Home | Freshwater Aquariums | Cichlid Aquariums | Tips for Great Aquarium Photography

Tips for Great Aquarium Photography

CameraWhile browsing at aquarium and fish-related websites, books, magazines, other media, it can be easy to take for granted how difficult the beautiful images you see were to capture on film….until you try to take a photo of your own tank. It’s not as easy as taking a snapshot at a family picnic. Aquarium photographs often turn out blurry, overexposed, underexposed, discolored and otherwise unrecognizable, a far cry from what you were trying to capture. So how do you get calendar-worthy snapshots of your tank? Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve come across:

Change your settings

With most point-and-shoot cameras and picture phones, we are spoiled by being able to turn it on, push a button, and take a picture. Those settings don’t always work well when the subject is tiny, moving constantly, and behind glass. You may need to adjust the automatic settings on your camera to give you the best advantage.

ISO Setting

This setting seems to be the most accessible to change on most cameras, whether you’re working with a simple point-and-shoot or a fancy high-end model. The ISO refers to the sensitivity to light and higher numbers are more sensitive. (Back in the good ole days of actual on-a-roll film, this was the number on the box and why we bought film with a higher number for better pictures.) Adjusting this setting can help brighten your shots, but may make images grainier and “noisier” at higher settings. A higher ISO seems to work better for our purposes and most tank photographers seem to prefer around 400-800.

Shutter Speed and Aperture

The speed of the shutter – more specifically, how much time the camera takes to take a picture – can mean the difference between getting the whole fish in the shot versus taking a picture of its tail as it swims out of your shot. The Aperture (denotes as an F-number) is the size of the opening that the light goes through (inside the camera) to take the picture. For most aquarium pictures, the highest speed possible that still sync’s with your flash is best, and the lowest Aperture number possible will help the camera be able to take best advantage of the speed. These settings may not be able to be adjusted on point-and-shoots.

White Balance

Adjusting the white balance can be crucial. This corrects for lighting that may otherwise make a white object look blue or yellow or otherwise discolored and helps adjust it back to the color it actually is. This is what makes many pictures of corals and other reef residents look different in pictures versus “real life” due to the blue actinics on many aquariums. Many newer cameras have automatic settings to adjust White Balance in certain scenarios, so you may need to play around to see which setting gives you the truest color in your situation.


The Flash can be problematic when taking aquarium pics, mainly due to the reflective properties of the glass. Since most aquariums have bright spotlights shining down on them already (those big, expensive light fixtures you’ve installed?), using your flash may not be necessary. If you do need more light, try to position yourself slightly above or to the side of your aquarium rather than directly in front, to avoid having the light bounced right back into your shot. Try to dim the lights in the room as well so the light is focused inside the tank and not on objects reflected in the glass.

Clean Your Tank

Sounds trivial but it helps. It may look clean to you, but your camera may focus on tiny specs, scratches or bits of algae that you didn’t notice, especially if you are zooming in for the close-up.

Try, try, try again

Taking good pictures takes practice, trial and error, and A LOT of shots. Even fashion photographers take hundreds of photo’s to get that one picture to run in a clothing ad; this is no different. Try experimenting with different settings and techniques. You may find that using a tripods works best for you to keep the camera steady or that you can bribe your fish with a treat to get a shot of their side. Read your camera manual; it might gives you tips or let you know about settings that you didn’t know existed (one of my favorites is Burst Shooting where the camera takes several shots in rapid succession like a strobe).

Some other good reference sites with more tips:

Wet Web Media

Pet Fish Talk

Fish Friend

Cichlid Forum has two

Be sure to share your photos with us via facebook, we love to see your (clear and focused) fish and their tanks!



Digital Camera image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Tschaensky

One comment

  1. avatar

    Dear Eileen

    I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this topic!
    As I rather invest in new fishes, pumps, plants etc.there never seem to be money left for a really expensive camera…. So all these years I used these “easy” cameras and with great difficulty and LOTS of tries, I end up with one or two presentable “lucky” shots.
    One does not find too much info of how to use the “easy” cameras on the internet but at least I can now try our your simple advice….

    Thanxzzz million!

    Best fishes

    Gert from Namibia

About Eileen Daub

Read other posts by

Marine Biologist/Aquatic Husbandry Manager I was one of those kids who said "I want to be a marine biologist when I grow up!"....except then I actually became one. After a brief time at the United States Coast Guard Academy, I graduated from Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 2004. Since then, I've been a marine biologist at That Fish Place - That Pet Place, along with a Fish Room supervisor, copywriter, livestock inventory controller, livestock mail-order supervisor and other duties here and there. I also spent eight seasons as a professional actress with the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and in other local roles. If that isn't bad enough, I'm a proud Crazy Hockey Fan (go Flyers and go Hershey Bears!).