Aquariums are amazing places to take your family. But it can be really hard to take good photos as aquariums.
Naturally, you want some really cool pictures. But you find out very quickly that aquariums are dark. Really dark! And that your photos turn out blurry. Really blurry!
Low light photography is one of my favorite challenges. So, in this article, I’ll show you how to get clear and creative photos at aquariums and how to apply some simple edits in Lightroom.
1. Getting Clear Photos at Aquariums
Turn off your flash
If you set your camera to Automatic Mode, it’ll likely trigger the flash when you take a photo. The flash will make a huge reflection on the glass which will ruin your photo. So before you even enter the aquarium, make sure to disable your flash.
If you turn your flash off you’ve eliminated the biggest problem with glare. But there still might be some ambient light reflecting off the glass. Move right up to the glass so that your camera won’t pick up any of this reflected ambient light. You’ll be standing right up at the glass looking through it, rather than standing back a few feet looking at it.
Turning off the flash and getting rid of reflections is the first step. Now it’s time to consider freezing the action so that your photos won’t be blurry.
You may find that your aquarium photos turn out blurry at first. This is because in low light situations your shutter speed can become too slow to freeze the movement.
It’s important for you to set the shutter speed yourself, ensuring that your photos will not be blurry from camera or subject movement. There are two main ways to do this; Shutter Priority or full Manual Mode.
Shutter Priority Mode
To use Shutter Priority Mode, start by setting the ISO as high as you are comfortable doing according to your camera. I have no problem going to ISO 3200. This higher ISO will help your camera absorb the dim light.
For photos in aquariums, I suggest setting your shutter speed to 1/125th to begin. Make sure you only set the shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action, but no faster than necessary. If the shutter speed is too quick you’ll end up with dark or underexposed images.
If you’re comfortable with it, you should use full manual mode. Set your ISO as high as you are comfortable doing according to your camera. Aim for ISO 3200 which will help your camera absorb the light.
Open your aperture as much as you can, or as much as you are comfortable doing creatively. If your aperture opens to f/2.8 or f/1.8 that will really help to capture the light.
With your ISO as high as you can make it and your aperture open as wide as you like, set your shutter speed to 1/125th or faster (likely somewhere between 1/60th and 1/250th – adjust as needed to get a good exposure based on the amount of light in your scene).
If you have a 50mm lens I recommend you make it your main lens for aquariums. The wider aperture will let in lots more light. It’s a good focal length too.
My typical settings for aquarium photos are as follows:
- ISO 3200
- Aperture f/2.8
- Shutter speed 1/60th
That shutter speed is actually pretty slow. But I have practiced holding the camera really steady and most of the creatures weren’t moving too quickly.
Don’t get discouraged when the first shot doesn’t turn out. Take your time as you explore the aquarium. Try to choose a day to visit when it’s less busy. Give them a call and ask them when those times occur.
2. Getting Creative Photos
Once you’ve figured out how to get clear photos, it’s time to get creative. You might be so overwhelmed by the amazing sea life that you forget to bring your own creativity to the photos, so here are some tips for you.
To me, varying your camera angle is the quickest way to make your photos more interesting. Rather than capturing everything from the same perspective, try a variety of angles. The same shark can look very different from different angles.
Silhouettes are really easy to capture in aquariums. The key to a silhouette is to have a bright background and a dark foreground and subject. If you’re comfortable using Manual Mode, then you only need to adjust your exposure until you get the desired effect.
If you’re in Auto Mode or even Shutter Priority, then your camera may naturally make the photo look like a silhouette. But you could use exposure compensation to adjust the exposure (- if you want it darker, + to lighten it) if you don’t want to shoot in Manual Mode.
Pay attention to the light in the water and you should be able to get some interesting photos. Especially look for backlight or sidelight.
Editing Your Photos at Aquariums in Lightroom
When the chaos of the aquarium trip is over you can relax and sift through your photos. Choose the ones that you like the best and forget about the ones that didn’t turn out. Use a program like Lightroom to put the finishing touches on your photos.
My goal is to keep my photos looking as natural as possible. My main concerns are exposure, contrast, and clarity. However, I always want my photos to look the way the moments felt. So I don’t mind exaggerating colors or exposure if need be.
So considering your images, they’re your photos so you get to make the decisions.
Bring it Together
Whether you’re going alone, with a friend, or with your whole family, don’t fight the crowds and choose a quiet time to visit the aquarium. When you get there, take your time and get comfortable with your camera settings.
Once you have figured out how to get clear photos, get creative with angles and interesting light.
Relive the sights as you cull, edit and print your favorite shots. And before you visit an aquarium again review your last photos and plan to make the new batch even better.