Photographing Fish

Think of fish as extremely fast moving, self-propelled corals.  Many of the same techniques also apply to fish.  In fact, all of them apply to fish.  Some additional techniques discussed in this section will help bag those sneaky buggers.

Kill Circulation Pumps
As with corals, killing circulation pumps has many benefits.  One of which is in the absence of current fish will swim slower and, consequently, be easier to photograph.  With strong currents fish zap back and forth frolicking in the current and swimming about.  When circulation is stopped, they have a chance to relax and take a breather.

Use Fast Shutter Speeds
Fish move fast, no question about it.  Capturing a swimming fish is a challenge under the lighting conditions of most tanks.  We will often have to increase the ISO speed to get an aperture and shutter speed combination that will work.

Running-Man Mode:  Some digicams do not have ISO control, but offer scene modes.  Using the Running-Man mode tells the camera to place emphasis on a higher shutter speed in order to freeze motion.

Focus Lock on the Fish's Eyes
Say what? I have trouble keeping the fish in the viewfinder, let alone being able to stick the focus brackets on the eyes!

When we look at animate creatures, we look to the eyes for emotion.  If the eyes are in focus the photo will grab our attention.  Conversely, if the entire fish is sharp, but the eyes are out-of-focus, we lose touch with the subject.

When aiming the camera, instead of aiming for the middle of the body, try aiming at the eye.  We have to aim somewhere, do we not?  This way, when we do capture a shot of the fish, the eyes should be in focus.

Again, with the pumps off the fish will move slower, and allow us more time to frame and focus, and aiming for the eyes becomes easier.

Manual focus:  If the camera supports manual focus, this is the ideal situation in which to use it.  The human hand-eye reflex action is much quicker than even the fastest autofocus system.  We can simply track the fish while it is swimming and make constant fine adjustments to keep the fish in focus for the entire duration.

Take Lots of Shots
A big plus to shooting digital is that mistakes are free.  We can shoot a single subject hundreds and even thousands of times to get the shot we want.  By simply reviewing the captures, we know if we got what we were after.

Although this may sound like a brute force method, professionals do this quite frequently.  Ever wonder why they go through so many frames?  Having more choices to choose from helps assure us we got the shot we set out to capture.

Interaction with the Environment
So we want that perfect shot of the anemone hosting its clown.  We chase the clown around the entire tank and back, snapping several hundred photos in the process.  With the in-focused shots, the clown is all over the tank, but not where we want.  The shots where the clown is in the anemone are all blurry.  There is a better approach.

Set up the shot:  Frame the anemone where we want, take some test photos and make sure the DOF is appropriate, the shutter speed is fast enough and the image is properly exposed.  Then pre-focus on the spot were the clown will be in the final photograph.

Shutter lag is the length of time from when you press the shutter release to when the image is actually recorded.  A majority of this time is attributed to the time it takes to focus the camera.  It is the slowest part of the image capturing process since it involves actual mechanical movement versus electronic delays.

When we initiate autofocus, the contrast detection system moves elements back and forth (hunting) until it detects a high contrast edge.  Depending on where the lense elements are when this process begins, it can take a significant amount of time.  By pre-focusing, we get the lense elements in the approximate position needed for the capture.  This reduces the amount of movement necessary to achieve fine focus and, therefore, reduces shutter lag.

Now we wait.  Observe the fish.  By observing the fish, we learn about its behavior and swim patterns.  We can use this information to set up future shots.  When the clown finally does make its appearance in the anemone, we simply half-press the shutter release to achieve fine focus and shoot.