Thursday, August 5, 2010

Photos at the Aquarium

Get a fresh cup, make yourself comfortable, we are going to the aquarium. Not just any, but the world’s largest, the Georgia Aquarium!

Map picture

You can find it on a map by clicking the picture at the right. For a more normal view see the photo below.

Both of these photos were taken in 2008 when the aquarium had a special exhibit about the Titanic. The sign is now gone, the place did not sink.Georgia Aquarium 

In fact it is an extremely busy place.

So recharge your camera battery, empty out the photos in the camera, you will want plenty of space.

Aquariums are fascinating and offer many exciting views. People take a lot of pictures. That part is easy. Getting a few good ones is a bit harder.

There are several little problems.

1) There is always a crowd. You have to be a bit patient to get close to the windows, or plan on including strangers in your photos.

2) All the little kids ahead of you have pressed their hands and noses on the glass. And yes, of course, they had p&b sandwiches at the Café Aquaria before going through the galleries. The staff is great in keeping the place ship-shape, but you still have to find a clean spot and get close to the windows to get good pictures.

3) The larger windows have seams. On the big tank the window is two feet thick. It is composed of several sections. Smaller tanks may also have windows glued together from smaller pieces. These seams are noticeable and will cause distortions. So position yourself carefully.

4) Most tanks are fairly dimly lit. More on that a little later, but in low light your camera will want to use flash. That is permitted in most galleries, however, keep in mind that glass reflects the light of the flash right back to the camera. My advice is to turn off the flash. But if you must use it, shoot through the glass at a good angle to avoid the reflection. Inspect your photos to make sure that they are ok.

5) Water, especially saltwater, is not completely clear. Creatures at some distance from the window will look like they are in a haze. So wait patiently for the fish to come closer to the window. Oh yes, they have SCUBA diving opportunities for visitors. You must be experienced and make advance reservations. But that is beyond this story.

6) The light inside the tanks is very blue. There is little you can do about that. Set your camera for daylight and plan on doing some post-processing of your photos.

So can we go in now?

Alright, how about going right to the big tank.

Georgia Aquarium

The Ocean Voyager tank at the Georgia Aquarium is the world’s largest, and there is a window to match. The above photo required using a wide-angle lens. You can tell the size by the people in front and the SCUBA divers inside.

The visitors side is quite dim, but the light inside the tanks matches more what the fish need than what the picture-taking visitor would like to have.

At most tanks plan on using the highest practical ISO setting on your camera. That is the highest light sensitivity. For most cameras that is probably ISO 1600. Pictures will not have the sharpness the camera produces at ISO 100, but you need the speed in order to keep the shutter speed to 1/30 second or shorter. Some tanks have more light. The big tank photo above was shot at 1/30s, f/3.5 at ISO 200.

LJK_1099 - CF You will be amazed just how fast those creatures are in the water! Many of my shots at 1/30s show way too much motion blur. So a tripod or image-stabilization can’t help.

Post-processing is the modern “darkroom” part of making pictures. There are many thoughts on that that I would like to share, but that calls for another cup.

For now how about a “well-processed” lionfish.

We’ll leave it at that for now. Please do share your thoughts using the comment option below.

Enjoy your cup!


  1. Thank you for sharing this valuable information regarding photographing inside an aquarium.

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