If your passion for the underwater world has caused you to encounter more than a few photography challenges, you’re not alone! Taking high-quality images of an underwater scene can be challenging, especially if you’re not using the right tools or techniques.
Of course, you can always put yourself in the center of the action and submerge yourself and your gear underwater. Smartphone underwater photography can be exciting, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re the type of photographer who prefers to take pictures of fish from the other side of a glass wall, we’ve got the tips and techniques to improve your smartphone aquarium photography.
Overcoming the Challenges of Aquarium Photography with a Smartphone
Before we get into how to overcome these challenges, we need to be clear about the fact that they exist. Certain circumstances – like taking a picture from a moving vehicle – aren’t ideal for photography. As a result, you have to take extra steps as a photographer to set yourself up for success.
Here, we’ll explain why these are problems and help you create workarounds for them.
Challenge #1 – Reflections
Taking photos of aquariums isn’t easy. One of the biggest challenges you’ll face is the glass itself. To capture the images of your dreams, you’ll need to control the reflections.
The best way to eliminate reflection in the aquarium’s glass is with a lens hood. Lens hoods are precisely what you might expect; they simply surround the lens to block out light from the sides. This increase in control means you can put the lens hood right up to the glass, eliminating glare and reflections from the light around you.
The Suruc Collapsible Silicone Lens Hood is a great option that isn’t specific to any one type of smartphone. Since it’s collapsible, it also won’t take up much room in your bag or pocket. The flexible silicone material will also let you easily adjust your position to capture the perfect shot.
You may also be able to find lenses with attached hoods, such as the Moment Macro 10x Lens. Using a lens that includes a hood is ideal for the mobile phone photographer who prefers not to carry a giant bag of gear everywhere they go.
It’s important to note that if you are using a lens hood, you won’t be able to use your wide-angle lens. With a wide-angle lens, you’ll be able to see the hood around the edges of your image.
Challenge #2 – Refraction
Yes, the iconic Dark Side of the Moon album cover perfectly illustrates refraction.
So, think about the concept in regards to aquarium photography. Yet another challenge of taking pictures of aquarium fish that you’ll need to overcome is refraction. You may have noticed that your photos seem out of focus, or your subjects have a weird halo around them. These issues are due to the way light interacts with the thick aquarium glass.
The best way to avoid refraction is to shoot with your smartphone parallel to the surface of the glass. Shooting at an angle will result in refraction, so you may need to adjust your position in order to achieve the right shot.
Challenge of Aquarium Photography #3 – Focus
If you’re shooting particularly small aquariums or even one at home, you may experience difficulty keeping the fish in focus when they swim close to the glass. Most smartphones have trouble focusing on subjects that are too close without the use of a macro lens.
Depending on the type of smartphone you have, it may have a macro lens option (you could always add a Magniband too.) (you could always add a Magniband too.). Or, you may choose to add a clip-on or mounted macro lens. If you’re new to macro lenses, we suggest reading our Smartphone Macro Photography Guide to help you decide which lens is best for you and how to use it.
Tips for Taking Pictures of Aquariums
It’s easy to think that after a brief explanation of reflection, refraction, and focus that you’re ready to get shooting, but that’s where you’re wrong.
There are just a few more tidbits of information to pass along. While these three tips are specific to aquarium photography, the logic and lessons here apply to any style in the industry.
Tip #1 – When taking underwater photographs with your mobile phone, you should avoid using your camera’s flash.
The most apparent problem is the reflection on the aquarium’s surface. Remember, controlling the light around you will eliminate reflection.
If you wanted to avoid reflection and still use flash, you could use an external flash on the outside of your lens hood to illuminate the tank. Depending on your subject, this may be helpful in a dark aquarium.
However, it’s important to remember that fish scales are reflective. If you’re trying to capture the brilliant colors of a tropical fish, you might be disappointed by the way flash will distort the colors of your image. If you’re looking for more natural photos, avoid flash.
Tip #2 – If you’re photographing your aquarium or terrarium at home, you’ll need to be conscious of what’s behind the tank.
Capturing the perfect photo of your favorite fish will be exciting until you notice the water filter, power cords, and unattractive wallpaper behind it.
Many fish enthusiasts choose to place adhesive backgrounds on their aquariums to hide the ugly necessities behind the tank. These backgrounds are typically a simple color or are designed to resemble the fishes’ natural habitat. Maybe use your own smartphone beach photography?
You can also make your own background out of paper or poster board if you’re looking for a more temporary option. If you’re feeling creative, you can experiment with different colors or textures to achieve the look for which you’re going.
Tip #3 – If you’re using the camera app that comes standard on your smartphone, you may not be able to adjust many of your settings.
However, if you’re using a third-party camera app, your settings may closely resemble those of a DSLR camera.
Since the lighting of aquariums can vary, using your camera app’s auto white balance and ISO settings might be your best option. Otherwise, you may find yourself spending more time fiddling with your phone than taking photos.
You might also want to avoid slow shutter speeds if possible. Although the fish likely aren’t moving very fast, you want to avoid blur.
Tip #4 – Take lots of photos and then experiment in the editing process.
As always, take a ton of photos – this is where a great photo is truly born! Taking pictures with your smartphone doesn’t cost you anything, so don’t be afraid to take more pictures than you think you need. It’s better to sort through a bunch of bad photos to find your perfect shot than it is only to have a few from which to choose.
Finally, don’t be afraid to edit your photos to enhance your already great photos. We know you’re a great smartphone photographer, but it doesn’t hurt to add that extra touch to your images before posting them to social media.
If you’re not sure which app is best for you, we’ve curated a list of our favorite free photo editing apps. With the options available to you, you’re sure to find the perfect app to enhance your favorite aquarium photos.