Keeping a successful reef tank takes a certain skill set but unfortunately it takes some different skills to take really good pictures of your tank. Here are some tips on photographing reef tanks with your DSLR.
There are some basic things one should do before turning the camera on. Number one, use a tripod to keep the camera steady and reduce shake. You might think you have a steady hand but any close-up or macro shots will be impacted by even the slightest shake. Number two, to minimize reflections off the glass, turn off any lights in the room and close the shades if you are taking pictures during the day (taking photos at night is best if you don\’t have great shades). A third thing I recommend is turning the pumps off in the tank to reduce any movement you might have with corals and their polyps. Lastly, make sure the glass on the front panel of the tank is clean and shoot at right angles to the tank to reduce any possible distortion.
Once the camera is turned on it is always a good idea to set the timer since a camera can shake even the slightest bit when the shutter button is depressed. And it is also a good idea to use the image stabilization option on your camera or lens to optimize clarity.
Tips on Photographing Reef Tanks: Use Manual Settings
As for settings, the best results will be achieved when certain adjustments are made to the camera outside of the preset auto settings. Typically, the white balance has to be adjusted since aquarium lighting can make it difficult for cameras to automatically detect and represent colors accurately in a tank. This is especially true if a tank has very blue lighting such as 20,000k. Play around with different settings until accurate colors are attained.
Aperture is another setting that comes in handy when taking pictures of coral. The aperture priority mode on a camera enables a user to pick a certain aperture while the camera automatically selects a proper shutter speed to match. Or you can go manual and adjust both the aperture and speed.
Use a low aperture (larger f stop number) and a lower speed to get a greater depth of field (more of the foreground and background will be in focus) for coral shots . If polyps are in motion, even slightly, you might want to go down a bit on the f-stop with a higher shutter speed to get a sharper image (you will lose some depth of field). Again, play around with these settings to get your desired shot.
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Sometimes it helps to adjust the ISO but you have to be careful since graininess can result when the ISO is high. I don\’t play around with the ISO setting a lot but sometimes it does help to raise it to get a faster shutter speed and a smaller aperture.
For close up shots and coral shots in general I think it is well worth it to invest in a good quality macro lens. I use a 100mm f/2.8L macro lens and love it. When focusing, use the manual setting and take advantage of the digital zoom. I temporarily switch my camera to the live video mode and use the 10x digital zoom to make sure my subjects are crisp and clear.
I also recommend purchasing an underwater housing for your camera to take submerged top down shots. They are not too expensive and the shots you can take with them are really cool.
Well, I hope some of these tips help you take better shots of your tank. Reefkeeping is an art and taking photos of your pride and joy is an art form as well.
If you would like some help with a new tank build, including help designing a custom aquarium, or help re-configuring your current setup then you can visit this page for more information. And if you are looking to add some equipment, I do sell GHL, Pax Bellum, Reef Octopus Calcium and Kalk Reactors and Royal Exclusiv products, including Dreamboxes, which is the equipment I use and recommend. I also sell Reef Brite metal halide and LED fixtures as well as Maxspect & IceCap Gyres.
As for additional insights and information, please explore my many other reef tank and SPS related articles as well as my YouTube channel. For an even deeper dive into reef tank care you can check out my Reef Keeping Master Class. This online course is an immersive and one of a kind educational tool designed to help reef aquarium hobbyists build and maintain a beautiful SPS reef tank. The course is a series of video presentations with some supplemental video from my YouTube channel. There are also quizzes to help students retain and understand the information presented in the course.
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