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Photographing Corals

On this page we will discuss some techniques for how to get nice, crisp pictures of your fish and coral. Perhaps later we will get into the technical aspects of shutter speed and such but for now we will focus on the beginner tools that everyone can use.

Lighting

When it comes to photography, lighting plays an integral part. It’s important to know where the light is coming from and avoiding shadows where you don’t want them. While this stays true to taking pictures of our corals and fish we also have another thing to worry about; lighting color. If you went up to your tank and took a picture chances are it will come out with a blue hue to it. That’s because most of our lights focus on the blue spectrum as corals utilize those wavelengths to grow. There are a few options for us.

Turn the blues off – If you are running LED lights this is usually pretty simple to manipulate. Just alter the lights so that more white light is showing and reduce or turn off the blue lights altogether. This allows for very crisp pictures to be taken. You don’t have to edit the blues if there are no blues to begin with! If you are running T5 bulbs you can either remove the very blue bulbs or add more white color bulbs to the mix. I use ATI bulbs with two blue+(which look pretty white to be fair), a coral+ and purple+ bulb if memory serves. It gives a slight blue hint but pictures turn out well here. If you are running metal halide lights there isn’t a whole lot you can do besides use a bulb that is not 20k spectrum.

Edit the blues out – This section will get updated with a simple guide on how to use basic photo editing programs.

Water flow

The way the water moves is important to our pictures. Some corals utilize the current to wave their long tentacles around in the currents. Other corals, like birdnest corals, don’t sway at all. We can alter the way our water moves to help take better pictures. If taking a picture of a coral that doesn’t sway, try turning off all the wavemakers and return pumps for a few minutes. This will help the water become still and reduce particles floating by in your picture. Some corals, like my duncan coral for example, look rather silly with no flow. They take better pictures when I leave the return pumps on as their tentacles flow in the current.

Try taking pictures with flow both off as well as on. Compare the pictures next to each other and see which you like more. Sometimes removing the flow will alter the light in a way you didn’t expect. My kessils produce a nice shimmer effect on my tank but only when there is water movement along the surface of the tank. Otherwise it just looks like a regular LED with no flow. The shimmer can really add some depth to my pictures when done right.

Water particles

Speaking of water, lets discuss the particles in our water. Too many particles in your tank can cause distraction in your photos. You can edit them out pretty easily but who wants to do that? Here are a couple tips to help with these.

Clean your glass at least an hour before you take pictures. This allows the algae you scrape off into the water to resettle somewhere else and not make your water slightly cloudy. It might look clear in person but cameras have a way of capturing every little detail and when clarity matters, it’s best to plan ahead.

Run a filter sock on your system for 24 hours before picture time. This can help to really clear up your water to make it even more crystal clear right before a big photo shoot. At the very least it will reduce the particles to a much smaller amount. After the pictures are taken you can remove the filter socks if you don’t want to run them normally.

Wipe the outside of the tank with microfiber cloth. This may seem a little overkill but you would be surprised the dust, and in my tanks case the noseprints, that can collect on the glass. Using a microfiber cloth works great because it also prevents any scratches being added to your tank.

Angles

Important to photography in general, angles can play a big role of our photos. However we are shooting pictures through glass as well as water. To take the best pictures I have found it’s best to shoot as straight as you can instead of taking an angled picture. While the angle shot might turn out, they have a tendency to warp or not focus real well for me. Shooting straight from in front of it, kneeling down or lowering my tripod to the height of the coral, has worked better. I have only taken a couple top down type photos but the same concept seems to apply. Get directly above your target and go as straight down as you can. For these shots it’s critical you turn off your return pumps as it can be impossible to see otherwise.

DSLR vs cell phones

Cell phones are great. In today’s age they are small, portable, and have decent cameras on them. This makes them appealing for shots on the go or for just a couple quick photos. The quality of a cell phone will never match the quality of even a basic DSLR camera. If you are serious about taking high quality photos, whether for a business or your own photo album, a DSLR is the way to go. I’ll update with a side by side comparison of my own cell phone with my DSLR using just the automatic features.

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