Photographing Fish, with Techniques to Reduce the Distortions in Color and Contrast, Caused by Water
A short article by David Alderoty, © 2015
Fish are difficult to photograph, because they live in water. The water is usually not perfectly clear, because of microscopic bits of debris and algae. This can make it extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible to obtain decent photographs of fish. Even crystal-clear water will usually reduce the contrast of a photograph, especially if the camera is more than a couple of feet from the fish.
I CAN THINK OF TWO SOLUTIONS FOR THE PROBLEM DESCRIBED ABOVE. The first is a fish tank set up with barriers to keep the fish close to the wall of the tank. The second solution is to reduce or eliminate the loss of contrast, and color distortions caused by the water, with photo-editing software. These solutions are explained below.
NOTE: I am using the words fish tank, and aquarium as synonyms, in the following paragraphs.
Solution 1) A Fish Tank Set Up with
Barriers to Keep the Fish Close to
the Glass Wall of the Aquarium
A fish tank can be set up for photographing fish, by placing a piece of glass inside the tank to keep the fish very close to the glass wall of the aquarium. Then the fish can be photograph by placing the camera lens against the outside wall of the aquarium. With this technique, there will be less than 1 inch of water between the camera lens and the fish. If this technique is used to photograph large fish, there will be no more than 3 inches of water between the fish and the camera lens. This will eliminate most, if not all of the loss of contrast, and color distortions caused by water.
The above technique requires a piece of glass that is about the size of the interior aquarium wall. Place the glass inside the fish tank, about one or two inches from the aquarium wall, if you are planning to photograph small fish. If you want to photograph larger fish, obviously the glass must be further away from the aquarium wall. This results in a confining space that will keep the fish very close to the glass wall of the fish tank.
You can make the space even more confining, by placing barriers, of wood or plastic, about 3 inches apart, inside of the glass barrier. If you are planning to photograph large fish, the barriers will have to be more than 3 inches apart. You can place gravel inside the confining space, so that the fish have little freedom to move upward or downward. All of this will result in a small space that greatly limits the movements of fish that are being photographed.
The barriers described above, including the glass, can be held in place with gravel, or any other technique you find convenient.
With this technique, a fish is placed in the confined space, created by the barriers, and then it is photographed. To prevent glare or reflections place the camera as close as possible to the glass wall of the aquarium. In addition, the camera lens should be shielded, which can be done with a heavy piece of black cloth.
The technique described above, will probably produce the highest quality photographs of fish. However, for most people this technique will only be feasible for small fish that can live in a home fish tank, but in theory, it could be used for very large fish.
Solution 2) Reducing or Eliminating the
Loss of Contrast, and Color Distortion,
Caused by Water, with Photo-Editing Software
The fish I photographed for this webpage were at least 12 to 24 inches in length, and they were displayed in a gigantic glass aquarium, in the Bronx zoo. Obviously, I could not use the technique described above, which involve barriers to keep the fish close to the glass wall of the fish tank. I used photo-editing software to reduce the adverse effects of the water.
The water in the gigantic aquarium at the Bronx zoo was cloudy, and the light was quite dim. Thus, I had to taking the photographs at ISO 1600. To reduce glare and reflections from the glass wall of the aquarium, I placed the camera lens about one or two inches from the glass. In addition, I covered the space between the lens and the glass wall of the aquarium, with my hand.
photographs I took, were low in contrast, and had a blue tint. I was able to
greatly improve the contrast, and eliminate most of the color distortions in
the photographs, with photo editing software. Specifically, I used three
programs, which are Photoshop Elements 6, ACDSee Pro 2.5, and
the photo editing software in the Microsoft office suite.
The reduction in contrast, and distortions in color, was reduced in the pictures on the right, with photo editing software. On the left, the same photographs are displayed, before they were corrected with the software.
Below there are 43 pictures of fish, photographed in the Bronx zoo. The reduction in contrast, and color distortions, caused by the water, were reduced in these photographs, with photo editing software.