night Mode” but that seems to vary model to model so I’m unsure if that will work in all cases)

Glare can be dealt with by adding a polarizing filter. A circular polarizer is required for autofocus cameras and will pretty much eliminate all glare, but it loses half the light so again, you must raise the ISO to compensate for less light. Whenever possible, as @modified lung said, "Manual focus is also your friend". 

The downside to raising the ISO is akin to a film’s ‘grain’. The higher the ISO is set, there will be more digital noise which looks a lot like old film grain.

To that end, typically you’ll see ISO’s set around 100-400. This is to accommodate a wide range of lighting, day to night. A high ISO of say, 1000 would not work well in daylight for example but would be well suited for night work. To do shoots like tanks at night, or even just tanks without flash, I’d set your ISO between 1000-4000 to address the issues above. You can try ISO’s as high as you wish until it begins to look 'grainy' and just reduce it. Most times the grain would only be problematic if greatly enlarged.

Personally, I like to shoot my fish with a deliberate theme. I want the image to convey something specific, either movement, speed, colors, something funny, unusual or just the patterns they form. So, I focus on the intent and try to exclude distracting or irrelevant objects in the image. I find my worst images are when I try to include too much.

For example, this is a shot of a mountain from the roof of my house. It’s a typical, ugly, wide angle, ‘includes everything around it’ kind of shot that says nothing:


But the real picture is within the picture. By zooming in on the two objects in the frame I want to dominate the image, the mountain and the oranges, it becomes a statement of juxtaposition of two unrelated but complementary colors and scales:


Here is another view from just above the roofs in the original view and with all the junk cropped out:


These are the same fishes in both images. The first has an amusing, whimsical, almost anthropomorphic feel to it as the large Severum staring into the camera almost appears pissed off that the others are eating all of his lettuce!


Here I panned along with the same fish when they were all (well, mostly!) swimming in the same direction. So, this image below suggests movement whereas above suggests their personalities:


Here’s some more examples of dominant themes:

Personality Dominant:


Color Dominant:


Or weird with abstractions like this one of the above acaras fry:


I think pictures get strength from a thematic focus. Distractions subtract from the subject, so I try to make every element in the image suggest the subject.

BTW your last puffer images are just terrific. They're beautiful...and they're so cute! 


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It ain't easy with a phone. Remember, a phone's sensor is about a quarter the size of the sensor of a cheap point and shoot, nevermind a 1" or APS-C or 35mm. The big thing with smaller sensors is they need HUGE amounts of light. It becomes very challenging to photograph faster moving stuff in low light. Higher ISO or composite shots when the fish is calm can help.

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I shoot my 75s at night because of light reflections during the day (south and east facing windows). I've got an ancient Samsung smartphone with an ok for 2016 camera, but it does decent in pro mode.

These adorable subjects were shot in a dark room with just tank lights in Pro Mode, with ISO800, 1/125 shutter speed. I'll go faster for more active fish like the tetras.corybeach.jpg.02ba2f9f95dc08d967350447e32e79a4.jpg

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I’ve been trying to get better too while I haven’t watched Jimmy’s, I’ve watched some others. The biggest take-aways from what I’ve watched are bright tank with a dark room, keep your phone parallel to the tank, and patience waiting for fish to be in frame and of going through a bunch of bad photos as you improve. 

But really as just someone that wants to show people my cute and cool fish, my clarity of images has gone up a lot just remembering to stay parallel to the glass (I put a thin case on my phone so that the camera lens is just barely tucked in and then push the whole phone onto the tank, definitely parallel and then tank and lens are protected!), the moment I tilt even a few degrees to get a better angle, the clarity drops off a cliff. Maybe turning the caves so they directly face a side of the tank you can lay your phone flat against would help too  

I’m up from all terrible pictures to a decent one in every 10-15 (progress not perfection, right?).

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I’ll share some tips! Most of them are repeats of what’s already been shared (or come straight from Jimmy’s videos), but I just want to second them because they’re so helpful. 😄

  • More light = less blurry. If you have enough light, you can still photograph moving fish with clarity. Try putting an extra light on top of the tank when you’re photographing.
  • Focus on the eye. If the eye is in focus, that looks “right” to the viewer. If the eye isn’t in focus, then it looks “wrong.”
  • Crop crop crop! Cropping is your friend! Crop the image a little in order to eliminate clutter around the edges and help guide the viewer’s eyes to where you want them to look.
  • Don’t use the zoom. For my phone at least, zooming in doesn’t actually zoom in—it just crops the image and makes it more pixelated. If you want to be able to take pictures of smaller things, get a clip-on macro lens.
  • Take a million pictures so you get three good ones. That’s just the way it goes with fish.
  • Make sure the room is dark to prevent reflections in the glass. It looks like you already figured this one out, since it improved a lot between your first and second pictures.
  • Figure out what gets your fish to the glass. In the fish store where I take pictures, most fish will come when I wiggle my fingers. Sometimes that gets them excited and they start swimming faster, which is counterproductive.
  • Some fish are scared of the camera. I think this is because the lens looks like a big “eye” to them, which then tracks them as they move. Very threatening! So I try not to move the phone too much to reduce the impression that a predator is tracking them. I also put my fingers fairly close to the lens so the lens stands out less to them.

My phone has a pretty good camera (iPhone 12) and I don’t know how that compares to what you have, but here are some examples of what I’m able to get using the above techniques:





This is one of my honey gourami fry. I used the macro lens to take it:




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On 8/27/2022 at 11:31 AM, Hobbit said:

Figure out what gets your fish to the glass. In the fish store where I take pictures, most fish will come when I wiggle my fingers. Sometimes that gets them excited and they start swimming faster, which is counterproductive.

All great tips, and this one especially interesting, particularly if you're already trying to capture fast moving fish. I got some of the Sera O-nip tabs in my last Co-op order to try. Which we did last night. It was as big of a hit as the shrimp food - I get why Dean likes their foods so much. Got some really fun pics of the scrum, including a metallic "flash" from the Coletti tetras. I did go to a 1/250 shutter for these however.


I don't know why these aren't more common in the hobby - they are amazing in person. Just like the green neons, photos and video just doesn't do them justice. Cropped this guy out of another image - love the mouth!20220828_110753.jpg.d7268dbccbe7c704679c0751ad44a328.jpg


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