When I first started taking photos of my reef tank simply because I wanted to, I used to fail miserably because I could never capture the right color and moments. But over time, I understood the tricks and tips and improved myself as a reef tank photographer.

Now all my tank photos look like they are taken by professionals. So, if you want to present your tank as eye-catching, you should know how to take pictures of your reef tank.

Set up your phone or camera on a tripod and set the tripod in front of the tank area you want to take photos of. Turn off any unnecessary light that reflects on the aquarium glass, and make sure the glass is clean. You can turn the pump off momentarily to ensure the fish and corals are easy to capture.

Tank photography is a big deal for aquarists like us. That is why I wanted to create an article based on this topic to help others take better reef tank photographs. So if you want to learn about reef tank photography, here is your chance to learn everything for free.

How To Take Pictures Of Your Reef Tank?

Even if you are not a professional photographer, knowing how to take pictures of your reef tank can help you in many ways. If you are a hobbyist, you can capture beautiful moments and keep these images in your personal collection.

And if you are a professional and sell reef tank items, a perfectly-captured image can help you with sales. Besides people like us who write blogs and share experiences, these images help readers see what we talk about and understand everything more clearly.

So here is how you can take beautiful photographs of your reef tank. I have prepared a step-by-step guide to help you get a better idea.

Things To Do

Before you take out your photography gear to take pictures, you must prepare your workplace, even if you think it is not a big deal. You must ensure the aquarium area is suitable for taking photographs nicely and without obstacles. And two of the most vital things you need to do before taking photos are:

  • Clean Aquarium Glasses:  A properly propped camera angle and excellent lighting will go in vain if your images have stains, handprints, and other marks on them. Most of them happen if the aquarium glass is not clean. So the first thing you must do is clean the glasses.

Spray some water or glass cleaner and use a paper towel to wipe the outer glasses. As for inside walls, algae and other substrates can be challenging to remove. But you can use a razor to scrape off as much as possible to ensure they will not be within the frame.

  • Turned-Off Pumps: While turning the tank pumps on might not always be a problem, turning them off while taking pictures can be an added advantage. How?

When you turn off the pump, the corals remain more stationary. On top of that, fishes tend to move to areas with less flow, which can help you get some cool poses.

Step 1: Prepare The Gears

You need several gears and gadgets, even if it is only an aquarium photo. Anyone who wants a higher-definition image and better results can use a DSLR. But since most of us are more flexible with smartphone photography, it is also widely used for taking images of reef tanks.

Now, some people would ask me if it is necessary to use an iPhone for such photography, and my answer is “no” because the brand does not always matter. Whatever your pick is will not matter as long as it is a good-quality device. Then you will need a tripod to set up the camera or phone. You can use lens filters or clips to create a different color shade or reduce the regular blue light.

Step 2: Set Up Your Tripod

Now that you have done the prep work, you need to do some setups next. And the first one is to ensure you have propped your tripod with the mobile or camera. The tripod needs to be steady because you would not want unsteady or tilted photos of your tank.

Set the tripod outside the reef tank facing the area you want to take a shot of. Check for the right angle from the device screen until you find the right spot.

Step 3: Set Up Light

One of the most common issues aquarium photographers find is the blue light problem. Since most of us choose blue light for the tank, it is not unusual for the images to have a darker shade of blue all over.

The best solution to this problem is to manually use a lens filter or set up the camera’s white balance mode. If your device does not have that option, you can try through another camera application. Turn the white balance up to 10,000-20,000k and try various color settings to get the right color.

Another issue you might have is with the reflections on the aquarium glass. If there is any unnecessary light in the room or any light reflecting on the glass, you need to turn that off. Sometimes I even advise wearing dark-color clothes to ensure the glass does not catch the photographer’s reflection.

Step 4: Focus On Subjects And Capture Photos

If you have followed the previous steps, now you are ready to snap some cool, eye-catching reef tank pictures. Remember that your focus should be on the subject. You can also make the entire tank your subject and take photographs from a wider angle.

 Try taking straight photos rather than angles. Straight-angled photographs usually appear more stunning.

Major Three Approaches To Reef Tank Photography

Every photographic work has its own rules and approaches. And each of them works differently from others and is good in their own way. These approaches bring changes in the subject’s color and have various advantages and drawbacks.

As for reef tank photography, there are three different approaches:

  • Shooting With Flash Only
  • Shooting With High-Speed Equipment, No Flush
  • Shooting With Low-Speed/Standard Equipment, No Flush

Shooting With Flash Only

The first approach is shooting with flash only, and here is how you do it.

  • Most cameras have a White Balance option as part of the Flash setting. This option helps work with the flash mode for tank photography. So adjust the White Balance mode until it matches your camera flash’s temperature. And then turn off your reef tank’s lights.
  • Now set the flash in a top-to-bottom way so it faces the tank bottom. And if you have multiple flashes, you can set them at the top and sides of the tank.
  • Use the iTTL metering of your camera and flash if you have it. If you do not have that, you must set the exposure manually. And it requires frequent checking of the photos because taking photos of underwater objects changes the light dramatically.

Advantage: Shooting with flashes gives you excellent color accuracy and sharpness because of the flash and shutter speed. If you have brighter flashes, using smaller lens apertures can give you a better focus.

Drawback: Without powerful flashlights, you will get reflective light underwater. And the corals will not be fluorescent under such low flashlights.

Shooting With High-Speed Equipment, No Flash

This is the method to shoot with high-speed equipment but with no flash. 

  • For shooting with high-speed equipment, you should use apertures with a higher value. You can start with f2.8 if that is what you have, but using f2 or f1.4 would give you a better result. Why? Because the smaller number you use, the higher the aperture value you get.
  • Now set the ISO to its fastest speed level for the best outcome. If you have an older version of the camera, it can be 400 to 800. But if you have a new, upgraded camera, it can go up around 1600 or 3200.
  • Now set the camera on AV mode and the lens aperture to its highest/widest setting. Once you do that, the camera will automatically choose its shutter speed, and it ensures the fastest speed with available lights. The perk of using this setting is that you get the sharpest photos.

Advantages: With high-speed equipment and the right settings, you do not even need a tripod to take photos. On top of that, you get a specialized light effect on the reef tank corals.

Drawbacks: Setting a higher ISO level creates noise in the photo and makes it look grainy. And focusing on the foreground will keep the background out of focus. On top of that, shooting from a closeup can result in blurry images if you do not use the fastest speed.

Shooting With Low-Speed/Standard Equipment, No Flash

Here is the method to shoot with low-speed or standard equipment with no flash.

  • You will need a tripod for setting up your camera as you will be using a cable release this time. Then set your ISO level to 200 0r 400 for new cameras to ensure less noise in the photo.
  • Then set the White Balance as needed to gain color accuracy.
  • After that, turn your camera’s auto-bracketing feature on. Turning this feature on ensures over and underexposure. It will give you a better result, or you can fix it with HDR software.
  • Finally, set your camera’s aperture setting to priority and aperture to f11 or higher if possible.

Advantage: When you capture photos with this setting, you get a less noisy photo with more color accuracy and a better depth of field.

Drawback: Since you are using a slow shutter speed, having visible movements can blur the photographs. That is why this photography approach is more suitable for stationary things.

Macro Photography For Reef Tanks

Macro photography has grown incredibly popular among amateur and hobbyist photographers. And when it comes to macro lives and corals, macro photography is significantly popular as they capture the details better.

Reef tank macro photography magnifies the photo subjects and shows more details, texture, and patterns. And the beauty of those detailed photographs is stunning and eye-soothing.

Though macro shooting with accuracy requires different software, gadgets, and equipment, it is not rocket science. Thanks to modern technology and upgraded devices, anyone can take excellent macro shots without prior experience.

The vital part of macro photography is what you use to approach your subject. For a high-quality shot and accuracy, you will need the following.

  • Macro lenses
  • Extension tubes or closeups 
  • Reversing or stacking lenses 
  • Bellows
  • Diopters
  • A combination of all

Tips For Reef Tank Macro Photography

The rule of macro photography seems simple because you use a magnifying lens to get a closer shot. Unfortunately, it is not that simple when it comes to taking macro shots of reef tank corals and other animals. Before anything, you need to know about two things: the macro lenses and the settings.

Lens Choice

Since there is a variety of macro lenses in the market, finding what works best is challenging. For reef tank photography, the most suitable focal length would be 50mm to 200mm. With a smaller focal length, you have to get too close to the subject, and the larger one can get a good shot from a small distance.

However, none of them will come in handy if you want to take a shot of small corals at the back of the tank. So my recommendation is to go for a 100mm focal length because it is pretty convenient.

Recommended Settings

Manual settings work best for macro photography as you can adjust everything just as you need them. In this regard, you can set the aperture to priority mode and select the low aperture setting. If you want more depth in the photos, you can select the larger f-level. My recommendation would be to explore with the ISO a bit to get the largest setting.

Essential Tips And Tricks For Aquarium Photography

All the fantastic aquarium photographs you see went through various stages of work to make them look like that. But then you take your reef tank photos and realize they did not turn out like the ones online. Well, you should not let that upset you because those photos followed some tricks and tips to turn out like that.

There is always some prep work involved in reef tank photography, such as having clean tank glasses, clean sand, high-quality gadgets, and equipment, ensuring the photography area has clean water or algae-free, etc. Though I have mentioned a few tips and tricks when explaining the photography process, you will find some of them here and more.

Clean Tank Works Better

It is impossible to take excellent tank photography when you do not have a clean tank. And a clean tank does not just mean having cleanliness inside the tank. Yes, you need to ensure the area is not full of waste and algae before you even set up anything. But it is vital to ensure the tank’s walls are also clean.

You can clean the inner part of the glasses using a piece of cloth to remove any algae or other things stuck to them. And for the outer area, you can spray water or glass cleaner and wipe it properly with fabric to remove spots, fingerprints, smudges, etc.

Choose The Spot Where The Fishes Will Swim To

In an aquarium, fishes will hardly stay in one place. It is challenging to take photos of moving fishes, especially the ones that are too active. You will either fail to capture the image with fishes in it or get an image where the moving fishes turn out blurry.

But here is a trick I learned over time, which changed my tank photography outcome. It turns out you get the best result if you focus on the spot where the fishes will swim toward rather than where they had been. Just be patient and focus on the fish’s movement, and you will know when to click.

Keep Pumps Turned Off

In a reef tank, everything is in motion, mainly because you have a pump on, creating a flow. That is why taking a still shot becomes difficult when you need everything to be more still. Besides, with the pump on, polyps will move continuously, and you will get blurry images.

So the best thing to do is to turn off the pump before taking the photos. It will also help eliminate microbubbles from the glasses and water.

Take Straight Photos, Not Angled

Here is a term we use for reef tank photography that we call ghosting. The refraction happens through your camera’s glass when you take photographs from an angle.

It is advised to shoot aquarium photos straight for the best shot. Place your camera facing the location straight and click your images. On the other hand, if it is an angled shot, you are likely to end up with a blurry picture.

Minimized Shakes Of Your Hands

This is an obvious way to take any photographs, yet a challenging one. Keeping yourself composed and your hands still are the key to taking a perfect shot. Even if you are using a tripod, it is necessary to ensure you do not shake the phone or the camera when clicking the shutter.

Believe it or not, I sometimes hold my breath to keep myself still when taking the shot. But no, you do not have to hold your breath just because I do that. But try to keep yourself calm and patient when you handle the camera.

Minimize Reflection

The aquarium has glass walls, and they can easily catch light or any other reflection, even if you are careful. First, turn off all unnecessary lights in the room except the focus lights. Even if you have a television turned on in another part of the room, it will still create a distracting glow.

Then make sure not to wear any bright cloth when photographing the aquarium. Clothes with a brighter color can easily be seen through the glass reflection.

Use Third-Party App And White Balance

Too much blue light can ruin the overall image appearance and change the coral color. Though DSLR cameras offer multiple options for shooting under blue lights, it can be a little tricky with the phone’s camera.

Most smartphones have a White Balance option in their camera setting, which can help you minimize the blue. If the camera does not have that option, you can download a third-party White Balance application and use it to eliminate the excessive blue lights. You can use various post-production applications to fix the issue afterward.

Always Be Patient And Keep Trying

Stunning reef tank photos do not come easily unless you are a professional photographer or have better experience capturing tank photos. And if you are not a professional or a starter, you must be very patient with this work.

A first few tries may not give you the color, tone, or visual you expect. But you can improve that with time with practice and understanding of how such photography works.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I take a good picture of my aquarium without reflection?

There are several effective ways to take aquarium pictures without worrying about reflection. One of the basic ways to ensure that is by turning off lights that reflect on the aquarium glasses, including the TV. Wearing dark clothes or using a black sheet facing the aquarium can also ensure no reflection on it. But make sure to have a hole on the sheet to get the camera lens through it.

2. What camera should I use to take photos of coral?

You can use either a DSLR or your phone’s camera to coral photos, as most modern phones have high-quality camera features. And if you are using a DSLR, you will get many features and options to capture excellent stills. In that case, my advice is to pay more attention to the lens than the camera based on your photo subject.

3. What lens should I use for reef tank photography?

Since most reef tank photographs involve close-up shots, it is best to get high-quality zoom camera lenses. Standard zoom lenses are quite popular for reef tank macro photography as they help you get a closer shot and capture more detail. You will find a wide variety of such lenses in the market and choose them based on how close you want to shoot.

4. How do I take photos of coral under blue light?

One of the best ways to take photos under blue light is using a camera or lens filter. You can use hand-held filter paper if your camera does not have a filter option. Use a color that alters the deep blue and creates a natural hue. You can also use your phone camera’s White Balance option to minimize the blue. 

Final Words

Reef tank photography is not only about being an aquarist and capturing your tank photos. Such photographs are an excellent way to show reef tank life, which is helpful if you are trying to educate people on the subject (take this article, for example).

That is why learning how to take pictures of your reef tank can be beneficial for various purposes. Follow the tips I mentioned to ensure you get the best result and share your reef tank photography skill.

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