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Photography Question 
letitia johnson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/9/2006

Photographing an Aquarium

I would like some help in knowing how to take pictures thru glass. I am going to an aquarium soon and need to know what to do about flash and what is the best exposure to use. I have a D70s. Any ideas are appreciated. Thank you,

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1/17/2007 9:16:44 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
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1/30 sec, f/4.5, iso1600, 19mm - no flash
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Canon EOS 20D Digi...
I just took a trip to the Seattle aquarium and used my 17-40mm lens. I used iso 800, 1600 and even 3200 on some pics with the lens held close to the glass to avoid reflections and No flash.
Most of the subjects had enough light on them. There were a couple of shots that could have used a flash but in those situations, it would have been better to have the flash unit held away from the camera to get illumination correct and again to avoid reflecting back at me. You may be able to shoot with the flash if you keep the lens close enough to the glass to avoid the reflection. Even with the high ISO settings, I was able to get dialed in with my exposure so that I didn't have to change anything in Photoshop to the point that noise became a problem.
I have some pics in my gallery and also list my exposure settings.

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1/17/2007 10:25:34 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Use a sync cord so that you can hold your flash up and aim it down. Or to the side. You can use a bracket, so you are able to hold it and move it out farther, which moves the reflection from the glass farther away. If you use the flash's auto exposure, you may need to either use flash compensation to make it brighter because of the glass and the water. But then again, you may not, because if the background inside the tanks is dark, that may cause the flash to fire off a brighter light that could cancel out the light loss from the glass and water. But put your lens as close to the glass as you can. Right up against it if possible. And only shoot through clean sections of the glass.

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1/18/2007 12:42:17 AM

W.    And support for when you're forced to use slow shutter speeds. A tripod if possible, of course, but that's not very likely to be allowed. The next best thing is to use a railing, a bannister, a(n aquarium window) sill, a doorway - anything to squarely set down your camera upon, or lean against. You may gain 2 to 3 stops that way. Oh, and further to Greg's pointers: bring tissue and window cleaner!

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1/18/2007 2:56:27 AM

Alan N. Marcus   Hi Letitia,
You and the fishes should get along OK. All above is good advice. A polarizing filter can be of substantial benefit when photographing through glass, and this filter is invaluable when photographing objects under the waterís surface as the air water junction reflects and glares. You must carefully preview the filterís effect as you compose. Good technique requires that the filter be rotated for best reflection nullifying effect.
Objects viewed through glass and water appear much closer than actuality. Your camera's auto-focus should handle focusing OK. Pay close attention to reflections as you compose. You may need to re-position to avoid reflections. A lens held very close to the glass is a good countermeasure. Flash unit should be dismounted from the camera if possible and also held close to the glass. Flash should be separated from the camera. Hopefully the sinc cord will allow this distance separation.
Most aquariums are well-lit, and you should have no problem photographing by available light except those displays featuring nocturnal creatures as these are usually dimly light. Some displays are illumined with UV light to emphasize those creatures that display florescence. UV illumination is always difficult as you meter is not calibrated for this region of the spectrum.
Above all, have fun. Alan Marcus

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1/18/2007 7:20:47 AM

Stephanie M. Stevens   Many aquariums don't allow flash, so you may have to do without. Hold your camera so that the front of the lens (or lens hood, if you have one) is right against the glass. This will prevent reflections.

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1/18/2007 12:11:49 PM

Fritz Geil   Hi Letitia,
The above answers are all good, but avoid the easiest answer. Buy a cheap collapsible rubber lens hood. Extend it out as far as you can without causing vignetting, then press it up against the glass. This will completely eliminate reflections, and give your meter the best chance for accuracy as there is no extraneous light. Use the lowest ISO setting possible to achieve hand-holdable shutter speeds. You will be amazed at the results.
Most importantly, have fun. Sometimes mistakes while experimenting give you the best images. Just try to remember what you did so that you can repeat it if you like the results.

Hope this helps.

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1/23/2007 7:14:27 AM

Joseph Dlhopolsky   Hold your camera so that the lens is as close as possible to perpendicular to the plane of the glass. Any deviation will increase distortion from the differing refraction indices of the air/glass/acrylic/water media. This will show up as spatial distortion, blurring and color fringes. An alternative is to mount a long lens on a tripod and shoot from a distance. However, this relies on clean glass and no reflections.

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1/23/2007 9:31:02 AM

Melissa  Hintz
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/14/2006
  I would just like to add that if you have an adjusting focus set it instead of using automatic. This way it focuses past the glass and is less likely to be blurry


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1/23/2007 1:40:49 PM

Edward A. Tepper
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/29/2005
  Please do not use flash in the aquarium. It's really annoying to everyone around you. And the flash will simply reflect off the glass and ruin your picture.

Use a polarizing filter to shoot through the glass. The downside is that the filter will decrease exposure by at least 1 stop. Use as low an ISO as possible. Brace the camera by keeping your elbows as close to your body as possible and fire off a burst of several exposures using the continuous shutter mode. Many times you'll get an acceptably clear picture without noticable camera shake from one of the exposures.

Get a copy of Neat Image or Noise Ninja to reduce the noise that might be created due to using a higher ISO.

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1/23/2007 3:16:03 PM

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