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First-time DSLR user - Can I get some tips on how to get good aquarium shots?


Chris
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So I've gotten tired of trying to get good pictures with my cell phone, and I needed a new hobby.. So I bought a DSLR and picked it up a Best Buy on my lunch break yesterday. I got the Canon EOS RP Mirrorless with the 24-105mm lens bundled together. I know relatively little about photography, so I was wondering if I could get some basic tips on getting good pictures of my fish. Here's a few from me playing around with it last night:

 

https://imgur.com/a/J4CBRK2#jxhDCOS

 

Some of these turned out okay, but they're obviously not as good as they could be. I'm finding that the auto mode on this camera prevents me from getting too many unrecognizable photos, but rarely produces anything of decent quality. So, I turned off some of the auto settings and used manual ISO, manual focus, and manual shutter speed. Then I shut off all the other lights in the room, and focused on one tank at a time. Here's what I came up with.

 

https://imgur.com/a/NXpsAsW#O68hfqt

 

I tried some tips I got on another forum, and added a bright (150W LED) floodlight to the top of the tank to serve as a flash of sorts. I ended up getting tons of Limia Nigrofasciata glam shots, as they're my newest addition - how do you think I could improve on these? The glass could obviously use some deeper cleaning, and this particular tank is a bowfront with limited viewing angles, which makes it hard to photograph.

 

https://imgur.com/a/oqP9ru3#rBUTCzh

 

Thanks for any tips!

Edited by Chris
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Generally with photography you want lots of light and the highest shutter speeds you can manage.

There's lots of little tricks to learn with photography, but one is the use of "depth-of-field" or how much of the image is in focus. You want a "shallow" depth-of-field when photographing an individual fish for instance, so that the background is softened by being a bit out of focus, placing the emphasis on the picture's subject, which will be in perfect focus. Having a deep depth of field where the entire image is in focus including the plants, decorations, etc. can look "busy" and doesn't give the eye anything to focus on.

There's a few ways to get a more narrow depth of field: wider aperture, and longer zoom. So, if you try using your lens more towards the 105mm long end but stand farther back away from the tank, the depth of field will be more shallow and I'll bet you'll get some cool pictures.

Edited by PatrickB
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11 minutes ago, Collin said:

I was actually halfway through typing out a long winded explanation when you posted that picture. I think you're definitely set up for success!

Thank you! I've wanted to invest in a DSLR for a long time, but have never really had the chance. Phone pictures always come out kind of "meh" for me, and a big part of the hobby (for me, anyway) is sharing my tanks. It's nice to have the ability to do that, now!

 

I do have a question about this lens. I assume it's supposed to be an all-rounder, since it's the one that came with the camera. At 105 mm, the aperture narrows to around 7, and at 25 mm, the aperture widens to 4. Is that a relatively common spec? I know there are "fast" lenses that are designed for action shots, so maybe that should be a future investment. Not that this isn't satisfying for now, but just curious!

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4 hours ago, Chris said:

Thank you! I've wanted to invest in a DSLR for a long time, but have never really had the chance. Phone pictures always come out kind of "meh" for me, and a big part of the hobby (for me, anyway) is sharing my tanks. It's nice to have the ability to do that, now!

 

I do have a question about this lens. I assume it's supposed to be an all-rounder, since it's the one that came with the camera. At 105 mm, the aperture narrows to around 7, and at 25 mm, the aperture widens to 4. Is that a relatively common spec? I know there are "fast" lenses that are designed for action shots, so maybe that should be a future investment. Not that this isn't satisfying for now, but just curious!

I don't have much experience with using different lenses unfortunately. Maybe someone else on tbe forum will have more insight. When it comes to aquarium photography, I think a good lense upgrade would be some kind of macro lens. I don't have one myself but it's something I've been looking for for a while.

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Great job!!  It's all about practice!

Photographer here - so I will offer my 2 cents, and you may not want to hear this, but you're going to want to scrap the kit lens (when you are able) Most kit lenses will have a variable aperture which wont allow you to get as much light into your photos as a fixed lens.  If aquarium shots are what you are after, I'd recommend a macro lens (My macro is a 105mm f2.8), or a fixed lens (50mm, 85mm, etc) with a nice wide aperture (like a f1.8 or f1.4).  These are incredibly versatile lenses that you will be able to use for all kinds of photography.

Without good glass, you can still get great shots.  If your camera has a manual mode, put your tank lights on a nice bright white setting, open the ISO up to something like 1250, get your shutter up above 100 (the higher the better with moving subjects), and put your aperture at a 2.8 or less...  and you will be happy with the results!

Ask questions if you want...  here are a few shots I've snagged (and I am a portrait photographer at heart, not experienced with the fishies, I just like shooting them.)

 

 

 

PHP_9626.jpg

PHP_9705.jpg

PHP_9637.jpg

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I actually take most my photos with a kit lens, although I have L glass and primes as well.  Some easy tips:

- Lower your water level, it confines the fish more. 

- Shoot straight at the tank for clarity, not from an angle.

- Clean your glass!

- Turn off all lights except tank lighting to discourage reflections

- Get close as you can, when I use my phone it's right against the glass and I wait for opportunities and hope    not to get photo bombed.  

- A macro as Sal suggested can be helpful but for the pics below I used a Canon 18-55mm kit lens.  Shoot wide open to get the bokeh softness in your backgrounds.  

- Use a third party photo editor there are lots of good free ones.   Great for retouching, changing exposure and saturation.  Best to get it right in camera though. 

-  Use higher ISO's  Freezing fish by using a fast shutter speed will cut down on the light the camera receives, you need to balance that with a higher ISO speed especially if the light is not so bright.  Just know that higher ISO's will make your photo grainier.  

- practice makes perfect shoot away!

Here's a link to help.

https://photographylife.com/learn-photography

 

F.L.Honey Gourami Close up.jpg

Galloot Albino.jpg

Black Phantom***.jpg

F. L. Honey Gourami Rock.jpg

Edited by Trish
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I have had a lot of fun looking at stuff - not fish though - through the camera, on a tripod. Macro lens (as said above, macro lenses are actually multi purpose) + some digital zoom. More like a microscope. There is a lot going on for sure, between newborn snails, worms, seed shrimps, midge larva... One highlight was a flatworm suddenly swallowing an oligochaet worm longer than himherself 😁

After some time gazing at the microlife you suddenly see something very big moving into view and you realize it's a 5 mm snail...

I'd want extension tubes and a macro slider next, if I can fund it. I can't. 

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7 hours ago, Sal said:

Great job!!  It's all about practice!

Photographer here - so I will offer my 2 cents, and you may not want to hear this, but you're going to want to scrap the kit lens (when you are able) Most kit lenses will have a variable aperture which wont allow you to get as much light into your photos as a fixed lens.  If aquarium shots are what you are after, I'd recommend a macro lens (My macro is a 105mm f2.8), or a fixed lens (50mm, 85mm, etc) with a nice wide aperture (like a f1.8 or f1.4).  These are incredibly versatile lenses that you will be able to use for all kinds of photography.

Without good glass, you can still get great shots.  If your camera has a manual mode, put your tank lights on a nice bright white setting, open the ISO up to something like 1250, get your shutter up above 100 (the higher the better with moving subjects), and put your aperture at a 2.8 or less...  and you will be happy with the results!

Ask questions if you want...  here are a few shots I've snagged (and I am a portrait photographer at heart, not experienced with the fishies, I just like shooting them.)

 

 

 

PHP_9626.jpg

PHP_9705.jpg

PHP_9637.jpg

Thanks! Of course, spending money isn't what anyone wants to hear, but at least I know there's something else to expand on later down the line, right? Plus, even with the kit lens, it's light years ahead of my phone's camera on a good day, so I'm still perfectly pleased with what I have! I'll have to do some research, anyway, as I'm not particularly sure which macro I'd need. I know my camera uses an RF mount, and that I'm best to stick with Canon lenses, but other than that, all the terminology is still over my head at this point.

 

7 hours ago, MDoc said:

This thread has me convinced to buy an actual camera.  My friends and family are probably a little tired of getting texts like "that little blurry thing is the new fry!" or "that smudge of red is the shrimp".

I honestly think that's gonna be the biggest upgrade. My pea puffer is really where I've seen the biggest difference - I've NEVER been able to get good pics of him on my phone. He's just too tiny.

 

6 hours ago, Trish said:

I actually take most my photos with a kit lens, although I have L glass and primes as well.  Some easy tips:

- Lower your water level, it confines the fish more. 

- Shoot straight at the tank for clarity, not from an angle.

- Clean your glass!

- Turn off all lights except tank lighting to discourage reflections

- Get close as you can, when I use my phone it's right against the glass and I wait for opportunities and hope    not to get photo bombed.  

- A macro as Sal suggested can be helpful but for the pics below I used a Canon 18-55mm kit lens.  Shoot wide open to get the bokeh softness in your backgrounds.  

- Use a third party photo editor there are lots of good free ones.   Great for retouching, changing exposure and saturation.  Best to get it right in camera though. 

-  Use higher ISO's  Freezing fish by using a fast shutter speed will cut down on the light the camera receives, you need to balance that with a higher ISO speed especially if the light is not so bright.  Just know that higher ISO's will make your photo grainier.  

- practice makes perfect shoot away!

Here's a link to help.

https://photographylife.com/learn-photography

 

F.L.Honey Gourami Close up.jpg

Galloot Albino.jpg

Black Phantom***.jpg

F. L. Honey Gourami Rock.jpg

Thanks! Great pics! Any tips for shooting on a bowfront?

 

6 hours ago, darkG said:

I have had a lot of fun looking at stuff - not fish though - through the camera, on a tripod. Macro lens (as said above, macro lenses are actually multi purpose) + some digital zoom. More like a microscope. There is a lot going on for sure, between newborn snails, worms, seed shrimps, midge larva... One highlight was a flatworm suddenly swallowing an oligochaet worm longer than himherself 😁

After some time gazing at the microlife you suddenly see something very big moving into view and you realize it's a 5 mm snail...

I'd want extension tubes and a macro slider next, if I can fund it. I can't. 

I love all the little things you'll find in your tank! They're so interesting.

 

5 hours ago, Collin said:

These are some I got with the 18-55mm kit lens on my nikon. I think it really shines with pond shots and does just okay for indoor shots. Truth be told, I wasn't even aware of fixed aperture lenses but will now be looking into those as well for some better aquarium shots.

DSC_0561.JPG

DSC_0551.JPG

Great shots! I'll have to look into those fixed aperture lenses as well, since I'm certainly beginning to see why they'd be so useful in this particular niche.

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6 hours ago, Collin said:

These are some I got with the 18-55mm kit lens on my nikon. I think it really shines with pond shots and does just okay for indoor shots. Truth be told, I wasn't even aware of fixed aperture lenses but will now be looking into those as well for some better aquarium shots.

DSC_0561.JPG

DSC_0551.JPG

Koi love the camera, especially when you shoot down on them.  I can see why you would like that lens for your pond! 

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I was playing around with the video portion of the camera, and decided to post this little feeding video. In the high light version, I didn't notice how blown out everything was until late in the video, and then I turned the exposure down too dark, IMO. But, it was my first go!

 

Here's the same shot (sorta) with nothing but the Finnex Stingray lighting the tank.

 

 

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4 minutes ago, Chris said:

I was playing around with the video portion of the camera, and decided to post this little feeding video. In the high light version, I didn't notice how blown out everything was until late in the video, and then I turned the exposure down too dark, IMO. But, it was my first go!

 

Here's the same shot (sorta) with nothing but the Finnex Stingray lighting the tank.

 

 

You did well!  Video is an art of its own, especially editing.  That is why I admire Jimmy Ngutron's work so much.  Of course there are lenses, ball heads, and other goodies one will want for video... there we go spending money again!  Off topic.. will your puffer stay small, what else do you feed, do you have to do extra clean up?

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3 minutes ago, Trish said:

You did well!  Video is an art of its own, especially editing.  That is why I admire Jimmy Ngutron's work so much.  Of course there are lenses, ball heads, and other goodies one will want for video... there we go spending money again!  Off topic.. will your puffer stay small, what else do you feed, do you have to do extra clean up?

Thank you! Jimmy's instagram is what got me to pull the trigger on the camera, lol. I'm always in awe of his content.

 

Figure 8's stay relatively small! Around 3" to 3 1/2". This guy is maybe 2 1/2", so he's about maxed. He gets a clam on the half-shell 2-3 times a week, frozen gulf shrimp 1-2 times a week, ramshorn/pond/trumpet snails whenever I decide to throw a few in there, and he'll get some sort of assorted frozen food and Repashy daily. He's the only puffer I've ever had to eat a prepared food - he still won't take pellets, but seeing him take chunks out of Repashy is pretty cool!

As far as clean up, I just change out about 50% of the water weekly. Nitrates stay between 20-40, which I find to be comfortable for a planted community tank. The livebearers (a trio of platies, a trio of guppies, a trio of balloon mollies, and a trio of Limia Nigrofasciata) take care of scraps, like you see in the video. There's also some ghost shrimp and nerite snails that the puffer doesn't bother, and I'm sure they help out too.

He's the most docile puffer I've ever had. You can see one of the mollies push him out of the way in the video, and all he does is give it a look and go back to eating. Most of the puffers I've owned would have gotten their murder on!

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2 minutes ago, Chris said:

Thank you! Jimmy's instagram is what got me to pull the trigger on the camera, lol. I'm always in awe of his content.

 

Figure 8's stay relatively small! Around 3" to 3 1/2". This guy is maybe 2 1/2", so he's about maxed. He gets a clam on the half-shell 2-3 times a week, frozen gulf shrimp 1-2 times a week, ramshorn/pond/trumpet snails whenever I decide to throw a few in there, and he'll get some sort of assorted frozen food and Repashy daily. He's the only puffer I've ever had to eat a prepared food - he still won't take pellets, but seeing him take chunks out of Repashy is pretty cool!

As far as clean up, I just change out about 50% of the water weekly. Nitrates stay between 20-40, which I find to be comfortable for a planted community tank. The livebearers (a trio of platies, a trio of guppies, a trio of balloon mollies, and a trio of Limia Nigrofasciata) take care of scraps, like you see in the video. There's also some ghost shrimp and nerite snails that the puffer doesn't bother, and I'm sure they help out too.

He's the most docile puffer I've ever had. You can see one of the mollies push him out of the way in the video, and all he does is give it a look and go back to eating. Most of the puffers I've owned would have gotten their murder on!

Thanks, that gives me incentive to try one Chris.

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1 hour ago, Trish said:

Thanks, that gives me incentive to try one Chris.

You totally should! Puffers are easily my favorite fish. This particular species gives you the chance to try out a brackish tank, if you've never done so. I'm picking up some Bumblebee gobies tomorrow - a species that I've always wanted, but never kept due to their brackish requirements. Supposedly there's a freshwater species, but I haven't been able to track it down.

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8 hours ago, Chris said:

Thanks! Of course, spending money isn't what anyone wants to hear, but at least I know there's something else to expand on later down the line, right? Plus, even with the kit lens, it's light years ahead of my phone's camera on a good day, so I'm still perfectly pleased with what I have! I'll have to do some research, anyway, as I'm not particularly sure which macro I'd need. I know my camera uses an RF mount, and that I'm best to stick with Canon lenses, but other than that, all the terminology is still over my head at this point.

Completely!  There are off-brand lenses you can purchase to work on your Canon that will be less expensive, and just as good.  There are online lens rental services too if you want to try something out for a couple days before you purchase it - I've done that many times!  But totally agree - use the kit lens and practice as much as you can until you feel like it is holding you back...  Then it's time to upgrade!  🙂 Photography is definitely a marathon...  master one thing at a time and enjoy the process!  You are starting out so great, the videos are really fun!

Sorry for being way too excited about this, as you can see I love talking photography!

I have a little online portfolio of some of my portrait and nature/macro work here if you are interested in checking it out.

https://stephanielewis.pixieset.com/portfolio/

 

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I haven't picked up a real camera in years, so the only thing I can add is:

Clean both sides of the glass!   The camera sees everything that your eyes ignore.

When taking pictures of aquarium fish, or any other subject behind glass, I got better results with an oversized lens shade directly against the glass when possible.  

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3 hours ago, Sal said:

Completely!  There are off-brand lenses you can purchase to work on your Canon that will be less expensive, and just as good.  There are online lens rental services too if you want to try something out for a couple days before you purchase it - I've done that many times!  But totally agree - use the kit lens and practice as much as you can until you feel like it is holding you back...  Then it's time to upgrade!  🙂 Photography is definitely a marathon...  master one thing at a time and enjoy the process!  You are starting out so great, the videos are really fun!

Sorry for being way too excited about this, as you can see I love talking photography!

I have a little online portfolio of some of my portrait and nature/macro work here if you are interested in checking it out.

https://stephanielewis.pixieset.com/portfolio/

 

Thanks!

Never be sorry for being passionate about something! It's how I am with aquariums - I drove my poor parents up the wall with all kinds of fish stuff. It's always fun sharing something so dear to you when you don't get the chance to in everyday life!

I checked out your portfolio, and they're all great! My favorite is actually the shot of the earthworm, believe it or not. I love how clearly the end of the worm is in focus, and how it evenly trails more out of focus as you go down the worm's body. I spent a good 10 minutes admiring a worm! Lol.

1 hour ago, Tanked said:

I haven't picked up a real camera in years, so the only thing I can add is:

Clean both sides of the glass!   The camera sees everything that your eyes ignore.

When taking pictures of aquarium fish, or any other subject behind glass, I got better results with an oversized lens shade directly against the glass when possible.  

I'm definitely bad for having dirty glass! I'll have to step up my game.

I can see how a lens shade would be nice, with all the extra light a manual flash creates. I'll look into it!

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Been playing around with the camera some more tonight, and I also picked up some new Bumblebee Gobies, a Japanese Swallow Angel, and a Green Chromis.

 

Here's a couple pics of the Green Chromis, who's residing in my 20 gallon mantis shrimp tank:

1098697523_GreenChromiseditied.JPG.2d3dca881f52d05f958fb0d988121b4d.JPG

1165291237_GreenChromis2edited.JPG.0a6345513300d6286beeacd94b686487.JPG

 

The Angel:

667117727_SwallowAngeleditied.JPG.301fed273825b11b34a7f947e4ab70a3.JPG

A BBG in the bag:

IMG_1554.JPG.2462f3c52d1afe95d322ada2f6dc1f23.JPG

 

Here's a video of the Green Chromis, Three-Stripe Damsel, and Peacock Mantis hanging out:

And, finally, a video of the BBGs (and others) eating some assorted frozen meaty items. I apologize for the focusing issues - I didn't notice how bad they were till after the fact!

I had a lot of fun making these!

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