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How to Light and Capture Photos of Fish in an Aquarium

September 27th 2011 8:29 AM

Capturing images of fish inside of a home tank or at an aquarium can be a hard task because of the low levels of light, the glare from the glass and the quickly moving subjects. If you happen to have a saltwater aquarium, then you know that saltwater fish can be extremely colorful and vibrant. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to capture those saturated colors because of the poor lighting conditions. This article will show you an easy way to capture vibrant photographs of your fish with a simple lighting setup.

What equipment you will need:

Flash Unit
Wireless Flash Triggering System
Light Stand
Softbox (optional)

Shot 1: Natural Light Only
This is what your image will look like without the use of external light sources aside from the tank lights. Notice that even with the largest aperture possible, the shutter speed is still far to slow to freeze the movements of the fish. If our shutter speed was increased to freeze the movement, then the image would be too dark. Increasing ISO is another option to increase light, but because the light is so dim and there would be a significant amount of noise in our image.

Shot 2: On-Camera Flash
In order to increase the amount of light in the image, a shoe mounted flash was used for the image below. Notice that while fish’s movement is better frozen, the glass reflection results in a glare. In addition, the large majority of the light ends up being reflected off the glass and away from the tank so the image is still quite dim, and the colors are very flat and muted.

Final Off-Camera Lighting Setup
So, we know that we need another light source, but shooting through the glass isn’t an option. So, using a wireless triggering system, the flash is placed above the tank on a Light stand and inside of a softbox. Now the flash shouldn’t cause a glare and the light will be diffused over a larger surface area thanks to the softbox. This is still possible without the softbox, however the light will be harder and more harsh.

This is what the setup will look like when the flash is fired wirelessly. As we can see, the tank is well illuminated and no glare is created.

Final Unedited Images
Here are some of the unedited images that we captured with this lighting setup. In the final image, we can easily clone and heal out all of the background distractions (such as the wires, tubes and fish food) to create a more clean image.

Article by Nicholas Moeggenberg
About the Author: Nicholas Moeggenberg is a photographer and web designer from Cincinnati, OH. He runs the photography contest May the Best Photo Win


Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography, LJP Studios and SLR Lounge.

Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username @pyejirsa.

Comments [1]

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Thanks for sharing

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